THEME: Quality ratings — theme answers begin with words POOR, FAIR, GOOD, and GREAT, respectively.
A very enjoyable little Monday puzzle — one that took me thirteen seconds longer than today's NYT took me. Would have been faster, but when I'd completed the grid, I had one answer I knew wasn't right: LTIR at 58D: Astronomical distance meas. I was thinking the problem was somewhere in the first two letters — what starts "LT"? — but then the "meas." part of the clue reached up and slapped me. An abbrev. in the clue means (almost always) an abbrev. answer. I then realized the final vowel in NICKI might not be an "I" — changed it to a "Y" to get NICKY (67A: Paris Hilton's sister) to get LTYR or LT. YR. or "Light Year." For the record, NICKY (as clued) is not something you'd ever see in an early-week NYT puzzle. Very, very L.A., that clue. For better or worse.
- 17A: Franklin's almanac-writing alter ego (POOR Richard)
- 27A: Young, promising fellow (FAIR-haired boy) — Is this a common or familiar phrase? I see that it is — has its own dictionary entry and everything. Evokes ideas of a master race, Aryan Nation, etc. Definition even states "This term alludes to the preference of blond ('fair') hair over dark hair." This brown-haired boy says "bite me."
- 48A: Beneficent biblical traveler (GOOD Samaritan) — Learned this term from stickers on the sides of RVs I'd see on family trips during my childhood.
- 64A: F. Scott Fitzgerald title character, with "the" (GREAT Gatsby) — This novel figures prominently in Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home," which is perhaps the greatest book I've read yet this century, and certainly the greatest comic.
Crosswordese 101: I was tempted to go with ADEN today, but I'm going to go instead with a word that I'd never heard of until I was well into my crossword-solving career: MRE (46D: Desert Storm chow, initially). Stands for "Meal, Ready-to-Eat" — complete, high-energy meals contained entirely inside an extremely durable package (they have to withstand parachute drops and whatnot). Here is a list of typical MRE contents, which I pulled off of Wikipedia:
General contents may include:
- main course (entree)
- side dish
- dessert or snack (often a commercial candy or a fortified pastry)
- crackers or bread
- spread of cheese, peanut butter, or jelly
- powdered beverage mix: fruit flavored drink, cocoa, coffee or tea, sport drink, or dairy shake.
- utensils (usually just a plastic spoon)
- flameless ration heater (FRH)
- Accessory pack:
Back to the puzzle: Did you know Laura Branigan died of a brain aneurysm in 2004? Or that her vocal coach was Gian Carlo Menotti (he of "AMAHL and the Night Visitors" fame)? I'm sorry, that has nothing to do with the puzzle — I'm watching the 80s music channel. I'll turn it off now.
I had my most serious hesitations in this puzzle at the aforementioned LTYR / NICKY intersection, as well as the general BARKEEP region. BARKEEP is a fantastic answer, but my brain could do nothing with -----EP, given the clue — 52A: Cocktail maker. Even after the second "E" and the "B" I was puzzled. Did Little BO PEEP make cocktails? No, and she doesn't fit anyway. Anyway, I worked it out.
- 39A: Woman's golf garment (skort) — more great fill. Had SKIRT at first. Should've known better.
- 11D: Church garb (Sunday best) — another wonderful, colorful answer. I have many "Simpsons" toys, and one of them is "SUNDAY BEST Bart," where his hair is slicked down, parted in the middle, and he's got a coat and tie and little shorts on. It's adorable.
- 31D: Valerie Harper sitcom ("Rhoda") — I think I had a little crush on her when I was a kid. I was a weird kid.
Everything Else — 1A: Olfactory enticement (AROMA); 6A: Fashion show strutter (MODEL); 11A: Chugalug's opposite (SIP); 14A: 65-Down-strengthening exercise (SIT UP); 15A: Online surfers, e.g. (USERS); 16A: Cyberaddress, briefly (URL); 19A: "Right to bear arms" gp. (NRA); 20A: Flower holder (STEM); 21A: Scarlett of Tara (O'HARA); 22A: Port in Yemen (ADEN); 23A: Detroit labor org. (UAW); 25A: Furious (IN A RAGE); 32A: Hosp. staffer (LPN); 33A: 1/12 of a foot (INCH); 34A: Conspiring band (CABAL); 37A: Solemn vow (OATH); 42A: Nevada city (RENO); 43A: Before surg. (PRE-OP); 45A: Consider (DEEM); 47A: Enjoy Aspen (SKI); 54A: Actor Affleck (BEN); 55A: "__ brillig, and the slithy ...": Carroll (TWAS); 56A: Beautiful, in Bologna (BELLA); 59A: Business garb (SUIT); 63A: Dine (EAT); 66A: "You __ here" (ARE); 68A: Nigeria neighbor (BENIN); 69A: Hosp. VIPs (MDS); 70A: Theater employee (USHER); 71A: Garden shovel (SPADE); 1D: Nile snakes (ASPS); 2D: Civil uprising (RIOT); 3D: Nebraska tribe (OTOE); 4D: Cooing sound (MURMUR); 5D: Mo. when 1040s are due (APR); 6D: "__ Ado About Nothing" (MUCH); 7D: Labor Dept. arm (OSHA); 8D: Sweetheart (DEARIE); 9D: Grocery trip, say (ERRAND); 10D: Leary's turn-on (LSD); 12D: Flawed, as sale mdse. (IRREG.); 13D: Hangar occupant (PLANE); 18D: Hawkeyes, statewise (IOWANS); 22D: Clamorous (AROAR); 24D: Sushi tuna (AHI); 26D: "Dancing with the Stars" network (ABC); 27D: Broadway disaster (FLOP); 28D: On __ with: equal to (A PAR); 29D: Blends together into a whole (INTEGRATES); 30D: "Bleah!" (ICK); 35D: "Puppy Love" singer Paul (ANKA); 36D: Pork cut (LOIN); 38D: Fish catchers (HOOKS); 40D: Dream state acronym (REM); 41D: Pekoe packet (TEABAG); 44D: "The Raven" poet (POE); 49D: Rubbish (DEBRIS); 50D: Oration (SPEECH); 51D: Arched foot part (INSTEP); 52D: Second-string squad (BTEAM); 53D: Emmy or Oscar (AWARD); 57D: Tahoe, for one (LAKE); 60D: Annapolis inst. (USNA); 61D: Footnote abbr. (IBID); 62D: Daly of "Cagney & Lacey" (TYNE); 64D: Wildebeest (GNU); 65D: Tummy muscles (ABS).