Without a doubt, this is one of the most brilliantly executed puzzles in the history of my NYT solving. In order for Patrick Berry to pull this off, the theme entries had to have the right mix of letters...and they had to be in a particular order. It's absolutely mindboggling! Seriously...where would you start with it?
The title, Process of Elimination, might lead solvers to think that the same sequence of letters would be eliminated from the theme entries. The theme, revealed at 127-Across, is actually much more clever than that. The Process of Elimination: In the answer to each italicized clue, cross out any letter that appears __; then read the letters that remain (TWICE).
After eliminating duplicated letters, what remains is L-E-F-T-O-V-E-R-S.
The theme answers are:
25A: One who gets beaten badly? (SORE LOSER).
27A: Sticks in the medicine cabinet? (ANTIPERSPIRANTS).
40A: Forbidding countenance (HATCHET FACE). That's an expression I've never heard. Not sure if it's one word or two.
49A: Lacking compassion (HARD HEARTED).
68A: "It's true, like it or not" (IF THE SHOE FITS). My favorite of all of the theme answers.
87A: British motorist's right? (DRIVER'S SIDE). This was the only gimme.
94A: 1999 romantic comedy based on "Pygmalion" (SHE'S ALL THAT).
108A: It's taken by doctors (HIPPOCRATIC OATH). Not a gimme, but very easy to guess with a couple of letters in place.
115A: Follow-up to a potential insult (NO OFFENSE). Another good one. I remember trying to explain to one of the girls that simply saying that didn't mean that no offense would be taken. She had said something like, "No offense, Mom, but you look kind of fat." I believe I was all of 110 pounds at the time...but weight is always a sensitive issue. I'd kill now to weigh 110 pounds...but I'm not sure who I'd have to kill.
Yep. It was brilliant.
There were plenty of things I didn't know but they were gettable from crosses:
81A: Belgian painter James, known for bizarre fantasies with masks (Ensor).
83A: Former N.F.L. QB Rodney (Peete). So much for my recent sports-related success.
92A: "The Princess Bride" character __ Montoya (Inigo).
123A: Near East hotel (Serai).
41D: Jazz singer Laine (Cleo).
69D: 1960s-'70s Saudi king (Faisal).
80D: Intl. commercial agreement first signed in 1947 (GATT). According to this article, it's the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
94D: "Sophie's Choice" narrator (Stingo). That's one of the most heartwrenching films of all time. As part of a student's project in English Lit, we had to watch the scene where Sophie has to choose which of her two children will live. I feel sick just thinking about it.
Then there were those I couldn't get with crosses...they're highlighted in yellow on the grid.
38A: Battle of Britain grp. (RAF). Didn't help that I didn't know the cross at 28D: Minority member in India (Parsee).
64A: "Sketches by __," 1836 (Boz). Oh, that Boz. Its cross at 51D: Expert, in England (dab hand) was completely unknown to me, but I believe I'll start using the term straightaway.
123A: Near East hotel (Serai), as well as its cross at 114D: Red Scare grp. (HUAC). I didn't realize they were talking Cold War...I was thinking something like Red Tide.
I liked the side-by-side answers at 34D: "Hurry up!" (shake a leg) and 36D: Fuzzy crawler (tarantula)...and their symmetrical opposites in the grid, 54D: Made of paste (imitation) and 55D: Studied on the side (minored in).
11D: Worst-case scenario (disaster). That reminds me of Kelly Clarkson's song, Beautiful Disaster. I especially like the live version.
39D: Jill's portrayer in "Charlie's Angels" (Farrah). For some reason, I thought Kate Jackson played Jill. I just Googled Kate Jackson and found that she played Jill Danko in "The Rookies," another show I watched in the old days...so I wasn't completely off.
1A: Talk follower (Q and A). That used to trip me up every time. The northwest corner was full of gimmes, along with 19A: Horse genus (equus) and 23A: "Marie Antoinette" star, 2006 (Dunst).
Really liked 65D: Position the cross hairs (on) (zero in), 71D: Vehement (fervid), 117A: Works magic on (hexes)...although its cross at 104D: Not as stringent (laxer) was a bit of a stretch.
Did not know 60A: Song that Elvis's "It's Now or Never" was based on (O Sole Mio), but the tunes are pretty similar.
Favorite clue was 74D: Disgraced one's name? (mud). Didn't even see it until I was finished...already had it from the acrosses.
I know what I like, but what about the rest of you? What were your favorites? Or your least favorites?
Here's the grid, showing my problem areas...all finally confirmed by my good friend, Mr. Google.
See you tomorrow.