New York Times crossword puzzle Dec. 1 / Constructed by Alan DerKazarian
Oh boy. Today’s puzzle is one of those love-it-or-hate-it crosswords, where some solvers will marvel at its creativity while others will cry foul at its rule-bending.
The grid incorporates black squares into the theme answers, something that always riles a portion of the puzzle-solving public. And that’s only one of its cardinal sins: The diagonal line of black squares that bisects the puzzle makes each half completely self-contained. Ordinarily, constructors must build a single interlocking grid, with no section cut off from any other. But here, the black wall is a visual representation of the (terrible) title’s “Two Halves In One” or, alternatively, its GREAT DIVIDE (“Passage from life to death,” 27 Across).
Among the first indications that it’s a trickier-than-usual puzzle are clues like 41 Across and 90 Across, which simply read “–”. That’s an indication that the answer is the second half of a word entered nearby. The other big tip is at 98 Across: “1980 hard rock album that went 22x platinum … or a hint to how to cross this puzzle’s 27-Across.” The album in question, called BACK IN BLACK, tells you how to link the two halves of the puzzle, or how to cross the aforementioned GREAT DIVIDE: Mentally insert the word “back” into certain black squares.
So a “2005 nominee for Best Picture” is BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. It’s entered here as BROKE at 89 Across; BACK is represented by the black dividing square; and MOUNTAIN is entered at 90 Across (clued by “–”). That crosses with BEND OVER BACKWARDS (“Try very hard”), which is entered as BEND OVER at 47 Down; BACK is symbolized by the black dividing square; and WARDS is entered at 94 Down (“–”).
More: An “Aquatic singer” is a HUMP(BACK) WHALE, which starts at 48 Across, bridges the black divide and continues at 49 Across. That crosses with WON’T (BACK) DOWN (“Stands one’s ground”), which starts at 30 Down, bridges the divide and continues at 54 Down. “Cause of an audio squeal” is a FEED(BACK) LOOP, which is entered at 59 Down, bridges the divide and continues at 82 Down. That crosses with PAPER(BACK) BOOK (“Inexpensive reprint, maybe”), which starts at 75 Across, bridges the divide and ends at 78 Across.
And finally: “Revisits an earlier time” is TURNS (BACK) THE CLOCK, which begins at 13 Down, bridges the divide and continues at 45 Down. That crosses with THERE AND (BACK) AGAIN (“Round trip … or the subtitle of ‘The Hobbit’“), which is entered as THERE AND at 39 Across, bridges the divide and ends at 41 Across.
As an aspiring constructor, I can really admire this feat of cruciverbalist engineering. But I know that many solvers see the use of black squares as unfair. (“Back In Black,” by the way, is by AC/DC.) What did you think?
‘Tis The Season Dept.: Speaking of being back in black, retailers should be turning a profit now that holiday shopping has started in earnest. And Black Friday – so named because it’s when stores move out of the budgetary red ink and into the black – is the time to offer a LOSS LEADER (“Steeply discounted product, maybe,” 95 Across) to get people in the door.
Screen Magic Dept.: Those of you solving the puzzle in the NYT Magazine might have noticed that it’s the Movie Issue. In that vein, a “Director with three Best Foreign Film Oscars” is BERGMAN (1 Down); “Lane in Hollywood” is DIANE (112 Across): and “Disney deer” is not Bambi, but his aunt ENA (20 Across).
Fun Phrases Dept.: There were a few unusual, non-theme entries in the grid, such as LACROSSE BALL (“It’s caught by a stick on the field,” 61 Down); DENTAL CARIES (“Tooth decay, to professionals,” 4 Down); MENTAL NOTE (“Unwritten reminder,” 31 Across); MOTOR POOL (“Collection of vehicles available to personnel,” 51 Down) and WATER VOLE (“Amphibious rodent,” 35 Down).
Get Me Rewrite Dept.: As you can see from my messy grid, I entered several answers too fast without cross-checking. To name a few: I put in FAGIN for “Dickens villain” at 96 Down, which I later had to correct to SIKES. The airport in Warsaw is named for composer Frederic CHOPIN (58 Across); I had a few letters filled in and guessed SHIPOL, which is not only the airport in Amsterdam, but it’s spelled SCHIPHOL. Ugh. Then I entered DAMON for “Three-time N.B.A. All-Star Williams” (56 Down) when I later realized from crossing words that it had to be DERON. (Damon Williams is a comedian.)
Errata Dept.: This post has been updated with a new photo to reflect a couple of corrections pointed out by reader C M Cannon, whose comment is below. Thanks for spotting them!
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.