Breathtaking

New York Times crossword Sept. 23 / Constructed by Matt Ginsberg

Breathtaking? I’m actually trying to catch my breath while figuring out this puzzle. I’ve been attending a conference in San Francisco for the past few days, and this morning I’m rushing around trying to solve while simultaneously packing my bags, eating brunch and riding to the airport. I haven’t even finished the grid yet. But my plane’s about to board, so I figured I’d post something short now, and update it later.

I have puzzled through enough of the crossword to know it pays homage to ELIZA DOOLITTLE (“With 78-Down, character commemorated in the answers to this puzzle’s starred clues,” 28 Across). The reference is to “My Fair Lady,” in which the very proper Henry Higgins tries to teach the aforementioned Cockney-accented girl how to enunciate her H’s.

In this puzzle, alas, Eliza has not yet mastered aspiration. The theme clues, marked with asterisks, yield common phrases that are missing an added H sound. In other words, WWES (What Would Eliza Say?). So a “*Cardiologist concern?” is not “state of the heart,” but STATE OF THE ‘ART (51 Across). “*Baying” is not “night howls” but NIGHT ‘OWLS (32 Across).

Others: “*Caries?” is ‘ARM TO THE TEETH (67 Across). “*Marriage in 2004, divorce in 2011?” is a SEVEN-YEAR ‘ITCH (83 Across). “*Petrified wood?” is FOREST OF ‘ARDEN (113 Across). And “*Endless bagpipe tune?” is LONG ‘ISLAND (highland) SOUND (3 Down).

Gotta run now, but will post more later.

UPDATE, Sept. 24: I know you all have been waiting with bated breath — rim shot, please — for the rest of my post on this “breathtaking” puzzle. Sorry it’s so late. Here’s what I’ve got:

More On That Theme Dept.: I figured out a few more of Eliza’s abbreviated phrases — ‘OLD SCHOOL (“*Conduct classes?” 102 Across) and ‘EYEBROW (highbrow) TWEEZERS (“*Gold-plated forceps?” 48 Down). But I am chastened to admit defeat on two clues: “*Male pattern baldness?” (24 Across) and “*Stable hands?” (14 Down). I got the ‘AIRLINE part of the former, but struggled to get the second part of the phrase. I guessed ‘AIRLINE MERGER, but the answer was ‘AIRLINE TRAVEL. The stable clue turned out to be ‘ALTAR BOYS. Perhaps I could have figured those out if Will Shortz hadn’t signed off on bizarre crossing words like ENVOI (“Poetic ending,” 17 Down) and ALIENEE (“Heir, usually,” 22 Across). Seriously? Even Rex Parker agrees the latter is just way beyond the pale.

Repeat That? Dept.: The doubled clue “Heaps” yielded both A TON (107 Across) and A SLEW (11 Down). “Heir, often” is the palatable SCION (6 Down), but it’s paired with the aforementioned ridiculous ALIENEE (“Heir, usually,” 22 Across). “Bridge response” is I PASS (57 Across), referring to the card game, while “Bridge responses,” referring to a ship, are AYE AYES (54 Across).

Pardon Moi? Dept.: As I mentioned earlier, I was solving on the road yesterday and happened to be at the tres chic Cafe de la Presse in San Francisco when I solved several French clues. “French farewell” is BON SOIR (23 Across); “Frere’s sibling” is SOEUR (45 Down); and “French 101 verb” is ETRE (46 Across). Translations: “Good evening,” “sister” and “to be.”

And with that, I will bid you bon soir with a clip from “My Fair Lady” that I stole from the Wordplay blog:

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