Theme: "A" to "I" — Theme answers are familiar phrases where the long "A" sound has been changed to the long "I" sound, creating new wacky phrases which are clued "?"-style
- 23A: Cookie made with Chianti instead of figs? (WINE NEWTON). With the N and the O in place I kept thinking "necco wafer"? Is that a thing?
- 25A: Wood for sashes? (WINDOW PINE).
- 34A: Blue Danube relative? (PURPLE RHINE).
- 50A: Discovery of the mother lode? (MINE EVENT).
- 76A: Put an "X" where you want to cut the cord? (MARK TWINE). Anyone else have a visual here that included a midwife with a Sharpie?
- 90A: Female chiropractor? (LADY OF SPINE).
- 105A: Squall at sea? (BRINESTORM).
- 107A: "I never forget a face," e.g.? (MEMORY LINE).
Group A: Mideast, Abu Dhabi, Kuwaiti, Foreign, Eastern, Bahrain, Middle Eastern, Qatar, Dubai, Islamic, Persian Gulf
Group B: Bigwig, VIP, honcho, pooh-bah, prince, ruler, dignitary, chieftain, leader, head of state
I got a workout from this puzzle today. Once I understood the theme it helped a lot, but there were still some gnarly places. I absolutely knew that 55A: Yankees' captain was Derek JETER, but I had two bad crosses in already: I had leis for UKES (44D: Strings of islands?) and only for MERE (45D: Nothing more than). So it took me a while to straighten all that out. Speaking of straightening out — 100A: Create financial trouble for = STRAITEN? I assume that has something to do with "dire straits" but I'm too lazy to look it up right now. In any event, I have certainly never seen that word before!
Other things I just flat out didn't know include Aaron Copland's "RODEO" (99A: Ballet with a hoedown) and the 114A: German seaport EMDEN. I did not know that carmine was a color, much less that it's in the family of REDS (116A: Carmine's family?). I've learned a thing or two about some Gods through crossword puzzles, but don't recall ever seeing WODEN (26D: God for whom Wednesday was named). According to the Cruciverb.com data base, WODEN has only been used one other time in a major puzzle — a Sunday Boston Globe puzzle back in 1999 — so I don't feel so bad. I also didn't know PALMA, the 34D: Balearic Islands capital. And there are very few words I even understand in this clue/answer pair — 51D: Tertiary Period epoch (EOCENE). And finally — I know! Seems like I was just going to keep going with this, didn't it? — Cesare who? (71D: Basso Cesare (SIEPI)). Okay, if you say so.
- 21A: Girl George? (ELIOT). I could not figure out what this clue was going for. George Eliot is, of course, the pen name of Mary Anne Evans.
- 30A: Snack maker's gizmo (POPPER). I was thinking of snack more generally, and not specifically popcorn. But okay.
- 46A: Vientiane native (LAO). Vientiane is the capital of Laos and a person who lives in Laos is called a Lao.
- 47A: Highest in order (UPMOST). Ooh, this one is a little painful. Raise your hand if you had utmost. And keep it up if you are more likely to use the word uppermost than UPMOST.
- 48A: Ray or Jay (AL'ER). The Rays and Jays are two baseball teams (in Tampa Bay and Toronto, respectively) in the American League of Major League Baseball.
- 53A: Malt drier (OAST). Runner-up for your Crosswordese 101 lesson today. We will no doubt have another crack at it soon.
- 92A: Thanksgiving activity (BASTING). This reminds me of a hilarious story I heard from a friend last year at book club. She said the toilet had backed up at her house and there was yucky stuff all over the bathroom floor so her husband got their turkey baster out of the kitchen and used it to clean up. When he was done he asked innocently "So, should I just put this in the dishwasher?" She gave him a look of complete disbelief and replied, "NO! YOU THROW IT AWAY!"
- 6D: Ketch kin (YAWL). Boating!
- 11D: Gopher's home?: Abbr. (MINN). This is the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Big Ten conference. They had a pretty decent wrestling team a couple years ago. Now? Not so much.
- 29D: 2001 U.S. Open champ Hewitt (LLEYTON). I knew this guy's name and knew that it had an odd spelling, but it took a while for it to come into focus.
- 58D: Hack's question (WHERE TO?). Hack is a slang term for cab driver.
- 77D: Forever partner? (A DAY). As in the phrase "forever and a day."
- 82D: Colts' home before Lucas Oil Stadium (RCA DOME). Have I mentioned how much I hate how stadiums have corporate names now? I haven't? Well, remind me to tell you about that someday.
- 89D: Is frugal (STINTS). Wanted skimps here. Don't recall ever hearing the word STINT used in this way.
- 95D: "What hath God wrought?" sender (MORSE). This was the message sent in American Morse code by Samuel F. B. Morse to officially open the Baltimore-Washington telegraph line on May 24, 1844.
