New York Times, Jan. 17

Before we get to this week’s theme, this puzzle has left me wondering how far ahead of publication these grids are constructed. Was anyone else stunned to find a reference to “Avatar” in the clues? There it was, 49 Down, “___ of Souls, Na’vi temple in ‘Avatar.'” Holy crap. The movie only opened, what, three weeks ago? One of its stars, Sigourney Weaver, was just on “Saturday Night Live” last night. I haven’t seen it yet, so I hope Will Shortz didn’t spoil it for me — I used crossing words to figure out that it’s the TREE of Souls.

Anyway … on to the theme. “Subtleties” was a subtle way of saying these answers are audibly slurred; they’re what’s heard when you fail to enunciate. So “Dr. Westheimer telling it like it is?” (23 Across) is the GOD’S HONEST RUTH, where the second T is dropped and/or elided over. Among other answers: “Advice to Tin Man costume designers?” (112 Across) is DON’T RUST ANYONE; a “Debugger’s mission?” (19 Down) is a WAR AGAINST ERROR; the “Result of a plumbing disaster in the apartment above?” (49 Across) is TOILET RAINING; and “Damage to a paperback edition?” (40 Down) is a SOFT ISSUE INJURY.

A few other good ones:

_ 91 Across, “Julio to julio,” refers to the months, not the Iglesias father-son team (ANO).

_ 96 Across, “‘The Office’ city” (SCRANTON). Wow — first Scranton gets “The Office,” then it gets a shout-out in the NYT crossword puzzle. Is there no end to The Electric City’s celebrity? (Note: I have had bylines from Scranton, and even had lunch at the Steamtown mall, so I can say these things.)

_ 67 Down, “___ cloud (solar system outlier)” is an OORT. Can’t believe I’ve never seen that word before; seems like it would come in handy a lot.

_ 28- and 77 Across ask for the fourth, eighth and ninth words from the original “Star Wars” opening crawl. Awesome. (“A long time AGO, in a galaxy FAR FAR away …”)

_108 Across, “Married mujer: Abbr.” Having just returned from a honeymoon that included a trip to Isla Mujeres (“Island of Women”), I can say with authority that the answer is SRA, short for “senora.”

Questions or comments? Twitter me @crosswordkathy

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