The word is out. The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is fast-approaching (next weekend from March 22-24) and they’ve just released a list of the constructors who wrote puzzles for them. And, what do you know? I’m one of them. This will be my first puzzle for the ACPT where I have competed every year since 2012; it’s bittersweet not being able to compete, but I’m looking forward to seeing an entire room of people solve my puzzle. If you’re going to be at the ACPT, come say hi to me. That’s an order.
Today’s date is March 17, so today’s puzzle is all about the answer at 70A: [Banisher of snakes celebrated on Mar. 17], which is ST. PATRICK. One of the legends surrounding St. Patrick is that he drove snakes out of Ireland, and that’s what you have to do to make sense of the puzzle’s theme. Per the revealer at 131A: [Snake that you must banish from eight answers to make sense of their clues], eight phrases contain the letter string ASP, and you must remove the ASP to make sense of each starred clue. The original phrases are normal, but banishing each ASP produces a wacky phrase:
- 22A: [*Nickname for a Houston NFL pro?] is TEXAN HANDLE, though it looks like TEXAS PANHANDLE in the grid. Hopefully you didn’t get tripped up into initially thinking the de-snaked answer was TEXAS HANDLE by removing a PAN instead.
- 39A: [*Long voyage for an expert fighter pilot?] is ACE ODYSSEY, though it looks like A SPACE ODYSSEY.
- 57A: [*Wing built for a theatrical company?] is CAST ELL, though it looks like CAST A SPELL.
- 84A: [*Drink served during a future PhD’s test?] is GRE WINE, though it looks like GREW A SPINE.
- 96A: [*Actress Halle, when she’s acting sadder than normal?] is BLUER BERRY, though it looks like BLUE RASPBERRY.
- 120A: [*Dr. Emmett Brown’s sacrilegious cry of dismay toward his friend in “Back to the Future”?] is “CHRIST, MARTY” though it looks like CHRISTMAS PARTY. His non-sacrilegious cry of dismay, of course, is “Great Scott!”
- 45D: [*Third of the most commonly seen characters in “Gridiron Gang,” e.g.?] is LAST G, though it looks like LAST GASP. I haven’t seen the actual movie “Gridiron Gang,” but I know it took a while to find a short movie title with at least three G’s and (ideally) one of the G’s would be the last letter.
- 54D: [*Wedding band made by Apple?] is IRING (presumably it’s stylized as iRing), though it looks like ASPIRING.
For a while I tried to banish BOAs from familiar phrases, too. Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many phrases where you can delete BOA and still come out with something workable. That’s because the only common words containing the letter string BOA involve BOAR, BOARD, BOAST, and BOAT, along with the SCRUB OAK tree which splits the string across two words. The best possibilities for BOA-less phrases were ROCK THE T (which I guess means to do awesomely on Boston’s public transit system) and SKATER DING, but I didn’t like much else. So, I focused all my attention on banishing ASPs instead.
As for the title . . . it’s probably the silliest title I’ve ever used. But like they once said on the snake-banishing Whacking Day episode of “The Simpsons,” it was all in good fun.
A few other answers and clues:
- 21A: [City that hosts the world’s longest-running indoor flower show, informally] is PHILLY. The Philadelphia Flower Show took place last weekend, though I didn’t get to attend.
- 30A: [Storied snake’s place] is EDEN and right below it at 36A: [30 Across exile] is EVE. For today’s puzzle, I had to do it.
- 48A: [With 19 Across, pilot frozen in carbonite] is HAN / SOLO. It’s just a coincidence that his full name has shown up in my puzzle on consecutive weeks.
- 2D: [“Red ___!" (cry on the Enterprise)] is “red ALERT.” My wife and I have been watching “Star Trek: Discovery” and two of her friends from college (Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt) are writers for the show. That’s pretty amazing, no?
- 53D: [Classy people?] is TEACHERS and 64D: [Grp. for 53 Down] is PTA. It wasn’t until I started cluing the puzzle that I realized I had both of these answers.
See you next week, either in this space, virtually, or in-person at the ACPT!