Ed Sessa’s Wednesday, 12/18/13 crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)

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December 18, 2013 by manvspuzzle

Theme: A-roles.  Three long theme entries, all of which are phrases beginning with the word ‘a’, are re-imagined as if the word ‘a’ instead becomes the first letter of the second word in the phrase — with, of course, hilarious results.  Clues are ?-style.

Theme Entries:

  • 17A — Plaque from a governor? AWARD OF THE STATE
  • 36A — Mime’s motto? AWAY WITH WORDS
  • 59A — Arrive via a red-eye? ALIGHT IN THE DARK

    © The New York Times

    © The New York Times

***

Just 3 theme entries.  Interesting.  But I like them all.  No issues with this theme, although the obsessive weirdo in me kinda wishes there were 4 of them.  It’s not “normal,” these days, for a NYT puzzle to have just 3 themers.  But who cares?

The real weirdness in this puzzle, in my opinion, comes from the extra-long non-theme entries at 30A (ESCAPE PLAN) and 44A (I SMELL A RAT).  These 10-letter entries messed with me for quite a while, because I (as many probably did) assumed that they would be part of the theme, too.  For those of you who don’t know: the general rule of thumb (which can totally be broken if necessary — but still) is that 9+-letter entries on Monday through Thursday are typically the theme answers.  So…it stands to reason that I would think that 30A and 44A would be part of the theme.  I literally spent a full minute wondering if “Mell” might be a common Danish name or famous Hamlet character (the clue is “Something is rotten in Denmark”), and the theme was just word-parsing, and the constructor was going for “IS MELL A RAT?”  Well, there is no “Mell.”  I know that now.

I really don’t have many issues with the fill, but where I did have issues, I had major issues.  The intersections of DRESSAGE/SERE at the ‘E’ and STALAG/MTA at the ‘T’ were complete shots in the dark for me.  Luckily, I shot correctly, because they were both right in the end.  I have to believe that others may not fare so well.

Let me tell you what I *don’t* have issues with: ATTU, ATTN, IRE, BAHA.  These are all real words, used in America.  If they’re real words used in America, then learn them.  I specifically command you to know what ATTU is.  It’s an important piece of geography and war history.  I don’t care if you think these words are obscure.  If you want to hate on IRAE, be my guest.  But leave those other little guys alone.

Congratulations to OPIE Hughes from “The Opie and Anthony Show” on making his New York Times crossword debut today.  It’s a name whose clue has referred to “The Andy Griffith Show” close to 300 times in the last 20 years — until today.  Finally, a modern OPIE is shaking things up in the puzzle!

Overall, I liked this.  Like the other puzzles so far this week, it didn’t blow my mind.  But it was still fine.  Thanks, Ed Sessa.  You never fail to impressa.

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