“Out for Blood”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🦇🦇🦇

Today’s puzzle is a Halloween diptych of sorts. You can find the other half in the Thursday (10/29) Wall Street Journal crossword. Best viewed side-by-side.

My mother’s birthday is on Halloween! I think about her a lot at this time of year. Fall is kind of a fraught period for both of us, ever since 2001. That was the year that she took a months-long hiatus from work to seek treatment for bipolar disorder. When she finally was able to get back to the job–she was a TV news anchor at the time–she scheduled her first day back as (no lie) September 10th, 2001.

Honestly, it was probably the best thing for her. She didn’t have any time to feel anxious or overwhelmed on behalf of herself. While us kids sat stupefied in front of the TV for days, she reported the unspeakable news with typical humanity and grace. She would win an Emmy for her coverage that week.

And it was just a few weeks later—a couple of days after Halloween, after the smell had lifted and President Bush reopened Yankee Stadium with a ceremonial first pitch—that an MRI revealed an olive-sized tumor in my spine. I was eventually diagnosed with Schwanommatosis. When we got home from the surgeon’s office I sobbed with my head in mom’s lap. I sobbed because of the news, but also because I knew my mom was the only person in the world more scared than I was. What would this do to her? But she responded as she had at 9/11. Another crisis, and again she rose to a challenge she had no choice but to face. When they rolled me for the first time to the OR, it was my mom walking calmly next to the gurney. I was introduced to the blue-clad female anesthesiologist and, already drugged, blurted out, “Mom! Smurf!” 

“No, sweetie,” she said. “That’s Smurfette.”

Spoilers and discussion on “Out for Blood” after the jump.

Frickin’ bats

The grid art in “Out for Blood” is potentially surplus to requirements, but since the thematic material allowed for some black square flexibility, I decided to echo a motif you’ll see on Thursday in the WSJ.

RAISES THE STAKES, LIGHTS UP THE ROOM, and HAS A CROSS TO BEAR all felt like super fun and silly phrases to reimagine vis-à-vis a VAMPIRE SLAYER. Though to be honest, I’m frustrated I couldn’t really make garlic work. PRESSED GARLIC? Eh. Sort of follows the verb + anti-vampire tech pattern, but the PRESSED in PRESSED GARLIC is a different verb construction. Alas.

Please post all your Halloween pics for me to enjoy. Especially if your costume is one of those delightful pun costumes. Be still my beating heart!

Happy solving, friends.

-Ross

10 thoughts on ““Out for Blood”

  1. Happy Birthday to your Mom and thank you for sharing her — and your — amazing story…I’m typing this with tears rolling down my face.

    Delightful puzzle, as always. I love Halloween, too. I didn’t know what the Georgetown team’s name meant and I’m glad you asked in the clue because it prompted me to look it up. Turns out — you probably already know this — that a guy, a gardener, named Thomas Hoy developed this nice plant.

    Happy Halloween, and thank you. Look forward to Thursday’s WSJ.

    1. In fact, Kelly, I hadn’t looked it up yet–and now I know! Thank you!

      I’ve been falling into the habit of sharing little anecdotes about the people I love along with these puzzles… I can’t really say why, but it’s felt natural. I plan to carry on.

  2. I had a ball with this puzzle. Once I replaced “touchy” with “tetchy” I was able to sort out the center. That was fun! Your Sunday puzzles always seem to be at the perfect level of difficulty for me… I can solve them, but not quickly. And thanks for the heartfelt story. Best wishes to you and your mom.

    1. “Tetchy” is a word that’s always hovering on the edges of my working vocabulary… I appreciate it far more than my usage suggests. And I’m glad to hear these are in your wheelhouse, difficulty-wise. Maybe we’ll tighten the screws in the coming months…? 🙂

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