SUNDAY PUZZLE – This is Stephen McCarthy’s third extravagant Sunday puzzle for The Times in less than a year, a trend interrupted by a Thursday last December. He is such a prolific theme builder that he must be one of those creators who dream of themes.
Mr. McCarthy is originally from Vancouver Island, British Columbia (you may remember his “Maple Leaf” Sunday grill), and now has a Ph.D. transport modeling student in Stockholm. Today’s riddle makes me wonder if teleportation devices and airspeeders appear in these models.
Today’s theme involves two huge sci-fi franchises, and as the printed introduction to the puzzle notes, it’s a “quantum” puzzle, with two correct solutions. One or both will delight sci-fi fans.
Due to the nature and layout of the theme, the filler entries in this puzzle are a bit shorter and more plentiful than average. I don’t think this makes the grid any easier, but it does see a little, with less large uninterrupted stretches of white boxes. There are still some difficult clues and some nice surprises. For example, constructors often indicate an alphabetical sequence of letters with their preceding or following letter, so I expected “mnop” to be the “previous Q?” rather than LGBT (this question mark indicates the presence of puns, but I still did not make the connection.) ROAR (“sound of a jaguar”) above PURR (“sound of a ‘a Jaguar’) is brilliant: a British car and a big cat can both purr and roar, right?
30A. I like this expression which can mean many things. “Scoundrel” is among them, whether used with fondness or disdain. It’s all in the delivery, smart little TEL AND TEL.
50A. It all makes sense once you figure it out – an 8 looks like a snowman, or at least its base and headless torso. I don’t know much about golf, but I know the pros don’t talk much about hitting a snowman because eight strokes on a hole is terrible and it indicates your swing and luck are freezing, that is to say, you are a bit icy.
69A. No shade in the Science section of The Times, but some of the most fascinating facts appear in crossword puzzles. I had never thought of volcanoes in a desert before – I imagine them on islands, usually tropical – but Emi Koussi is a volcano in northern Chad, SAHARA.
92A. It’s one of two cosmetics companies in this puzzle, both beginnings, both somewhere in my various skincare and makeup holdings. BIORÉ makes sticky strips that trap what’s hiding in your pores, and NARS makes a range of racy blushes.
95A. The capital “T” over the “Telegram” in this hint indicates branding: the Telegram app allows you to send IMS or instant messages. (If you cut the term “instant” a bit, the same goes for telegrams, which can still be delivered to certain places.)
12D. Speaking of question marks and puns, “Waste of an elections?” does not refer to all those local politicians who run term after term unopposed. Instead, the answer is CHADS (no relation to North African nation), tiny pieces of paper that are cut from a ballot before it goes through a counting machine. Anyone who remembers the suspense of hanging, pregnant, dimpled, swinging-door chads in 2000 probably shuddered a bit when they caught on to this pun.
98D. We find this term frequently in crosswords but so rarely everywhere else that it is always surprising to have a MASER rather than a “laser” associated with atomic clocks. The terms have a similar meaning and are both acronyms, differing only in their first letter: Mmicrowave/Llight Aamplification by Sstimulation Emission of Raddition.
There are three pairs of entries in the chart set today. Each pair shares a clue – at 25 and 115-Across (“good side”), 38- and 99-Across (“major role”) and 3- and 17-Down (“memorable quote”) – and all these clues also refer to 70-Across. This is the location of the puzzle revealer, the entrance that serves as the punchline for the thematic puzzle; in this case, it’s a visual representation of the puzzle’s title, “Sci-Fi Showdown.”
I can’t imagine a solver getting one or two and not knowing their source, but you never know. I got the “major role” entries first – HAN SOLO and MR SPOCK – and was off to the stationary bike races.
More than that, I had a case of hot fuzzies. It’s only human, isn’t it?
Mr. McCarthy is smart to include the two forces for good as an added challenge – Leia and Luke’s group is not on the tip of my tongue, nor is the multiplanetary union that Captain Kirk and his cohort are protecting. . Mr. McCarthy is also smart to notice (and lucky to have) a few universally known 21-letter slogans. One is a memorable introduction, and the other is exactly what you want to hear when you’re stuck in a tricky corner of a crossword puzzle.
Note that all of these theme entries revolve around the central reveal at 70-Across, an eight-letter entry whose first half is simply STAR. His last four squares are interesting, however.
Trekkies, you’ll find TRAP, WRIST, PAYEES, and LEAKED at 71-, 67-, 47-, and 35-Down, making your crosses. Star Wars fans, you’ll get different entries that match the same clues. “It’s a JRAP” can also be “it’s a ORAP”; a “part of the body that precedes the ‘band'” can be a WRIST or a WASTI; “those involved in a transaction” can be PAIDES or PAYRS; and “let it out, somehow”, can be LEAKED or LEASED. Just like the universe, this grid is big enough for wookiees, Klingons, and those who love the decades-long incarnations of STAR WARS and STAR TREK. I frequent when I say I barely know who Mr. McCarthy is talking about in his notes below, and there are still more recent chapters from both sagas, and probably more in the works to come.
I’m a fan of both “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”, so it’s nice to be able to highlight both (not to mention the friendly rivalry between the two fandoms) in one puzzle. I grew up with the second iterations of both franchises (episodes 1-3 / The Next Generation) and had a crush on Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker and Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher when I was a teenager , so I couldn’t decide which franchise I liked better!
Will Shortz noted that the middle of the puzzle was the hardest to build due to the constraints of getting WARS and TREK to work in the answers at the bottom and making them work well together. I would have liked the grid in the middle to be a little less burst, but hey!
I tried to make the grid look a bit like a spiral galaxy to reflect the theme…wonder how many people will notice.
Can’t finish? Illogical!
Subscribers can view the answer key.
Trying to return to the puzzle page? Right here.
What did you think?