Opposites Attracting

John Westwig's Sunday puzzle is very difficult.

Opposites Attracting

SUNDAY PURPLE -- John Westwig, a software engineer from Seattle, began solving crosswords as a child while traveling with his family. Constructing came soon after.

In 2015, at the age of 17, he sold his first crossword puzzle to The Times. This is his 8th grid, and Sunday debut. John writes that he has many friends who do the Times Puzzle, but most complain about his.

It's the hardest Sunday crossword I have ever done, even with a few grids that are themeless. But, I won't complain! Some of the words are too crisp, but this is outweighed by perfect wordplay. This puzzle is not only a good workout, but the theme stands out on its own.

Today's Theme

This theme set has nine puns: 37- and 42-Down, 22-, 24-, 38-, 65-, 90-, 112-, 109 and 112-Across. The clues in this theme set are riddles. All can be answered with oxymoronic words that end with "-ing." This makes the title, 'Opposites attracted,' perfect.

The clarity of the clues doesn't make it easy to solve, but they do invite guesses. Once I got the gist, i was able deduce some answers from them. All the entries are also incredibly clever.

First clue was 24-Across. ''I wish that I were less than four feet tall', for example.' After a lot of help from the cross-down entries, I figured out SHORT LONGING. Then, I found 41-Down 'Compliment to a lexicographer', which solved NICE MEANING. This pattern of two antonyms (SHORT and LONG; NICE and MEAN) holds true throughout.

Some of these examples are funny. 112-Across 'Title an essay written by a hitman?', the solution is ON OFFING. As in murder for hire. I laughed out loud when I remembered 'On Writing' by Stephen King and 'On Death and Dying' by Elisabeth Kubler Ross. The puzzle 22-Across has the mirror image of ON OFFING. Its clue is "Event at a new hot club?" or IN OUTING. This puzzle also tickled my funny bone (and reminded me of Saturday Night Live's Stefon).

The theme clue that I initially found difficult has now become my favorite. When I first saw 67-Across 'Slinky', I read it as an adjective, not a noun. It is a toy, which by definition is a SPRING FALLING.

Tricky Clues

What to start with? How about starting with the first clue, "Tiny trunks"? Baby elephants? Stuart Little's vehicle? No, this is not the case. This puzzle refers to what Australians call a "budgie schmuggler", a SPEEDO. This entry played a song that I had in my head called "Tangerine Speedo." )

This "Secret Service Member?" As an ELOPER, you have a very dangerous responsibility: to protect the privacy of your nuptials.

In the southwest corner, I had to deal with two misdirects. Right? 'Kicks up the road' must be 'puts of'. PUNTS-ON took me a long time to understand (without any help from 75D).

This entry has been used in a crossword puzzle since 1986. It's logical but I didn't know it and needed the crossing letters. A TERRAN is a 'Earthling' in sci-fi, a word that appears to be used frequently in the lexicon of 'Star Trek.

The first word of 'considerably large' in Appalachian is an adverb, like'very'. Right Smart is a phrase that refers to size or a lot. It can also be used as a noun for a variety of things, from land to knowledge.

This clue should be in the logic section on an LSAT if I am correct. "One of two of six of VIII?" This is a sly wink to King Henry VIII, his wives, Katherine of Aragon and ANNE Boleyn.

This is a brutal mistake. First, I thought of old timers as coots or codgers. Then, after a few letters crossed, I realized that this is an antique time-telling device, called an "hourglass." It took me days to find the correct term, which is a SANDGLASS.

When you MOON someone you stop hiding behind them (for example, behind your SPEEDO).

Constructor Notes

The theme of this puzzle is interesting: I've "stolen" one of the answers from a puzzle with a completely different theme. Tom McCoy changes common phrases to 'Spring F (al)ling' by adding 'AL'. If you remember this sort of thing, please let me know!

Sincerely, I don't spend much time on puzzles anymore. Instead, I focus my efforts on the preservation of species. I am working with a team of conservationists who are committed to saving the great Spanish oso, also known as Ursus utilis. It's strange that I haven’t seen any ernes in the last few months.

Are you lost and failing?

You want to go back to the puzzle? Here.