‘Oh, Really?’

New York Times crossword Aug. 19 / Constructed by Freddie Cheng

The phrase “Oh, really?” has taken on a decidedly snarky tone for me since Saturday Night Live introduced the “Really!?!” segment during Weekend Update.

In today’s crossword, though, the emphasis is on the “Oh” part of the phrase. It’s a literal indication of the “New element in each of this puzzle’s theme answers”: AN O (122 Down).

Constructor Freddie Cheng has taken common phrases with “-el” sounds and cleverly replaced them with “-oh” sounds. Figuring that out might lead you to say AHA! (“Solution reaction,” 95 Down).

So “Ultranationalism?” is JINGO ALL THE WAY (23 Across). “‘Thriller’ Grammy sweep?” is THE DAY OF THE JACKO (39 Across), a reference to pop star Michael Jackson’s nickname. “Speed at which the apocalypse is coming?” is TEMPO OF DOOM (48 Across). “Big gambling loss in the Biggest Little City in the World?” is RENO FAILURE (74 Across). And “Bad precept for U.S. foreign policy?” is AMERICAN EGO (91 Across).

My favorites: “Obsessive-compulsive soap purger?” is RINSE PSYCHO (64 Across). “Not a happy ending on the yellow brick road?” is TOTO ANNIHILATION (99 Across). And “TV detective with his unbalanced suspect?” is HAMMER AND SICKO (121 Across).

Perfect Place Dept.: The horizontal answer at the exact center of the grid is MIDDLETON (“Kate who married a prince,” 70 Across).

The Pits Dept.: The depressing clues “Dump,” “Dump” and “Dump, say” yield STY (13 Down), REFUSE HEAP (14 Down) and SELL (86 Down).

Slice Of Life Dept.: “Pizzeria order” is a PIE (58 Down), while a “Pizzeria need” is an OVEN (104 Down).

Ha Ha Dept.: “J.F.K. search party?” is TSA (6 Down), as in the airport screening agency.

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