Hope For Clear Skies

New York Times, Dec. 19

Boy, I hope everyone figures out this grid before tomorrow: The moon is going to be putting on quite a show late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, depending on where you live in the U.S. So, as the puzzle’s title suggests, “hope for clear skies.”

This “Event on Dec. 21, 2010, viewable in North and South America, depicted visually in this puzzle” is a TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE (125 Across). “Many an avid observer of 125-Across” will be an AMATEUR ASTRONOMER (94 Across), who might see other “Objects of interest in a 125-Across”: CELESTIAL BODIES (66 Across).

The moon phases are in blue; the earth in green; the sun in orange.

But constructor Kevin G. Der took the theme further, visually depicting the eclipse by squeezing entire words into single boxes. You’ll find the SUN at the bottom in box 143: “Folds” is GOE(S UN)DER (140 Across) and “Dawn” is (SUN) UP (143 Down). The EARTH is in the middle: “1914 Edgar Rice Burroughs novel set in an underground land” is AT THE (EARTH)’S CORE (81 Across), crossing with RARE (EARTH), “Terbium or thulium” (59 Down). You can find the phases of the moon fanned along the upper quadrants — BRIGHT, DIM, DARK — and the heavenly body itself at the top: MANY (MOON)S AGO (“A long time past,” 26 Across).

BRIGHT is squeezed into the 63 box to give you (BRIGHT)EN (“Remove drapes from, as a room,” 63 Across) and (BRIGHT) IDEA (“Promising proposal,” 63 Down), and also into the 71 box to give you AL(BRIGHT) (“First female U.S. secretary of state,” 69 Across) and (BRIGHT) SIDE (“Optimist’s focus,” 71 Down). DIM is in the 41 box, giving you ON A (DIM)E (“One way to stop, 40 Across) and (DIM)AG (“Yankee great Joe, colloquially,” 41 Down), and also in the 48 box, yielding C(D IM)AGE (“Clone of an optical medium’s contents,” 47 Across, one of the clunkiest clues I’ve read in a long time) and (DIM)LY (“How things may be lit or remembered,” 48 Down). DARK is in the 30 box, giving you AFTER (DARK) (“At night,” 29 Across) and (DARK)MAN (“Superhero played by Liam Neeson in a 1990 film,” 30 Down), and also in the 32 box, giving you (DARK) HORSE (“Long-shot candidate,” 32 Across) and (DARK) AGE (“Era of ignorance,” 32 Down).

Mainstream Media Dept.: The MSM gets dissed a lot these days, but 18 Down (“Paper for which Murray Kempton and Jim Dwyer won Pulitzers”) is a nice reminder of the important work that papers like NEWSDAY have done, and continue to do. Kempton won for commentary in 1985 for “witty and insightful reflection on public issues” while Dwyer won 10 years later in the same category for “his compelling and compassionate columns about New York City.”

Fly, Eagles, Fly Dept.: “Football’s Sanders” is DEION (31 Across), who I really don’t care that much about, except that the NFL reference gives me an excuse to gloat: OMG did you see the end of the Eagles-Giants game today? Holy crap.

Half An Answer Dept.: I happened to flip past last week’s NYT puzzle (“The Wish”) in today’s Philly Inquirer, which runs the puzzle in syndication (read: a week late). With that came the answer to the previous week’s puzzle (“On A Roll”), which was the ingenious grid that turned itself into a die.

This doesn't help people figure out the final answer to the puzzle.

But you would never know that from the published puzzle solution, which just shades the area you have to cut out to make the die. (It doesn’t even color in the pips!) This was the same solution published in the NYT Magazine, which I think falls woefully short for those solvers who may not have been able to follow all of the clues to the finished product. I’ll be interested to see what the solved grid for today’s visual puzzle will look like in print next week.

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