Rivers of New York City

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FRIDAY PUZZLE — March 16 is National PANDA Day, for those of me who didn’t already know this, a day when conservationists and others who care about animals pay tribute to the once-endangered, and still vulnerable, creatures. Their habitats are slowly being encroached upon, and attempts to breed them have not been met with overwhelming success.

Nevertheless, Alex Eaton-Salners returns with a puzzle that will take your mind off the fact that today is Friday the 13th. Just look at the grid. It’s adorable. I thought it was a clown at first, but certainly you knew it was a PANDA.

It’s made clear by the fact that the word is written near the top of the PANDA’s face. On either side of the bear’s head, the themed entries BLACK AND WHITE (10D) and WASHINGTON ZOO (11D) identify their signature colors and the home of some famous PANDAs.

Mr. Eaton-Salners also debuts seven entries; my favorites are BOW AND ARROW, RENFAIRE and PESCETARIANS. SPIRIT ANIMAL also makes its debut and I’m just going to leave this here for constructors and solvers as bonus material. Fortunately, the clue is written to hint at the phrase’s original meaning.

There is no trick to this one, but the clues are Friday-level. You’ll need to put on your general knowledge thinking caps for this one.

1A. TIL about VERISMO, which is not a magician who specializes in getting the truth out of people (“And now, the great VERISMO!”), but a style of opera that uses everyday events, like “I Pagliacci,” rather than myth-based stories, like “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” That is much more dignified than what I was imagining.

12A. I am not sure how “Pro” is a synonym of PLUS, but I have faith that it is.

18A. “It has a lot of competition on TV” sounds as if we are supposed to be thinking of a show that has several programs competing with it, but we need to read that a bit differently: ESPN broadcasts many sports competitions.

21A. I am so glad we have Bob the Angry Flower to explain apostrophe usage to us.

27A. Welcome back, Ernest Hemingway! We were just talking about you yesterday. Thank you for writing “The Old Man and the SEA,” which earned you a Pulitzer Prize in 1953.

46A. I loved “Strain to recall?” as a clue for E. COLI. If a product is infected with E. COLI, one hopes it would be recalled.

50A. Tricky one! “Rivers of New York City” is not the East River and the Hudson River, it is the comedian JOAN Rivers, who made the city her home.

2D. What a terse clue. It’s simply the letter “H.” That’s your signal to think of the corresponding Greek letter, which is ETA.

4D. Not crazy about INDENTER as a word, although sharp-eyed solvers will note the strategic placement of the entry through the center of the PANDA’s head.

6D. I did not know this, but sure enough, the word for wall in French is MUR. There seems to be quite a few words for wall in French.

The writer Adrienne Raphel’s excellent and absorbing book, “Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures With Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them,” drops on March 17, but if you just can’t wait, you can pre-order it from Penguin Random House. I first met Ms. Raphel on the Times Journeys Crossword Crossing in 2017, and I’ve had a look at the book. It’s a fun and well-researched travelogue through the passionate and quirky world of puzzle solvers and constructors.

I’m excited to complete my “cycle +2” (publishing at least one regular crossword on each day of the week plus two variety puzzle types). Next up is probably a “double cycle +2,” but it might be a “cycle +3.” We’ll see.

My original submission used PANDA reparsed as a revealer for two-word phrases starting with P and A (PARTY ANIMAL, PENALTY AREA and PUTTERS AROUND). Some of the other phrases left on the cutting room floor included PENNY ARCADE, POLICE ACADEMY and PUBLIC AFFAIRS.

While Will and crew liked the grid art, they didn’t like the theme and suggested a redo, keeping just the PANDA revealer. After seeing the result, however, Will decided that this guidance went too far and requested a new grid that included some thematic material related to PANDAs.

My next grid was almost identical to the final one, featuring BLACK AND WHITE and WASHINGTON ZOO. The only difference was at the top of the grid, where I had HARISSA at 1-Across. Will didn’t like HARISSA in that slot and suggested some alternate fill headed by VERISMO. That left the VERISMO/MUR crossing, which I find less elegant than HARISSA/SUR. But, I trust Will to know his audience.

Finally, I really, really hope this puzzle gets published with circles on the P and A of PANDA. They make perfect eyes to complete the grid art. The preview version I saw didn’t have them, but hopefully that will change by the time it runs.

Almost finished solving but need a bit more help? We’ve got you covered.

Warning: There be spoilers ahead, but subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.

Trying to get back to the puzzle page? Right here.

Your thoughts?