Solving time: 52:15, which is over half an hour under my average time for a Saturday (yes, it takes me over 90 minutes to solve a typical Saturday because I’m a total amateur). However, I did that with a fair bit of cheating because I was feeling oddly impatient today. So I would say that this puzzle is somewhere in between easy and medium, leaning towards medium.
Puzzle quality: On a scale from [being struck by a METEOR while simultaneously getting a PAROLE VIOLATION] to [becoming the owner of every LA QUINTA and ART SALON in the world after some bizarre lottery], the quality of a slightly higher-end LA QUINTA, even though I think all LA QUINTA hotels are more or less the same. So a 7/10.
Thought of the day: What if God could STOP all MOTION and SLAY all humanity with a METEOR or a mass STAMPEDE of MULES while we were all paused? What if, during our SLEEP every night, God erases our memory and TRAINS our minds to remember our LIFE and SEE the world in a totally different way?
I had almost abandoned hope for this puzzle on my first go-around since I could hardly fill the top half of the grid with any letters. Then I landed on STOP MOTION (48A: Stop motion technique) and MARIO CUOMO right below it (52A: Governor who was the father of another governor), whom I happened to know since he used to be the governor of my home state, New York. Polysomnogram is either not a word (neither Mr. Webster nor Mr. Oxford recognizes it and even Mr. WordPress is underlining it in red) or a highly technical one at that, but the somn- prefix (as in somnambulant, which means sleepwalking), coupled with some surrounding downs in the grid, led me to pen in SLEEP APNEA for 54A: Polysomnogram finding. Before I knew it, I was done with the LL (lower-left) section of the grid. (Btdubs, I really enjoyed the shout-out to EEYORE with the lovely, bittersweet quote in 40D: Kid-lit character who says “The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stops. Eventually.”)
There was a ton of arcana in today’s puzzle, from ADRIAN II (2D: Ninth-century pope who was married with a daughter) AKA ancient pope whom hardly anyone – including my history teacher! – can be expected to know in the twenty-first century (also, ew, incest), to MARIA ELENA (18A: She was “the answer to a prayer” in a 1941 #1 Jimmy Dorsey hit). Yes, I get that she was the title of #1 hit, but in 1941!! I’m sorry, Will Shortz, I don’t happen to own a Gramophone that I can play seventy-year-old music with in my spare time. Yet another sign that the NYTimes crossword really needs to get with the times. I also really don’t understand the crossword’s pope fetish. There are other religious leaders in the world, Will.
I also have some big issues with US PASSPORT as the answer to 5A: Item that became trilingual in the late ’90s. I was able to figure it out with enough context – and perhaps also because I happen to be at an international airport right now – but qua!?!? When I ask Mr. Google to search “US passport trilingual” for me, I get an online travel forum called “TravelOK.net” in which one user mentions that the US passport has three languages (English, French, and Spanish). But there are no other relevant results that I can find on Mr. Google. Mr. Wikipedia seems to know nothing about this trilingual development in passports. And if you can find a Wikipedia article about the sentence “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” but not about this, then yes, it’s too damn obscure.
References to Aeschylus’ play “The Persians” on 6D (SEA BATTLE), “Swan Lake” on 12D (ODETTE – a name that you can’t possibly guess unless you have all the letters from the across clues), and a relatively unknown RENOIR painting (13D: “Claude Monet Painting at His Garden at Argenteuil,” e.g.) make this puzzle more appropriate for someone who lives under a tombstone than under a modern roof. Those clues, by the way, were all in one section of the grid. Also, when Mr. Wikipedia doesn’t have a page on the RENOIR painting AND Mr. WordPress underlines a word in the title of that painting in red, then you know you’re just asking too much from the average crossword puzzler.
With all this discussion of the crossword’s obscurity, I am ignoring some of the exuberantly fun clues in today’s puzzle. I was particularly pleased by the thought-provoking grid-spanner PAROLE VIOLATION, which was very difficult to get from the clue 7D: Crossing state lines, perhaps even though I had the last six letters for quite some time. YOGA MATS (1D: Balance sheets?, like mats that you physically balance on) also took me a lot of time, but the Aha! moment when I got it was well worth the wait. TV WIFE, the answer to 28A: Cast mate?, was a delightful pun that used the “actors in a show” and “romantic partner” definitions of “cast” and “mate,” respectively. 31A: Leaves out in the open? suited FOLIAGE perfectly, since to leave something “out in the open” is such a common idiom and FOLIAGE is literally a bunch of leaves out in the open air. I smiled when I got METEOR as the answer to 36A: Shower component, since the clue had – of course – gotten me thinking about the kind of showers you have in bathrooms and not the kind you SEE (10D: Grasp) in the night sky.
Other stray notes:
- Despite the old literature/music in today’s crossword clues, I appreciated the more modern cultural references. I learned for the first time today that YALE (1A) is the school that Rory Gilmore attends in “Gilmore Girls” (a show that a lot of my friends watch avidly but one that I’ve never seen), that AIN’T NOBODY (19A) isn’t just the start of a hilarious meme but also a “1983 hit for Rufus and Chaka Khan” (Rufus is a funk band apparently), and that THE WAR AT HOME is a sitcom from the last decade.
- I’m not entirely sure why CREEDS (38A) can be qualified as “confessed statements,” since, as Mr. Webster puts it, they’re “an idea or set of beliefs that guides the actions of a person or group.” Nothing about that definition implies confession. Or maybe I’m just an idiot and missing something. Probably the latter.
- If you look all the way down for its last definition, you’ll find that HEELS can also mean “contemptible people.” Hence 44A: Louses.
- An EEG TEST (4D: A migraine sufferer might have one) “detects abnormalities related to the electrical activity of the brain.”
- “Golden goals” are game-ending points scored in OTS (32D), or overtimes.