New Look (Published 2021) (2024)



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Peter Gordon’s grid requires one’s full focus.

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New Look (Published 2021) (1)

SUNDAY PUZZLE — Peter Gordon has been contributing puzzles to The Times like clockwork for over three decades. Most have been themed, and the ones that I remember the best have involved the elegant manipulation of letters to turn something ordinary into something surprising. This grid falls neatly into that category.

According to the print introduction for this grid, Mr. Gordon has served as the puzzle editor for Games magazine, Sterling Publishing and The New York Sun. Since 2010, he has edited Fireball Crosswords, a subscription that offers 45 extra-difficult puzzles a year. (As the site says, “How hard? If you have to ask, too hard for you.”)

Tricky Clues

If you asked me how hard this puzzle is, I’d say pretty hard, but not too hard for you. There are a couple of very specific sports trivia clues — one for someone I’d heard of, Lionel MESSI, and one for someone I hadn’t, AL TOON. (I thought “Altoon” was a last name. That’s how bad my sports trivia is.) On the other hand, all the canine clues were good to me: FIDO, PULI and the charmingly clued LAPDOGS (think Maltipoos, mini Bernedoodles and Bolonoodles).

1A: I only got this off-kilter clue in reverse, but there’s no debating it — “The Rock” is certainly BEEFIER than Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and the rest of the (Rolling) Stones, perhaps even combined.

22A: This entry has an easy letter to miss. The verb “to love” is AMARE, but my reflex will always make me think it’s the more common noun AMORE. I didn’t notice that misplaced O until I finished the grid.

122A: This is the puzzle debut for the Missy Elliott group SISTA, which released a single in 1994 (and then an album in 2017, long after she’d gained superstardom on her own). The R&B group is good, and this clue is a nice shout-out to the 1990s, but I find solo Missy hypnotic.

124A: “Felt” reads like a verb to me in this context, so I tried to find something like “patted” with seven letters, to no avail. In this case, the “felt” is textile in nature, the material used to make a STETSON.

36D: “Oath?” No, TRUTH SERUM, which returns to the puzzle for the first time since 1970, and which refers to drugs that are used to zone people out. There’s no actual way to suppress everything in someone’s mind that isn’t strictly the “truth” or reality, and the administration of such drugs is considered to be torture by international law.

47D: I have tube television-era memories of “Mr. Owl,” who starred in an old commercial for TOOTSIE POPS and became a poster child for elegant scammers. I know the candy is still around, but I’m not sure if the reference is recognizable to everyone these days. (Did anyone ever know who the “Henry” of OH HENRY was? Signs point to no.)

112D: I was confounded by this little entry, but AYES indicate the passing of a government bill in Washington, D.C.

Today’s Theme

There are six theme entries today, identified by question clues, and a revealer, all in the Across entries. This is definitely an example where the trick is easier to explain than actually solve, because Mr. Gordon’s theme set is pretty tricky. It’s also as clean as a whistle, which makes teasing each one out particularly pleasing.

The first entry that I finished, without knowing what to expect, was at 85-Across: “Means of learning about Chiang Kai-shek?” The answer is BOOKS ON TAIPEI, which is perfectly cromulent: Kai-shek spent the second half of his political life in Taiwan. My Spidey sense tingled slightly at the idea of TAIPEI being important to the theme, but I was thinking aloud, if that makes sense, trying to come up with how the city’s pronunciation might matter.

I then stumbled through 32-Across, “Like some cross-Caribbean flights?,” getting PANAMA HAITI. With sounds in mind, HAITI was a bit disconcerting, and I didn’t know what to do with these two countries after another geographical reference in TAIPEI, which made for a momentary red herring.

It wasn’t until I figured out my third entry, at 23-Across, that I heard that “clicking sound.” (What a fun clue, by the way.) “Meticulous magical beings?” solves to THOROUGH FAIRIES. What? Well, this one has to be “thoroughfares.” The moment I got onto that road, it was a straight shot to “Panama hat” and “Books on tape.” The sound of the words matters not. It’s the effect of those two letter I’s, placed just so in the second half of each phrase to help create a working answer to the theme clue’s question.

Knowing that, the final three entries were doable. They’re based on a pattern, an accessory and a schoolyard challenge that seems to be better known as a television show these days.

The revealer, at 116-Across, refers to the title of the puzzle: “New look provider … or a hom*ophonic hint to this puzzle’s theme.” What did it take to change something common to an off-kilter definition for each of these theme clues? A FRESH PAIR OF EYES, or I’s.

Constructor Notes

Two theme answers that didn’t make it into the puzzle (both 12 letters, answers at the end):

1. Program in which some native Alaskans get minestrone and mulligatawny delivered?

2. Providence Journal headline after the local Ivy League school starts construction?

One thing I wanted to avoid in this theme was any extra I’s in the theme answers. So something like INDIANAPOLIS COLITIS was no good because Indianapolis contains the letter I. That rule also eliminated GREGORIAN CHIANTI.

I liked BIRYANI FERRY, but that had the wordplay on the wrong end. And CLOUD BURSITIS or STAR BURSITIS didn’t make much sense.

The two theme answers that didn’t make it into the puzzle (rot13):



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What did you think?


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