Circle of Life

New York Times crossword Jan. 30 / Constructed by Kevin G. Der and Jessica A. Hui

Remember the Ophiucus ruckus? You know, that period about two weeks ago when the astrological world turned upside down and everyone thought their signs were wrong?

Luckily the CHINESE ZODIAC (“Collection of animals featured in this puzzle,” 41 Down) had no such problems. Otherwise Will Shortz might have been scrambling to find another crossword for today.

This fun and large grid (23×23!) by Kevin G. Der and Jessica A. Hui celebrates the upcoming Year of the Rabbit on Feb. 3 by scattering the 12 animal signs into single squares throughout the grid, ultimately forming the title’s “circle of life.” (There are a dozen because of the zodiac’s TWELVE-YEAR CYCLE (“What the 41-Down has,” 77 Across).

The signs of the Chinese Zodiac

Starting with 1 Across and moving clockwise, they include: BRASS (MONKEY) (“Rum, vodka and orange juice drink,” as well as a major hit for the Beastie Boys back in the ’80s), which is paired with (MONKEY)ING AROUND (“Tomfoolery,” 6 Down); RED (ROOSTER) (“‘Little’ barnyard bird with an alliterative name in a classic Willie Dixon blues song,” 7 Across), paired with (ROOSTER) TAILS (“Wakes thrown up behind speedboats,” 10 Down), a term I have to say I’ve never heard of — but, then again, I don’t do much speedboating; (DOG) EAR (“Result of turning the corner?” 30 Across) and (DO-G)OODER (“Samaritans,” 30 Down); and PORKY (PIG) (“Looney Tunes character with a snout,” 62 Across) and SEA (PIG) (“Fat underwater creature,” 44 Down), another term I’ve never heard. Sea cow, yes — that’s a manatee. But sea pig?

Others: ROOM (RAT)ES (“Hotel figures,” 75 Down) and DEMOC(RAT) (“Person who likes the blues?” 100 Across); F(OX)ILY (“With craft,” 131 Across) and T(OX)INS (“Cobra products,” 121 Down); (TIGER) WOODS (“Four-time Masters winner,” 145 Across) and CROUCHING (TIGER) (“With 88-Down, 2000 Ang Lee film,” 91 Down); (RABBIT) RUN (“1960 Updike novel,” 144 Across) and ROGER (RABBIT) (“Much-wanted toon in Toontown,” 114 Down); and PEN(DRAGON) (“King Arthur’s family name,” 125 Across) and HIDDEN (DRAGON) (“See 91-Down,” 88 Down).

Finally: (SNAKE) SKINS (“Cobra products,” 95 Across) and (SNAKE) PIT (“Place where a person may be bitten,” 95 Down); (HORSE)POWER (“Bit of muscle car’s muscle,” 57 Across) and ON (HORSE)BACK (“Like a Mountie,” 45 Down); and BI-G(RAM)S (“Two-letter combinations,” 1 Down) and IN F(RAM)E (“Viewable, to a camera operator,” 26 Across).

I have to say I’m curious about how the solved puzzle will be printed in next week’s NYT Magazine; I couldn’t squeeze all those letters into the squares and just wrote the words outside the grid. Maybe animal pictures?

Triple Play Dept.: “Cobra product” or its plural was used as a clue three times (93 Across, 95 Across and 121 Down) to yield VENOM, (SNAKE) SKINS and T(OX)INS, respectively.

Pennsylvania Trivia Dept.: John Updike, author of the “Rabbit” series of books, grew up in Shillington, outside Reading, Pa. Nearby Alvernia University recently got some of Updike’s papers.

NFL vs. CNN Dept.: “Blitzer, e.g.” (109 Down) isn’t an early Super Bowl reference but a nod to a NEWSMAN named Wolf.

Not the Same Old Villain Dept.: I’m not a huge James Bond fan, but I know from puzzle-solving that his first nemesis was DR. NO, because that’s always how it’s clued. I did not know it as a “1962 action film set in Jamaica” (18 Down).

Get Well Soon Dept.: “When doubled, first name in old Hollywood” (85 Across) is ZSA, for Zsa Zsa Gabor, who has had some difficult health problems lately.

Clowning Around Dept.: I never thought of him as “noted,” but I guess it’s hard not to note a red-and-yellow character named MCDONALD (“Noted Ronald,” 102 Down).

Questions or comments? Tweet me @crosswordkathy or visit my Facebook page.

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