Critical Periods

New York Times, July 18

The key to today’s puzzle is punctuation – the critical period, as it were. The theme answers are simple two-word phrases that, when punctuated properly, can be read an entirely different way.

So the answer to “234, as of July 4, 2010?” (23 Across) looks like ACCEPTED USAGE, but is read ACCEPTED U.S. AGE (our country turned 234 years old this year). Others: “Workers in a global peace organization?” (32 Across) is not THE UNEMPLOYED but THE U.N. EMPLOYED; “What gumshoes charge in the City of Bridges?” (47 Across) is not PITTSBURGH PIRATE but the PITTSBURGH P.I. RATE; “Symmetrical power conductor for appliances?” (62 Across) is not a BILATERAL ACCORD but a BILATERAL A.C. CORD; “Too much guitar work by a professor’s helper?” (83 Across) is not EXCESSIVE TARIFFS but EXCESSIVE T.A. RIFFS; “‘Pay in cash and your second surgery is half-price’?” (94 Across) is not a STRANGE ORDEAL but a STRANGE O.R. DEAL (is it ever!); and a “Typical termite in a California city?” (108 Across) is not a COMMON LABORER but a COMMON L.A. BORER.

I have to admit struggling with the STRANGE ORDEAL answer, even after I had it down on the page. Where did the damn periods go? Did I screw up a crossing letter? Then I wondered if there was a hospital named ST. RANGE … but that only used one period. “O.R.” just didn’t initally strike me as me as an abbreviation the way the others did.

Not much else to shout out about. The only would-be Philly reference was 77 Across — EAGLE — a member of our loved and loathed NFL team. In this case, it referred to members of the band that sang “Hotel California.” And from the other end of our state, I had no idea that PITTSBURGH is known as the City of Bridges (47 Across).

Questions or comments? Tweet me @crosswordkathy

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