MONDAY PUZZLE The dynamic duo of Andrea Carla Michaels (a.k.a. ACME) and Alan Massengill eases us into the slow and lazy week between Christmas and New Years Day, a time when you might toss aside your Zoom meeting blazer to lounge around the home office, catching up on crosswords. Though this puzzle accessible and smooth, even for a Monday has more than its share of crosswordese answers, its cleverly clued to make the most of them.
For a four-letter slot, 25D gives us One clapping at a circus?, with its question mark signifying a joke or pun is coming. So, hand, as in the Buddhist koan about the sound of one hand clapping? The appendage in question is a flipper, on a seal, at a circus, perhaps with a festive ruffle around its neck.
39D. Honeycomb stuff stopped me for a moment, but the crosses clearly pointed to WAX as the answer. And sure enough, thats correct. The hexagonal cells of the honeycomb, which have various uses, including as temporary housing for bee larvae, are edible. If you would rather not crunch down on the former crib of a developing creature, well, thats none of my beeswax.
Then there is 58A, Be sociable. It took a minute to seize upon INTERACT, maybe because it feels like we havent done it in forever.
Another slippery clue was 71A, The Brady Bunch threesome, which should be Marcia! Marcia! Marcia! right? Nope. The answer is SONS.
On a bittersweet note, it was nice to see a little tribute at 20A: Late Jeopardy! host Alex. Who was TREBEK, another beloved entertainer lost in 2020.
Not terribly tricky but quite amusing was 61A, Like Satan and some owls. While the possibilities here are endless if you think about it, the answer is HORNED.
The long entries, unexpected for a Monday puzzle, rattled me for a minute. But thanks to the very helpful clues, you should able to make short work of the 15-letter themers, all of which stake out vertical columns in the grid. The first one you encounter if you start in the west is 3D, Wile E. Coyotes supplier. The answer is ACME CORPORATION, a name that youll see in some form on most every crate of explosives or booby-trap devices the cartoon coyote orders in his quest to thwart his impervious nemesis, the Road Runner.
On the other side of the grid is another 15-letter theme entry, 11D, Quaint greeting. With a few strategic crosses, I started thinking top o the mornin, and that was close to the right answer: TOP OF THE MORNING. Taken together, those two theme entries, starting with ACME and TOP, suggested something lofty, but it took nailing a third one to cement it. That was HEIGHT OF FASHION, 9D, clued as Absolute chicness. So taking it from the top, we see the connection linking these vertical theme clues: the best, the highest, the pinnacle. I leave the fourth up to you.
The crme de la crme of the theme made me think of that ultimate war of superlatives, the Cole Porter tune Youre the Top, from the musical Anything Goes. But until I went hunting for a clip, I never knew about this ancient film version (later renamed), with Ethel Merman and a bearded Bing Crosby. No matter how much Crosby is disguised, however, nothing can hide his familiar croon or the fact that hes no hoofer. One thing is certain, though: The mutual admiration expressed in the song is echoed in the praise each of the constructors on this team has for the other. They couldnt have come closer if theyd planned it. (Ahem.)
Great minds do often think alike, but in this case the constructors showed uncanny synchronization in their notes.
Andrea: My preference is to always have my themes go across horizontally, with a punchline/reveal. Alan had this great idea to have all TOP words read vertically, TOP to bottom.
We had a good back and forth with ZENITH, CROWNING, TIPTOP. We liked the final look of having four 15s spanning the grid. So APEX PREDATOR, SUMMIT NEW JERSEY and a few others didnt make the final cut.
3D. ACME CORPORATION was Alans idea, I swear!
(Alan and I have been collaborating without ever meeting. A few weeks ago he had to be in California with his fabulous wife, and we arranged to get together. Finally getting to meet Alan was even more amazing in person and only the second time Id eaten out since lockdowns began nine months ago.)
Alan: I am excited to see this one coming out during the holidays. This was another fun collaboration with ACME. Yes, 3D was my idea, I swear. We had a good back-and-forth with all of the TOP words. We liked the final look of the four long theme phrases at the top of the grid. APEX PREDATOR, SUMMIT NEW JERSEY and a few others didnt make the final cut.
I had to make a visit to California recently, but a silver lining was finally getting to meet Andrea. She is even more amazing in person.
Happy Holidays everyone!
Almost at the precipice but need a bit more help to get to the top? Weve got you covered.
Subscribers can take a peek at the answer key, but beware of spoilers.
Trying to get back to the puzzle page? Right here.
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