"Auntie Em! Auntie Em!"
This is why I do puzzles, to run into things like this (and today's syndicated!). I pity the fool who solves this on paper. One of the first clues we plunked down was the obvious answer to 17A: Exonerated [Really!? How did I miss that? - H] boxer who is the subject of a Bob Dylan song, but very soon after that, Frannie was telling me that it looked problematic up there. Sure enough, that whole top was a mess. Many things seemed certain, and they fit, but nothing meshed with anything else. In desperation, I took out some of "Hurricane Carter" and put in "Mouth" for 12D: Be sassy, with "off," and "Ochre" (even this variant spelling worked to help figure it out!) for 13D: Autumnal hue, as both seemed very likely. Luckily for me, U and H are in the middle of those words, and suddenly, it was clear that we were not in Kansas anymore.
Well, there was one other thing that helped. The central EYE (and isn't it nice that this word is palindromic!) had gone in quite early, with "7D: Giant Ferris wheel on the Thames," (LONDON EYE), but that interfered with "Katrina," which we knew to be right for 29A: ____ and the Waves ("Walking on Sunshine" band), so I was already on my guard. When EYE OFNEWT (36A: Ingredient in a witch's potion) put the T of "Est" (39D: Ending for a record-breaker) first instead of last, well, maybe that was part of us getting it, too.
The concept is so beautiful that I wouldn't care much about the fill, but the fact is, it's still good! DEMYHR (9A: Made ends meet?), for example - that's good cluing and good fill! WEDYENOH (38D: Green, juicy fruit) is nice, too. And what about TSYRT (50D: Part of an affair to remember?)! That's good stuff! [For more talk about the fill, by Mr. Polin himself, see the "Wordplay" blog, linked to on the sidebar. - H]
Luckily for me, I had Frannie here to get things like OMERTA (6D: Enforced silence) and NUNCIO (45D: Ambassador from the Holy See), otherwise, I would have been out in the holy sea. And speaking of Frannie, at the very end, when we finished in the NW with THESAURI (2D: Hustling is the same as cheating, according to these authorities), I asked out loud, "What is "The Sauri?" I was expecting some known government agency, or, well, something known! Frannie pronounced it for me as the plural of "thesaurus." D'oh!
This puzzle was great. This is what separates the NYT puzzle from the rest of the bunch. This couldn't have been generated by computer, this was hand-crafted. The grid has a nice swirl in the middle of it, the central "Eye" works beautifully in all four directions, and it spins counter-clockwise, like any good storm should. There's extra bonus fill with "Katrina," TYPHOON, BROOKLYNCYCLONE, and "Hurricane Carter," and to top it off, it's Hurricane season!
Those solving both this NYT daily and the syndicated puzzle (by Patrick Blindauer) today (and I know at least one who is), are doing two of the year's finest puzzles. Thank you, creators, and thank you Will Shortz.