“BLACKOUT SQUARES” by Alex Eaton-Salners
Would you like to solve this puzzle? Say no more! But read more, definitely do that.
Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners
Theme: Common phrases with MIND removed.
- 17A: JEDI TRICK – Lightsaber juggling or droid ventriloquism, say?
- 25A: VULCAN MELD – What the Roman counterpart to Hephaestus does to forge a sword?
- 49A: OVER MATTER – Above it all?
- 60A: DON’T IF I DO – “Please use me as the opposite of a role model”?
- 36A: MIND ERASERS – Concoctions equal parts vodka, Kahlua, and tonic water… which four answers in this puzzle obviously drank
Lena: I’ve never had a MIND ERASER as described (and I bet there are thousands of drinks called “Mind Erasers”), but it sounds just weird enough to be good. The tart bitterness from the fizzy tonic water and the creamy Kahlua might end up tasting like an olde time fountain soda– a phosphate or somesuch.
Michael: I just don’t think this drink is that well known. So theme is meh to me. Take out MIND … and get nonsense phrases? OK.
Ben: And here I was figuring that you were familiar with them from your bartending days! I don’t drink much, so I’ve never heard of them, but I was able to infer it easily enough.
Lena: I’ve never worked in a bar that even has Kahlua! Seriously though, I kinda want to try a Mind Eraser now.
Lena: With only three theme answers, OVER MATTER stands out as the only one not having MIND removed from the middle. There’s nothing that says it needs to be, though– it’s just an oddball.
Ben: Actually, there are four (Lena: Oops! Yup!), but you’re right that OVER MATTER is a slight oddball. I solved from top to bottom today, so I initially thought that there might be a sci-fi connection as well, with VULCAN MELD and JEDI TRICK being the first two I came to. I like this theme, although I feel like there has got to be an easier way to clue VULCAN MELD — “Roman counterpart to Hephaestus” feels awkward to me.
Lena: Loved the LARVA clue (45A: Baby buggy?); props for cleverness AND making maggots sound adorable. I also enjoyed DEJA VU (1D: Glitch in the matrix, I bet) because I definitely say “it’s a glitch in the matrix!” when folks experience DEJA VU and wonder if they have any idea what I’m talking about.
Ben: Yeah, the LARVA clue is good. I also liked 2D: Ocean crew in 1960 and 2001? for ELEVEN, 29D: We’re currently in the Phanerozoic one for EON and… uh, hm. That’s kind of it for clues that stood out to me. In fact, this puzzle honestly didn’t make much of an impression on me at all. Cute theme, fill is fine but nothing special, clues are pretty straightforward. Interesting that GRID is clued in reference to the crossword term — I wonder if new solvers know that’s what it’s called.
Ben: I did have a little trouble with the NE corner, since I didn’t know what a CARET was (19A: Little arrow used for insertions) or 13D: “In inceptum finis ___” (Latin phrase meaning the end is in the beginning) for EST, and RESTS is clued oddly as 16A: Goes on leave, say. It all came together pretty fast, though.
Michael: Interesting / new-to-me clue on REICH (50D: Ambient music pioneer Steve). That clue could’ve gone much worse. Also loved the ridiculous plague-carrier stuff: 5D: “Goddamn those little plague-carriers!” (RATS!) and 8D: “Ahhhh! A little Plague-carrier!” (EEK!).
Lena: Not a fan of MAMAS (64A: Birthers, slangily). I feel like calling a pregnant women “birthers” is slangy enough, thanks. I’m not really on board with MIDGET either. Honest question: if an offensive word is used in a grid does cluing it so as to point out that it’s offensive make it less offensive to see? What if a racial slur was included but was clued [thing to never call anyone ever]?
Ben: I think it’s a judgment call. I don’t think I’d have a problem with (for example) GYPSY being clued as “Roma, pejoratively”, but maybe that’s because some people don’t know that term is offensive, so it would be educational. I agree that the clue for MAMAS is a little iffy. Don’t really have a problem with MIDGET, but that’s easy for me to say when I’m not a part of the group in question.
Lena: I just came across a lot of articles by members of the dwarf community referring to the term as “The M-word” and explaining why it’s considered to be very offensive and it got me thinking. It certainly has been educational in this sense!
Ben: Days Without a Harry Potter Reference – 2. Actually, there’s not much pop culture in this puzzle at all. “Ocean’s Eleven”, “Kill Bill”, “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” in the theme, “Mean Girls”, “Hamilton”… that’s pretty much it, and it’s all from a good few years ago except for “Hamilton”. Oh, and whatever “The Lubitsch Touch” is. *googles* I guess it’s a film history thing.
Lena: Don’t forget “The Matrix”!