Solving time: 50:47, which is about seven or eight minutes below my average for a Thursday puzzle. I must note that I did get some help from some eager beavers – AKA my fellow nerd friends – while I was solving. (Sidé noté: isn’t it a bit odd that it takes me longer to solve a typical Thursday than a Friday? Maybe it’s because I cheat more on Fridays. Who knows? Certainly not I.) So today’s crossword is, like, medium-ish, with a dash of easiness.
Puzzle quality: On a scale from EINE to TEN, with EINE being the BESTIAL SMELL of a rotting BIRD corpse and TEN being the aromatic SMELL of a cooked pheasant BIRD at the Four SEASONS HOTEL, about a 6.
Theme: NATO’s phonetic alphabet. If you’re not familiar with this, people sometimes say “‘N’ as in ‘nancy'” or “‘F’ as in ‘frank'” when they’re trying to spell out a word over the phone. The NATO phonetic alphabet is an official list that matches each letter in the alphabet to a code word, so that international militaries and other such global organizations have a codified way of spelling words to each other through radio/telephone communications. For example,
- “P” corresponds to PAPA (3D: *__ John’s)
- “H” corresponds to HOTEL (28D: *Part of a vacation package)
- “O” corresponds to OSCAR (50D: *To get one, act now!)
- “N” corresponds to NOVEMBER (18A: *When daylight savings time ends)
- “E” corresponds to ECHO (57D: *Quick comeback?)
- “T” corresponds to TANGO (7D: *Dance craze of the 1910s?)
- “I” corresponds to INDIA (30D: *Origin of the game Parcheesi)
- “C” corresponds to CHARLIE (38A: *Angels’ leader)
In other words, each of the answers to the starred clues is the code word assigned to the answer’s starting letter, which is circled in the grid. On top of that, the circled letters spell out “PHONETIC,” which is pretty meta.
Thought of the day, in cartoon form (brought to you by my atrocious Microsoft Paint skills):
I may have appreciated this puzzle more if the circled letters spelled out “PHONETIC” from left to right, or in clockwise/counterclockwise fashion. As you can see above, the placement of the circled letters in the grid is quite arbitrary. Even the revealer clue – 60A: Like the alphabet that includes the answers to the starred clues … and an anagram of the eight circled letters – admits that the circles are altogether a mere anagram of the word “PHONETIC,” rather than the word itself.
I was familiar with the NATO phonetic alphabet but couldn’t quite identify it by name, which cost me quite a bit of time on the LL (lower-left) section of the puzzle. I also didn’t know any of the codewords corresponding to the letters of the alphabet, with the exception of “Alpha” and “Bravo.” As such, getting the theme didn’t really help me to solve the rest of the puzzle, though I was able to recall “Charlie” and “Tango” after I cracked their respective clues.
I didn’t realize until now that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot spelled out “WTF” in the NATO phonetic alphabet. In other words, I’m an idiot.
I’m an idiot part 2.
While the theme answers all followed a fairly unoriginal pattern – all of them were taken from the same alphabet – some of their clues were fresh and inventive. The clue for OSCAR, 50D: *To get one, act now!, kept me guessing for the longest time. Not picking up on the pun, I was expecting a synonym for the line that paid programmers use to persuade people to buy their product. Of course, you can get an Oscar by acting now, although the clue misses the fact that you’d have to act exceptionally well. I also appreciated the clue for OASES (which crosses with OSCAR), 50A: Spring breaks? The spring breaks aren’t referring to vacations, but rather to the sites in a desert where springs “break out” with water.
I was almost certain that 38A: *Angels’ leader would be alluding to St. Peter or some overseer of angels in heaven. Instead, its answer was CHARLIE of Charlie’s Angels.
St. Peter gets cuckolded.
Other stray notes on today’s puzzle:
- I’m opposed to APPOSE (1A: Put next to). It’s a technical word that no one ever uses. I think someone wanted to invent an antonym for OPPOSE and then just decided to replace the starting letter. Welcome to the English language.
- TAPE DECK? (7A: Audio player) Like tape itself, also quite a stretch. It appears that people do use that term to signify an audio player/recorder, but Mr. Wikipedia tells me that CASSETTE DECK is a more common phrase. Idk. Maybe I’m just a tech jejune.
- I was sure that TOM HANKS would be the answer to 16A: “Bridge of Spies” actor. But instead it’s ALAN ALDA, whom I can recall showing up at least once in every week of crosswords but not a single time in that movie.
- I don’t think RHO (24A: Aristotle character) is actually a character in any of Aristotle’s works. Since Aristotle is Greek, RHO is just a character in the Greek alphabet. And you thought one alphabet was enough for one day!
- CDEF (13D: Scale opening) refers to the starting four notes of the C Major scale.
- Mr. Oxford informs me that to TILT AT means to “thrust at with a lance or other weapon.” So I suppose that explains 29D: Battles against.
- Hah. ARE (35D: To be for you?). The conjugation of the verb “to be” for the second person (you) is “are.”