We expected that ten movies by Hitchcock in a single diagram would be fairly unmissable, so the original version of the puzzle made no explicit mention of what was going on. Imagine our surprise when none of our test-solvers noticed the theme (this is the sort of thing that always seems more obvious to the constructor). So we decided to bring attention to it with the help of a reference in a clue, just to make sure solvers would not miss it. How to do it was not immediately obvious—mentioning Hitchcock explicitly, after all, would make the puzzle too easy. In the end, we settled on the reference in 7D, which mentioned movies without being overly specific.
7D OSCARS Piece of onyx marks awards given to some movies (though only one of the ten shown here) (6)
How did this play out for you? Too blatant? Too subtle? Just right? (Incidentally, Hitch’s Oscar-winning movie was Rebecca.)
1A SECRET AGENT Center-left part of 30, amazingly, reveals a spy (6,5)
We loved this anagram, but STAGE was part of the solution to 30A, so we didn’t want to put “stage” explicitly in the clue. So we referenced 30A’s solution in the clue to 1A, thus emulating our predecessor Frank Lewis who often used this technique.
16A FRENZY Disgraced memoirist outlines New Zealand craze (6)
James Frey is the memoirist in question.
20A LIFEBOAT Rescue gear originally extricated snake caught in elevator (8)
Samuel L. Jackson should star in the remake.
30A STAGE FRIGHT Common source of terror: fiend’s severed head in area to the audience’s left (5,6)
1D STABLE BOY Groom a youngster unlikely to go postal (6,3)
Each of these clues broke a phrase into its constituent words. Let the cryptic purists fret: we got a chuckle out of it, and to us entertainment trumps an over-preoccupation with rules. At least for a few clues per puzzle! —HP
30A is, as you say, anathema to purists, but it’s slightly more legit than you suggest, because both STAGE FRIGHT and STAGE RIGHT have dictionary nature. So it’s something of a container clue, even though STAGE appears in both phrases with the same meaning. —JK
8D ROMNEY Questionable money supports Republican presidential candidate (6)
The clue practically wrote itself.
17D NEON LIGHT Darkness engulfs Libya’s capital after many years—this could vanquish it? (4,5)
Now we’re really in trouble! There is not a clear break between definition and wordplay: the former borrows from the latter. We’d better end this post and get out of here before the cryptic police arrive.