Solution to Evan Birnholz’s July 31 crossword, “Animal Adoption”


Last weekend was the Boswords Summer Tournament. I couldn’t attend it in person, but I competed virtually with a few hundred others … and I managed to finish in seventh place out of all individual online solvers! I never expected a finish that high, although I did end up making an error on the tough championship puzzle (which doesn’t affect one’s place in the standings). Still, it was a fun set of puzzles and you can purchase them for yourself at that link above. If you’re an aspiring constructor who hasn’t been published in the New York Times, you might also consider submitting a themeless puzzle to Boswords for their upcoming Fall Themeless League. Once again, there’s more information at that link.

In other personal news, I hit a milestone earlier this week: July 26 marked exactly 10 years since I got my first puzzle acceptance. It was for a collection of puzzles called Twenty Under Thirty, edited by the American Values Club Crossword editor and friend of the show Ben Tausig. I still can’t believe it’s been that long since that first “yes,” but after spending the prior three-and-a-half years getting nothing but rejections, I remember it was one of the biggest thrills of my young puzzle life.

It’s a zoo out there! Or in there, to be exact. In this puzzle, seven famous people have “adopted” different animals by inserting them into their names, creating wacky phrases. Each theme answer has two clues, telling you first about the animal adoption and then second about what the resulting strange phrase is.

  • 23A: [Washington Post journalist adopting a serpent / Singer Dylan courts a hospital section full of nude people?]. BOB WOODWARD adopts a SNAKE to make BOB WOOS NAKED WARD.
  • 33A: [“The Tyger” poet adopting a farm bird / Declaration about being actress Lively while sick?]. WILLIAM BLAKE adopts a HEN to make WHEN ILL I AM BLAKE.
  • 49A: [“Hello, Dolly!” actress adopting a large deer / Ruler of the Christmas song TV network?]. CAROL CHANNING adopts an ELK to make CAROL CHANNEL KING.
  • 66A: [Blues legend adopting a big cat / Seas full of mischievous aliens?]. ETHEL WATERS adopts a LION to make E.T. HELLION WATERS.
  • 84A: [Former SNL actor adopting an amphibian / Headline about how politico Buttigieg plans on adopting an enthusiastic boy?]. PETE DAVIDSON adopts a TOAD to make PETE TO ADD AVID SON.
  • 99A: [“A Beautiful World” painter adopting a large bird / Those who inspire a family matriarch named after one of the Stooges?]. GRANDMA MOSES adopts an EMU to make GRANDMA MOE MUSES.
  • 115A: [“The Fugitive” co-star adopting a rodent / Command to designer Hilfiger to ogle cinematic archaeologist Indiana?]. TOMMY LEE JONES adopts a RAT to make TOMMY LEER AT JONES.

I didn’t want to use a completely random set of animals, so there’s a note above the puzzle which says: “The first letters of this puzzle’s adopted animals spell out an apt seven-letter word.” The first letters of the animals (SNAKE, HEN, ELK, LION, TOAD, EMU, RAT) spell out SHELTER, where the celebrities probably adopted their new pets.

Adding letters or words to familiar phrases is tried-and-true crossword territory, but I always forget how tough it is to find workable answers when adding the word forces you to re-parse the entire phrase into something completely different. For instance, a pun like JACKRABBIT NICHOLSON is a fairly easy addition of RABBIT to JACK NICHOLSON, but it doesn’t really change the meaning of the original phrase that much. The animals in this puzzle turn the celebrities’ names into utterly bizarre phrases that you’re unlikely to ever write or say aloud in conversation. But then, if my cat is any indication, animals are strange creatures who make our lives more joyous just by being around them.

Some other answers and clues:

  • 30A: [Home of the hawks] is AERIE. A group of birds that didn’t get adopted by a celebrity today.
  • 39A: [Boars, bulls, etc.] is MALES. A few more stray animals.
  • 46A: [Dalmatians at stations, perhaps] is FIREDOGS. Wait, it really is a zoo in here. So many animals that didn’t create wacky phrases but ended up in the puzzle anyway.
  • 56A: [Big farm creatures] is OXEN and adjacent to it at 57A: [Small farm creature] is ANT. More creatures in the grid, big and small.
  • 60A: [Steel appendage for Doctor Octopus] is TENTACLE. Okay, to be honest, this was one extra animal I didn’t even remember I’d included until now. I only thought of Doctor Octopus just from being a fan of Spider-Man when I was younger, not because I was trying to shoehorn another animal in the clues.
  • 125A: [Grooms like a peacock] is PREENS. I think what this puzzle is showing me is that I write more animal-related clues than I realize.
  • 4D: [Toyed with, like a kitten would] is PAWED. Well I did just mention my cat above, so why not throw a kitty into the mix?
  • 12D: [Eel in a sushi roll] is UNAGI. This fish is placed safely out of the way of the octopus.
  • 107D: [Hammerhead’s habitat] is OCEAN. This shark is lurking near the bottom, but perhaps hunting for either the eel or the octopus.