Toil And Trouble

New York Times crossword puzzle Feb. 2 / Constructed by Dick Shlakman and Jeff Chen

Happy birthday, Shakespeare! Yes, it is a landmark year for The Bard, who was born 450 years ago come April. Today, he got an early present from The New York Times: a crossword dedicated to “Macbeth.” 

The first hint was the title, which comes from a line spoken by the play’s three witches: “Double, double toil and trouble / Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”

But there’s little else to go on until you solve the five longest entries in the puzzle:  WHAT’S DONE IS DONE (“Tautological statement of finality,” 37 Down); MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS (“Compassion, figuratively,” 21 Down); ONE FELL SWOOP (“A single stroke,” 58 Down); A CHARMED LIFE (“What the lucky person leads,” 60 Down); and KNOCK KNOCK WHO’S THERE (“Start of many jokes,” 23 Down).

Is this a dagger which I see before me? (Click to enlarge.)

Is this a dagger which I see before me? (Click to enlarge.)

It would seem a random collection of common phrases until you get to 42 Down, which tells you they all have a single source: THE SCOTTISH PLAY (“Superstitious thespian’s name for a work of Shakespeare …”). Then you look at the circled letters in the center of the grid and you realize they spell He Who Must Not Be Named: MACBETH. (It’s considered bad luck to speak the word during any production of the tragedy.)

So far, so good. Then I came to the clue for 100 Down, “Drippings appropriately positioned under the circled letters.” I solved the answer easily enough – BLOOD – but I couldn’t understand the visuals. I started looking for individual “drops” of the red stuff under each circled letter. Yet that wasn’t making sense … there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the squares directly under the circled letters. Then I tried connecting the circled letters in order and ended up with a weird, elongated “S” shape. Huh?

So I went straight to the source, the site run by co-constructor Jeff Chen. It seems I was thinking too hard – the simple cross shape in which the circled letters are laid out symbolizes the hilt and blade of a dagger (“Is this a dagger which I see before me?”); the tip of the weapon is dripping the aforementioned BLOOD. I guess my mistake was looking for drops under *all* the circled letters; this blood technically appears under the M, C, E, T and H, but not A and B.

Anyway … it was a pretty clever concept, despite my confusion. What did you think?

Philly Shout-Out #1 Dept.: Unfortunately, it’s too late to see the Broadway version of “Macbeth” starring Alan Cumming, which closed last summer. But birthday celebrations in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon take place in April, and Philadelphia’s main library has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bard” because of the 450 milestone. It has a rare First Folio on display and is planning many other celebratory events.

Philly Shout-Out #2 Dept.: At the other end of the cultural spectrum is the puzzle’s reference to our city’s famous fictional boxer: YOS  are “Rocky shout-outs” (124 Across).

How Did I Not Know This? Dept.: The heartthrob group of my early teens, DURAN DURAN, is apparently “named after the villain in ‘Barbarella’” (26 Across). Never saw the movie, but I’m not exactly its target demographic. (The film villain is spelled Durand-Durand.)

Haha Dept.: “Army threats?” are OCTOPI (49 Down), meaning it’s a threat with a lot of arms. (“Arm”-y … get it? Took me a while, too.) Along those lines, “One for the money?” is UNUM (12 Across), as in “e pluribus unum,” the phrase on our currency.

Fun Phrase Dept.: There were lots of colorful entries, including IN A KNOT (“Tangled,” 47 Across), IONE SKYE (“John Cusack’s co-star in ‘Say Anything…’,” 80 Across), POLO SHIRT (“Lacoste offering,” 29 Across), TOODLE-OO (“‘Ta-ta!’” 110 Across), BANDOLERO (“Sinister señor,” 28 Across) and ICE HOLES (“Places where polar bears fish,” 113 Across).

Repeat That? Dept.: The puzzle seems to incorporate every possible combination of the letters H, O and U: OHO (“Palindromic cry,” 111 Down), OOH (“‘Lo-o-ovely!’” 103 Down), UH HUH (“‘Yep’,” 12 Down) and UH OH (“‘Don’t look now…’,” 57 Across).

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. And here’s a little more about me.

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