Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: TAKING THE STAIRS — this phrase is found in circles that zigzag down the grid in imitation of a staircase. Two theme answers tie in:
- BROKEN ELEVATOR (3D: Possible reason for [see circled letters])
- NEEDING EXERCISE (11D: Possible reason for [see circled letters])
Bobby Eli is a Grammy Award winning musician, arranger, composer and record producer from Philadelphia, USA. He is a founding member and lead guitarist of Philadelphia studio group MFSB. (wikipedia)
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This is an interesting use of circles, but NEEDING EXERCISE is not a great answer. It's just ... off. Not that thrilled about BROKEN ELEVATORS being in the plural, either. If the elevator is truly "broken," and the issue is not just power, than the plural seems far less likely than the singular. But still, the main problem is NEEDING EXERCISE which is impossible to imagine. "Hey, why are you TAKING THE STAIRS?" "NEEDING EXERCISE." "Uh ... OK." Maybe if you're an ESL student. Maybe. Otherwise, not a credible response. Not a phrase anyone has said, in a stand-alone way, ever. GET MORE EXERCISE is very, very in-the-language, and fits. Surely the clues could've been reimagined slightly to accommodate an actual phrase instead of whatever NEEDING EXERCISE is. "Needing" and "reason" (clue word) aren't even plausibly parallel. Always disappointing when a decent idea is marred by weak execution like this.
I seem to have been unusually fast today (3:30-ish), and I'm not sure why, as I don't really see the difficulty in this puzzle. I mean, the ELI clue is from outer space, true, but the rest seemed right over the plate. In fact, the only part of the grid that gave me any resistance was stupid NEEDING (and BERNINI, which I really should've known; 25A: "Apollo and Daphne" sculptor). I think I might have written in NEEDS TO EXERCISE as an initial stab (which is bad, but doesn't seem that much worse than NEEDING EXERCISE, frankly). Maybe the [Massenet opera] (THAÏS) was troublesome to people? But once I had "THA-," I knew it. I just had a conversation recently with someone who wondered why THAIS wasn't clued more often as the plural of THAI. That plural is certainly valid. Something to think about.
- 59A: Mythological figure being kissed in a statue at the Louvre (PSYCHE) — kisser is Cupid. BERNINI also has work at the Louvre.
- 68A: Salinger title girl (ESME) — gimme. Crosswordese from the olden days.
- 27D: Producer of the 2600 game console (ATARI) — five letters, game console, come on.
- 31D: Stereotypical K.P. item (TATER) — awkward clue. First, the stereotype is a potato, not a TATER. Second, "item?" Boo.
- 64D: Reactor-overseeing org. (NRC) — I get these initialisms more out of guesses and good luck than any real knowledge of what I'm talking about. AEC is a related initialism. Or else I'm making that up.
- 39D: Liqueur served with coffee beans (ANISETTE) — I did not know that. I just saw "liqueur" and thought "which one has a lot of common letters?" Piece of cake.