A Stately Garden

New York Times, May 3

Peonies, roses and carnations are among the flowers you’ll find hidden in the “garden” Will Shortz & Co. have created in today’s puzzle. Just read the circles in each of the theme answers from left to right … can you smell the VIOLET in the VIOLIN CONCERTOS of 23 Across (“Five works of Mozart [Rhode Island]”)? Or the LILY in ALVIN AILEY for 48 Across (“‘Revelations’ choreographer [Utah]”)?

Of course it would make the puzzle immensely easier if you happened to know that Indiana’s state flower is the peony, thus giving you several letters of 58 Across, “Trial hearing? [Indiana]” — EXPERT TESTIMONY. But once you figure out that they’re planting buds throughout the answers, sometimes just a few scattered letters in the circles can help you fill in the rest, as it did for me with the carnation hidden in 68 Across, CASH TRANSACTION (“It’s never made with plastic [Ohio]”).

I have to admit I’m a little ambivalent about this kind of puzzle, though … I wonder if it would have been more “real” to simply have the flowers as part of the whole answer … like LILY TOMLIN, instead of picking out random letters in ALVIN AILEY, or VIOLET BEAUREGARD instead of forcing it into VIOLIN CONCERTOS. Somehow circling the letters to show you what’s hidden makes it less of a “discovery” to me.

Anyway … a couple other things caught my eye. 76 Across taught me that while a lion roars, an elk bugles. Bugles? Really? Go figure. And 80 Across taught me about something (almost) in my own backyard: GRAEME Park, a historic site outside Philadelphia that apparently was so excited to be in today’s puzzle that they posted a note on their website: http://www.ushistory.org/graeme/

Questions or comments? Twitter me @crosswordkathy