Cyclops de Mayo
"Midrash" by George Barany (May 2014)


The inspiration for this puzzle came to me while driving my wife Barbara home from EYE_SURGERY (17-Across)—more specifically, CATARACT_REMOVAL (45-Across) on her right eye—that had taken place earlier in the morning of May 5, 2014 (i.e., Cinco de Mayo).  I had been listening, not all that attentively, to the post-operation instructions, which included the usual caveats about not driving or using heavy machinery, along with advice to "take it easy" [bringing to mind the canonical question that the youngest asks at every Passover seder], and emphasizing the overall need to stay in the presence of another adult (that would have to be me) for a minimum of six more hours. Somehow, the idiomatically typical cautionary advice of WAIT_AND_SEE (59-Across) flashed across my mind as subject to a different interpretation under those circumstances [with potential for bonus wordplay on patience vs. patients].  Finally, I have always been fascinated by how unintuitive the spelling of OPHTHALMOLOGIST (28-Across) is, and was delighted to notice that it had the optimal length (15 letters) to allow for symmetrical insertion into a crossword grid.  I reasoned that keeping an eye (or two) on Barbara (and before that, on the road) would not require all of my intellectual energies, so as soon as we got home, I pulled out my crossword construction hardware and software, and got to work [for the record, CRYSTALLINE_LENS is also of the optimal length, but I was unable to pack in that extra layer of theme material].

My original draft of the puzzle, which went out to beta testing right around the time that I went back to my day job, had a number of clues that required some knowledge about Barbara and the rest of our family (more about that below).  But more problematically, it had the word PLATY, which refers to this aquarium fish that even the most diehard cruciverbalists on my team have not heard of [calling it a "pus leader" (thinking of this Australian mammal) is not only verboten by the crossword gods, but in bad taste to boot].  Moreover, the "T" crossed the Alaskan island of ATTU, which is quintessential crosswordese despite any number of interesting geographical and historical facts about it.  So, I threw in two more "cheater" squares, reworked several sections of the grid, eased off on some of the more difficult clues, and removed all specific references to my family so that the puzzle could work with a general solving audience.

I had some fun brainstorming for a title, as well as for an image that could go on the puzzle's main webpage.  Useful resources included this and this.  Some research indicated the existence of a character called "Black Queen of Sergo" in Barbarella [sort of appropriate, wouldn't you think?] but I had difficulty finding a good image.  Reflecting on the fact that—for about a day—Barbara had a white eyepatch over her right eye, I settled on an image of a character called Elle Driver from a movie franchise that I have never seen (nor would ever endorse) called Kill Bill [I will however vouch for the actress Daryl Hannah, whose performance as a mermaid I very much enjoyed 30 years ago].  Shown below are some other finalists ... how many of them can you recognize and place?  [answers all the way at the bottom of this webpage].


The featured version of the puzzle shown on the main page did include a couple of family-oriented "Easter eggs," such as the affectionate name of our daughter [DEB at 61-Down] and the first name of her significant other [LOGAN at 48-Across]—in each case using straightforward clues [Barb went to school in the Boston area, and has been through Logan airport many times].  We're big into sports (tennis, baseball, basketball, Minnesota Gophers], opera, ballet, musicals, movies, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld, have vacationed [er, make that "attended scientific conferences"] in Hawaii, been to Australia, and have reasonably strong scientific bona fides—all interests that are mirrored in the puzzle's fill and clues.  Why, one of us was even born in Hungary [see clue for PEST at 55-Down]. Keeping the puzzle's ocular theme in focus, I enjoyed being able to include words (and corresponding clues) for PEEP (1-Down), STYE (2-Down), and especially OPTIC (28-Down).

To fully appreciate the earlier version, you have to know the backstory as to why my wife goes by Barbarany.  Solve the puzzle, or head straight to that midrash, which also explains why our daughter sometimes goes by Debarany. You would also have to know the name of the OPTHALMOLOGIST (28-Across) who performed the surgery, Josh Olson of the University of Minnesota.  I had fun with the clue for LABOR (14-Across), and my clue for RUN (39-Across) referred to Barb's service (2002-2006) on the Roseville Area School Board. Barb was a co-author of Fast-Breaking News, which might help explain the clue for 36-Across. Our son Michael and daughter-in-law Stephanie went to Cornell, one of the IVIES (64-Across).

Answer key to images:

Top row, left to right: Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg in Valkyrie; John Goodman as "Big Dan" Teague in O Brother, Where Art Thou?; John Wayne as "Rooster" Cogburn in the original True Grit (later remade by the Coen brothers, starring Jeff Bridges)

Bottom row, left to right: Cyclops from The Odyssey, based on Homer's epic; a one-eyed jack from a standard deck of cards, Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) from Monsters, Inc.

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