Solving time: 1:16:03, which is certainly on the higher end for a Friday puzzle. I had the same problem that I did on Wednesday: a slight bit of sleep deprivation, as I’ve been awake for nearly 24 hours now. Nonetheless, I felt that many of the shorter clues were either atypical for a crossword or unconventionally clued. Today’s puzzle is moderately challenging.
Puzzle quality – in honor of the TITANIUM ORE clue (15A: Ilmenite is the chief one), my brilliant prowess at Microsoft Paint, and also Patrick Star’s Googly Pet Rock*:
*For anyone who didn’t understand the reference (I’m completely unashamed to admit that I still watch Spongebob):
Theme: Like all Friday and Saturday puzzles, today’s is themeless!
Thought of the day: Every place is just a WAITING AREA before you TAKE LEAVE for somewhere else.
Today the NYTimes Crossword Popular Discourse blog ventures into the unknown and treacherous no-theme’s-land territory!
Such is the unforgivingly harsh landscape of no-theme’s-land. No soul who enters it returns alive! I’m kidding; that’s no-man’s-land, and as the faint smile on that TITANIUM ORE should have indicated, this may have been the most entertaining puzzle that I’ve written about since the inception of this blog last Sunday. That may not be saying much since those other crosswords had set a fairly low bar for my expectations this week and also because today’s puzzle certainly had some issues.
There’s so much repeated vocabulary that it almost seems that today’s constructor, Barry C. Silk, may have embedded a theme into the grid. “Scrap” (clue 19A for ORT) crosses “having a scrap” (clue 3D for AT IT), which could be an unintentional pun because someone in a cross state might go AT IT with another person. MANASSAS (22D) and ANTIETAM (39D) are identically clued with “Civil War battle site.” Side note: Oddly enough, I wanted to write in BULL RUN as the answer to 22D, but the letters didn’t fill all eight spaces. If I had instead recalled the battlefield where BULL RUN had taken place, maybe my solving time would have been cut down. I was almost certain that ORC would be the answer to one of the two identical “World of Warcraft figure” clues, since that’s the usual crosswordese that corresponds to that hint. I can understand IMP (61A) as a solution, since that’s the name of an entire race of creatures in the game. HAG (55A), however, seems like more of a stretch to me since she appears in just one level and is also “obscure,” according to an avid World of Warcraft specialist that I consulted (aka gaming neeeeeerd).
Though today’s puzzle was no exception to the New York Times’ overzealous obsession with five-letter animal names – from GREBE (26D: Duck lookalike) to TETRA (33D: Bright swimmer) – and with phonetically convenient geographical locations – from ESSEN (32D: European city whose name means “eat”) to YSER (54D: W.W.I. battle site) – there were some clues that I genuinely enjoyed.
I was almost certain that END would be the answer to 12A: It may justify things (as in “the END justifies the means”) and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the correct solution was TAB. As in justified like this paragraph. Get it???
I have seen ARIA countless times even though my crossword career has been relatively short-lived, unlike Will Shortz’s literally IMMORTAL existence on this earth. I appreciated that today’s clue for it (56A: “Eri tu,” but not “Eres tú”) did not refer to some “operatic passage” and instead made me read two esoteric cultural references, stare in bafflement, then return to the clue later once I had filled in more of the grid.
37A: He worked for Hershey in the 1910s-’20s sounds like a clue that requires you to know some hyper-specific proper noun, but the answer (REESE) is one that you can easily intuit if you know that Hershey acquired REESE‘s Peanut Butter Cups (forty years after REESE retired from Hershey’s factories).
I thought that the “spots” in 27D: Spots for air traffic controllers referred to buildings where the air traffic controllers controlled the air traffic, but instead they alluded to the “blips” that each plane represents in a “radar” (RADAR BLIPS).
Soul and R&B (47D: Soul mate?) are a match made in heaven because they make beautiful children together.
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld