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This “chunky steps” motif comes up a lot in H:ls – it got me wondering if it will be a challenge to come up with fresh grid designs when you have so few black squares to work with. I don’t get whacky about grid design, and honestly I just like themelesses with low word counts such as these regardless of where the black squares go.
I’m a big fan of conversational fill, so marquee #1, I WOULDN’T BET ON IT (18A) [“Don’t hold your breath”], was great fun. I got hilariously Naticked (bc I live 20 min from Real Natick) on JOB LOT (14A) [Commercial odds and ends] because I thought it was too much of a New England thing to be Real and I’m not familiar with the term outside of the context of the regional discount store. JABRONI (14D) [“Loser” in Wrestlemania slang] I didn’t know, but strictly fill-wise I like those bubbly J’s and B’s even though I got t-boned on that cross.
Not a fan of CATSUP — it’s definitely the JABRONI of the “ketchup vs. catsup” match. What’s awesome about puzzles is that, in both solving and constructing, you end up reading shit you’d never voluntarily seek out. In this case I ended up learning that the iconic condiment started as “ketchup” but Hunt’s, in a desperate attempt to distinguish itself from Heinz, spelled it CATSUP for a while, but ultimately caved and went back to “ketchup.” So I’d say CATSUP is more of a [Hunt’s product, once]– I can’t find any current CATSUPs.
And, sadly, even as a science/drug nerd, I was not a fan of ANESTHETIC GASES. As a marquee it feels weak– maybe it’s the plural?
I liked DOLOR (33A) [Malaise] I think for the same reasons I like seeing TORPOR around. RIO DE ORO (34D) [Western Saharan region] was super rough for me because RHODESIA fit and didn’t know about this long-dry river (or where Rhodesia is, apparently). Also I had DRAFT in for TSLOT (58A) [Opening for a weather strip], and when I google said opening I get really confusing pictures that don’t do much to further my understanding of what it is. ENDURO (56A) [Sport for motocyclists] was made effectively impossible for me in the face of all my incorrectness– but given how little I know about motorcycle sports I bet it would have required All The Crosses. Ultimately this is the corner that made me put the puzzle down for a couple days before coming back to it.
INFOMANIA was fun, and I very much like the word CAREENED — it feels like it sounds. Overall, barely any pop-culture references and honestly, in a time when crosswords are concerned with getting hip fast, I appreciate this.
[Many a Mac] for SCOT (37D) is great– the four-letteredness and questionmarklessness push the misdirection very insistently towards computer stuff. Also [Kowalski cry] (5D) was satisfying for me because I’ve only seen/read “Streetcar” once, back in high school English, and didn’t remember Stan’s name, so it was nice to be reminded and have STELLA(AAAA!) fall into place.
Back to ANESTHETIC GASES (50A) [Releases from the clinic?]– that is a great clue. So I think what ends up irking me about it actually comes from the STONED (57A) crossreference [Like the subjects of the “Post-dental surgery drive home” genre of viral video, thanks to 50-A]. “We’re stoned, thanks to anesthetic gases” is how that ends up sounding to me– a little forced, a little awkward. I probably would have enjoyed marquee #2 much more without this pesky crossreference.
The double [Palm___] clues for TREE and TREO, while genuinely cute and clever, made things hard for me in both of those corners. [Do___] A BIT (7D) is a pretty heartless clue for not-so-great fill. The good, tricky clue for JANE ROE (53A) [Placeholder for a woman] and the not-in-my-wheelhouse vowelfest that is ACTAEON (55A) [Theban hero of mythology] made for a frustrating SW.
Definitely the most challenging HIGH:low for me yet– I almost gave up twice, but ultimately persevered.
I like this grid– it’s long and lean. Those ascending (or descending if you’re a glass-half-empty type) threeper bars are unique and the whole thing ends up looking even more wide-open than usual. In the HIGH:low newsletter, Kameron compares the black rectangles to the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey”– I like where his head is at.
Both marquees, USED CAR SALESMAN (7D) [Someone with a lot to deal with] and IRON CHEF AMERICA (9D) [Food Network competition that kicks off with the line “Allez Cuisine!”], are fun times– and the former’s clue is banging.
With HUMAN GENOME, OXIDE, and HEXANE my Science beaker bubbleth over. Fillwise ONE AND DONE sent me, but the clue broke my bartending heart [Baller on the fast track from college to the NBA]. I know it as a guest who stays for only one drink, but when it comes to sports stuff I’m the lightweight.
OVEN MITT (33D) is endearing fill and goes nicely with IRON CHEF AMERICA *and* has a fantastic slick clue: [Pan handler]. I personally haven’t seen TELLURIDE in a puzzle before so that was cool… I could keep going but clearly there is just a lot of great stuff here.
Although I consider EMASCULATES (55A) to be good fill I object to the clue, [Deprives of vigor]. Why does something so clearly gendered get to apply to all vigor/strength? I don’t know that I would refer to myself as being EMASCULATED if I’ve been weakened, sapped, drained, etc. Vigor is universal, while “masculinity” is not. I would have gone with the “deprive (a man) of his male role or identity” angle instead of the irksomely broad “make (a person, idea, or piece of legislation) weaker or less effective.”
My happily bubbling Science beaker sputtered a bit over [Whalebone] for BALEEN (42D). It’s apparently referred to as whalebone, yes, but it’s keratin (hair material) and the least bony thing about a whale other than blubber, so it was a tough clue for a nerd like me.
[Wear it for a bit of exposure] (21A) for THONG is a little awkward-sounding. I know the passive voice gets boring, but this kinda stuck out there. Also, surely there is more fun that can be had with MAKEOVER (32D) [Home ___ (renovation)].
In addition the clues I liked and mentioned in the fill section, [Minor celebrity?] for TEEN IDOL (12D) is great, as is [It’s tossed for starters] for SALAD (46D). Ah yes, and although the answer is small– (VIN)– the clue, [Diesel seen in vehicles], is laaarge.
Overall a wonderful romp after my toils with H:l #8. Oh yeah– another thing I like about Kameron’s puzzles is that their publication is in sync with the semi-monthly pay cycle so I essentially get a bonus every 1st and 15th of the month. Sweet.