Play Bargaining

New York Times, Aug. 1

Today’s entertaining puzzle wasn’t so much about bargaining as it was about swapping. The theme answers require you to swap out the long “ee” sound of common two-word phrases for an “ay” sound — much like the title swaps out the “ee” sound in the common phrase “Plea Bargaining” for the “ay” sound to make “Play Bargaining.” (Oh say, can you say?)

The puzzle had an impressive 10 theme answers, including these four across: WEIGH THREE KINGS (“Put a few monarchs on the scale,” 21 Across); SHARPEI PEN (“Wrinkly-dog holder?” 29 Across); GENERAL LEI (“Floral garland for whoever?” 105 Across); and TO BAY OR NOT TO BAY (“Indecisive wolf’s question?” 114 Across).

The six down answers were SHOPPING SPRAY (“Mist from a mall?” 15 Down); VALET GIRL (“Miss who parks cars?” 27 Down); CHEZ DEVIL (“In hell?” 33 Down); THE GIVING TRAY (“Generous carhop’s prop?” 56 Down); FANCY FRAY (“Brawl at a ball?” 58 Down); and JAY STRING (“Leno’s necklace?” 62 Down).

Had to Think About It For a Minute Dept.: The “Only thing between you and an open window?” (32 Down) is an ICON, but it took me a minute to understand he meant a computer desktop window.

Moving On From Nuclear Catastrophes Dept.: “‘I didn’t need to know that,’ in modern lingo” (119 Down) is TMI — Too Much Information. Glad we’re moving on from Three Mile Island.

Aural Tricks Dept.: “Blew by a drummer, maybe” (57 Across) is not about marching faster than the percussion section, but about a flute-like instrument and colonial pageantry: FIFED. (And that’s probably as close as this puzzle gets to a Philly shout-out.)

Is There Really a Past Tense of this Verb? Dept.: “Played the tourist” (59 Across) is SIGHTSAW. Of course it makes sense as the past tense of “sightsee,” but have you actually ever heard someone say it?

Questions or comments? Tweet me @crosswordkathy.

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