New York Times crossword March 27 / Constructed by Kevin G. Der
This puzzle had so much going on that it couldn’t be contained in a regular 21×21 square. Instead, it’s a rectangular grid that just so happens to be shaped like a … bowling alley. Well, “bowling alley” was not the first thing that came to mind when I saw the puzzle, but the six circled letters on each side happen to spell GUTTER, which kind of helped.
There were some other clues as well: 9 Down (“Bit of free time”) is a SPARE MOMENT; 49 Down (“5-4 ruling, e.g.”) is a SPLIT DECISION; and 101 Down (“Suited to a person’s strengths”) is UP ONE’S ALLEY. Those were centered (outlined in red in my picture) in the alley, which also had four PINs and a curving BALL in it.
The PINs were arranged in a “big four” split (in blue in my picture), and the word was squeezed into single squares: “Like some skiing” is AL(PIN)E (15 Across); “Yenta’s habit” is SNOO(PIN)G (21 Across); “Nina accompanier” is the (PIN)TA (17 Across) and “Bally enthusiasts” are — wait for it — (PIN)(BALL)ERS (24 Across).
So now we have a bowling ball on the scene. Actually, the ball first appears — as it would in real life — at the bottom of the alley in 126 Across (“Yellow pool items”): ONE (BALL)S. Took me a while to figure out they meant billiards pool, not swimming pool. The ball then curves out toward the gutter in 102 Across (“Balancing acts?”) — (BALL)ETS — and out some more in 76 Across (“‘Cat ___,’ 1965 film”): (BALL)OU. Then it magically begins to curve back to hit the outside of the 6-pin, with the aforementioned (PIN)(BALL)ERS answer. I’m assuming this is the sweet spot that, in real life, would turn this nightmarish split into a spare? Only if you’re Roy Munson or, perhaps, his archenemy, Ernie McCracken.
Of course, all of those BALLs and PINs work for the Down words, too. Good ones include S(PIN) DOCTORS (“P.R. people,” 3 Down), T-(BALL) GLOVE (“Child-sized mitt,” 69 Down) and BASE(BALL) TEAM (“Nine,” 81 Down). Go Phils! Opening day is Friday!
Didn’t Quite Get It All Dept: Eagle-eyed readers will notice I’m missing a couple of letters in the area of 29 Down and also around 38 Across. I don’t know my Jonathan Swift, or jazz, as well as I should. (Inspiration might strike me later tonight but I wanted to get this post out first.) Feel free to help out!
Still Experiencing Technical Difficulties Dept.: My Twitter feed @crosswordkathy is having problems but I hope to have it restored very soon! In the meantime, I’m tweeting from @kmatheson. Thanks for your patience!
Update Dept.: Turns out I missed one step in the BALL’s path toward the split. “Ticket presenter” (50 Across) is a (BALL)OT. I thought it was COP. That made it very hard to get 39 Down as well (“Schemed together”), which was CA(BALL)ED.