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Doug Peterson and Daniel Okulitch put their hands and heads together on a puzzle tour de force.
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SUNDAY PUZZLE — Opera fans may recognize the name Daniel Okulitch from the music world; he is a professional of more than 25 years with a varied and international résumé, most recently performing the title role in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Crossword fans, on the other hand, might see the name and remember Mr. Okulitch from a recent, fun debut, a Tuesday grid from September. An entry in that puzzle came to mind while solving today’s grid. (I won’t spoil it, but it involves an Irish rock band pun.)
Everyone should know Doug Peterson by now; he has been making puzzles for The New York Times for more than 15 years, and this is his 50th daily crossword byline. He does a lot of collaborations and seems like the cruciverbal equivalent of perfect garden loam, with the ability to sprout and grow any idea to lush fruition.
It is fitting that two constructors worked on this grid! I’d call it a road trip puzzle, where the theme set is clear and broad enough for a captive audience to come up with further examples and while away a few hours of travel.
There’s some memorable high-minded trivia today, and some clues that led to misdirects that slowed me down a great deal. Those ranged from the mundane (“capes” for ROBES) to the ridiculous (how did I think of “pool floats” before POGO STICKS?).
21A: I know some tarot lore, so I actually understood this off the bat. But one could easily assume this clue was referring to “swords,” one of the four suits of a deck of tarot cards, rather than the major and minor ARCANA, which roughly translate to the face and number cards.
From Lil Nas X to Mozart to Esperanza Spalding here is what we loved listening to this year.
46A: This flashy stone is unfamiliar to me, and so is the miracle recipient at 49D — a confusing crossing of a couple of subjects that aren’t my strong suit. I liked “air topaz” before FIRE OPAL (which made me wonder idly if “Zeppo” could be a New Testament character). You can find your own in Mexico, if you’re a rock hound.
125A: Time will tell if the handshake makes a return after the last couple of years. The physical action originated in ancient GREECE as a way to greet people and check them for weapons at the same time, apparently.
9D: It must be just a mordant coincidence but I couldn’t help but notice the placement of the TOMCAT at 74A, just below this flying MAMA BIRD. If you’re still getting holiday gifts for the cats in your life, get them something stylish that the birds will appreciate too!
There are seven theme entries today, all examples of “job sharing” (which happens to be the puzzle’s title). Their clues all ask us to come up with a “side hustle” for a particular career, one that works as a pun and might be a neat trick to pull off for most moonlighters.
If you worked your way down the grid today, you got a nice warm-up with 23-Across, “Side hustle for a hair stylist?” Think of another word for tresses or curls, like locks. That second gig might be as a LOCKSMITH.
If your first sortie with this theme was at the bottom of the grid, you might not have grokked the theme as well. That’s what happened to me, anyway, at 118-Across: “Side hustle for a drill instructor?” I figured out BASE COACH from the crosses but got fixated on pH levels, base versus acid, and could not figure out what a drill instructor had to do with chemistry. (The BASE here, of course, connects a military exercise leader to a ballgame adviser.) It took me a little while to shake off my misstep and get into the groove of these puns.
The rest of them are straightforward and lovely, with clean connections. I especially loved the therapist side hustle — it epitomizes this kind of wordplay, doesn’t it? — and the span entry at 67-Across, which took me a moment to reconcile but really is a knockout.
Daniel: Like many new constructors I began in earnest during the 2020 lockdown, since all of opera went on an extended hiatus. My first mentor was Brad Wilber, who in addition to being a terrific teacher is also a huge opera fan. With his help I had my debut publication this year. Through Brad, Doug and I were introduced virtually last year. I was eager to learn more, had innumerable questions, and wanted to collaborate when possible, and Doug and I hit it off beautifully. His generosity and willingness to help me hone my constructing chops has been a wonderful gift. We still trade theme ideas and chip away at them in a glacial way.
I approached Doug with this idea after coming up with a fun clue in a themeless puzzle for TRIP ADVISOR [Personal injury lawyer?] and wondering if there might be a theme worth exploring. We went back and forth with an ever-expanding list, had to kill a few darlings (CROSS TRAINER [Catholic schoolteacher?]), and came up with this very fun theme set. Doug’s experience in refining a theme set was incredibly valuable.
Given all the alternative careers and side hustles people have had to adopt due to the changing times, it seemed very timely. Performers in particular have had to reinvent themselves and develop new skills, and many have faced the grim reality of how quickly their livelihood can be taken away. The stigma of having side jobs and parallel careers has really been torn down, for the better. Those in the arts have had to be immensely creative and improvisatory. Fortunately that is all part of the training.
Doug: So glad I got to work with Daniel on this and a few other projects. And I’m very much looking forward to a time when we can sit down together with Brad in person. Enjoy the puzzle and the rest of 2021!
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