Getting Around

New York Times crossword June 10 / Constructed by Xan Vongsathorn

I am mortified to say this, but I didn’t get it. Will Shortz and constructor Xan Vongsathorn stumped me, even after I filled out every square in this grid.

The puzzle started out so promising, my first entry being the very fun MR ROBOTO (“Styx song with some Japanese lyrics,” 6 Down). I filled in all of the theme answers, which were clued with an * and contained circled letters (I’ve underlined them): GIFT WRAPPED (“*Ready for the present?” 23 Across); INNER TUBE (“*Makeshift swing,” 25 Across); INSIDE FASTBALL (“*Brushback pitch,” 47 Across); SELF-CONTAINED (“*All-in-one,” 51 Across); NINE-BANDED ARMADILLO (“*Animal that gives birth to identical quadruplets,” 66 Across); RINGED PLANETS (“*Saturn and others,” 86 Across); INTERNAL ORGANS (“*Contents of a chest?” 90 Across); and BUBBLED UP (“*Surfaced, in a way,” 113 Across).

And I solved the hint in 116 Across – “*Be repetitive … or what parts of the answers to the starred clues do” – GO IN CIRCLES. And I still didn’t get it. So I gave up and went to Wordplay, the Times puzzle blog. Turns out I was on the same wavelength as blogger Deb Amlen, who charitably said the grid “does not have the tightest theme I’ve ever seen.”

“The theme here today is things that are ‘around’ other things,” she wrote. That would include the bands around the armadillo, the rings around the planets, and wrapping around the gift … all of which I had already guessed. But inner around a tube? Internal around the organs? Contained around the self? This is the lamest and most incomprehensible theme I’ve ever seen. Major puzzle foul.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: I’m going to make this about my beloved but struggling Phillies team. “Nationals, before they were Nationals” are EXPOS (8 Down), the Montreal baseball team that moved to Washington. The ensuing Philly-D.C. rivalry has been in the news since Phillies fans began taking over Nationals Stadium whenever we played on the road there (it’s only a couple hours away). This spring, Washington started a dubious “Take Back the Park” campaign to try to ban Phils fans from the stadium. Yeah, like that wouldn’t backfire. Anyway, here’s hoping the Phils, who are just up the road from D.C. in Baltimore today, will get a few RBI (“Diamond stat,” 11 Down).

Doubled Up Dept.: “Gain maturity” is RIPEN (68 Down), while “Gains maturity” is AGES (111 Down).

Yoo-Hoo! Dept.: “Cry of delight popularized by Homer Simpson” is WOO-HOO (84 Across), which happens to cross with the answer for “Boo-boo” – OWIE (75 Down).

First-Name Basis Dept.: “World capital that’s also a girl’s name” is SOFIA (3 Down). “Redgrave of ‘Atonement'” is VANESSA (13 DOWN). And “Parks with no intention of moving” is ROSA (86 Down), the civil rights activist.

Stanley Cup Dept.: With the Flyers out of contention for the NHL title, I am heartily rooting for my original hometown team, the L.A. Kings. I’m looking for them to DEKE (“Hockey feint,” 30 Across) the puck around the hated Devils a few times and send them back Cup-less to New Jersey with that “Hey, hey, goodbye!” song. Its famous chorus also includes NA NA NA (“Repeating part of ‘Hey Jude,'” 52 Down).

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