Author: Yaakov Bendavid
Theme: Taking phrases that start with N and changing it to M, as follows:
- nail clipper => MAIL CLIPPER (17a: Ship used to transport letters?)
- neat freak => MEAT FREAK (28a: Frequent steakhouse patron?). Went through both MEAT EATER and MEAT LOVER before I figured out the theme.
- net assets => MET ASSETS (42a: Over two million works of art?)
- nacho cheese => MACHO CHEESE (56a: Ingredient you shouldn't use to make quiche?)
This is a pretty average theme. Straight letter substitution is a very common mechanism, and frankly these resulting phrases didn't do much for me. Nothing wrong with them, just not particularly exciting or funny.
- 1a: Member of a film crew (GAFFER). I've always loved the name gaffer, and even when I had no idea what one was we used to watch movie credits to see who the gaffer and key grip were. The gaffer is the head electrician on the set, while the key grip is in charge of all the "grips" -- the people who move things around (the movie set equivalent of stage hands). "The Gaffer" is also the nickname of Sam Gamgee's father, Hamfast, in The Lord of the Rings. Which is cool, because this entry crosses 1d: Looker's leg (GAM). Gaffer, Gam? Gee!
- 16a: Use your scull (OAR). It was either ROW or OAR. Either way, I like the twist on "Use your skull!" (i.e., "Don't be a dumbass!").
- 20a: More pleasant, as weather (BALMIER). Okay, I admit that I don't whether this actually happened, is urban legend, or was just a joke, but for 20 some years in Boston there was a husband and wife duo on the local news, Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson. As the story goes, in one of their broadcasts, Natalie asks, "What's the weather in a word, Chet?". To which Chet replies, "Balmy, Natalie". Bonus points for anyone who can validate that this actually occured.
- 40a: Haydn sobriquet (PAPA). Nice to see Haydn here instead of the more-obvious Hemingway.
- 11d: Muttonchops alternative (GOATEE). I think muttonchops is one of the greatest words to describe facial hair. Not that I like the style, but I like the word.
- 13d: Host of the National Geographic Bee (TREBEK). Not as nice as seeing his whole name, but still good fill.
- 24d: Mr. Potato Head accessory (NOSE). Am I misremembering, or did Mr. Potato Head used to have pipe? Either way, this is a great way to spice up a potentially boring entry.
- 36d: 1964 #1 hit for the Beatles (LOVE ME DO). I don't really need to link this song, but I will anyway.
- 39d: Cut the mustard? (REAP). As in literally cutting the plant for harvest. Very nice. Is cutting mustard difficult? I'm wondering how the term "couldn't cut the mustard" came about.
- 7a: Insurance options: Abbr. (HMOS).
- 11a: "He ___ Game" (1998 Spike Lee joint) (GOT). I'm not sure I understand the "joint" part. Does joint mean movie?
- 14a: Like some lab mice (ALBINO)
- 15a: Cry from a butterfingers (OOPS). Easy, but nice.
- 19a: Fire truck tool (AXE)
- 21a: Attempt (STAB). The noun, as is "take a stab at".
- 25a: Per (APIECE). Yesterday it was A POP, today it's A PIECE.
- 27a: Con ___ (tenderly,on a score) (AMORE). Makes sense: with love.
- 31a: Residences for cardinals (NESTS). Cute.
- 32a: Opposite of sans (AVEC). Basic French I can handle.
- 33a: Former spouses (EXES). This is easy in four letters. In three, I never know whether it's XES or EXS. I think it's the former.
- 34a: Three goddesses of destiny, with "the" (FATES)
- 36a: Creepy look (LEER)
- 41a: Three-card street scam (MONTE). There are a lot of versions of three-card monte. The really good ones use unadulterated cards and are pure sleight-of-hand, like this one. WARNING: The audio on this is horrendous and loud, so turn your speakers way down before following the link.
- 47a: Show that won seven Tonys in 1980 (EVITA). I am more familiar with the film version, starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas.
- 48a: Receptacle under a barbecue (ASH PIT). I had ASHCAN to start, but this actually makes more sense.
- 49a: Admitted (to) (OWNED UP). Nice phrase.
