2. The New Yorker profiled Natan Last as part of its crossword constructor series, with a short written piece by Helen Rosner and a video interview by Liz Maynes-Aminzade.
Nine familiar two-word phrases get redefined as car models driven by a famous person associated with the first word:
- 23A: [Honda driven by Jackie Chan?] is STUNT PILOT.
- 25A: [Kia driven by Marilyn Horne?] is MEZZO FORTE.
- 35A: [Dodge driven by Alexander Graham Bell?] is PHONE CHARGER.
- 58A: [Volkswagen driven by Jacques Cousteau?] is WATER BEETLE.
- 66A: [Hyundai driven by Vladimir Horowitz?] is PIANO SONATA.
- 76A: [Nissan driven by Edwin Hubble?] is GALAXY QUEST.
- 97A: [Mitsubishi driven by Neil Armstrong?] is LUNAR ECLIPSE.
- 112A: [Acura driven by Joan Baez?] is FOLK LEGEND.
- 114A: [Ford driven by Ella Fitzgerald?] is JAZZ FUSION.
A couple of these car models (the Nissan Quest and the Mitsubishi Eclipse) are no longer in production, and a few of them (like the Dodge Charger and, again, the Nissan Quest) weren’t in production when their imagined drivers were alive. But whoever said a theme has to be 100 percent historically accurate?
I decided to constrain my options first by using different car makes for all theme answers and by limiting the drivers to real people, without including fictional characters. But one thing that surprised me was how hard it was to find specific celebrities who were well-known enough and could be directly associated with the first word of each phrase. HORSE WRANGLER seemed like a natural fit as a Jeep driven by a famous real person. But who? Perhaps a cowboy from the Wild West, but I tend to associate them first with the Wild West and being outlaws rather than riding horses, specifically. With apologies to various notable jockeys and horse trainers out there, I was a little worried that they wouldn’t be as well-known as the others on this list. But as they say, your mileage may vary.
(That was a terrible pun. I only slightly apologize.)
Finally, this puzzle is a rare pangram for me, meaning it contains at least one of every letter. I don’t ever strive for pangrams since I prioritize smoothness of the puzzle’s fill over high-scoring Scrabble letters, but I guess it’s easy to achieve one when you take care of the J, Q, X and Z in just two theme answers (GALAXY QUEST and JAZZ FUSION).
Other answers and clues:
- 56A: [What you’ll see when you look in the mirror] is GLASS. This ended up being my favorite clue today.
- 99A: [Site of a bar on a train] is CLUB CAR. I felt fortunate that this term referred to a train car rather than a sedan; had it been otherwise I probably would have agonized over it interfering with the theme. Meanwhile, just above it at 72D: [Bar on a train] is AXLE.
- 104A: [Eliciting more laughs, as Christmas sweaters] is UGLIER. Or maybe more cringes, depending how you react.
- 9D: [Man waiting for Godot] is ESTRAGON. I’ve never seen “Waiting for Godot,” so this was a new name to me. He waits for Godot alongside Vladimir.
- 17D: [One drawing lots?] is ARTIST. If the “lots” part of the clue threw you off, I put its meaning in the PLENTY clue right next to it at 18D: [Lots].
- 57D: [___ Bezzerides (“True Detective” detective played by Rachel McAdams)] is ANI. Nothing against Ms. DiFranco or Anakin Skywalker, but it’s a huge relief knowing there are other ANIs out there for me to clue.
- 60D: [“Obama, Clinton, ___ Join Forces to Form Nightmare Ticket” (May 2008 headline in the Onion)] is MCCAIN. I remember seeing this headline when it came out during the 2008 campaign. It made me laugh back then, and hopefully it gave you some amusement now.
- 95D: [Kurt Russell’s do, once] is MULLET. Here’s the evidence.
- 107D: [Vampire Weekend frontman Koenig] is EZRA. My wife and have tickets to see Vampire Weekend later this year. It should be fun.
See you next week, but be warned that the June 30 puzzle will be more challenging than normal. You can do it.