Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New

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And before we ring out the old, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all once again for showing up here every day to talk about the Crossword. I strongly believe that crossword solving is best enjoyed as a social activity (not to say that you can’t enjoy them by yourself), and the community here at Wordplay has proved me right. We learn from one another, we support one another and different generations make connections with one another, all because we share a love of words and playing with them. That’s beautiful, and I am thrilled to see how it has grown over the years.

Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year to one and all. Thank you for reading Wordplay.

Today’s Theme

Ringing out the old and ringing in the new usually involves bells, right?

Not today. Today, the “rings” are the letter O, and that letter is taken “out” of the theme entries in the top half of the puzzle, and added into theme entries in the bottom half. My guess is that if you solve from top to bottom, as many people do, the top constitutes the “old” and the bottom constitutes the “new,” but that could just be the NyQuil talking.

For example, at 22A, the answer to the clue “Result of a French powdered drink shortage?” is — of course — LAST TANG IN PARIS. That’s what you would get if you removed the O from the movie title “Last Tango in Paris.”

Similarly, down at the bottom at 64D, we have the clue “Some loose dancing?” and the answer is FLOPPY DISCO. Here the O is added to the common phrase “floppy disc.”

Tricky Clues

25A: “Hook’s right hand” is not necessarily his hook or his remaining hand. It could be his “right hand” man, SMEE.

32A: Sneaky one. Note the hyphens in “Fig. checked during re-tire-ment?” We know it’s an abbreviation because of the shortened “Fig.,” but “re-tire-ment” should make you stop and wonder what this clue is up to. It has nothing to do with one’s work life. It has to do with putting another tire on a car, and PSI stand for “pounds per square inch,” which measures the pressure in a tire.

78A: This “Blade runner?” is not the movie but a FAN, which uses blades to move the air.

122A: Tricky but fair! Note the question mark in the clue “Neuron’s ends?” We are not talking about the literal ends of a neuron, but about the letter at the ends of the word. That’s why the answer is ENS, or the letter N.

31D: Be on the lookout for capitalized letters! In the clue “Batch of Brownies?,” the B in Brownies is capitalized, which means that we are supposed to be thinking about the junior Girl Scout TROOPs, not the delicious chocolate treats.

80D: You might not know that the NATO alphabet is called the NATO alphabet, but you’ve definitely seen or heard it. It’s used to clearly communicate letters over radio, and begins Alpha, Bravo, Charlie for A, B, C.

Constructor Notes

Add-a-letter and remove-a-letter gimmicks have each been done to the saturation point, so these days it’s challenging to come up with a fresh and entertaining take. Hybrids that combine both these gimmicks have been done but are less common and because of the added layer of complexity, are inherently more interesting.

Hybrids increase constructing options because many entries work both ways. For example, SUM WRESTLER (removing the O) also works by adding an O as DIM SUMO, “Not the brightest mawashi wearer?”

One of my favorites now litters the cutting room floor: TIC-TACO, “All-in-one entree and breath mint?” For someone who is as easily amused as I am, brainstorming lists of this nonsense with friends is half the fun and I tip my hat to my bud Gary Soucie, who has bounced back many a winner over the years without ever wanting credit.

Will rejected my first draft for lack of a coherent rationale and title. Nancy Salomon to the rescue! Nancy, who has mentored many constructors, uncorked the New Year’s Eve title, which led to acceptance. Thank you, Nancy, and best wishes to all for a happy and a healthy New Year.

I raise a glass to all of you and wish you the same.

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