SATURDAY PUZZLE — It’s fitting that we’ve had some scorching Saturday grids this hot July; today’s is no exception. I felt optimistic at the start after finding several inroads, but I got hopelessly stuck in a central spot. The end result was a slow solve time that was as slow as it is when I get a couple of bits of short fill and then stare blankly for a while at a puzzle.
John Lieb has been making puzzles for The Times for close to a decade, but it has been about a year since his last one (another tricky Saturday, in collaboration with Brad Wilber). Today’s grid has a fairly low word count and is wide open, meaning there are large swaths of solid white squares that make things challenging for constructor and solver alike. There’s also one entry that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before, which doesn’t happen very often to this old hand.
15A. It’s lovely how this entry, clued “Monodon monoceros, more familiarly,” crosses 5D, “Animal whose name means, literally, ‘nose.’” We know that a nose job is a rhinoplasty, and we know that RHINO (5D) is short for “rhinoceros.” So “monoceros” is, er, “one ceros” (“one horn”). “Unicorn” fits at 15A interestingly, but the entry here is NARWHAL, that Arctic whale with the extravagant tusk.
31A. This aviator, the “First person to fly solo around the world (1933),” has popped up in Times puzzles over the years, but only partly, by his first name. WILEY POST is a debut. Another factoid about Mr. Post is his famous demise: In 1935, he crashed a plane in Alaska that was also carrying the actor Will Rogers, killing them both.
37A. I recognized this clue, “Circuit building block,” as computational, but I came up with “logic card,” which is close but not quite right. The right answer is a debut and refers to one of the numerous switches in a digital circuit that handle various inputs, a LOGIC GATE.
13D. This is a nice twist! I got the entry for “Opposite of cut” on crosses and was mystified: ATTEND. “Cut,” in this case, refers to skipping out on school, say, to catch a Cubs game.
22D. There will be solvers in the audience who pounce on this clue, “Method of music education.” I must have cut that class. I figured I would deduce it eventually, which did not happen, or get it on crosses, which did — although I did have to look online to check my work and find the origin of SOLFÈGE, which knocked me for a loop.
I noticed the phonetic elements “sol” and “fè,” which could be “fa” as in “do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do,” but I thought nothing of it because the sequence was reversed (“sol fa” instead of “fa sol”). It turns out that SOLFÈGE, or “solfeggio,” is a form of solmization, or assigning a specific syllable to a corresponding musical note. This practice goes back at least a thousand years, to an Italian monk who chose syllables that made a mnemonic for a hymn (that did not include a deer, a female deer, a long, long way to run or a needle pulling thread).
Over the past several years, I’ve admired and enjoyed themeless puzzles with wide-open middle sections — particularly from Ryan McCarty (he has numerous eye-popping grids!) — and I wanted to take a shot at writing one myself. In addition, getting a themeless puzzle accepted these days — with so many constructors writing such wonderful puzzles — has been challenging, so I figured I would try something that I had not done before. (My rejection pile is well populated with 70-word themeless puzzles. …)
Making the grid took much longer than usual, but I lucked out by having flexibility in the NW and SE corners by having the letter patterns ????SCIENCE and ALPINE????? to work with. As a longtime teacher of AP Statistics, I was happy that one of those slots became DATA SCIENCE. Also, for a long time, the entry WHO IS THAT was WHO IS THIS, and, happily, the former led to much cleaner and more interesting fill. I hope this provides a fun Saturday challenge for solvers!
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