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Solution to Evan Birnholz’s Sept. 10 crossword, ‘Trade Books’

I just want to take a minute to say thank you to everyone who sent kind messages last week about my big family news. We’re two months away now, so it’s exciting and overwhelming at the same time, but every bit of encouragement we get is always nice and greatly appreciated.

Nine two-word book titles have had their two words swapped, creating books with strange plots.

  • 22A: [William Makepeace Thackeray novel about a so-so bathroom cabinet?] is “FAIR VANITY,” based on “Vanity Fair.”
  • 24A: [Kurt Vonnegut novel about felines in a baby’s bed?] is “CRADLE CATS,” based on “Cat’s Cradle.”
  • 40A: [John Steinbeck novel about an enchilada wrap eaten in a British apartment?] is “FLAT TORTILLA,” based on “Tortilla Flat.”
  • 55A: [Willa Cather novel about a wagon train traveler’s copy of a Winfrey-based magazine?] is “PIONEER’S O,” based on “O Pioneers.”
  • 66A: [Charles Dickens novel about commanding comedian John to do a 1960s dance?] is “TWIST, OLIVER,” based on “Oliver Twist.”
  • 78A: [Anne Brontë novel about actress Moorehead when she appears to be ashen in color?] is “GREY AGNES,” based on “Agnes Grey.”
  • 91A: [Charles Frazier novel about a sickness one suffers from hiking up Everest or Kilimanjaro?] is “MOUNTAIN COLD,” based on “Cold Mountain.”
  • 110A: [S.E. Hinton novel about a melee between aquatic schools?] is “FISH RUMBLE,” based on “Rumble Fish.”
  • 113A: [Orson Scott Card novel about the final buzzers and whistles?] is “GAME ENDERS,” based on “Ender’s Game.”

Of all these books, I’d probably read “Fish Rumble” first, with “Cradle Cats” a close second. A fight between schools of fish is too interesting to pass up.

A few wacky flipped titles I left out include “PASTORAL AMERICAN” by Philip Roth, “ISLAND SHUTTER” by Dennis Lehane, “GAMES PATRIOT” by Tom Clancy, and “TIMES HARD” by Charles Dickens. In fact, TIMES HARD actually was in my first completed draft of the puzzle, but I realized it had a couple of problems after I built it in. One issue was that it would have been a second Dickens title alongside “TWIST, OLIVER,” which may not have been a fatal flaw, but I figured it would be better if all nine books had different authors. The more important issue was that I couldn’t think of how to clue it in a decent way. [Charles Dickens novel about a person who measures people with a stopwatch quite seriously?] was my first thought, but shouldn’t that title be something like TIME HARD or TIMING HARD? The TIMES made the grammar seem too bizarre. [Charles Dickens novel about the instances when a certain New York-based crossword puzzle is difficult?] was another possibility, but that felt like an odd Tarzan-like way of expressing the idea.

In the end, I replaced TIMES HARD with PIONEER’S O, which felt much easier to clue, plus it gave me an alternative to including two Dickens titles.

Some other answers and clues:

  • 20A: [Origin of the sport kilikiti] is SAMOA. Kilikiti is similar to cricket, but has some variations. You can view a news report about it here.
  • 29A: [Where Prince Albert could be found, per an old crank-call joke] is IN A CAN. The joke was that someone would call a drugstore asking if they had the tobacco brand Prince Albert in a can, then when the clerk said the did, the punchline was “Then you’d better let him out!” I remember hearing this joke for the first time while watching this scene from the 1990 TV miniseries version of “It.” Tim Curry’s delivery was so hilarious that I couldn’t figure out how this was supposed to be a scary film.
  • 61A: [“The Devil’s Advocate” actor Reeves] is KEANU Reeves. I picked this film because Tom Riis Farrell, my uncle, had a small role in it as a priest. You can hear him speaking in the background at the beginning of this funeral scene (forgive the choppy video quality, that was the only clip I could find).
  • 70A: [Studi of films] is WES Studi. He’s a Native American actor who had a major role as Magua in “The Last of the Mohicans.”
  • 104A: [“Fawlty Towers” writer and actress Booth] is CONNIE Booth. “Fawlty Towers” was one of my first intros to British comedy when I was a kid, even before I learned about Monty Python.
  • 121A: [Range tops?] is PEAKS, as in the peaks of a mountain range.
  • 13D: [“All I ever wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing and then made me mute” speaker in “Amadeus”] is SALIERI. One of my favorite films. Salieri delivers that line after we see Mozart humiliate him by performing a more dynamic version of Salieri’s own song on the spot and right in front of him.
  • 23D: [Parliament : owls :: committee : ___] is VULTURES. I hadn’t realized until writing this puzzle that one of the collective names for a group of vultures is a committee. I’m beginning to wonder whether the people who decided on “parliament” for owls and “committee” for vultures were the same people and whether they were all government staffers.
  • 52D: [Jersey number that no NBA player has ever worn during a game] is SIXTY-NINE. Dennis Rodman once requested that number when he briefly played for the Dallas Mavericks, but the NBA denied the request, so he went with 70 instead.
  • 53D: [Start of a literary orphan’s request] is “PLEASE, SIR,” from “Oliver Twist.” In the book “TWIST, OLIVER,” it’s surely “SIR, PLEASE.”
  • 63D: [Party platforms, perhaps?] is TV TRAYS. My favorite clue today.

Here’s a heads-up that next week’s puzzle has a meta. Good luck.

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