Solving time: 21:01, which – although comfortably under my overall average for Wednesdays – is still quite high relative to my recent times for Wednesdays in the past month or so. Some cheating went on in the middle section of the grid for me, so I’m going to peg this one as somewhere between medium and challenging.
Theme: As usual, the NYTimes crossword takes some phrases too literally sometimes, and today’s grid is no exception. Our phrase of the day is DARK ARTS (38D: What sorcerers practice … or a hint to interpreting five clues in this puzzle). Each of the theme clues contains a five-letter word whose last four letters, -ARTS, are literally blacked out by a bar or, if you’re solving the puzzle online, by four # signs. As such, the clues are literally “dark arts.” Hah. Our five theme clues, and their corresponding answers, are as follows:
- MARTS -> 20A: M -> EXCHANGES. If the black squares were removed, the clue would just be MARTS. “Marts” is sort of a weak clue for EXCHANGES, since I view an “exchange” as a market for currency transactions and a “mart” as just a general type of market. But, of course, today’s constructor, Mark McClain (apparently debuting his first-ever puzzle today) had a pretty limited basket of clues due to his theme – keep in mind that all of theme have to be five-letter words that end in ARTS *and* the theme answers have to be symmetric. So, inevitably, some clues are going to be weaker than others.
- WARTS -> 51A: W -> BLEMISHES.
- TARTS -> 10D: T -> PASTRIES.
- PARTS -> 11D: P -> MOVIE ROLES.
- DARTS -> 28D: D -> PUB PASTIME. What a fantastic answer. I love how “pub pastime,” at least to my knowledge, is not a very commonly-used phrase, but it fits the clue – DARTS – perfectly.
I think there are two ways that most people view “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – either a) a magical work of art or b) a movie that didn’t quite live up to expectations but was competently done nonetheless. I can’t really decide between those two options when evaluating today’s puzzle. Part of me really enjoys the theme, which is a break from a lot of the conventional trash that the NYTimes throws around early in the week. But the other part of me has gotten over its originality; I just see four black squares in the place of the theme’s supposed ingenuity. So idk.
I got stuck for quite a bit in the middle, hence the longer solving time. I’ve heard the phrase DOILIES (38A: Dining table decorations) maybe once or twice in my life before, if at all, mainly because I don’t eat at fancy dining tables unlike Will Shortz, who has probably been an aristocrat in one of his incarnations during his EONs-long existence and eaten lots of nice dinners with exquisite nobility in three-piece suits and top hats. Sorry Will. I’m just not at your level yet. Twitter is all atwitter about TRUMP these days but not its homophone TROMPE [34A: __-l’oeil (illusion)], a word that you probably didn’t know unless you’re French or you eat at a bunch of fancy dinners like Sir Shortz and you bandy about phrases like TROMPE l’oeil in your fancy conversations. That and two other musical references (neither of which were that obscure but just served to reveal my own cultural jejunosity) – ARNE (25A: Composer Thomas) and EMIL (30D: Pianist Gilels) – had me mired.
The only other part of the grid that offered much resistance was the bottom middle and right. I misread 52D: Big nits for you-know-what and did a double-take before I realized that fancy-schmancy Sir Shortz would never include such vulgar phrases in his Aristocratic puzzles. I’m very familiar with Kunta Kinte from Roots but not with LEVAR Burton (47D), the actor who played him. I’m not very familiar with baseball and certainly not with STAN Musial (55D). I made a blunder with 42D: Blunder and wrote MISTAKE instead of MISSTEP, and I wanted to answer PEON for 65A: Common laborer but I got its definition confused with that of “paean.” Typical crossword struggles. #thestruggleisreal.
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld