I conceived of this puzzle five years ago this month, not long after the publication of two Tuesdays that would later factor into a decision that may have made the difference between rejection and acceptance (more on that to come.)
At first, I tried making the themers as long as possible to fill out a 21x, but I quickly abandoned that, as it became clear that the single-word themers wouldn't make for an entertaining Sunday solve. Shortly after, I asked my friend Jacob McDermott, whom I'd first contacted several months earlier about a themeless (and is getting married on Saturday!) if he could breathe new life into this concept.
We both ended up making two lists of themers, each of which had between 74 and 82 total letters, which felt like "no puzzle's land." That was too few for a Sunday even with the revealer but too many for a daily without many compromises in the fill. Moreover, there were 22 different themers among the four lists, but only six of them appeared in all four, and this fell into development hell.
Trying 15x14 and 15x16 grids about a year later did not revive it... not directly, that is. It was while I was playing with one such grid that I hit upon splitting FOURTEEN and POINTS, making a symmetrical 15x grid possible. The two-part revealer stayed in its current place from the very start, as I immediately noticed that BROWNIE would work nicely crossing it, and coming up with TIPPING was indeed a tipping point for the puzzle, as it allowed not only PRESSURE but also GRADE and STAND to form theme crossings. I am also glad that Will kept my reference to Gladwell, as he was one of my sister Maria's favorite authors at the time.
Still, by spring 2016, it had become clear that packing in all this theme would indeed force many compromises in the fill. I had not yet found a complete fill by April 20, when Tom McCoy's puzzle with the same revealer ran. Grudgingly, I shelved this even though it was a very different take on the phrase, and I suspected that it might not be fair game for the NYT when I was able to bring it back out. But remembering the two Tuesdays from early 2014 (January 14 and February 18), which both had over a dozen themers that nicely justified going over 78 words, I split up 2-Down and the then 39-Down. That made all the difference in the world when it came to filling the NW and SE, in both avoiding those nasty 3's and 4's and opening up a lot more and livelier possibilities for the two remaining 8's — which Will said he liked when he accepted it last September 13.
Thanks as always to Will and his team for polishing this, both with the clues (I got a real kick out of theirs for 35-Across) and fill, specifically removing the Roman numeral I'd had at 65-Across. Seeing GREECE as the new 48-Down made me remember my Pappou (Greek for grandfather), who died at 93 in 2013, and my Yiayia (grandmother), who turned 91 on May 10. She solved crosswords almost every day for many years, but since this may be my last chance to do so, I dedicate this puzzle to her. And thanks as always to my fellow constructors, especially Jacob (congratulations again on getting married!), and to you, the solver. Hope you enjoy this!
Jeff Chen notes:
Wilson's FOURTEEN / POINTS played upon today. Can you imagine a president trying to lay out fourteen points today, the first worded as:
I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
People would get about three words in before they'd tweet #TLDR.
The idea works for a Thursday, 14 grid entries missing their final POINT. PIN is really PIN POINT, NEEDLE is NEEDLE POINT, etc. I liked that Alex chose mostly ones that made no sense until adding the POINT. For example, WEST is much better than PLOT, since WEST is clearly not a school, while both PLOT and PLOT POINT can fit the story-related clue.
Laying out 14 themers – actually, 16, including FOURTEEN POINTS – is no joke. I started to highlight them to better help them stand out, but the grid began to look fugly.
Note how many themer intersections there are – PIN / NEEDLE, BROWNIE / FOURTEEN, TIPPING / STAND, etc. – as well as pairs in close proximity. It's a nightmare of a gridding task.
I was pleasantly surprised to get some goodies in the fill; GUT PUNCH a standout, but also DEAR GOD and LAY ODDS, CRECHE, LOUVRE. As a constructor, I think that's pretty good.
As a solver, though, I felt like there wasn't enough snazziness in my solving experience. With barely any long themers, there ought to be more juicy long bonuses to keep me interested. Such is the challenge of a daunting theme construction.
I'd have preferred something less audacious, maybe SEVEN POINTS as [Score for a touchdown + extra point], allowing for more breathing room in the grid. Also allowing for a smoother product, not needing gluey bits like ANE ASTA CLU ORNE (yuck!) SWAGS (?), SCI THU, etc. to hold everything together.
I'd have even been okay with FIVE POINTS — the old Manhattan neighborhood featured in "Gangs of New York" — which might have allowed for longer POINT examples, like EXCLAMATION, INFLECTION, VANISHING, etc.
This puzzle took some back-and-forth before it was accepted for publication. The sticking point was the answer for [Three to get ready]. My original submission used APPETIZER TRIO (balanced by PAIR OF TICKETS), but the editorial team thought that phrase wasn't sufficiently common. Will and crew did, however, like the basic idea well enough to invite me to suggest alternatives for that slot. Among the others I proposed my favorite was PREQUEL TRILOGY. Unfortunately, none of my ideas worked for them.
However, in a stroke of luck for me, they counterproposed STOP DROP AND ROLL (in the sense of getting ready for an emergency) and asked if I could come up with something to balance it out. I found BROADWAY TICKETS and the rest is history.
Regarding cluing, I'm generally a big fan of the editorial team's revisions — they know their audience and the types of clues that work well. This time, however, there were a few changes I was disappointed by.
As a mathematically inclined person, I was sad to see the inspirational ADA Lovelace replaced by the Nabokov title character. I also miss my echoing clues for AREA and OCTANT (Pi r squared, for a circle & Pi/4 radians, respectively). But, I can see how those changes make for a better Wednesday solving experience. Likewise, I understand replacing Rita ORA and ANA Gasteyer to reduce the number of people in the grid.
On the other hand, I'm not a fan of the published clue for OPHELIA. Although the line is well known, it marginalizes and dismisses Ophelia and, by extension, women generally. The clue also defines Ophelia through the lens of Hamlet rather than allowing her to stand on her own as a character. I hope it doesn't engender any unpleasantness for solvers.
Jeff Chen notes:
AES has some of the best theme ideas in the crossworld today. (A shame that he shares initials with Adlai "Madly for Adlai" E. Stevenson.) How could it be possible to come up with strong, in-the-language phrases for:
One for the money
Two for the show
Three to get ready
Four to go
I wouldn't have even tried – feels impossible.
LEATHER WALLET cleverly fits [One for the money], a bit of wordplay we might see within a great themeless puzzle.
BROADWAY TICKETS are certainly [Two for the show].
ALL WHEEL DRIVE is another deft interpretation, for [Four to go]. Brilliant!
If it hadn't been for STOP DROP AND ROLL not feeling apt for [Three to get ready], this would have been an automatic POW! pick. Even POY! territory.
I liked this idea so much that I spent a lot of time thinking about what else might have fit. (I wasn't a fan of any of Alex's original suggestions.) The best I could come up with was there's an old saying about the Three S's needed to get ready for a big event. But as spot-on as it was, it wouldn't have passed the NYT censor. (S___, shower, shave. First one rhymes with "hit.")
Ultimately, I couldn't think of anything that worked better than STOP DROP AND ROLL. So I gave it a pass in service of a great overall idea.
Strong gridwork, too. MAKES WAR, FIDELIS, JETWAYS, OPHELIA, WAVE SKI, all reason to APPLAUD. CAN'T LOSE!
Well, there's COLICKY. I don't know that much about Alex since he likes to keep a low profile (we still haven't convinced him to put up a pic.) I can guess that he has no kids though – for us parents of little kids, COLICKY is too soon, Alex. Too soon.
Good use of cheater squares. It's tough to work so many down entries through LEATHER WALLET and BROADWAY TICKETS. So I'm sure the black square above COLICKY was key in allowing Alex to make that NE corner smooth.
Even though STOP DROP AND ROLL didn't work for me, I managed to overlook it. Great idea and excellent craftsmanship earns Alex another POW!
Glad to be back! The inspiration for this puzzle was a concept I very much enjoyed by Andrew Reynolds. I remember wondering how in the world he extracted those theme answers! A brute force approach would require testing 5,040 permutation strings of seven letters against a word list, so I figured a bit of skillful coding was involved. "Change the world" struck me as an interesting concept with lots of options to consider, and I hope this interpretation of the phrase does it reasonable justice.
I took a unique approach for finding potential theme answers, involving Excel, that didn't involve real coding expertise. I tested out every planet, sans Mars, and not all were suited for the job. (Jupiter yielded nothing, Uranus only "PURSUANT," and Neptune merely "ANTEPENULTIMATE"!) The most fun entry I didn't use: "MERCY RULE" for Mercury! Hopefully, this set of theme answers is satisfying.
Looking back, if I were to write the puzzle again, I might try to make the grid a bit less segmented (increase the "flow"), clean up a couple of bits of fill (i.e., TEHEE and LAIN), and add a couple of jazzier long answers. My favorite corner here is the SW. Hope you enjoyed!
Jeff Chen notes:
Anagrams are often too difficult to figure out, which risks solvers not bothering to go back and untangling them. I like that Evan chose sequences on the easier side to decipher. VESUN starts with a telltale VE-, letting us know that it had to be VE-SUN. You know, the allied Victory in Europe on the SUN.
I admit, the presence of SUN confused me a bit.
Also confusing: the different planets are worlds? I get EARTH, but there's life on MYRECRU?
Er … MR. CEURY?
I'd have preferred using different worlds that have been inhabited. Like VULCAN. ENDOR. HOTH. I suppose we could allow MARS, given how Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos will soon be terraforming it into a battleground for their dominion robot armies. My money's on the Bezobots.
(Jim pointed out my existenceism bias; that "world" doesn't necessarily mean "containing life." In fact, this dictionary does include a direct definition making the theme valid. It is definition #12 out of 12, but still, it does work.)
Maybe that theme would be a bit too nerdy, but crossword people tend to be (gasp!) a bit nerdy.
In cryptic crosswords, CHANGES is a common indicator for anagramming. It works today, but something like PLANETARY MOTION would have been better. And it would have given a better reason for using planets!
Strong gridwork; I'm impressed at the level of quality Evan is producing these days. Hardly a drop of crossword glue to be seen, and even some goodies in WENT STAG, TD PASS, FANTASY, MALAISE, GYM RAT, WHO ME? No AW MAN from Jeff!
I even briefly considered some POW! love for this one, based on the solid gridwork. The theme didn't quite work for me, though.
P.S. (WARNING: NERD ALERT) There's an easier approach to searching for scrambled strings. Take MERCURY, for example. You can inspect all the 7-letter sequences in your wordlist, checking to see if they have exactly one of M, E, C, U, Y, and two Rs. About five minutes of code and five seconds of run time turned up ARMY RECRUIT(S) and MERCY RULE but nothing else. VENUS was more interesting, with ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, EVENS UP THE SCORE, LEAVES UNSAID, LIVENS UP, and my favorite, NATURE VS NURTURE.
Jim Horne notes:
Evan Kalish, in his notes above, dismisses ANTE-PENULTIMATE as uninteresting. It's a great word! Perhaps he's unfamiliar with Flanders & Swann, whose brilliant song Have Some Madeira M'dear includes this verse every word lover should cherish:
Then there flashed through her mind what her mother had said
With her antepenultimate breath
"Oh my child, should you look on the wine that is red
Be prepared for a fate worse than death"
She let go her glass with a shrill little cry
Crash! tinkle! it fell to the floor
When he asked, "What in Heaven?" she made no reply,
Up her mind, and a dash for the door
HIT IT! An appropriate way to kick off a week, and an apt revealer for HIT the CEILING, HIT the SAUCE, HIT the SACK, etc. Reminds me of a funny clue I once saw: what might [Hit it on the head] be? Answer: NAIL.
Consistency was perfect today, every themer following the HIT the ___ pattern. Gary could have delved into (HIT) PARADE, (HIT) MAN, (HIT) a HOMER, but he chose to stick with only HIT phrases using THE.
I also appreciated that he put each of the six words at the ends of his phrases. Many solvers won't notice, but that attention to detail helps increase a puzzle's elegance.
Tightness was only so-so. At first, I thought, how many HIT the ___ phrases could there be? Didn't take long to come up with BOOKS, BOTTLE, BRAKES, DIRT, HAY, MOON, ROAD, SKIDS, SPOT. I'm sure there are others.
Don't get me wrong. I did like that Gary picked six that are colorful. It doesn't have that feeling of elegance or inspired amazement, though, the way discovering a perfect, unalterable set would have.
Some blips in the gridwork, not a surprise given the six themers plus HIT IT revealer. OGEE should never be in an early-week puzzle. That west section, with ROTC ROLF OTOH OTOE is bound to trip up newer solvers. I have some friends who are just starting to get into crosswords, and I wouldn't give them this one.
Intersecting themers, like HACKYSACK and CLAM SAUCE, can often create valuable spacing for gridwork. Here though, an all-across layout would have produced a better result. Start with CLAM SAUCE or LOWER DECK all the way to the left in row 3. HACKYSACK or CHECKMARK to the right in row 4. DEBT CEILING or WESTERN WALL to the left in row 6. The overlap in rows 3 and 4 make it like you're working with just 4 themers, not 6.
Not only would that have produced a smoother result, but it would have made the all-across themers easier to pick out for solvers.
A solid and consistent theme, with a couple of nice bonuses in SEGWAYS, I KNEW IT, TARTARE. Not smooth enough of an early-week product, though.
Natan Last, 28, is a founding member of the International Rescue Committee's innovation lab and a researcher and advocate for refugee resettlement and humanitarian aid. A frequent contributor — he sold his first crossword to The Times when he was 16; this is his 29th for the paper — Last says this puzzle's theme germinated while watching people fish in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn.
Jeff Chen notes:
I like that Natan didn't stick to a standard "words hidden within phrases" theme, but took it a step further. Apt to "hook up" the fish buried in the theme phrases, pulling them all the way up to the top. It still may be boggling people's minds, so here's an example of how it worked:
WORKOUT ROUTINE -> TROUT WORKOU INE
I made a puzzle like this once for the WSJ, where the letters B I R D "flew south," in a similar manner. Some people loved it – I got a lot of fan mail. And some people hated it.
While I didn't receive any death threats, some notes were pretty close. It was just too hard a puzzle, even with the crossing answers dumbed way down.
I learned a lot from that experience. It's easy to go overboard and make a puzzle unenjoyably hard. Themes where a solver must depend on every single crossing answer can be especially frustrating. Think of a quote puzzle, where you have to solve based only on the downs, unable to see what's going on in the quote until the very last minute. That's essentially what we are working with today since it's so difficult to figure out each base phrase until you are close to uncovering the entire entry.
Natan's 136-word grid is well done – a rarity in Sunday puzzles. Big ups for that feat of cruciverbalistic wizardry. But figuring out the theme phrases was tough enough, and having so many long pieces of fill made the solving process even harder.
As much as I enjoyed the great bonuses – A VOTRE SANTE, COLD FISSION, PAUL SIMON, STEAMPUNK, and more — this particular theme was so challenging to uncover that a more standard 140-word grid might have made for a better solving experience.
As for the themers themselves, I'd have liked each of the fish spanning words within themers – the MAGIC and RIDE of MAGIC (CARP)ET RIDE felt superfluous, whereas LA(B ASS)ISTANT felt like a much more interesting discovery. But I can see how some would prefer the relative simplicity of ones like MAGIC (CARP)ET RIDE, given how hard the theme was to suss out.
Overall though, the twist on the tried and true theme type was appreciated.
As always, Erik and I had a blast working together. We had a tough time cluing HANGMAN, but the editing team came up with the superb clue [Bad choices in it might cost you an arm and a leg]. We wanted to share a few of our favorite clues that hit the cutting room floor:
[PDA screen?] for KISS CAM
[Forward-looking figure?] for LOT
[Part of a subway series] for TRAIN STOP
Jeff Chen notes:
I appreciate when people work with new themeless grid types. If you press the "Analyze this puzzle" button down below, you'll see that there are zero identical grids – and even zero with similar topology. That's a rare occurrence for themelesses, which usually have black square patterns that are similar to previous themelesses, if not precisely the same.
Why does this matter, Jeff, you ridiculous pedant?
I'm glad you asked! I usually don't care about statistics or measurements in puzzles — it only matters to me when they directly correlate to solver pleasure. In this case, the grid helped me break out of the staid themeless sensation of "feature answers packed into each of the four corners."
Not only did I get TIGERPROOFING across the middle, but it felt like everywhere I turned, there was a CASABLANCA. BETA TESTER. HERE'S HOW. BOER WAR. SEE IF I CARE? I sure do!
I enjoy it when the entire themeless feels relevant, rather than when it's all about the four corners, and the rest of the puzzle serves simply to join those corners together.
TIGERPROOFING comes at a relevant time, just a few weeks after Tiger's career comeback, winning this year's Masters. Amazing that he's persevered through all the surgeries. It feels like eons ago that golf course designers used TIGERPROOFING to try to give other people a shot against the wunderkind.
(As an aside, there's a program called "Dr. Fill" that competes in the ACPT. Some constructors have been accused of DR FILL PROOFING. Probably not a crossworthy entry just yet…)
As with most 66-word puzzles, a bit too many slots filled with neutral material like RELATE TO, TELECOMS, ALL ALONG, TEAMING. Easy to be SORE AT these, or at least call them not that ENTICING.
But there were a lot of strong feature entries sprinkled throughout, VR HEADSET, SOME PEOPLE!, HANGMAN with a fantastic clue about bad choices costing you an arm and a leg. And the clue [Hard core] made for a delightful moment of discovery; a PIT is a literal hard core. Helped keep my attention through this challenging solve.
I'm not sure why I decided to try burying a mini-theme in a 15-stack, aside from the not-always-advisable "just to see if I can" impulse. (For me, that usually turns into the regrettable crossword version of "hold my beer and watch this": four killer seed entries, surrounded by 20 medical abbreviations and three Peruvian tree frogs.)
I think it started by accident — I was tinkering with stack ideas, noticed I'd inadvertently thrown in two different military ranks on top of each other, and decided to steer into the skid. I do know that I got pretty lucky, finding spans that clicked with each other within a few tries, and from there I fought my usual angsty longing for the crunchiest fill imaginable, in favor of clean, crisp, and light on the word putty. Whether I succeeded on that count, I have no idea, but there's nothing that makes me cringe for a change, so I'll take it.
It would have been nice for the ranks to appear in proper order, with GENERAL at the top and PRIVATE at the bottom, but, well, beggars, choosers, and all that.
Jeff Chen notes:
Dazzling clue alert! [Country superfans] had me puzzled, making it tough to break into that middle triple stack. What a delight to first figure out it started with a rare letter, J — not often that a rare letter anchors a triple-stack.
And then an even bigger pleasure to realize I'd been duped. Not a country music star like I'd been worried about, given my terrible knowledge of pop music. Country, as in nation! I'm not sure how common the term JINGOISTS is, but I don't care. What a great misdirect.
Solid triple-stack. None of them is as brilliantly clued as JINGOISTS, but MAJOR LEAGUE GAME, PRIVATE PRACTICE, GENERAL AUDIENCE are all good. I wish at least one of them had been given a wickedly clever wordplay clue – PRIVATE PRACTICE seems ripe for one. Something related to the army?
Hey, wait! Hold on just a second! (I admit, I skimmed over Adam's note, missing his point entirely at first.) MAJOR, PRIVATE, GENERAL? Okay, that's cool. Triple-stacks have been done to death, so they have to have fantastic entries to make them stand out. I'd never considered an alternate way to achieve stand-out-itude. How is it even possible to get three army ranks in a stack? That's an impressive feat.
I was revving up to grumble about the usual issues with triple-stacks; especially the gluey bits holding them together: APA, MCC (CD = 400, x3 = 1200 = MCC), and the terrible EEE. EEG TEST is a weird phrase, too, usually seen as just EEG. But heck, in the service of something cool, I can give that all a pass.
I'd have liked a little more zing in the other long slots. TABLE TOPS and GOOD SENSE are good, but AT THE ALTAR (feels like a partial) and RESTORED ain't gonna win any awards.
DEAD AGAIN was a well-made movie, but it literally didn't win any awards. At the time, I thought it wuz robbed. But I'm not sure it has staying power within the crossworld.
I hope other solvers figure out the mini-theme, because that was memorable. Along with the brilliant clue for JINGOISTS, I was thoroughly entertained.
Seems appropriate that MACHU PICCHU has UP in the middle of it. The Incas and their clever wordplay!
I don't often build crosswords around short themers, because these shorties tend to get lost amongst all the long fill that (generally) has to go in a puzzle. But I liked the concept and theme set well enough, that I decided to give it a try. How hard could it be?
Hard, as it turns out!
Just placing the symmetrical pairs and laying out black squares to separate them was tough enough. It took a couple of dozen tries to come up with an arrangement that seemed fillable.
But I had to deploy so many black squares in the center of the grid – four sets of three diagonals takes up a lot of real estate – that I ended up needing at least a few long across answers (where STAGE ACTOR and STATIONARY are now). That felt problematic, because wouldn't solvers wonder how these two were related to the theme?
Why not go whole hog, I reasoned, and throw even more long across fill in, that it felt more purposeful as fill? Surely that would fix the issue.
What? You wondered how SUPER SLO MO was part of the theme? Darn you!
Finally, I rarely use cheater squares in the way that I did just before KRAFT. It just looks fugly to me; seems cheap. But darned if I couldn't figure out a reasonable fill in the SW corner without it. I tried every usual trick in the book, but every single one dead-ended at some bizarre piece of fill.
If you haven't gotten the chance to go up to MACHU PICCHU – and more importantly, even higher to the peak at Huayna Picchu – that's one to put on the bucket list. Not for the faint of heart, faint of breath, or faint from fear of falling to one's death off of towering heights that have virtually no safety measures, though.
I originally had J-ROD for 55-Down slot. Will felt it was too ephemeral, so I re-did the lower right corner.
Lots of clue changes for this puzzle. I guess I had Monday in mind when cluing this grid, totally forgetting to consider the word count. The central crossing dictated the 72-word grid and created a few tough spots.
Jeff Chen notes:
I'm envious. It takes a great constructor to transform a stale theme – I've seen dozens of "salad dressing" concepts over the years – into something incredible. Who would have ever thought to riff on CROSS DRESSING, interpreting it as "a revealer literally crossing dressings"? And to attempt the impossible, crossing CROSS DRESSING through FIVE symmetrical dressings, incorporated into great phrases?
It should be impossible. There's no way that Crucivera, the crossword goddess, is benevolent enough to allow such a fortuitous happenstance.
You'd have to come up with a way to intersect five salad dressings through CROSS DRESSING, at symmetrical rows. That's hard, but doable.
But add in the constraint of having the five phrases also be symmetrical in length? And have those lengths match up in position, so the dressings still fit properly?
Nah. I wouldn't have even tried.
Sure glad C.C. did! Wow. I uncovered the revealer and figured out the theme early on. But I kept stopping to admire the feat. It didn't seem humanly feasible. I mean, getting CAESAR and RUSSIAN to intersect in rows 6 and 10, that's pretty cool. But to have HAIL CAESAR and RUSSIAN MOB just happen to fit into total, absolute, mystifying crossword symmetry?
Screw HAIL CAESAR. HAIL Crucivera is more like it.
Fantastic clue in RECESS, too, reimagining "trial separation" in a funny way.
A couple of blips in the fill: a little more crossword glue than I like, and a ton of 3-letter words that broke up solving flow. Not the most elegant of finishes. But:
Much of that is expected with six interlocked themers. After looking carefully at the grid design, I don't think I could have done better.
Who cares? When a theme is this eye-popping, such trivialities matter not.
I came up with THE MEANING OF LIFE and JACKIE ROBINSON straight-away, but I needed to think a bit for one more iconic 42. Initially, I had DAMON J. GULCZYNSKI as my last theme answer ("Crossword legend born in 1977"), but I thought he might be too niche. Once I noticed PRESIDENT CLINTON is also 16 letters, I figured he was the more mainstream option.
Jeff Chen notes:
I can just see all the "Hitchhiker" pagans out there scratching their collective heads. WTF does THE MEANING OF LIFE have to do with the number 42? Basically, this supercomputer chugs along for decades to figure out the meaning of life, and it finally calculates the answer as "42." It's an amusing gag. Not as life-changingly funny as some make it out to be, though.
(ducking the onslaught of hate mail)
JACKIE ROBINSON's number 42 has been retired by all MLB teams. Great inclusion for this puzzle.
PRESIDENT CLINTON was POTUS 42. I liked how 42 was indirectly referenced in the clue. Made you have to think for half a second.
I wonder how many people will write me today with confused emails asking what the theme was. Check out 42-Across: THEME. Get it? Three themers that all reference the number 42?
"But why is the meaning of life 42, Jeff?"
GAH I JUST EXPLAINED IT WEREN'T YOU LISTENING oh never mind.
This is a rare case where the concept might have been better as a Sunday grid. I say this so infrequently that I can't remember the last time it happened. But it'd be easy to make some sort of grid art, forming a 4 2 out of black squares. It wouldn't have had perfect symmetry, but that'd have been fine.
That would have opened up the possibility for other 42-related things. The 42nd element? The 42nd US state? Some neat mathematical property of the number 42? I'm sure there are dozens of cleverly indirect relations to 42, too.
Fantastic clue for DANTE. Maybe I should start writing about the underworld so that people would call me one hell of a writer too.
The clue for ITHACA confused me. It's ... Gorges? Apparently it has a lot of gorges. Maybe it's a snooty New York thing.
Fun idea to riff on the number 42. I wish there had been at least one other themer, and that the clues had more explicitly referenced 42 (so people would STOP ASKING ME WHAT THE THEME IS PLEASE STOP), but an entertaining idea.
ADDED NOTE: Constructor extraordinare Matt Gaffney astutely observed that it would have been perfect to run this puzzle exactly six weeks ago. I'll let you figure that one out.