SUNDAY PUZZLE — When I saw this puzzle in the stack, a Ross Trudeau Sunday, with a “Zoo” in the title no less, I felt like a tiger cub given a Christmas present.
Unwrapping happened in a few fits and starts, and I did, at one point, consider with some amazement how sleekly this whimsical grid came together, as far as four lengthy pairs of theme entries gliding through the puzzle like coelacanths. This is what lurks in the depths of my mind, taking up space that might be better saved for daily logistics. But that’s “puzz” life!
At first glance I froze up, seeing a lot of unfamiliar cultural references (plus immediately fixating on DUANE, “The Rock,” rather than DWAYNE, which should really be in all of our reptile brains by now). So I was an EMO ELMO.
I had “Story” for STORM, “ESP” for ASL, “cut out” for RESECT, “Marist” for VASSAR, “hyped” for AMPED — many, many misdirects, Mr. Trudeau, to my DETRIMENT. And yet, I persisted, for it is only a complete report that earns me the big bucks, and upon completion I had that feeling that you get when you ski down a particularly narrow slope with your heart in your throat, only to look up at the end and think, “Oh! That was totally fun, not too steep and worth it.”
4A: “Inspector Gadget” dates to 1982, but the villainous DR CLAW is a Times debut, which made me feel better about not knowing it, so I figured I’d spread the love. This show illustrates one of life’s inequities — the good guy can have all manner of technology at his or her disposal and still get defeated by a big sharp claw.
50A: Shameless plug, but Jersey, one of the ISLES of the English Channel, is the site of an amazing zoo created by Gerald Durrell in 1959. I just learned that you can “glamp” there, something I hereby resolve to do in 2019 and report back on forthwith.
16D: A modern clue, I thought, for a bit of an anachronism: HOMEMAKERS. We’ve had the entry before, singular and plural, clued like “many a sitcom mom” or “housewife” (or “builder,” in history’s defense, but still not quite right). “Homewreckers” has appeared exactly once, clued as “women who go after other women’s men,” but this was all the way back in the Dark Ages of, um, 1999.
53D: I think this is the most familiar Chrysler model, but I didn’t think of LEBARON as classic, and didn’t know that they weren’t being made anymore (according to the company’s website, they’re down to three production models, although I could be missing something). Historically, the LeBaron epitomizes several eras of car design (including the ‘80s, for better or for worse). Just the mention of this name gives me a wicked, wicked earworm.
86D: There was the usual allotment of name entries for a big Sunday puzzle, many of which I had to fill with crosses — ERIKA, STACIE and ISLA to name a few. I actually know “The Goodbye Kiss,” though, which is really “Arrivederci Amore, Ciao.” I am thrilled to find out that CARLOTTO Massimo has a whole bunch of other noir thrillers out, just in time for reading-on-the-treadmill season.
Basically, we have three paired entries in this puzzle — at 24 and 91A, 31 and 115A, and 48 and 105A — that each comprise a completely real, successfully elusive living thing and its purported locale, the place this wily creature would like you to believe it resides.
An additional explanation (and presumed inspiration for the puzzle) is a J.K. Rowling book that I’d never read, but fortunately it became a movie recently, so I remember seeing posters when out and about.
This long title ran through the grid’s Equator at 62A, FANTASTIC BEASTS; 68A, AND; and 74A, WHERE TO FIND THEM. Pretty self-explanatory, really, and delectable fodder for any Charles Fort fans out there, all you cryptozoological cruciverbalists (sorry) waiting for the perfect grid.
I thought that two of the three beasties were firmly in everyone’s wheelhouse — and had each gotten their own Times puzzle: one in 1959 (clued as “Objective of a high-level search”) and one much more recently (clued as “Subject of this puzzle,” sorry). The third one I always thought of as strictly mythical:
Apparently, though, THE NORWEGIAN SEA could be chock-full of Krakens. Shudder!
The original version of this idea used the theme pairs GREAT EAGLES / MIDDLE-EARTH, BASILISK / HOGWARTS, MOCK TURTLE / WONDERLAND, DIRE WOLF / WESTEROS, and EWOKS / ENDOR. The editorial team felt cryptids would be better-known than fantasy-genre BEASTS.
Duplicating fill answers is one of those puzz convention no-no’s that doesn’t bother me at all. ECHO became ECHT in this grid to accommodate AMAZON ECHO, but for me, two ECHO’S in a 21×21 grid would be way happier than including ECHT. Particularly if it’s a meta-dupe like ECHO (echo!).
Entries still out there?
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Don’t try to find me for the next couple of weeks — I’m looking for Caribbean pterodactyls.
What did you think?