Hello Loneliness ...
"Midrash" by George Barany and Steve Bachman (August 23, 2014)


When have you heard this song before? A superstar professional athlete, coming up on a critical juncture in his contract cycle [and no, we're not being sexist here, it's always "his," never "her"], takes a long hard look at his résumé and notices the absence of championship ring(s). Looking for a better venue and a more talented supporting cast, he manipulates the situation in such a manner as to leave his employer no choice but to make the best of a no-win situation and accommodate the superstar's wishes. Within a season or two, voilą, corks are popped and champagne is poured ... mission accomplished! Now, before resuming our narrative, we ask you to cycle between the three videos (sound on, please) found here, here, and here ... their significance will become clear as you continue reading.

The two of us have both lived in MINNESOTA (24-Across) for most of our adult lives, and have thus followed rather closely the ups and downs (more of the latter) of the local sports franchises: Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Lynx, North Stars, and Wild. The immediate impetus for this puzzle was the official announcement of a long-rumored blockbuster trade that saw starting All-Star sharpshooting rebounder extraordinaire Kevin Love, who had been with the Wolves since graduating from UCLA, shipped to the CLEVELAND (49-Across) Cavaliers, where he will join returning Prodigal Son and four-time NBA MVP LeBron James and 2012-2013 NBA Rookie of the Year point guard from Duke, Kyrie Irving, to form the nucleus of what would have to be considered the odds-on favorite for the next one (or more) NBA championships. In return, we welcome the #1 picks from the past two NBA drafts, Andrew Wiggins of The University of Kansas (a "one-and-out" collegian) and underperforming Anthony Bennett [see clue for 38-Down], along with veteran Thaddeus Young from the Philadelphia 76ers. Of course, these developments are only the culmination of Version 2 of The Chosen One's odyssey, with Version 1, also known as "The Decision," having been played out four years earlier when he foresook his home state of Ohio to join the Miami Heat [hence the notorious MEME (24-Down), "... taking my talents to South Beach."]

In addition to the obvious MINNESOTA and CLEVELAND (both 9 letters and symmetrically placed), this puzzle has three further major theme entries, KING_JAMES_VERSION (18-Across), a wink at the classic Bible but reinterpreted here in a humorous manner, ALL_YOU_NEED_IS_LOVE (37-Across), for which the classic Beatles song is used to explain the missing link for LeBron to bring an NBA championship to his home state, and CAVALIER_ATTITUDE where a well-known idiom invokes the optimism now felt in Cleveland (and gave us an opportunity to share some trivia about the Cavs' incoming coach, in his first NBA assignment).  For this to work, we added an extra column, meaning the puzzle is 16 letters wide.  Interestingly, two of the theme entries were titles of other puzzles from our ouvre, one with a pro basketball theme, the other dealing with matters of the heart [bonus puzzle; we love the WNBA too].

For the puzzle's title, and for its main page graphic, we elected to reference an Everly Brothers hit song from 1957 called Bye Bye Love.  Since clearly the song title itself would duplicate a theme entry, we had to delve a bit deeper into the lyrics:


Bye bye love
Bye bye happiness
Hello loneliness
I think I'm-a gonna cry-y
Bye bye love
Bye bye sweet caress
Hello emptiness
I feel like I could die
Bye bye my love goodbye

Quite apt, wouldn't you say?

[KL is the nephew of Mike Love of the Beach Boys, but we were unable to find anything appropriate, either theme-wise or lengthwise, from their songbook.]

The puzzle continues with additional winks to our professional basketball theme, even expanding to other sports and forms of entertainment, and making it more than just a Tale of Two Cities.  For example, STEALS (47-Across) allowed us to draw attention to the statistical domination of Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio and his incoming teammate Young.  BIG_MONEY (4-Down) gives the dollar value of LeBron's new contract with Cleveland, while TRADING_UP (5-Down) addresses a constant concern of basketball executives that distinguishes the great ones from those who are mediocre. We took LeBron at his word that Cleveland will indeed be his LAST_STOP (40-Down), and managed to reference that city's remarkable Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (37-Down), as well as its baseball team, the Indians aka "The TRIBE (66-Across)" [no mention, though, of "Johnny Football"—drafted recently by the Cleveland Browns].

We are particularly proud of the way we were able to wedge in KEVIN (9-Down), and clue it not at all to the newly departed Mr. Love, but rather to two other Minnesota greats, also power forwards, who wound up wearing Celtic green in Boston.  Kevin McHale was a superstar with the Minnesota Gophers who then built a Hall of Fame playing career with the Celts, and later returned to the Wolves as a General Manager (1994) and coach (2005).  Kevin Garnett, or KG as he was fondly known, came to the Wolves in 1995 directly from high school [having done something comparable academically, GB feels a special affinity to the likes of KG, LBJ, and the first player to do so, Moses Malone], and led the team for years with his great athleticism and heart.  In 2007, the Wolves executed possibly the most lopsided trade in NBA history, allowing KG to go to Boston while taking on five players who were part of a team that had set a franchise record with 18 consecutive losses.  Not too surprisingly, Minnesota has yet to return to the playoffs, while the very next year KG teamed with a healthy Paul Pierce and the recently acquired Ray Allen—all three future Hall of Famers—to bring another championship banner to the Boston Garden.

The crossword gods smiled on us by allowing mention of another great Celtic point guard, JO_JO (19-Down) White, who coincidentally went to the same college, Kansas, as Wiggins ... and for that matter, Danny Manning and Wilt "the Stilt" Chamberlain. We took the Kansas angle to clue the word HOME (6-Down), alluding also to the famous closing line of "The Wizard of Oz," although we could just as well have referred to LBJ of Akron coming HOME to Ohio. Baton ROUGE (53-Down) got us thinking to basketball alumni of L.S.U., most notably "Pistol Pete" Maravich and Shaquille "Shaq" O'Neal. Of the many possible ways we could have clued FANS (29-Down), we elected to offer our condolences to the jilted ones who had hoped LBJ might stay with the Miami Heat.

The puzzle does contain a few entries that may be less familiar to experienced solvers. E.B.E. (31-Across) stands for "extraterrestrial biological entity," while L.S.I. (50-Down) stands for "large-scale integration," P.T.O. (13-Down) stands for "page turn over," and H.P.'S (42-Across) are products from Hewlett-Packard. We tried to come up with evocative clues for ILKA (1-Down), MINAH (3-Down), and ISI (17-Down), among others (click on the respective links). The clue for SEN (14-Down), short for Senator, was both bipartisan and bi-state-ial [Franken (D-MN) and Portman (R-OH)].

To close, we share with you this hysterically funny animation (2-min) that was created a couple of weeks before the trade was announced (and hence has a slight inaccuracy, but its spirit survives intact).

If you want to tell others about this particular page, refer them to http://tinyurl.com/lonelinessmidrash

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