Bill Thompson’s Tuesday, 12/10/13 crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)

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December 10, 2013 by manvspuzzle

Theme: Double-M Vowel Progression.  The five theme answers are two-word phrases, each word beginning with MA-MA, ME-ME, MI-MI, MO-MO, MU-MU in succession.

Theme Answers:

  • 17A — Pen with a fat felt tip: MAGIC MARKER
  • 31A — Aboriginal Healters: MEDICINE MEN
  • 36A — Annual Vicksburg pageant: MISS MISSISSIPPI
  • 45A — Band with the 2007 #1 album “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank”: MODEST MOUSE
  • 59A — Pooh-bah: MUCKETY-MUCK

Then there’s 55-Across, which either is or isn’t part of the theme:

  • 55A — Plain or peanut candy: M AND M

    © The New York Times

    © The New York Times

***

Mixed feelings about this little fella.  At first, I thought it was just a standard “all the words begin with M” theme.  It took me a while to notice the vowel progression.  That little bit of pizzazz (puzzazz?) makes it, literally, twice as good.

I was distracted by two things: 1) the appearance of M AND M at 55-Across, and 2) the long non-theme across answers (DREAM TEAMS and SERPENTINE).  M AND M isn’t clued as part of the theme, which is weird.  At the same time, if it had been clued as part of the theme, we could all gripe about how it’s arbitrarily placed.  Kind of a lose-lose for the editor.  Others will probably argue that a rewrite of that section was in order.  But I really don’t care.

The long non-theme answers were only a distraction because I, the solver, was trying to incorporate them into the theme for a while.  It’s not normal (though it does happen) to have 9+-letter fill in a themed puzzle.  These, being 10 letters, really blew my mind.  Once I figured out that they were just *there*, serving no purpose other than to give me pleasure, I felt better about the whole thing (phew!).

I stupidly had UPHIRE instead of UP HERE (48-Down — Higher Calling?).  My thought process: “Oh, sure, ‘uphire.’  That’s a word that means something like “being called up to a higher position in your company” for like, a new job.”  Sadly, I would find out later, ‘uphire’ is not a word at all.  Gahh.

No other issues with this.  I was happy with the fill (barring 27-Down — Early 12th-century year: MCII).  The theme sparkled.  MODEST MOUSE surely caused a few heart palpitations among our older solvers.  All in all, a great puzzle.

Oh, I have a Bill Thompson story.  When I was growing up, we had a Bill Thompson in our school (every school’s gotta have at least one).  Once, in second grade, we were paired up and given a very specific task: to come up with a list of words that had a silent H (hour, ghost, rhyme, etc.).  Bill couldn’t think of any.  When I pointed out that there was a silent h in his last name, he turned white and his brain rocketed into outer space.  That was the last time I ever saw Bill Thompson.*

Thanks to the Bill and Will — or as I like to call the duo, Bwill Shortzon — for a great Tuesday.

*Parts of this story have been embellished for maximum wow factor.

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