Nothing Up My Sleeve
"Midrash" by John Child (drafted July 2015; revised and updated December 2015)

John got many hours of childhood pleasure watching the slyly subversive Rocky and Bullwinkle Show created by Jay Ward and still in syndication (if you can spare less than 2 minutes, click here for the opening theme animation). Though it was ostensibly just a simple cartoon, a lot of themes and jokes were really aimed at adults. Eventually John grew old enough to appreciate some of these, the surnames of Boris (Badenov) and Natasha (Fatale), for example.

John originally tried to make a 15x16 grid (Bullwinkle's full name is 16 letters). He couldn’t get that to work, but thought that there might be enough material for a Sunday puzzle. George to the rescue! He made three different grids, two of which went out for testing. John often did the bulk fill, which George would clean up and improve, sometimes tweaking the grid. Lather, Rinse, and Repeat for 9 iterations.

Clues were a cooperative effort. We particularly like {Crime chime} for ALARM; {"Peter Pan" pirate captain's right hand} for SMEE; and {"Depends on what the meaning of ___"} for IS_IS.

The photo hint on the main puzzle page is a cartoon depiction of the show's creator (Jay Ward), as drawn by Bill Scott, the head writer and voice of Bullwinkle. In a 1982 interview, Scott said, "I got a call from Jay asking if I'd be interested in writing another series, an adventure script with a moose and a squirrel. I said, 'Sure.' I didn't know if I could write an adventure with a moose and a squirrel, but I never turned down a job." 

The title of the puzzle refers to a running gag on the show where Bullwinkle played magician and would say, "Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat." Rocky would routinely make a snarky comment like, "But that trick never works!" Undaunted, Bullwinkle would say to the audience, "Nothing up my sleeve," tear the sleeve off his tuxedo, and pull something entirely un-rabbit-like out of the hat. Rocky would then segue to the next sketch.

BTW, please spend 10 minutes sometime to watch the pilot skits for two other segments of the show, "Peabody and Sherman," and "Fractured Fairy Tales."

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