Here’s a neat variety puzzle series for you: Indie 500 Crossword Tournament co-organizer and friend-of-the-show Peter Broda has released a set of seven vowelless crosswords called “Made Without AEIOU.” If you’ve never solved a vowelless crossword, it’s just like it sounds: The answers have had their vowels removed. So a clue might refer to MICHAEL JACKSON but the answer would appear as MCHLJCKSN. It’s a fun challenge that allows for some really colorful answers which, otherwise, would not make it into a regular crossword owing to length or crossings that don’t work. You can purchase the set at a name-your-own price, so check it out.
Today’s puzzle has a pop culture theme with a couple of different elements. Let’s start with the six actors and actresses with circled letters and some rather long cross-referential clues:
- 23A: [Champ Kind’s portrayer in “Anchorman” (he was in “My One and Only” with 79 Down)] is DAVID KOECHNER, with D.O. in circles.
- 32A: [Commanderette Zircon’s portrayer in “Spaceballs” (she was in “The Lonely Guy” with Andy Garcia, who was in “The Air I Breathe” with 79 Down)] is LESLIE BEVIS. Circled B.S.
- 56A: [Actor who played Gomer Pyle (he was in “Cannonball Run II” with Burt Reynolds, who was in “Starting Over” with 79 Down)] is JIM NABORS. Circled M.A.
- 75A: [Oscar winner for “L.A. Confidential” (she was in “The Natural” with Robert Duvall, who was in “Jayne Mansfield’s Car” with 79 Down)] is KIM BASINGER. Circled M.S.
- 94A: [Oscar nominee for “Passion Fish” (she was in “Blue Chips” with Alfre Woodard, who was in “Beauty Shop” with 79 Down)] is MARY MCDONNELL. Circled M.D.
- 119A: [Former child actor on “The Partridge Family” (he was in “The Jerk Theory” with Tom Arnold, who was in “We Married Margo” with 79 Down)] is DANNY BONADUCE. Circled B.A.
Who is the 79 Down referenced in these six clues? That would be KEVIN BACON. He’s the subject of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, which asks people to find a link between him and an actor or actress (or, arguably, anyone in the world) in six degrees of separation or fewer.
Now, look at the clue for 79D: [Actor whose name is spelled out by the letters between six degrees in this puzzle]. The six pairs of circled letters represent academic or professional degrees: Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.), Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.S.), Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.). The degrees are separated by a group of letters that, in total, spell out KEVIN BACON:
- DAVID KOECHNER
- LESLIE BEVIS
- JIM NABORS
- KIM BASINGER
- MARY MCDONNELL
- DANNY BONADUCE
Rounding out the rest of the theme are three other Down answers that refer to Kevin Bacon or the Six Degrees game in some way:
- 3D: [Activity such as the one hinted at by this puzzle’s theme] is PARLOR GAME.
- 13D: [79 Down and others] is MOVIE STARS.
- 74D: [Historical drama in which 79 Down played a post-presidential chief of staff] is FROST/NIXON.
I expect this theme may not resonate with solvers who aren’t as interested in pop culture as other subjects. There are a fair number of names to work out and, even if you can get them, you don’t need the parenthetical information in the clues to solve the puzzle. Still, I thought it might be fun to take the phrase “six degrees of separation” and illustrate the Kevin Bacon game literally. Crosswords are about finding connections, after all.
Fun Fact #1: Hollywood stars are assigned a certain “Bacon Number,” which is the smallest number of degrees separated they are from Kevin Bacon. David Koechner is the only one who has appeared in the same film as Kevin Bacon, so he has a Bacon Number of 1. All others have a Bacon Number of 2.
Fun Fact #2: I’m guessing that Leslie Bevis is (for most solvers) the least well-known of the six connected to Kevin Bacon. But this isn’t the first time I’ve name-dropped her full name in a puzzle. She was part of a meta to this old Devil Cross crossword. Thanks for the helpful letters, Leslie.
A few other answers and clues:
- 70A: [Film director Louis] is Louis MALLE. I have to admit I hadn’t heard of him myself before writing this puzzle, but those letters really did come in handy here. If you’re wondering, Louis Malle directed “My Dinner with Andre” starring Wallace Shawn, who was in “Starting Over” with Kevin Bacon.
- 104A: [0, at the World Cup] is NIL. Or, what I hope France and Croatia don’t combine to score in the World Cup Final today.
- 124A: [Apple jam product?] is ITUNES. Think of “jam” as a song here.
- 129A: [Androids who interact with guests on “Westworld”] is HOSTS. I watched all of season 2 but, honestly, it felt like a letdown compared to season 1. I spent much of the time being confused about the timeline and the general plot; pop culture writers are now paid to help viewers make sense of it.
- 1D: [Mark in “I, Claudius”?] is COMMA. The comma in the title, that is.
- 4D: [Yankees shortstop Gregorius with a repetitive first name] is DIDI Gregorius. I thought there was a chance he’d make the American League All-Star team by the time this puzzle came out, but it was not to be.
- 38D: [Entertainer with the 2015 Christmas album “Slay Belles”] is RUPAUL.
- 72D: [Clinton and Carter were in his Cabinet] is OBAMA. Somehow it never dawned on me until now that two people sharing presidential last names were part of his Cabinet. It now occurs to me that a third Cabinet member under Obama shared the last name of a former president: Jeh Johnson, who was Secretary of Homeland Security.
See you next week!