Rear-End Collisions

New York Times crossword March 18 / Constructed by Mike Nothnagel and Byron Walden

Wow. Just … wow. This mammoth 23-by-23 grid, which is literally packed with theme answers, was one of the most challenging puzzles in recent memory. I don’t time myself, but I’m guessing it took an 30 minutes to finish, and not just because it of its larger size. Constructors Mike Nothnagel and Byron Walden made it truly smashing.

The theme suggested by the title “Rear-End Collisions” at first made me think that multiple-word answers might have overlapping, shared letters — maybe that would be considered running into each other? It proved more clever than that.

Hints came in the form of answers with words that implied cramming together: “When the pressure’s on” (26 Across) is “crunch time.” But with only eight squares to work with, it has to be entered as CRUNCH (TI)(ME), with the last word squeezed into two squares. Bam! The “rear end” of that entry has been in a “collision.”

'Rear-End Collisions' created pile-ups of letters in the same squares.

The grid was littered with so many pile-ups you almost needed a traffic cop: PACK (AN)(IM)(AL) at 15 Across (“Burro, e.g.”); PRESS (CO)(NF)(ER)(EN)(CE) at 45 Across (“Big media event”); CROWD (PL)(EA)(SE)(RS) at 53 Across (“Widely popular shows, say”); SQUEEZE (PL)(AY) at 55 Across (“Bunting is part of it”); PANCAKE (BR)(EA)(KF)(AS)(TS) at 71 Across (“Some morning fund-raisers”); CLUTCH (PE)(RF)(OR)(MA)(NC)(ES) at 86 Across (“Late rallies”); CRUMPLE (ZO)(NE) at 99 Across (“Car safety feature); COMPACT (DI)(SC) at 101 Across (“Data storage device”); SQUASH (BL)(OS)(SO)(MS) at 111 Across (“Mexican cooking ingredients called ‘flores de calabaza’ in Spanish”); PINCH (RU)(NN)(ER) at 135 Across (“Diamond substitute”); and JAM (SE)(SS)(IO)(NS) at 142 Across (“Occasions to try out riffs.”)

Not only were these ingenious answers, but they crossed with equal precision, yielding entries like (BL)UE PE(NS) for 113 Down (“Many Bics”); CT SCA(NN)ER at 104 Down (“It can help you get inside someone’s head”); ALPI(NE) SKI at 80 Down (“Item of winter sports equipment”); and NEA(R F)ATAL at 70 Down (“Very serious, as an accident”), among many, many others.

One For The Road Dept.: And let’s not forget the theme-related 23 Across: “Like some collisions” — THREE CAR.

Drinking Dept.: “It’s not liquid” is GAS (95 Across). And in case you still don’t get the picture, “It’s not liquid” is also SOLID (96 Across). But if you really need a stiff one after this puzzle, there’s always TIA MARIA (“Jamaican coffee liqueur,” 103 Down).

Eating Dept.: In addition to the aforementioned PANCAKE (BR)(EA)(KF)(AS)(TS) and SQUASH (BL)(OS)(SO)(MS), there was also COLE SLAW (“Clambake dish,” 4 Down) and a CAL(ZO)NE (“Italian turnover,” 86 Down) in the puzzle.

Native Americans Dept.: Both the PEQUO(TS) (“Members of a Connecticut tribe,” 44 Down) and S(EN)ECA (“New York lake,” 39 Down) are mentioned. If you do the puzzle in the NYT Magazine, there is a lengthy article in this issue on the Pequots’ difficulties with their Foxwoods casino.

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