Two Outs

New York Times crossword puzzle Dec. 8 / Constructed by Patrick Berry

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas! Philly is getting its first flakes of the season right now; the original forecast was for about an inch, but that’s been significantly revised upward. There’s a *major* Snow Bowl going on down at the Eagles’ stadium.

In other words, it’s definitely not baseball season – despite the title of today’s puzzle. Turns out, though, that “Two Outs” has nothing to do with America’s favorite pastime and everything to do with the circled letters scattered throughout the grid. They make the theme answers into clever two-fers: The full answer is a synonym for one part of the clue; if you take out the two circled letters, you get a synonym for the other part.

So it’s only appropriate that one theme entry is CURVE BALL (“Pitch that fixes everything,” 24 Across). The “pitch” is the CURVE BALL; when you take out the two circled letters (bolded and underlined here), you get CURE-ALL – which “fixes everything.” At 20 Across, a “Red-wine drinker’s paradise?” is a SANGRIA / SHANGRI-LA.

Others: “Employee at the Ron Paul Archive?” is a LIBERTARIAN / LIBRARIAN (22 Across); “The one puppy that can read?” is a LITERATE / LITTER MATE (47 Across); “Creator of perfect whirlpools?” is a MAELSTROM / MAESTRO (53 Across); a “Minor-league championship flag?” is a PENNY-ANT/ PENNANT (83 Across); and to “Alienate a New Jersey city?” is ESTRANGE / EAST ORANGE (86 Across).

More: “‘Charge!,’ to Duracells?” is a BATTERY / BATTLE CRY (113 Across); “Begat a soft place to sleep?” is FATHERED / FEATHER BED (109 Across); “Satisfying finale coming to pass?” is a HAPPY ENDING / HAPPENING (117 Across); “Labeled idiotic?” is BRANDED / BRAIN DEAD (119 Across); and a “Dollar bill featuring a portrait of Duran Duran’s lead singer?” is SIMON LEBON/SIMOLEON (26 Across).

I thought it was pretty creative, with an impressive number of theme answers. What did you think?

Radio Days Dept.: The mention of Simon LeBon puts me in mind of my teenage years in the ’80s, when FM stations were also playing TEENA MARIE (“‘Lovergirl’ singer,” 55 Down) and The Pretenders, led by Chrissie HYNDE (“Chrissie in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” 67 Down).

Boob Tube Dept.: One of many “Steven Bochco series” is L.A. LAW (47 Down). And a “CBS spinoff that ran for 10 seasons” is CSI: MIAMI (97 Across).

Bright Lights, Big Cities Dept.: In addition to L.A. and Miami, the grid also features WEST BERLIN (“Site of a 1963  J.F.K. speech,” 30 Down).

Learn Something New Every Day Dept.: An “Airline that doesn’t fly on religious holidays” is Israel-based EL AL (84 Down). And a “Percussion instrument in ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer'” is an ANVIL (12 Down).

Say Who? Dept.: Somehow I have gone through life without ever hearing of John Bull, or who he symbolizes. I figured out from crossing words that the character represents a BRITON (80 Across).

Doubled-Up Dept.: The twice-used clue “Blue expanse” yields both SEA (42 Across) and SKY (89 Across).

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Longtime Sixers nickname” is DR. J (118 Down), for favorite son Julius Erving. Speaking of basketball, the “N.B.A. team originally called the Americans” is the NETS (71 Down).

Need some solving tips and tricks? I’ve posted some here. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. You can also visit my Facebook page, or tweet me @crosswordkathy. And here’s a little more about me.

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