Andrew Chaikin’s Sunday, 1/12/14 NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)

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January 12, 2014 by manvspuzzle

chai teaTitle: IT’S ONLY “A” GAME

Theme: (the) A TEAM.  All of the theme answers (except for the revealer), which are starred, have ‘A’ as their only vowel.  To add to the fun, the theme *clues* also follow this rule.

Theme Answers:

  • 22A — *Grand-slam drama that stars Bacall’s man : CASABLANCA
  • 24A — *Half an Xmas “Halls” chant : FA LA LA LA LA
  • 38A — *Astral saga that has a Darth part : STAR WARS
  • 63A — *Fab “backward-gram” à la “Sam, aha! Bahamas!” : A MAN A PLAN A CANAL PANAMA
  • 87A — *Black cat that packs grass and chants “Jah” : RASTAMAN
  • 106A — *Landmark vassal law act : MAGNA CARTA
  • 108A — *Warm mask/cap amalgams : BALACLAVAS
  • 4D — *”M*A*S*H” star : ALAN ALDA
  • 28D — *Haphazard : CATCH AS CATCH CAN
  • 36D — *Gala that saw “Black Swan,” “Avatar” and “Ab Fab” attract claps : BAFTA AWARDS
  • 37D — *Bar glass that’s half Bass, half dark malt : BLACK AND TAN
  • 38D — *Lama’s art that can’t last : SAND MANDALA
  • 39D — *”Shazam!” : ABRACADABRA
  • 81D — *Flashback and halfbacks : ANAGRAMS
  • 89D — TV/movie group associated with this puzzle’s theme? : A TEAM

What’s Good: 1) The 5- to 9-letter Fill, 2) Involving the Clues in the Theme.

The New York Times

The New York Times

***

Hmm.  Did I like this?  Yes.  Yes, I suppose I did.

The theme itself is not mind-blowing, but it did provide me with a sufficient “aha moment,” and then *another* “aha moment” when I realized that something was up with the clues, too.  I almost always like it when the clues get involved in the theme.  This medium is very limited in many ways, and getting the clues involved is a good way (sometimes) to add a creative flair to an otherwise ordinary puzzle.

Regarding my point about the fill above: look at the 5- to 9-letter stuff.  It’s really quite good (with the exception of EDINA, and the kind-of-ugly plural names NEALS and LOUISAS).  CHOCULA, PYROMANIA, RAW ONION, THE PITS, etc. — all nice.  Andrew explains over at XWord Info that he went through many revisions of this puzzle under the guidance of known hockey fan Tyler Hinman, ridding it of words that he loved with the goal of improving the fill, and it shows.  During this solve, I seriously kept thinking to myself: “is there any bad fill in this puzzle?”  Not that it wasn’t there — it was just buried enough and overshadowed by good stuff that *this* solver didn’t notice it.  So I had a nice time with this.

I feel like writing the clues for this puzzle must have been fun.  Not sure how I feel about referring to the RASTAMAN as a “black cat,” but I *guess* it’s not offensive…right?  I thought the ANAGRAMS clue was great, and everything else just felt fun to me.

I also appreciated seeing STAR WARS today, as I showed Episode IV to my son just yesterday for the first time.  You’d think that STAR WARS might be too scary for a 4-year-old, right?  I was worried about that myself, until I rewatched it for the first time as a father.  It’s about as “scary” as an episode of Power Rangers or Ninjago.  Pretty much standard fare for preschoolers, which is depressing, in a way.

That’s it.  Nice job, Andrew, on your debut.  On a Sunday, no less!  Quit showing off, A-hole.

(That was a little ‘A’ humor, folks.  I’m sure Andrew is a fine fellow.  Who can hopefully take a joke.)

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