Constructor: Joel Fagliano
Relative Difficulty: Medium
Word of the Day: UTAH
Utah (/ˈjuːtɔː/ or Listeni/ˈjuːtɑː/; Navajo: Áshįįh bi Tó Hahoodzo; Arapaho: Wo'tééneihí ) is a state in the western United States. It became the 45th state admitted to the Union on January 4, 1896. Utah is the 13th-largest, the 31st-most populous, and the 10th-least-densely populated of the 50 United States. Utah has a population of nearly 3 million (Census estimate for July 1, 2015), approximately 80% of whom live along the Wasatch Front, centering on the state capital Salt Lake City. Utah is bordered by Colorado to the east, Wyoming to the northeast, Idaho to the north, Arizona to the south, and Nevada to the west. It also touches a corner of New Mexico in the southeast.
Approximately 62% of Utahns are reported to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or LDS (Mormons), which greatly influences Utah culture and daily life. Its world headquarters is located in Salt Lake City. Utah is the only state with a majority population belonging to a single church. (Wikipedia)
Didn't hate this. There seems in it to be an actual good faith effort to make a puzzle that was, in fact, not the worst thing ever. I won't remember it 15 minutes from now, but that won't be because of any deliberate attempt on my part to expurgate it from my mind.
This puzzle has a playful quality to it. I like that. Stuff like MARIO [3D: "Super" video game character], while pretty transparent, lends a chuckle or two that feels fun and fresh. The quotes here are funny, because though they of course signal "super"'s titular providence they also bring to mind the suggestion that the clue is questioning whether said character lives up to his reputation. Sure, it's funny it the sense that the kind of people who enjoy crosswords find it funny, but it's still funny.
The playfulness continues in SUP [1D: "Yo, how's it goin'"], which I didn't want to like but do. Perhaps because I'm imaging MARIO is the one saying it, or perhaps because it feels somehow incongruous with UTAH [5A: It has cities named Bountiful, Paradise and Providence], which by the way is another nice clue. I learned three cities in UTAH! Plus I used the word 'providence' earlier up there, perhaps subconsciously?? Or was it a coincidence? You decide!!
I like that the arrival at UTAH apparently necessitated a U-TURN [2D: About-face in a car], which okay maybe is a cheap laugh at UTAH'S expense, but somehow I'm feeling pretty good about it anyway. SHEAR makes me think of Harry Shearer, which doesn't bother me at all [4D: Clip Wool from]. He's a cool guy. Saw him perform once at a Tennessee Williams festival; that was pretty rad. It wasn't in Tennessee, though.
And now for the paragraph that SUMS everything up [1A: Elementary school math problems]:
In all, this puzzle is a nice PUREE of decent-to-good cluing and welcome, more-diverse-than-usual references [6A: Turn into a pulp]. It's not the Mona Lisa, but thankfully it's also not Guernica. Actually, screw that metaphor; I like Guernica. Anyway, it's definitely better than the NORM [9A: Typical, with "the"] we've come to expect. And that's the worst NORM there is.
Signed, Jonathan Gibson, Garçon à la pipe of CrossWorld