New York Times crossword March 10 / Constructed by Finn Vigeland
You might have condensation dripping off your forehead after solving today’s challenging puzzle. The title was an immediate giveaway, but only to a point. “Condensation” immediately made me think the theme answers would entail squeezing or dropping letters to “condense” answers, but I didn’t realize constructor Finn Vigeland could cram so much symbolism into one square. He did – and the result is a tricky but very well-constructed grid that I had a lot of fun with.
I figured out the theme after getting some crossing letters to 27 Across, “Subject of big 1970s headlines”: _ GATE _ _ _ NDA _ . It clearly looked like it could be WATERGATE SCANDAL, but how to “condense” the “water” into a single square? Cramming all five letters into one box didn’t make sense considering what I had so far filled in for the crossing word: _ _ T _ LD. But “condensing” the “water” even further to its chemical elements – H2O – translated into the letters HHO. That made 1 Down WIT(HHO)LD (“Refuse to hand over”), with HHO in a single square. And 27 Across became (H2O)GATE SCANDAL.
Others: “Seltzer” (50 Across) is CARBONATED (H2O), which crosses with ELEVENT(H HO)UR (“Last possible moment,” 14 Down). “Best Picture inspired by a Pulitzer-winning series of newspaper articles” (67 Across) is ON THE (H2O)FRONT, which crosses with BAT(H HO)USE (“Where people are always changing?” 51 Down). And the “Historic event on June 18, 1815″ (109 Across) is the BATTLE OF (H2O)LOO, which crosses with FRENC(H HO)RNS (“Prominent features of the theme from ‘Star Wars,’” 84 Down). Speaking of “Star Wars,” there’s apparently a lot of brouhaha now over whether Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill will reprise their roles as Han, Leia and Luke in the upcoming sequels.
More: “Coastal structures countering erosion” (102 Across) are BREAK(H2O)S, which crosses with HEIG(H HO) (“‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ song,” 80 Down). A “Necklace decoration that’s not from the sea” (85 Across) is FRESH(H2O) PEARL, which crosses with HIG(H HO)PES (“What an optimist has,” 68 Down). And “The second African-American, after Hattie McDaniel, to be nominated for an Oscar” is ETHEL (H2O)S, which crosses with MOUT(H HO)LE (“Ski-mask feature,” 16 Down). I had never heard of Ethel Waters, so I looked her up: Turns out she’s from Philly, according to IMDb, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for a 1949 film with Ethel Barrymore called Pinky.
If that wasn’t enough water for you, the answer to 84 Down is AQUATICS (“Swimming, diving, etc.”).
Doubled-Up Dept.: “Irish county” leads to both CORK (121 Across) and CLARE (106 Down). “20-20, e.g.” is a TIE (89 Across), while “20/20″ is ONE (19 Down).
Downton Abbey Dept.: I’m really late to the game on this uber-popular British drama, having watched the very first episode on Netflix last night. So far, the plot is all about “Means of inheritance” (96 Across), which in this puzzle is a GENE. Alas, genetics is not enough of a reason for the aristocratic daughters in this historical series to inherit their father’s estate.
In The News Dept.: All eyes will be on the HOLY SEE (“Papal court,” 43 Across) in the coming week as Roman Catholic cardinals gather to elect a new pope. They installed the chimney in the Sistine Chapel the other day, from which the world will be able to see the telltale white smoke. (Non-religious confession: I had no idea the chimney wasn’t a permanent fixture.)
In Other News Dept.: Will Shortz ran the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament over the past few days in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can read more about it here.
Philly Shout-Out Dept.: I’m going to use the aforementioned answer HIG(H HO)PES as my Philly shout-out today. That song was a favorite of the late, great Phillies announcer Harry Kalas, and they still play it after every home victory. I am soooo ready for baseball season to start.