Some other answers and clues:
- 1A: [Sport with a haircutting retirement ceremony called danpatsu-shiki] is SUM. This is part of sumo wrestling history which I was unaware of before writing this puzzle.
- 11A: [Featured birds at Denver Audubon’s HOOTenanny festival] is OWLS. I went into this clue thinking, wouldn’t it be funny if there was an owl festival called ‘hootenanny’? Internet came to the rescue.
- 61A: [EGOT winner Menken] is ALAN Menken. When I first wrote this clue, he was the latest winner of an EGOT (an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony). Since then, Jennifer Hudson has become the 17th EGOT winner.
- 129A: [Cat or dog bites?] is TREATS. “Bites” like in small snacks. You probably wouldn’t give treats to a cat or dog for biting you, but luckily crossword puzzles can allow that incongruous image to exist.
- 2D: [Its first letter means “undersea” in German] is U-BOAT. The German term for this is Unterseebootwhich means “underwater boat”.
- 17D: [Mr. ___ (hand puppet that the WWE wrestler Mankind created from a smelly piece of clothing)] is SOKO. Most of the time, you’ll see this answer in crossword form like show business slang meaning “great” or “excellent.” I wanted something that would make me laugh, and this did the trick. There’s even an A&E episode of “WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures” that focuses on Mr. Socko.
Speaking of clue angles that I found amusing, I need a few paragraphs for 34D: [“Desert ___” (satirical video game conceived by Penn and Teller involving a drive from Tucson to Las Vegas)] Which one is BUS. Here is a brief description of “Desert Bus”: You drive a bus from Tucson to Las Vegas, and that’s basically it. It takes eight real-time hours to complete the ride, you can’t pause the game, and the bus constantly drifts to the right, so you can’t just let go of the controller and let the game run. If you do, the bus stops in a ditch and you’re towed back to the start…which *also* takes the same real time for the tow truck to complete its return journey. Virtually nothing happens all the time, except for the occasional bug that splatters the windshield, and if you complete the ride, you get a point. You then have the option of making the return trip from Las Vegas to Tucson, which would take another eight hours and your reward for doing so would, again, be a meager point. You can watch (luckily) little review of the game here and read longer New Yorker review here.
Penn and Teller thought of the concept in the mid-1990s in response to politicians complaining about violence in video games, so they wanted to create the world’s most boring game as a satire – because if there’s a something that would drive you really crazy while playing a video game, it would simulate the real experience of driving a bus for eight hours with nothing else happening. “Desert Bus” (and the Sega CD game it was included on, “Penn & Teller’s ‘Smoke and Mirrors'”) was never released to the public, but found its way into internet lore when someone got his hands on a copy. It even became a game that the comedy sketch group LoadingReadyRun plays for charity, where people rotate in and out over several days to take as many “Desert Bus” rides as possible while streaming it online for fans. I can hardly imagine how much commitment it takes to play such a boring game for so long, but since 2007 they’ve raised millions for Child’s Play, an organization that donates toys to children’s hospitals.
Anyway, I wanted to use this clue for BUS for a while, and from early 2020 to mid-2022, this answer never even appeared in any of my grids…until the puzzle” It’s the only way” in Downs only in April, and this clue seemed too obvious for a Downs-only challenge when I wanted each clue to be really easy. Luckily I had another opportunity so soon.
Enough about “Desert Bus”, so here’s a look at next week’s puzzle: it’s big (23×23 squares) and it has a meta. Allow some extra time to solve it. Hope you enjoy it whether you break the meta or not.