I couldn’t really tell what today’s puzzle theme would be from looking at the title: I briefly thought it might involve types of birds, or parrot-like expressions (“Polly want a cracker!”). But it’s subtler than that — an aural gimmick in which the “B” sound in common phrases is replaced with a “P” sound. That’s how “Grin and Bear It” becomes “Grin and Parrot.” And how the phrase “based on a true story” becomes, in 67 Across, PASTE ON A TRUE STORY (“Lay out some newspaper copy the old-fashioned way?”).
Other theme answers, going Across: “defensive backs” becomes DEFENSIVE PAX (“Detente as a means of self-preservation?” 24 Across); “Boyz in the ‘Hood” becomes POISON THE HOOD (“Make a homie’s turf unfit for habitation?” 40 Across); “black diamond” becomes PLAQUE DIAMOND (“Rhombus on an award?” 95 Across); and “secret ballot” becomes SECRET PALATE (“What a mysterious restaurant critic has?” 112 Across).
And going Down: “Beats a retreat” becomes PIZZA RETREAT (“Getaway where Italian pies are consumed?” 3 Down); “24” character Jack Bauer becomes JACK POWER (“Strength required to lift a car?” 16 Down); “sugar bowl” becomes SUGAR POLL (“Where your opinion on ‘One lump or two?’ counts?” 77 Down); and “bronze medals” becomes PRAWNS MEDALS (“Awards won by shrimps?” 66 Down).
Crushing Blow Dept.: I am still reeling from the Phillies loss in the NLDS on Friday. The best record in baseball — the best record in club history! — at 102 wins and they can’t get an RBI (“A single may get you one, briefly,” 113 Across) in the most important game of the season. Now the Eagles are flailing, and the Sixers are locked out. At least the Flyers are off to a good start.
Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Duke ___, Rocky’s manager/trainer” is EVERS (28 Down). He was played by Tony Burton.
Names I Didn’t Know Dept.: Until today, the only Elvira I knew was Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, who hosted horror movie-a-thons on TV when I was a kid. (Apparently, she’s still around). Today I met another one in 51 Down: “Title character in love with Elvira” is ERNANI, an opera by Verdi. Also new to me: LUTSK (“Ukrainian city,” 59 Down).
Places I’ve Been Dept.: “Chichen ___ (Mayan ruins)” is ITZA (3 Down), which we visited while on our honeymoon at Playa Mujeres, near Cancun. Also took a trip to ASSISI (“Setting of the castle Rocco Maggiore,” 10 Down) recently while in Italy, though I have to admit I didn’t visit the castle in that clue.
Charitable Plug Dept.: Today’s post was late in part because I drove up to central Jersey for a fundraising event called Dogs 4 Dystonia. My friend Joanna has a debilitating muscle condition called dystonia, and she’s working to find a cure by organizing this annual event with her parents. Money goes to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation.