Taken To Task

New York Times crossword puzzle Oct. 13 / Constructed by Jeff Chen

Encore une fois: Bonjour!

This is my last day in France, meaning it’s the last time my dear friend Maryclaire will have to text me photos of the day’s puzzle and clues. Once again, for various logistical reasons, it was impossible to get the crossword online. So, because I’m such a nerd, I copied the grid onto graph paper and began solving on an hours-long bus ride from Normandy to Paris – much to the amusement of my photographer husband. Mon dieu!

But wow, was it worth the effort! The extremely clever puzzle by Jeff Chen not only uses a lot of fun wordplay, it incorporates a smart visual theme that ties together several seemingly unrelated long answers: ROLLING STONE (“First publisher of Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’,” 60 Down) ; IT’S AN UPHILL BATTLE (“Underdog’s saying,” 108 Across); PERPETUAL MOTION (“Violation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics,” 98 Across); MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (“Movie franchise since 1996,” 22 Across); BOULDER, COLORADO (“Setting for ‘Mork & Mindy’,” 30 Across); and INFINITE LOOP (“Computer programming problem, 15 Down) … which also happens to be the corporate address for Apple computer.

Mobile solving! Big thanks to my friend Maryclaire for texting me photos of today's puzzle and clues. (Photo by Jim MacMillan)
Mobile solving! Big thanks to my friend Maryclaire for texting me photos of today’s puzzle and clues. (Photo by Jim MacMillan)

What those long answers have in common are references to the Greek myth of SISYPHUS – a name ingeniously spelled out in the circled letters that ascend the middle of the grid. For good measure, a solid circle at the top of the series represents the huge rock he was condemned to forever push up a mountain, only to see it roll back down every time it got near the top. (That’s what duplicity and hubris would do for you back in ancient Greece!)

The only way this grid could have possibly been more perfect was if the solid circle representing the rock actually incorporated the word ROCK (or STONE) as a rebus in the answers for the intersecting clues. As it stands, it serves simply as another black square, bookending the answers MFA (“Painter’s deg.,” 43 Across) and I’D DO (“‘… and ___ it again!’,” 24 Down). But it’s a small quibble.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Singer Pendergrass and others” are TEDDYS (17 Down). Teddy Pendergrass, the lead crooner of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (“If You Don’t Know Me By Now”) and later a solo star, was paralyzed in a car crash on a winding Philly road known as Lincoln Drive. He remained a favorite son until he died in 2010.

Hmmmm Dept.: The clue “Achieve” (103 Across) yielded GET AHEAD, which I don’t really think is true. Sometimes achieving means just keeping up with the Joneses.

Name Dropping Dept.: Famous females featured in the grid include “Rapper Nicki” MINAJ (58 Down), “Shakespeare heroine” CLEOPATRA (14 Down) and BEHAR (“Joy of TV,” 41 Down). Men include Ehud BARAK (“Sharon’s predecessor,” 29 Down), ANDREI (“Peace Nobelist Sakharov,” 54 Down), ALGER HISS (“Red Scare target,” 76 Down) and PUTNAM (“G.P. ___ [early book publisher],” 18 Across).

Woof, Woof! Dept: A pair of dogs make appearances in the grid: LASSIE (“Animal with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” 121 Across) and an unnamed AKITA (“Helen Keller brought the first one to the U.S.,” 59 Down”). Also in this category is CESAR (“___ Millan aka the Dog Whisperer,” 10 Down) and ASPCA (“Org. for lab safety?” 7 Across).

Vive La France Dept.: It seems fitting that the puzzle had several French phrases in it, including TETE-A-TETES (“Little confabs,” 73 Down), ETAT (“Caroline du Sud, e.g.,” 45 Across), OUI (“‘Bien sur!’,” 2 Down), LUI (“French pronoun,” 112 Down) and ETE (“Tours summer,” 113 Down). That last word, which means “summer,” might lead an American to say IT’S HOT (“Sweater’s line?” 95 Down). I should also mention the WINE GLASS (“Red or white vessel,” 47 Down), which we made use of quite often.

Au revoir!

Need some solving tips and tricks? I’ve posted some here. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. You can also visit my Facebook page, or tweet me @crosswordkathy.