As many regular readers and crossword puzzle solvers probably know, David Steinberg is one of the big names in crosswords. This is his 81st published puzzle in the New York Times, which puts him at number twenty-five on the most prolific constructors list, and he's still in college! He is also responsible for The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project which provides a wealth of information about constructors and editors of the NYTX before Will Shortz took over. Furthermore, he won the C division final at the A.C.P.T. the first year that I attended it. In short, he is a veritable crossword wunderkind.
When I first started this blog, his late-week puzzles were a real bear for me, and sometimes I even felt that they were too difficult to be enjoyable. I'm not sure now whether I've caught up, he's toned it down, or it's something else entirely, but I seem to have gotten to know his style a bit. And one thing that I think is true of his style is that his puzzles can sometimes seem to skew a bit "young." The start today, with BUMS and then HAHA is what I'm talking about. Kind of reminds me of Mozart as he is portrayed in Amadeus. Brilliant, but coming across as a tad unrefined. Maybe it's all in my head - I know he's young, so I invent connections... I don't know.
Anyway, on to the puzzle at hand and its strange theme, in which the expected answer to the clue can be seen as an abbreviation and another word, and then that abbreviation is written out fully. Take 16A: Beginning, expanded? (STREETART) for example. "Beginning" can be answered with "start," and the ST can be seen as an abbreviation for STREET, but is the actual answer STREETART somehow also connected to "beginning?" It doesn't seem to be. And "22A: Forming a crust, expanded?," the normal answer for which, "caking" has been expanded to CALIFORNIAKING. Why? What even is a CALIFORNIAKING? Somewhat interesting, but still, I don't think it's terribly elegant or satisfying. And the original "answer" for PRESIDENTELECT ought to be pre-select to go with "47A: Choose in advance, expanded?," but instead it's "pres-elect?" Weird.
Aside from the theme, the fill has some great stuff. EXONERATE (30D: Clear) and POWERPOSE (29D: Superman-like stance) side-by-side are strong, and the clue for APERITIFS (10D: They get drunk before dinner) was cute, but again, I put it into the "sex, drugs & rock and roll" category that I project onto poor Mr. Steinberg. Consider also, 39A: Like naughty privates? (AWOL), PONYKEG (9D: Quarter barrel of beer), and the surprising 6D: "Grow ____!" ("Man up!") (APAIR). Whither the MORAL compass?
On the other hand, my favorite clue today might be the punny 55A: Complaint about one's calves? (MOO). Guffaw! And 28D: Head covering (SCALP) is also quite good, if a little gross.
In the end, I applaud Mr. Steinberg's work. He won me over long ago with his brazen inclusion of his full name into this puzzle from 2013. I loved that move. And if his youthful puzzles attract more youthful solvers and crossword fans, so much the better.