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Stacking Up

Dec 15, 2023


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Brooke Husic and Will Nediger open the themeless floodgates.

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By Caitlin Lovinger

SUNDAY PUZZLE — Two familiar weekend names are on the roster today, with a surprise-filled, challenging grid. Brooke Husic, who excels at making Friday and Saturday puzzles, is a postdoctoral fellow in biophysics at Princeton; Will Nediger is a professional crossword constructor in London, Ontario.

This is a themeless puzzle with 120 entries — your average Sunday puzzle with a theme usually comes with about 140 — and 17 of today's answers are Times puzzle debuts. It's a beautiful, rich arrangement with a massive crosshatch of long entries in the center and four knotty corners.

First, there are the misdirects and the small, pesky items that tend to slide beneath the radar. "It may give a bowler a hook" recalls pin resetting devices at bowling alleys, but a "bowler" can also go on your head or on a rack, right? In this puzzle, the "hook" is on a HAT TREE. In another tricky entry, those "high-speed races with gates" aren't just "slaloms," they’re SUPER GS (which stands for "super giant slaloms").

17A. This is a debut that I had to solve in reverse. What do "fire drills and dress rehearsals" have in common, anyway? They’re both PREPARATIVE; I was initially thinking more along the lines of "prevention," which is not the point of either of the activities in the clue.

56A. This clue refers to such a strange, interesting novel. The "J.G. Ballard dystopia about a man stranded between two motorways" is a 1974 work called "CONCRETE ISLAND." It takes place almost completely in the uncharted zone beneath intersecting raised highways, invisible to those on the road though just a few feet away.

63A. This is a debut, and a beguilingly simple pun that I didn't pick up on initially. "Where many people walk out?" is also where many out people walk — a GAY PRIDE PARADE.

105A. This used to be one of my favorite ways to casually beg for help, or make an "Informal favor request": DO ME A SOLID. I don't know if this saying is up-to-date parlance in 2022; I think I got the most mileage from it in the 1990s, when we also said "five" to hold our seat and "cool beans."

9D. "What the musicals ‘Beggar's Holiday’ and ‘Rent’ are based on" had me writing "Bohème" a bit smugly, although that's only half right and half of an entry. "La Bohème" is connected to "Rent," but not to "Beggar's Holiday"; they do both come from OPERAS.

16D./19D. Two dance references dangle here, side by side, and both stumped me. (It didn't help that I had no idea that U.S.C. was the "Only sch. to have a gold medal-winning athlete in every Summer Olympics since 1912." That's one specific clue.) The "Italian dance form from the Spanish for ‘walk in the street’" is a PASSACAGLIA.

The "Dance move that resembles a front flip" is a common showstopper in break dancing; everything inverted starts with a HEADSPRING and spins out from there.

56D. This is another debut — we don't get new geographical trivia that often, especially with a reference to the distant past. The "Portuguese city with a historic university founded in 1290" is COIMBRA (and the university's library, in modern times, looks spectacular).

58D. I had "date nights" here at first, as "After-school activities one wouldn't list on a college app." Perhaps, but the answer is DETENTIONS, which are definitely best left in the past.

89D. This clue is seasonally appropriate, if you’re anywhere that's not freezing at the moment. The "Cloud on a summer day" in question consists of GNATS, bothersome bugs that are everywhere.

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