Going for a Run

New York Times, Aug. 29

I am not a jogger. Never have been, never will be. Which is why, when I saw the title of today’s puzzle, physical exercise never entered my mind — but mental exercise did.

At first, “Going for a Run” made me think the theme answers would contain alphabetic runs of letters, like DEF or NOP. Then I inadvertently solved the last theme answer first — YEAR ZERO (“Beginning of time?” 120 Across) — and it was hard not to notice the Y-Z symmetry of the two words.

I got suspicious and looked at the immediately preceding theme clue, 117 Across: “Annual sports event since 1997.” Hmmmm. The ESPN X-Games are about that old. A few more moments and I had it: WINTER X-GAMES. Bingo. Each theme answer would have an alphabetical pairing: W-X, Y-Z.

The italicized clues spoke to the subtlety of the theme. And I can’t imagine how long it might have taken constructor Derek Bowman to come up with all the pairings. (What would he have done if the Winter X-Games hadn’t been invented?)

So, starting alphabetically (and numerically, in the upper left corner), the theme answers are: ARMY BRAT (“Kid constantly switching schools, maybe,” 22 Across); CARBON DATING (“Age-revealing method,” 23 Across); EXHAUST FANS (“Stale air removers,” 29 Across); GRAY HAIRS (“Supposed results of stress,” 33 Across); INSIDE JOB (“Embezzlement, e.g.,” 58 Across); and KITTY LITTER (“Pet shop purchase,” 60 Across).

Also: MIXED NUTS (“Party bowlful,” 68 Across); OUTER PLANET (“Pluto, e.g., before it was plutoed,” 78 Across); QUICK READ (“Harlequin romance, e.g.,” 81 Across); SPEED TRAP (“Leadfoot’s downfall,” 101 Across); USED VEHICLE (“It’s got some miles on it,” 106 Across); and the aforementioned WINTER X-GAMES and YEAR ZERO.

Unwitting Theme Answer Dept.: “Newer, as a car” (42 Across) is a LATE MODEL, which follows the “Going for a Run” idea though it’s not an actual theme answer.

Project Runway Dept.: Can you tell I’ve never seen this show? I couldn’t figure out how “Diane” was going to fit into the four squares of 111 Down (“Von Furstenberg of fashion”). It’s EGON.

Noshable Clue Dept.: SESAME (122 Across) is not “_____ Street” or “Open _____,” but a “Bagel request.”

Great Trivia Dept.: “Where the limbo dance originated?” (57 Down) is TRINIDAD. I had no idea. I would have guessed “The Love Boat.”

Questions or comments? Tweet me @crosswordkathy.

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