Solution to Lynn Lempel’s March 28 Post Magazine crossword, “Bodybuilding”

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One thing that’s always impressed me about your puzzles is how much care you take to make your grids smooth and fair, without over-relying on unfair or obscure or otherwise junky answers. That’s certainly apparent in your “Bodybuilding” puzzle, and I know just from corresponding with you on it just how particular you are about your grids (which is a trait that I share!). I’m wondering what inspired that aesthetic. Was it something that came from years of writing easier puzzles, where it’s generally imperative to fill your grids with common words and phrases that beginning solvers can be expected to figure out? Did it come from solving puzzles prior to that? Or did it come from something else?

Trapped in an Invisible Box

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TUESDAY PUZZLE — Welcome back to Owen Travis, who is making his second appearance in the New York Times Crossword in just over six months! After his debut puzzle (in which he was a co-constructor with Jeff Chen) encouraged solvers to do the limbo, his second outing sends solvers on a quest that may take seven novels to describe.

I enjoy themes that come together only when you hit the revealer (although, truth be told, I enjoy most kinds of themes), and this one is particularly challenging to detect before you reach 51A, because the three theme entries appear to have absolutely nothing in common. About halfway through the solve, I started to wonder whether the long Across entries were just decoys to distract from a theme hidden in the Downs, or something equally devious. Should I be searching for a connection between 4D (PHOTOBOMB), a nice and crunchy Down entry, and 9D (SOFT TACO), a decidedly not-crunchy Down entry? Is there a secret minitheme about baseball at 22D (SOSA) and 33A (Reds state?)?

But no! Mr. Travis’s theme, which is described below in more detail, gives many solvers of a certain age — that is, my age, millennial-age — a burst of clarity that feels, well, magical. (And, as we say on the internet, don’t @ me; I’m not implying that people of non-millennial age won’t also enjoy the reveal!) The discovery of the theme may also be accompanied by some pangs of sadness for some solvers — more on that below — but no one can deny that the entries that make up the theme set are delightful and vivid.

Tricky Clues

15A. We’re getting a little risqué here with an explicit drug reference! “Something you might trip on” is the clue for ACID, because if you take LSD you are said to be “tripping.”

It’s a Long Story

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Today’s Theme

The theme of this puzzle is the “Olympic sport whose all-around competition is composed of the last parts of 19-, 26-, 44- and 52-Across,” or WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS. This 16-letter revealer runs vertically through the four theme entries, all of which end with the name of a particular gymnastics event.

I had no trouble with the last three, but I admit that I was unfamiliar with 19A (SEALED BEAM). I’ve since done some reading on Wikipedia, and I still don’t fully understand what it means, but fortunately the crosses were all pretty guessable without any specialized car knowledge.

As I mentioned above, I love that, with the possible exception of 26A, the meanings of the gymnastics events at the end of the theme entries differ from their meanings in the gymnastics context. A SEALED BEAM refers to a BEAM of light, rather than a BEAM of wood or other material that could be used as a balance BEAM. This sort of variety makes the theme entries more fun to uncover, since you don’t quite know what to expect from the clues.

Construction Geek-Out

Exciting theme set and timely theme aside, this grid is a beaut! It’s deeply impressive that the revealer WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS crosses directly through all four theme entries in symmetrical positions (i.e., 19A and 52A are rotationally symmetrical to one another because, if you rotated the grid 180 degrees, they would swap places).

Usually, we see revealers run in the same direction as the theme entries, either all down, or, most commonly, all across. By crossing his revealer through all four themers, Mr. Buchbinder has added an additional level of constraint to the grid and to the theme entries that he can use to build the puzzle, because they have to contain the crossing letter of WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS in the exact right location. This means that although plenty of phrases end with the event at the end of 26A, the phrase would need to have an S in the fourth position in order to fit.

One other neat point about this puzzle is that it’s a little extra-tall — one square taller than most New York Times Crossword puzzles, to be exact. Since WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS is 16 letters long, the grid is 15x16 squares, which is a highly unusual size.

Constructor Notes

Go Team U.S.A.!!!! Can’t wait to see @Simone_Biles and #TeamUSA kick some butt at the #TokyoOlympics. This puzzle was accepted back in January of 2020, and then was delayed — along with the Tokyo Olympics — until now. I got the idea for the puzzle while sitting at my then 3-year-old daughter’s gymnastics class as I watched her rotate through the different equipment. I had previously had a New York Times Crossword puzzle published with a similar interlocking theme around bowling — which was fun to construct — so I figured I’d try for it again. Voilà! Thanks to Will and the team for letting me work on a revision to improve some fill. I hope the final puzzle is fun to solve, and celebrates the hard work of all the gymnasts. As for the puzzle, aside from the theme, I liked being able to include GREEK GOD in a puzzle based around the Olympics. Some other favorite entries included THAT’S A LIE and NBA MVP (Originally clued as Title for King James?). Enjoy the puzzle (and a KIT KAT BAR)!

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