This is the first puzzle by Julie Ann Bowling since I started this blog...wonder if it's a debut.
The theme is clever, but it's difficult to put into words. The theme answers are all common two-word expressions...the first word's vowel sound is changed (long to short, or vice versa)...then the new expression is clued.
20A: Number one #2? (LEAD PENCIL)...change to a long E sound, and it takes the lead.
57A: Little woman? (MINUTE MAID).
9D: What a comedian might do before going onstage? (POLISH JOKE).
29D: Fish-shaped musical instrument? (BASS GUITAR). It sure didn't help that I had bass fiddle.
My favorite clue in the whole puzzle...13A: Workplace for some clowns (rodeo). Too funny. Second favorite is 37D: Queue after Q (RSTU).
There are so many good answers that it's hard to choose one...but I'll have to go with 51A: Empty, as a stare (vacuous). When I had the UOU, though, I was sure something was wrong.
I liked both of the long nontheme answers...6D: Hard porcelain (ironstone) and 34D: Made impossible (precluded)...and the almost-as-long ones:
26A: 2 and 12, e.g., in dice (doublets). Don't know why, but I don't recall the word.
49A: Puts together hastily (scares up)...that's what I often do for dinner. The other night I scared up a great minestrone with a can of diced tomatoes, a can of white kidney beans, two small cans of chicken broth, 1/2 cup small pasta, and half a bag of fresh spinach, chopped. Add garlic and onion, if desired. Twenty five minutes later, dinner's ready. For the best flavor, top each bowl with Parmesan or Romano. Mmm, mmm.
For a Tuesday puzzle, I was pleasantly surprised to see so much atypical fill.
22A: Hunchbacked assistant (Igor).
24A: Manorial worker (peasant).
35A: Oslo is on one (fjord). I remember encountering the word for the first time in school. I just loved pronouncing it.
42A: Northamptonshire river (Ouse). Never heard of it but got it from the downs.
65A: Persian tongue (Farsi). About two years ago, I met a woman who speaks seven languages, including Farsi. Before that, I'd never heard of the word. Thanks, Rabeejah...because of you, it was a gimme.
66A: Cuzco native (Inca).
5D: Matthew or Mark (Gospel).
10D: Alphabet ender (Omega).
11D: Carpentry joint part (tenon). The same friend who originally introduced me to the New York Times puzzle also taught me about mortise and tenon joints, as well as ogees...words that appear from time to time.
12D: Angry bull's sound (snort). I just like the word. I have been known to snort when I laugh.
50D: Really sorry (rueful). I've always thought that was a funny word...I'm so full of rue if that offends anyone.
52D: Intense pain (agony). It may not be agony, but my shoulder pain has returned with a vengeance...so much so that I'm willingly going in on Wednesday for another cortisone shot. I didn't really enjoy the first one, but it sure did make a difference. I'm also starting another round of physical therapy. Groooaaan.
53D: Jim who sang "Time in a Bottle" (Croce). I remember the day he died...I had just bought another of his albums when I heard the news. I still enjoy listening to some of his music.
A few things I didn't know but got from crosses: 32A: Bart's teacher, __ Krabappel (Edna), 26D: China's __ Xiaoping (Deng), and 58D: Ibsen's __ Helmer (Nora).
That's it for tonight. Here's the grid...
...and I'll see you tomorrow.