New York Times crossword Dec. 9 / Constructed by Patrick Berry
Hard to imagine a bigger spoiler than the title of today’s otherwise clever crossword. As you might have guessed from “Last Name First,” the theme answers are all famous people whose names have been reversed: MONTANA JOE ( “Coffee from Big Sky Country,” 90 Across) switches the names of the Hall of Fame quarterback, while CUBAN MARK (“Official seal on a Havana cigar?” 107 Across) reorders the names of the Dallas Mavericks‘ owner.
The puzzle is chock full of such monikers. Others: NEWTON JUICE (“Beverage made by squeezing fruit-filled cookies?” 108 Across); SLICK GRACE (“Smarmy preprandial blessing?” 100 Across); RICH BUDDY (“Moocher’s most valuable acquaintance?” 74 Across); PHOENIX RIVER (“The Salt, in Arizona?” 83 Across); and FRENCH VICTOR (“Napoleon, e.g., prior to exile?” 44 Across).
Even more: BASS LANCE (“Fishing spear?” 54 Across), who admits he never would have solved the clue; WILDER GENE (“What misbehaving kids must have inherited from their parents?” 34 Across); COOK ROBIN (“Roast a red-breasted bird?” 24 Across); WELD TUESDAY (“Entry in a metalworkers’ personal planner?” 22 Across); and LONDON JACK (“Pounds and pencee?” 28 Across). Regarding that last one, I’ve heard of author Jack London but never the term “jack” as referring to money.
Again, fun theme, but what a bad title. How about “Trading Places”? Or “Altered Egos”? Or “Role Reversals”? Or anything else?
Cat’s Meow Dept.: “Striped pet” is a TABBY (1 Across). I happen to own a very bad one named Phoebe (right).
Philly Shout-Outs Dept.: “‘Love Train’ group, with ‘the'” is O’JAYS (25 Down). The chart-toppers were among many R&B stars produced by Philadelphia International Records, led by Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble. I’m also going to include LINER (“Passenger ship,” 28 Down) in this category to draw attention to the SS United States, whose rusting hulk sits in the Delaware River across from the Ikea shopping plaza in South Philly. A conservancy group is trying to save the ship, which was the largest ever made in the U.S. and holds the trans-Atlantic speed record. My mom and her family actually sailed on it once.