The Wish

New York Times, Dec. 12

You can stop looking for Aladdin. There are no genies or lamps or, for that matter, actual wishes to be granted in this puzzle. But those who wish to solve the puzzle can take a literal hint from the title: The W is H.

Yes, this is a letter substitution puzzle in which the letter W is swapped for an H, turning common phrases into cute plays on words: “Tempo for a stringed instrument?” is HARP SPEED (23 Across).

Others: THIN SISTERS (“Nine Muses after dieting?” 25 Across); GLOBAL HARMING (“Alien attackers’ goal?” 34 Across); HASTE MANAGEMENT (“Rush hour control?” 68 Across); HINGED VICTORY (“Choice of the right door on ‘Let’s Make a Deal’?” 99 Across); READY TO HEAR (“Like tuned-in listeners?” 116 Across); MAGIC HAND (“Orlando team water boy, e.g.?'” 118 Across); CLEAN SHEEP (“Flock after a rainstorm?” 16 Down); and SILVER HARE (“Tortoise’s opponent after finishing second?” 73 Down).

I liked that there were a lot of theme answers (nine!) but have to say the puzzle was a bit of a letdown after last week’s blockbuster.

Bolt of Lightning Dept.: Never knew that Thursday was named for THOR (“God with a day of the week named after him,” 112 Down).

POTUS vs FLOTUS Dept.: Sure, Barack has the fancier title, but it’s MICHELLE OBAMA with the full-name shout-out in this week’s puzzle (“With 32-Down, first lady who graduated from Harvard Law,” 50 Down).

Don’t Stop Believin’ Dept.: “‘The Sopranos’ roles” are HITMEN (115 Across).

If Only Will Had Known Dept.: The NYT Travel section today was the 2011 Ski Guide, which would have dovetailed nicely with ALTA (1 Across) if the clue was related to the resort in Utah. It wasn’t, so now I know that Alta is also “Lady Bird Johnson’s middle name.”

Who’s That Girl? Dept.: Until today, the only “Evangeline” I knew was the song by Matthew Sweet. Thus I had to get most of the crossing letters to figure out that “Evangeline, for one” is ACADIAN (36 Down). (Now I also know about Evangeline Lilly, whose name came up first while I was Googling a link to the Longfellow poem to which the clue referred.)

Memories of Eighth Grade History Dept.: I remember the Sumerians, or at least I remember their name. Could have sworn that meant they came from Sumeria — but not so much. Turns out they came from SUMER (“Birthplace of cuneiform writing,” 51 Across).

Punny Stuff Dept.: I know I’ve seen this clue before and yet it still tripped me up: “Layers” is HENS (12 Down). In the same vein, “Photo finish” is MATTE (15 Down).

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