- 51a: Rob Roy, e.g. (SCOT). I was thinking the drink and couldn't get anything to fit. Here we reference the actual person for which the drink (scotch and vermouth, with a dash of bitters) was named. Robert Roy MacGregor was a Scottish folk hero. ROB ROY itself shows up in puzzles occasionally, usually as the drink ("Manhattan relative").
- 52a: Element #3 (LITHIUM). I particularly like Nirvana song.
- 55a: Sea dog (TAR). Here's a shout out to the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs, who are the Red Sox AA affiliate.
- 60a: Energy Star program org. (EPA). Our repeat-entry-from-yesterday of the day.
- 61a: Fit for military service (ONE A). I am thankfully too young to have been eligible for the draft. Somehow, I always think of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" when ONE-A (or ARLO, for that matter) appears in a puzzle.
- 63a: Movie critic Reed (REX)
- 64a: Housefly, for example (PEST)
- 65a: Prominent parts of aardvarks (SNOUTS)
- 3d: Justice Dept. agency (FBI)
- 4d: Thick-shelled nuts (FILBERTS). Also called a hazelnut.
- 5d: Packs up (ENCASES)
- 7d: Arizona tribe (HOPI). This one we actually learned back in elementary school, but I'm so trained to think OTOE and UTES that I didn't get it until I had a couple of crossings.
- 8d: Brood (MOPE)
- 12d: State that borders Guerrero (OAXACA). I'm not sure why I know this. I don't really, I guess, but I at least recognize the name. Probably from puzzles.
- 18d: Mosque leader (IMAM). This is a word I only know from crosswords.
- 21d: Round Table honorific (SIR). One of the shows I have seen (in Boston) is "Spamalot". What a great show!
- 22d: Barn roof spinner (VANE)
- 23d: Green card, for short (AMEX). Nice twist of a clue, referring not to immigration but American Express.
- 26d: Future specialist, perhaps: Abbr. (PFC). That's private first class, in the Army.
- 29d: Bother greatly (EAT AT)
- 30d: NYC's Madison, e.g. (AVE)
- 34d: Type A person's way of life (FAST LANE). I really like this fill, but the clue seems awkward to me. Is fast lane a way of life? I know we're referring to the expression "living in the fast lane", but it feels weird by itself. Anyone want to weigh in on this?
- 35d: Imitate (APE). It's almost always APE or PARROT; occasionally ECHO.
- 37d: Oklahoma city near Vance Air Force Base (ENID). Enid shows up a lot for not a very large place. According to Wikipedia, it has the most grain storage capacity in the United States. Sounds like an exciting place.
- 40d: Pitchfork-shaped letter (PSI)
- 43d: Houdini's expertise (ESCAPE)
- 44d: Insect section (THORAX). If Dr. Seuss's Lorax and "The Hobbit's" Thorin Oakenshield had a love child...
- 46d: Arty Manhattan neighborhood (SOHO). Short for SOuth of HOuston (Street).
- 50d: Candle parts (WICKS). Can you name another part of a candle?
- 54d: The House ___Ruth Built (nickname of Yankee Stadium) (THAT). Long clue just for a "THAT", but it's topical since this is the last season for Yankee Stadium. Even as a Red Sox fan, I feel sentimental about that.
- 56d: Thick mass of hair (MOP)
Suns of Bitches:
- 22a: Actress Hudgens of "High School Musical 2" (VANESSA). I didn't know this, but was able to suss it out from the crossings.
- 62a: "The Soul of a New Machine" author Tracy (KIDDER). Never heard of him. Luckily, KIDDER felt like a normal enough name, so the crossing at the "I" with MENUHIN was guessable. But it was a guess, so it gets the "guess-the-vowel" tag.
- 38d: "___, Babe"(1992 Mark Leyner book) (ET TU). Did not know this.
- 41d: Violinist Yehudi (MENUHIN). Not a clue. See "KIDDER" above.
Bottom line, this was just an okay puzzle for me (I feel like I'm channeling Randy Jackson... "Yo, dude... so... okay... listen up..."). Pretty forgettable, but without major flaw.
Thanks for listening.
- Pete M.