An overdue plug for a new indie crossword: The Los Angeles-based musician and constructor Amanda Rafkin has her own crossword website called Brain Candy. Since she launched the site last month, she has posted a new puzzle every day. It’s not often you see a new daily puzzle brought into the world! Many of her crosswords have been mini-puzzles since it cannot be easy to keep up with the pace of a daily puzzle schedule, but she has posted 15x15 and Sunday-sized puzzles as well. Her very first puzzle (titled “How Did You Do That”) has a great grid-spanning 15-letter answer that I wish I’d thought to use as part of a theme. Check it out, will ya?

Today’s puzzle is all about every homeowner’s favorite chore, MOWING THE LAWN (59A: [Field work that’s illustrated in this puzzle]). The letters of GRASS get progressively cut out of the ends of phrases and the first letters become replaced with the letters of BLADE (38A: [Green part of a field, or what cuts it (as also shown in the circled squares)]). It even features some green squares at the bottom of the grid. Moving left to right:

  • 43A: [Park sign directive] is KEEP OFF THE GRASS.
  • 74A: [Copper alloy used in marine construction] is NAVAL BRASS. When I first saw this phrase, I thought it generally referred to higher-ups in the Navy like it does for ARMY BRASS. While I’m sure people do use it that way, most of the searches that turned up for me suggested it was about the alloy. Go figure.
  • 76A: [Pretty woman in Scottish folk songs] is BONNIE LASS.
  • 77A: [Talking biblical beast whose name uses only one of the five vowels] is BALAAM’S ASS. I gave the one-vowel hint to help out on the crossing with TAHRIR (85A: [___ Square, site of 2011 protests in Cairo]) since I figured that might be tough to spell correctly.
  • 79A: [Handheld video game console with a dual-screen feature] is NINTENDO DS.
  • 49A: [One of five human antibodies, so named for its epsilon chain] is IMMUNOGLOBULIN E. More about this below.

To round out the theme, we have GROUNDS CREW at the top (24A: [Field work team]).

You may be wondering why I chose answers like NINTENDO DS and IMMUNOGLOBULIN E. Surely, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of answers to choose from that end in -DS and -E, right? However, I figured the theme would be made more cohesive if I limited myself to phrases where the letters of B-L-A-D-E would not only cut out the letters of G-R-A-S-S but replace them at the beginning of phrases, so you’d have a phrase where the last word starts with a letter of BLADE followed by the remaining letters of GRASS. That way it would more clearly illustrate the concept of a lawn mower blade cutting a piece of grass.

The problem with this is that the last phrase leaves you with a multi-word phrase where the second word is just an E, and there aren’t a ton of options. There’s VITAMIN E, but to keep symmetry, you’d have an eight-letter phrase ending with GRASS. RYE GRASS? OAT GRASS? THE GRASS? None of them really grabbed me. I guess that’s another reason I should take Francis Heaney’s advice to “set yourself free from the prison of symmetry.” Ultimately I felt KEEP OFF THE GRASS was the most evocative phrase I could find and banked on solvers figuring out that the second word decreases in length until it reaches the E of BLADE.

A few other clues of note:

  • 22A: [Funky chicken quality?] is ODOR. The funky chicken is not a dance that I will do unless I’m paid to do it, but I thought the clue was funny.
  • 46A: [___ Coin, antagonist in “The Hunger Games”] is ALMA Coin. It’s good there are alternatives to the old [___ mater] standby.
  • 79A: [Grp. joined by North Macedonia in 2020] is NATO. This clue cheats a tiny bit in that the N of NATO stands for North and there it is in the clue, but it’s fairly current trivia, so I felt it was worth that little infelicity.
  • 115A: [Car whose sales were hurt by the Eisenhower recession] is EDSEL. Somehow this answer has shown up in several puzzles of mine lately, but I’ve managed to find what I think are original clues for it each time. There’s no reason that I should be clicking with EDSEL.
  • 127A / 21A: [With 21 Across, show featuring many twists and turns?] is STARS / ON ICE. Sometimes when building crosswords … the stars align for you.
  • 61D: [Save “The Last Dance” for me, say?] is TIVO. My favorite clue today. No way I wasn’t going to use that after ESPN recently aired “The Last Dance.”

I hope the puzzle was a more enjoyable task than mowing the lawn itself!