NYT Sunday Puzzle – July 31, 2011

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Trifecta! Three correctly completed Sunday puzzles in a row.

As usual, M printed it out on Saturday evening – it’s available on line after 6 p.m. – but he didn’t give it to me until we got to the city, which was just after midnight. “No special note, but there are a lot of circles,” he commented. Obviously, those circles were related to the puzzle’s title, “Separate Checks.” But when I got into bed and started working on it, I was able to fill in only about half a dozen answers. Tired, I quickly gave up and having no clue as to the meaning of the title or how the circles related to it or to the major clues, I thought as I shut the light that I would not even come close to finishing.

Despite what I had thought, when I awoke and went back to the puzzle, my brain had other ideas.  I wasn’t as stumped and began filling in answers more easily.  The Aha! moment came when I got the answers to 17 Down – SKU – and 43 Down – LLDS.  The circled letters were SKU and LL, separated by a black square.  But together they spelled SKULL. And that split – or fracture — gave me the answer to 103 Across: FRACTURED SKULL.

So, the theme was common phrases taken literally and separated in different areas of the grid. Oooh! How clever! Since I had a lot of other circled letters filled in, I was able to complete the other theme-related answers with not much difficulty.

27A: DIVIDED HIGHWAY
44A: FALLEN APART
64A: TORN ASUNDER
88A: BANANA SPLIT
103A: FRACTURED SKULL
14 D: CRACKED WINDOW
56D: BROKEN PROMISE

I ended up actually finishing the puzzle rather quickly – in about an hour. But as usual, there were a few clues that stumped me and could have kept me from completing the puzzle correctly.

I had no idea who the “Bride in ‘The Gondoliers’” (24A) was but got the answer by filling in all the surrounding letters: TESSA.

25 Across was particularly irksome for a different reason. The clue: “’What the Butler Saw’ playwright, 1969.” It bugged me the entire time I was working on the puzzle because I had that annoying feeling of knowing the name but not being able to think of it.  When I was finally able to fill in three letters —  TON….  Of course, (slap to the forehead), Joe ORTON!

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