SUNDAY PUZZLE — This is one of those sliced-bread themes that makes you wonder why nobody thought of it before, the mark of a great invention. We get movie puzzles (which are always fun) and we get a mystery every so often (please, if you missed it, solve “McGuffin Manor” next). But it took Brandon Koppy to make the connection that makes this puzzle’s theme, as far as I know, so I give him applause.
This is a Sunday debut for him, although he’s already produced four themed daily puzzles for The Times. He works for a digital ad agency in Austin, Texas, and got into constructing around 2018. The inspiration for this grid came to him when he stumbled across an old poster for the movie “Clue” and thought, “Hmm, that could work for a puzzle title.”
I think the fill is tough today in general, but it’s vibrant, especially if you consider the constraints of a large theme set. There are two thick crosshatches of good debut entries in the northeast and southwest corners, as well as a brand name, PELOTON, that I’m amazed has never been in a puzzle before.
22A: This linguistic term is a debut that refers to what happens when you try to buy a “toy yoda” and end up with a Camry. Not quite a “mondegreen” and not quite an “eggcorn,” the ORONYM is a coinage from “Joy of Lex,” a 1980 book by Gyles Brandreth.
13D: I like this musical term, ARIOSE, crossing ORONYM. My friend Ari has a gorgeous voice, but I lent her $20 a month ago and I want it back!
14D: A vegetarian clue with nothing to do with vocals — think karate “chops,” the kind you perfect in a DOJO.
15D: This debut put a song in my head — nothing one can do about what’s IN ONE’S DNA.
32D: These descriptions, “half-baked” and “double-crossed,” seem like they’d apply to an action-movie character. They might, but in this case they’re both simply IDIOMS.
44D: A tricky clue for a ’do — a PIGTAIL, which is woven down one’s back, if one is not actually a pig.
91D: Now this is a theme that has to have been done before, right? The physicist suffered INERTIA. (The mechanic got a wrench thrown in his plans. The zookeeper got caught lyin’ on the job.)
There are 11 italicized movie titles in the Across clues: Field of Dreams, Guys and Dolls, Star Trek, Top Gun, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Imitation Game, The Fifth Element, A Man for All Seasons, Scent of a Woman, Wayne’s World and Space Jam. Absent from the list, but present in the title and important to the theme: “Clue.”
Here are a few of their corresponding entries, in no particular order (well, roughly, in the order of my favorites): T-SHIRT CANNON; BINGE WATCHER; PSYCHOANALYSIS; THE RED CARPET.
So a “top gun,” shooting tops everywhere, is a T-SHIRT CANNON. A “Man for All Seasons” finishes what he’s started, even if it’s the first of 708 episodes of “The Simpsons” — which makes him a BINGE WATCHER. What profession could be called the “Field of Dreams?” PSYCHOANALYSIS. And when celebrities embark on a “Star Trek” from the paparazzi to the awards ceremony, they take to THE RED CARPET.
As you can see, each of the theme clues in this puzzle is a movie, or if you’d rather, each of the movies in this themed puzzle is a clue. It all adds up!
I’m thrilled to be back in The Times with my first Sunday puzzle.
My initial submission had Mystery Date as one of the theme clues and LIFE ON MARS as the answer for Space Jam, but there were concerns these might not be well-known enough. While I might give solvers more credit when it comes to David Bowie songs, I suppose it’s fair to assume not everyone recalls Ethan Hawke vehicles from 1991 that grossed $6 million worldwide. It was definitely for the best though, as I think this version of the puzzle is much improved.
While short listing movies for theme potential, I noticed that a solid 20 percent of my options contained the word “man.” Out of curiosity I did a count of each unique word across a sample of 10,000 or so films, omitting articles, prepositions and conjunctions. It should surprise no one that “man” was the most common word by far*, almost doubling each of the runners-up (“night” and “love”). Obviously, I capped at one the number of times I used that word.
I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites that didn’t make the cut:
Hot Shots! —> FLAMING DR PEPPERS
Batman Forever —> DESIGNATED HITTER
Boyz N the Hood —> MECHANICS
Edge of Tomorrow —> MIDNIGHT
Thanks as always to the editing team for all their great work.
*without even including compounds like “gentleman,” “Englishman,” “Superman” and so on.
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