Swapping Partners

New York Times crossword Dec. 4 / Constructed by Kelsey Blakley

Today’s puzzle was hardly as racy or exciting as the title “Swapping Partners” implies. Veteran solvers knew before they even picked up a pen that the theme answers would involve switching letters in common phrases to create punny new ones. That’s how “Anais Nin, e.g.?” becomes a DIARY QUEEN (23 Across) and a “Seizure at Sing Sing?” turns into a PRISON GRAB (25 Across).

Others: “Heavenly voice of conscience?” is an INTERNAL ANGEL (39 Across); “Specialty of a couples therapist?” is MARITAL ARTS (59 Across); “Courtroom jacket?” is a TRIAL BLAZER (76 Across); “Circus performer in makeup?” is a ROUGE ELEPHANT (94 Across); “Storyteller for Satan?” is a DEVIL’S LIAR (113 Across); “Improvement of a Standardbred’s gait?” is TROT REFORM (116 Across); “One starting a stampede, maybe?” is a SCARED COW (3 Down); and “Troops’ harvest?” is ARMY CROPS (80 Down).

The grid did have quite a few long answers that were not part of the theme: HEAD COLDS (“NyQuil targets,” 47 Down); LOST HEART (“Became discouraged,” 44 Down); EDITORIAL (“Counterpart of advertising,” 40 Down); WIDE BERTH (“Generous leeway,” 55 Down); FILM NOIR (“Movie genre,” 75 Down); QUANDARY (“Dilemma,” 24 Down); TREASURED (“Dear,” 68 Across); EARLY DAY (“Pioneering,” 34 Across); DIGS INTO (“Starts, as a big meal,” 98 Across); and LEGISLATE (“Work in a chamber, say,” 79 Across).

New to Me Dept.: I’m not nautical, so I looked up BOWSPRITS (“Sailors’ spars,” 57 Across) after solving the puzzle. Also, I didn’t understand the NILE reference (“Cataract site,” 20 Across); now I do. I’d only heard of cataracts on the eyes.

A Poet And He Knows It Dept.: The standard clue for ONE L (“‘The ___ lama, he’s a priest’: Nash,” 118 Across) is a reference to first-year law school students or a book about same by Scott Turow (better known for “Presumed Innocent”). Good for Will Shortz and constructor Kelsey Blakley for the hat tip to Ogden Nash, a rhyming genius whom I like to think of as a Dr. Seuss for adults.

The full verse:

The one-l lama,
He’s a priest.
The two-l llama,
He’s a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
Three-l lllama.*

*The author’s attention has been called to a type of conflagration known as a three-alarmer. Pooh.

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