BLACK ICE played upon today, with ICE quasi-rebused inside four black squares. (See the grid below for a visual.) At first I thought it would have been better to make the BLACK ICE squares stand out somehow — perhaps having them be the only isolated black squares in the grid? — but then I remembered that the entire concept of BLACK ICE is that you can't actually see it coming. Fair enough!
Did you notice that Loren and Tracy picked theme phrases such that they didn't need to use a giveaway "[no clue]" indicator anywhere? For example, ADV(ICE) COLUMN has COLUMN show up as a normal word — plus, they clued it so it disguises the meaning (newspaper COLUMN vs. building COLUMN). I was wondering why VAN had gotten such a tough clue (VAN Cliburn, the pianist), but it all made sense when I realized that it was obfuscating the VAN in POL(ICE) VAN. Nice.
Some sizzling themers, too. MR N(ICE) GUY was my favorite, but ADV(ICE) COLUMN, SERV(ICE) DOG, POL(ICE) VAN were all big thumbs-ups in my eyes. All of them worked well, although I did have to convince myself that OFFICE TEMP was a real thing. (It is. Mostly.)
Pretty clean grid, especially considering working with four theme pairs plus a revealer ain't no joke. True, NO D(ICE) and (ICE) AGE are shorties, but still, any time you have to fill around crossing themers, it can get hairy really quick. Strong results, with just some minor ESSA and the oddly arbitrary Y SHAPE in that tough opening corner.
TEMP did give me pause, given its [Time's partner, informally] clue and its ENNIO crossing. I was iffy on Morricone's first name (so thank goodness I do a lot of crosswords!) — ANNIO / TAMP seemed plausible too. TIME and TEMP? I'm still not sure "time and temperature" flows off the tongue, but Google seems to disagree with me on this as well. Harrumph.
Nice to get a few bonuses in the fill, especially MONGOOSE, and an appropriate TEAMWORK for this pair of constructors. Well executed overall … although after much thought, my brain wanted to take the BLACK ICE concept to its extreme, with completely random spots of BLACK ICE, so that you couldn't predict where they'd show up.
★ As I solved, I picked up the theme pretty quickly from PADDED and MIRACLE, and I confirmed it upon hitting PUSH UP. I was expecting a ho-hum BRA to be tucked in as a revealer somewhere, so what a pleasure to uncover the great punchline — I laughed out loud when I hit BOOBY TRAP. This is a puzzle where the theme alone (from two female authors) makes it an easy puzzle of the week choice for me.
I'd normally go into detail about how Loren and Acme could have incorporated more long fill as colorful as ODDSMAKER and avoided gluey bits like A STAR and SYM. But the laugh I got outweighed all those little details, so I'm not going to go into depth in analyzing the nits today. Such a fun and amusing crossword, exactly what I want out of my five minutes on a Monday.
It might have been a little icky if a male constructor(s) had made this one, but knowing both Loren and Acme (and really enjoying their senses of humor) made it even better. Great smile on my face after solving.
Loren was so much fun to meet last year at the ACPT. Such a nice person, fun to hang out with, and a great sense of humor. But she's too humble — it was another puzzle she put together which led to this one. I thought it was extremely well constructed, but I also felt like it was lacking something, a certain je ne sais quoi or a fuller raison d'etre. When we tossed around SNAKES ON A PLANE, it felt like everything snapped into place. I love it when a plan comes together (cue The A-Team theme song).
I always look at the good and the "could have been improved" in a puzzle, and there's a lot I really like about this puzzle. But there's also no doubt that the heavy constraints forced some compromises. Neither Loren nor I were fans of all the short stuff at the top (ISPS, RIAA, IRR etc.), but at the time it seemed like a reasonable price to pay for including SIOUX WAR and SANDBAG (and the symmetrically placed KLAXONS and SEMINARY). We looked at possibly breaking up some of the long stuff to get better short fill, but the compromises still were there so we ran with this. Tough trade-offs.
And to those grousing about the BIKO/ORIBI crossing, I raise my hand on that one. Loren was keen to get something more friendly there, but I used the Jedi mind trick to convince her otherwise. So if you faltered at that spot, please look closely into my eyes and accept my apologies ... (waving hand hypnotically in front of your face) and go get me a scotch.
Looking forward to more from Loren! Oh, one point I forgot: happy 65th bday to Samuel L. Jackson! We hoped this would run next month on his actual 65th birthday (Dec. 21), but what are you gonna do.
ADDED NOTE: Time for another installment of Can I Beat Dan At My Own Puzzle? My solving time, just having looked at the answers = 3:27. Will Dan Feyer and the other speedsters beat me?* We'll add Loren's time here too as soon as the puzzle publishes.
*Dan's time: 2:17. I need ideas for a bigger handicap. Blindfolding him?