Thursday, January 7, 2021

Thursday, January 7, 2021, Matthew Stock and Sid Sivakumar

Congratulations to Mr. Stock for his debut puzzle in the NYT! I've been seeing more and more debuts recently, which is great for fresh blood and ideas.

And in today's puzzle, that shows up as 16 Xs in the grid. The revealer comes at 59A: Words of correction ... or a hint to 16-, 20-, 36- and 54-Across (STRIKETHAT). At first I was confused what that might mean, as I had only one theme answer fully in place, and another where I mistakenly only had 3 Xs in a row. Could this be related to bowling, I wondered? After all, X is the symbol for a strike.

But no, it's more straightfoward, in a sense. Each of the phrases has the string of letters T-H-A-T that have been replaced by Xs. Thus, 16A: Cocktail specification (WIXXXXWIST) is actually "with a twist" while DEAXXXXAFUNERAL is "Death at a Funeral." Nicely, in each phrase, the string crosses multiple words, hiding "that" more effectively.


The theme means that there have to be 16 down answers with an X in it (actually 15, because EXOTOXIN crosses two theme answers). Unfortunately that results in things like LEOXI (although it's cute that the clue recognizes this particular pontiff's historical insignificance), XIS, and XER. But PROXYWAR is very good.

How cute is 38D: More than can be imagined (AZILLION)? Fun clue, fun answer. I also like VITRIOL

In the end, with such constraints in place, there's not a ton of room for zingy answers and clever clues. So while I like the concept and approve of so many Xs, I didn't love the puzzle as a whole. YMMV.


- Colum


  1. I put together a spreadsheet of all of the popes throughout history (for some reason) along with their years and length of reign, and I remembered that 1605 was one of the six or seven years that saw three popes: Clement VIII died after a 13-year run, then LEOXI came along for his zero-year stint, followed by Paul V who lasted for sixteen years. There were other years earlier on when the actual pope was disputed, with multiple claims to the throne of St. Peter, who still holds the record of 35 years (32-67 AD), although it is likely he never knew he was pope. I feel that I can use "AD" there, by the way, because of the topic. Who is next, you say? Why, Blessed Pius IX, who was in charge for 32 years (1846-1878), followed by St. John Paul II (the Great) at 27 years (1978-2005). Interestingly, like 1605, 1978 was a year where we all witnessed three popes: Paul VI, who ended fifteen years at the helm (he was pope when I was born), followed by John Paul I and his zero years, and then the aforementioned St. John Paul II (the Great). It's happened a few other times, and there were years when there was no pope. I suppose it was difficult at times to gather all of the cardinals from the far reaches of the world, unlike today. I liked the puzzle, with all of the Xs. Great theme and it looks nice in the grid, too. Also, like Colum, I originally had three Xs in a row on one answer: WIXXXXWIST, leaving out the one associated with its cross AUX, where I thought that Ant (antenna?) worked just fine for the clue, but then I got HUMVEE and everything fell into place. One more pope note: Sue and I SAWED Benedict XVI speak at St. Peter's square; the only pope to resign/retire and now the only Pope Emeritus in history. 23:34

  2. Fascinating, Huygens...thank you!

  3. Yes, quite a litany, as it were, of papal history.

    I liked this puzzle, partly because the trick came slowly, and the revealer was actually very useful to me. That's not always the case.

  4. I suppose it would be hard to gather the world's cardinals right now (two newly named cardinals recently missed their..... uh I forget what they call it but swearing in ceremony basically). Although I suppose they probably could pull it off if they had to.

    But getting back to what got us onto this subject, I suppose poor LEOXI didn't know he would be so remembered so many years later. And that it would be for having an X in his number. I suppose it is rude to lobby people thought of as future popes to pick a crossword friendly name like LEO, PIUS, etc, but would future generations thank us if we did suceed in such an endeavor?