- 101D: It's a drag (TOKE). I have to say I was a little surprised to see this clue/answer pair but it turns out it's shown up a few times before.
- 108D: Costar of Teri, Felicity, et al. (EVA). "Desperate Housewives": Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, and EVA Longoria. Never seen it. A person can only have so many shows.
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Everything Else — 1A: Titanic obstacle (BERG); 5A: Day care denizen (TYKE); 9A: Opening frames (JAMBS); 14A: Try (STAB); 18A: 19th century tale of South Seas travel (OMOO); 19A: Reach via radio (RAISE); 22A: Lobby for (URGE); 27A: Like some pens (ERASABLE); 28A: Collect little by little (GLEAN); 31A: Need a doctor (AIL); 32A: Samples from a doctor (PILLS); 33A: Atheistic (GODLESS); 39A: Lovey-__ (DOVEY); 40A: Symbol of penance (ASHES); 41A: Dismayed cry (OY VEY); 42A: Carpenter who sang (KAREN); 43A: Mooch (BUM); 49A: Scout outing (HIKE); 56A: Small biological cavities (AREOLES); 57A: "I'll say!" ("AND HOW!"); 59A: More than just big (OBESE); 60A: Had rights to (CLAIMED); 63A: Unit of work (MAN HOUR); 65A: "My Cousin Vinny" Oscar winner (TOMEI); 68A: To boot (NO LESS); 70A: Abates (EASES UP); 74A: Hot spots (OVENS); 75A: Money maker (MINT); 78A: Buck, for one (MALE); 79A: Only just managed, with "out" (EKED); 81A: Eats into (ERODES); 83A: UV index monitor (EPA); 84A: Letters on a lunch menu (BLT); 85A: Woolly, perhaps (OVINE); 86A: Brilliance (ECLAT); 87A: Jellied garnish (ASPIC); 89A: Incline (SLANT); 95A: Inn group (MAIDS); 97A: Troop troupe sponsor, briefly (USO); 98A: Frequently traded, in the stock market (ACTIVE); 109A: Tartan wraparound (KILT); 110A: Discontinue (CEASE); 111A: Conjure up (EVOKE); 112A: Work in the cutting room (EDIT); 113A: Citrus refreshers (ADES); 115A: On in years (AGED); 1D: He beat Holyfield twice (BOWE); 3D: Columnist Barrett (RONA); 4D: Completely loses it (GOES APE); 5D: High range (TREBLE); 7D: Toy with a tail (KITE); 8D: Paul Anka's "__ Beso (That Kiss!)" (ESO); 9D: Lapidary's product (JEWEL); 10D: Item on a forged document, perhaps (ALIAS); 12D: Physique (BOD); 13D: Brief visit (STOP OVER); 14D: Price factor (SUPPLY); 15D: Hooey (TRIPE); 16D: David Copperfield's second wife (AGNES); 17D: Round at the bar (BEERS); 20D: Fire trucks (ENGINES); 24D: They're at your fingertips (NAILS); 32D: Turn on one foot (PIVOT); 33D: "Earth in the Balance" author (GORE); 35D: Carrier that merged with Piedmont in 1989 (USAIR); 36D: River through the Lake of Geneva (RHONE); 37D: Entices (ROPES IN); 38D: Choir offering (HYMN); 39D: '80s Bond portrayer (DALTON); 42D: Buckwheat dish (KASHA); 43D: Sharp quality (BITE); 47D: Optic layer (UVEA); 49D: Talmud tongue (HEBREW); 52D: "American Psycho" author (ELLIS); 54D: USN VIPs (ADMS); 55D: Knight game (JOUST); 57D: Arabian Sea's Gulf of __ (ADEN); 61D: Point in time (MOMENT); 62D: Slur over (ELIDE); 64D: Symbols of might (OAKS); 65D: Crypt (TOMB); 66D: Kind of round (OVAL); 67D: Get all gooey (MELT); 69D: Metal playing marble (STEELIE); 72D: Remove, as a brooch (UNPIN); 73D: Word spoken with a two-fingered sign (PEACE); 76D: Gets into shape (MOLDS); 79D: Fade away (EVANESCE); 80D: Double checker? (KING); 85D: Oil source (OLIVE); 87D: Ore analysis (ASSAY); 88D: Third-party candidate, perhaps (SPOILER); 91D: Like many mammals (FURRED); 92D: Spongy cake (BABKA); 93D: Bitter (ACRID); 94D: Underground gate (STILE); 96D: Commercial developers (ADMEN); 99D: Route for Bob and Bing (ROAD); 100D: Industrial haze (SMOG); 102D: Phenomenon measured by a marigraph (TIDE); 103D: Oklahoma city (ENID); 104D: Trawling gear (NETS); 106D: President pro __ (TEM).