Can I Change Places?

New York Times, Oct. 3

Today’s puzzle is a literal interpretation of its seemingly innocuous title, “Can I Change Places?” Turns out that when the letter “I” literally changes places in a word, well, it turns into a completely different word. As 64 Down would say, WHO KNEW? (“Words said with a shrug”)

That little trick makes for some fun turns-of-phrase: “Lewis and Clark expedition, for the 1800s?” is the TRAIL OF THE CENTURY, instead of TRIAL (23 Across); “Spoiler of a parade for Ahmadinejad?” is TEHRAN RAIN, instead of IRAN (35 Across); “Top butcher’s title” is THE LOIN KING, instead of LION (57 Across); and “Destroyers of les forets?” are FRENCH FIRES, instead of FRIES (76 Across).

Others: “What a family court judge enforces?” is MARITAL LAW, instead of MARTIAL (93 Across); “Admonishment at a Surrealist museum?” is DON’T TOUCH THAT DALI, instead of DIAL (112 Across); “Decorative piece of George Harrison tour equipment?” is a SPIRAL SITAR CASE, instead of STAIR (16 Down); and “Paintings of Marilyn Monroe, Che Guevara and the like?” are ICON COLLECTIONS, instead of COIN (43 Down).

All of which gives me an idea for a sequel puzzle for constructor Daniel A. Finan: Can I Change Places With U?

Street Slang Dept.: I always shudder when the Times tries to use street slang in the grid; it just about guarantees the slang is obsolete. I got that feeling from 117 Across, “More awesome, to a rapper” — ILLER. Do rappers even say that anymore? Does anyone? I don’t even think they use it here in Illadelphia.

Parallel Worlds Dept.: (Alert: This entry contains a spoiler for the “Split Decisions” puzzle on page 54 of the magazine.) Two unusual entries in today’s grid — LECHER (95 Down, “Fyodor Karamazov, for one”) and NUBS (107 Down, “Gists”) — also appear in the “Split Decisions” variety puzzle. Wonder if I would have thought to use those words for “Split Decisions” had I not just seen them in the crossword.

Yo, Teach! Dept.: 36 Down, “Boo ___, recluse in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird‘” is RADLEY; he might also have been described as “the accused.” It so happens that I wrote about someone who taught this book to 10th graders in Philadelphia: Tony Danza. “Teach,” his reality show about spending a year at Northeast High, debuted a couple of days ago.

Too Clever Anagram Dept.: 109 Across, “Convert, as metal into a melt?” is SCRAMBLE. Took me a while to find the invisible quotes in that clue: “Convert, as ‘metal’ into ‘a melt’?”

Questions or comments? Tweet me @crosswordkathy.

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