New York Times crossword Dec. 18 / Constructed by Patrick Merrell

Mobile blogging today from somewhere between Philadelphia and Lancaster, Pa., where we (finally!) redeemed a gift card for a Bed & Breakfast that a generous friend gave us as a wedding present … two years ago. It was worth the wait. If you’re ever out in Amish country, check out the Silverstone Inn & Suites.

In keeping with my Amish weekend, today’s puzzle had a plain and simple theme: Add an “A” to a common phrase and turn it into something different. So “Dislike of the son of Mary, Queen of Scots?” is a KING JAMES AVERSION (22 Across), while “Catwalk no-show?” is a RUNAWAY MODEL (31 Across).

Others: GENTLE AMEN (“Soft-spoken prayer ending?” 45 Across); AMASS MEDIA (“Build a publishing empire?” 48 Across); PEPPER ACORN (“Practical joke used on squirrels?” 66 Across); AROUND ROBINS (“Where worms don’t last long?” 103 Across); and ANABOLIC ASTEROIDS (“What black holes swallow to bulk up?” 116 Across).

The theme also included a reference to my favorite rib place when I was a kid, though I haven’t seen one in ages: TONY AROMAS (“What sweaty dancers create at an annual awards show?” 87 Across). And in a fun coincidence, I was at a coffee shop at the Strasburg Railroad — and across the street from the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania — when I solved 90 Across: “Rush to get on the train?”: DART ABOARD.

"Rush to get on the train?" is DART ABOARD (90 Across). Photo by Jim MacMillan at the Strasburg Railroad.

The puzzle title was a stealth theme answer: “Again?” is really “‘A’ Gain,” because the theme answers “gain” an “A.”

Philly Shout-Outs Dept.: “Catholic university in Philly” is ST. JOE’S (78 Across). Now La Salle is jealous! Not to mention Villanova, though technically it’s in the ‘burbs. Also, everyone here knows that WAWA (“Drink for a toddler,” 32 Down) is the granddaddy of all convenience stores.

Four-Legged Friends (Or Not) Dept.: “Shoe named for a cat” is PUMA (67 Down), while “One who works with canines” is a DENTIST (93 Down).

For Fun Dept.: “They’re often sold by the dozen” are RED ROSES (91 Down); “Geoffrey the Giraffe’s store” is TOYS R US (72 Down); and a “Brit’s bumbershoot” is a BROLLY (17 Down). Translation: an umbrella.

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