Why? Well why not?

SUNDAY PUZZLE — Jesse Goldberg is a software engineer in San Francisco. It’s his third crossword for The Times (and his second Sunday puzzle – his first, from almost exactly a year ago, was charming and pulled quotes from a famous French cuisine, if you will. missed). Many solvers know the daily routine of this passionate puzzle builder: solve Wordle, check Wordlebot, play Spelling Bee, solve crossword puzzles, in that order.

The filler is brilliant today, and there are quite a few interesting long entries; it’s pretty easy to get a little lost looking for the theme.

44A. I drew a blank on this trivia clue, “Andy Dufresne in ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ for example”, and thought for a moment that might be in-theme because I was misdirected to a homophone. I had “Syd” rather than CYD CHARISSE, which left me with the nonsense word “essapee, as in “SaP”. Ridiculous, but one letter short of the correct description – Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins in the movie, became an ESCAPE prison.

94A. This entry surprised me, although I am an owner and a big fan. “They could end up all over the floor” refers to the cheerful, rechargeable ROOMBAS.

17D. Mr. Goldberg is a software engineer, and when I saw “Server error”, with some strategic cross letters in place, I wrote “root fault”. It doesn’t seem like a thing; there is a “root directory”, but that’s benign. Moreover, the “server” in question is not part of a computer system or a member of staff of a restaurant; it’s a reference to tennis and the mistake of a FOOT FAULT.

53D. “Primeval” reminds me of an old growth forest with no people fidgeting and grunting and making tools, but STONE AGE is a synonym.

62D./65D. I found the arrangement of these clues witty. 62D, “Prince’s first collaborator”, leads to MORRIS Day (who is still on tour with Time). 65D, “‘ru 4 real?,'” reminds me of Prince’s words.

There are four pairs of theme entries in today’s puzzle that perform the same trick, a letter change, in which a character jumps from one entry in the pair to another and makes sense of the two pun clues. There’s also a delightful reveal, at 115-Across, that points out a detail of this letter change that had kind of eluded me.

Another thing that kind of eluded me while solving this puzzle was the actual pairing of themes. I blame this on finding almost all entries that gain a letter first; these are at 24-, 51-, 71- and 96-Across, and they are a barrel of monkeys.

At 24-Across, “Where some waistbands get tight?”, the entry is BELLY BOTTOMS, which is anatomically correct as a simple answer, but is also a play on “bell bottoms.” If you noticed the title of the puzzle, you’ll be nodding here – “Why? Well why not?” makes sense for a theme that requires adding the letter “Y” to terms and phrases for comedic effect.

51-Across is amazing. “Lawyer with an absurdly exaggerated sense of humor? becomes a variant of another career path, CAMPY COUNSELOR. 71-Across, “Harvesting machine that needs cleaning?” becomes dark. 96-Across, “Battle between Tinker Bell and Princess Ozma?”, is light as a feather: the two characters are engaged in a FAIRY FIGHT.

I had solved three of these clues before getting somewhere with their partners in crime, which are at 29-, 58-, 80-, and 108-Across. For some reason this was a lot harder for me, and I didn’t see the link for a while. 29-Across, “The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane, for example?, resolves to COMBAT READ. Yes, yes, famous war novel. I understood. 80-Across was more of a headache but somehow acceptable: “The doctor’s description of the birth of the triplet sons?” solves THREE TIME SALAD. Ah, yes, Mr. Goldberg, very clever.

Fortunately, 58-Across saved me. “Sleep phase? solves the SLUMBER part. Ah! This “pajama party” is missing its “Y” in a case of “Well, why not?” That means COMBAT READ is a play on “combat ready,” and, uh, oh, it’s “Three times a Lady.”

Finally, at the very bottom (nearly) of this puzzle, this little surprise reveal is found at 115-Across: “Be aware of… or a homophonic description of four letter shifts in the grid of this puzzle.” I was thinking “See Why” or something, but this is so much better. Say WISE UP TO out loud, if only to yourself – Y is greater than two – and note the trajectory of each letter “Y” in these theme pairs. They each do a little trick in two rows and fit together perfectly – pretty neat!

This theme came about by chance. Luckily, I noticed the potential for the pun when the telltale phrase popped up in something I was reading. It may not be the most efficient way to generate theme ideas, but keeping your brain in “crossword mode” while going about your business can sometimes pay off.

Overall, the grill making process was pretty smooth. Since the themes only required one letter removal/addition, there were plenty of options to choose from. I had a little trouble with the position of the developer. For purists who love their revealers in the finale, just know that I fought hard to make it happen, but didn’t quite make it. At least not without some ugly filler options that I wasn’t willing to accept.

I hope you enjoy the resolution.

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What did you think?