Solving time: 55:34, under-average but with the help of several Internet cheats. Medium-ish.
Theme: This puzzle commemorates the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. It includes several landmarks from the US National Parks, which are represented in circled letters that have the same shape as the landmark itself. For example,
- Denali is in the shape of a mountain, I suppose … except the left side of the mountain is longer than the right one because the first letter, D, hangs outward.
- Old Faithful literally erupts upwards through YELLOWSTONE at 32A.
- Half-Dome is shaped like … a half-dome. Actually, not really. Compare the shape of the crossword’s circled letters to that of the actual Half-Dome in Yosemite, and you will soon realize that the crossword has the image flipped vertically. Anyway, among the landmarks, we have:
- Arches National Park is represented here in the shape of, you guessed it, arches!
- And the Grand Canyon looks like a… basket.
Not much time today, and also the Internet was super slow so I didn’t even finish the crossword until much later than usual.
The reason why the “puzzle quality” image is that of Half-Dome is not just because Half-Dome is one of the puzzle’s circled phrases and not because this puzzle is anywhere near as beautiful or majestic as that natural landmark, but instead because this puzzle was “half” of what I thought it could be. I did appreciate the overall bear-like image of the grid, but virtually everything else about this crossword was mediocre; see above for my problems with the circled “theme” phrases.
To meet the requirements of the grid, there’s a ridiculous number of three-letter answers, which inevitably results in tons of ugly crosswordese, including two words which literally just consist of one letter repeated three times – AAA (58A: Highly rated Bond) and OOO (28D: It’s as good as XXX). Seriously, OOO? The clue was a good attempt at a raunchy pun, but when your options are so constrained that even a skilled crossword constructor like Jeff Chen has to resort to OOO, that’s when you know that the proverbial sh*t may have hit the fan.
There’s also a ton – and I mean a ton – of arcana peppered throughout the puzzle. W. BOSON (102A: Subatomic particle named for the weak force) is really esoteric scientific knowledge, even for the standards of the New York Times crossword. I doubt that anyone who isn’t a quantum physicist will be able to get that answer from reading the clue alone. Who on God’s green earth is SLOCUM (14D: Henry W. __, Union major general during the Civil War)?? Here’s a good test: search “Henry W. Union major general” on Google and you will literally find the last name of a different general for the entirety of the first page.
With the exception of LADY PALMS (48D: Indoor plants popular in waiting rooms) and VEGAN DIET (84D: Regimen adopted by Bill Clinton in 2010), not a single answer was memorable enough for me to write about here, nor were any of the clues punny or witty enough to make me laugh. It’s possible that I’m just being too harsh, but when you’ve got a grid filled with ERITU VII SEI NIH it’s hard to be creative.
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld