That's right! The Queen Mum of Dark Intensity! Just how much weird beautiful CAN you pack into a 5'3" frame?!?
Oh, but how short a time ago (January 2010) that I first attempted a Harper's cryptic only to be thwarted by a theme built around Carol Channing. And now, a theme so deeply embedded in the bleeding hip heart of Now and Cool that I can only believe that Richard E. Maltby and cohort have heard the cries of TackyHarpersCrypticClues.blogspot.com and modernized accordingly. You're all welcome.
The three theme words were unclued, but given as somehow related, and each theme word in turn had three unclued "variations." HELENA was varied with other US state capitals (PHOENIX, COLUMBUS, AUSTIN); BONHAM in its component parts (BO = BOX OFFICE; NH = NEW HAMPSHIRE; AM = ANTEMERIDIEM*; and CARTER as three anagrams (CRATER, TRACER, RECART).
* which, I would have sworn to you on my life was antemeridiAN with no allowed variants. Even now, s'like, very hard to accept. Like when you have a story about your childhood that you've told a million times, and then you encounter data that unequivocally refutes crucial details in how you tell the story, like a photo or a video where you're actually wearing the cat t-shirt, not the rainforest t-shirt. Or it wasn't your sister being mean to you, it was actually you being mean to your sister. And then reality warps for a second. And then depending on your susceptibility, a delusional misidentification syndrome may take hold.
Antemeridiem. Accepting it, slowly. To the puzzle! Favorites!
24A. Awkward, like a blank graph (3)
The double synonyms can be so glorious.
54A. Assumes Congress repealed having queen as leader (7)
(Congress repealed = XES) + (queen leader = ANNE) = ANNEXES
3D. Beautiful place, Texan a dubious inhabitant (6)
TeXAN A DUbious = XANADU
OMG you guys so beautiful.
- 39D) Dog star having no oxygen in sight (6)
(sight = SPY) + NO + (oxygen = O) = SNOOPY
Tried working Sirius for several rounds before the adorable answer came.
49D. As an actress, Miss Piggy—in two senses! (3)
More double synonyms. And intense! "You like Miss Piggy? Well she mugs for the camera, and also I think of her as a consumable food." Given the opportunity, this clue could and would eat Miss Piggy. Probably also the Talking Beasts of Narnia. This clue is bound by nothing.
43A. Roam aimlessly by way of part of Eastern Europe (7)
ROAM + (by way of = VIA) = MORAVIA
Shout out to anyone else who played Quest for Glory 4: Shadows of Darkness set in fictional Eastern European country Mordavia.
19A. Some non-surfers had died so tragically (9)
HAD DIED SO (anagram) = HODADDIES
Dear Puzzles: no one says "hodaddies." Not surfers, not any people, just puzzles. Please expurgate it from your lexica forthwith.
34D. Meat, perhaps—mine gets hard (4)
(mine = PIT) + (hard = H) = PITH
Meat = PITH like "get into the meat of it, really dive into the pith." You know. A phrase we know and use all the time.
This is also one of those half-tacky Harper's Cryptic clues that covers its smirking mouth, thinking, "I'm such a naughty boy, aren't I!" with voice-over by Stuey from Family Guy. "You're thinking about erections now, aren't you! Ha ha I knew it!"
I'm all for putting aside the stodginess of puzzledry. But it's not too much to also ask to sit down with pen and puzzle without being baited by sexual entendres.
Bring me your obscurities!
- CITTERNS - 29D. Centrist playing old guitars (8) = CENTRIST (anagram)
- FANFARONADE - 21D. Bragging about an offer and a rum (11) = AN OFFER AND A (anagram)
Even bringeth unto me your huddling "logical constructions" (read: "fake words")!
- DEFLEA - 26D. Clean a dog pound—going in, feed a cuckoo (6) = (pound = L) + FEED A anagram
- UNETHEREAL - 41A. In tune there, a long passage that's earthbound? (10) = IN TUNE THERE anagram
- UNENSNARE - 30A. Nurse Anne potentially provides relief from feeling trapped (9) = NURSE ANNE anagram
1D. Worker who's not so gay, by the look of him! (7)
Double synonym: "worker" = "not so gay by the look of him" = BUTCHER
So weird to keep running into this outdated queer paradigm in the Harper's cryptic, in which all gay men are swishes and sissies. Good grief, that is but one tiny prismatic wavelength in the glorious homo spectrum, Maltby!
But many thanks for Helena Bonham C. A delightful surprise in an overall wonderful puzzle.