THEME: None (Saturdays have themeless crosswords)
Orange here, checking in with the Saturday L.A. Times crossword—almost always the week's toughest. The Sunday puzzle might take longer, but that's a factor of its bigger size. In a themed puzzle, once you cotton to what's going on in the theme answers, it often gives you a leg up on the last theme answers. A themeless puzzle doesn't offer that. Instead, it focuses on longer answers and trickier clues. The usual rule is that a themeless crossword will have no more than 72 answers, while the themed weekday ones can go up to 78.
In lieu of a theme, constructor Robert Wolfe anchors this grid with three 15-letter answers, all of them phrases you might say rather than nouns or verbs or what-have-you. Here are the triplets:
- 17A: "No need to get so excited" (keep your shirt on)
- 37A: "No way!" (don't make me laugh)
- 59A: "No idea" (I haven't got a clue)
Crosswordese 101: A.k.a. European Rivers 101. Yesterday, Rex focused on a European river called the YSER. Guess what? There are a great many rivers in Europe with four-letter names that flow into crosswords far out of proportion to their familiarity among Americans. Today's crossword brings us the ARNO (20A: River of Tuscany); that's it in the photo below, with the Ponte Vecchio spanning it. Spain has the EBRO; if you know that Spain and Portugal make up the peninsula called Iberia, remember that the river's name is related to it and shares its consonants. Now, EBRO sounds Italian to me, so it took me years to put the ARNO in my "Italian river clue" memory and the EBRO in the "Spanish river clue" spot.
Switzerland's main crosswordese river has two acceptable spellings: AAR and AARE. Hooray! The number of squares will tell you which one you want.
England has the OUSE, which always looks French to me, TYNE, and AVON. France has the OISE (not to be confused with the OUSE), ORNE, and a number of five-letter rivers (including the SEINE, LOIRE, MARNE, and SAONE). France has the gall to contain a five-letter ISERE River, which apparently is not the same thing as the Belgian YSER.
The URAL, NEVA, and LENA are Russia's leading four-letter crosswordese rivers; there's also the three-letter OKA.
Germany is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the four-letter crosswordese river world, with the ELBE, EDER, ODER, RUHR, SAAR, EGER, and (less commonly) ISAR.
Head south from Europe and you run into the NILE—which has the advantage of being a world-famous river that you've heard of.
Now, you don't have to memorize where all these rivers originate, pass through, and empty. But it will stand you in good stead to familiarize yourself with the names so that when the crossing answers spell them out, you can feel certain that they're correct. The main ones you'll encounter are the Swiss AAR/AARE, Italian ARNO, Spanish EBRO, German/Polish ODER, and Russian URAL.
But Wait! There's More!
It's been my sense that the L.A. Times crossword tends to include a little more pop culture—names and titles from Hollywood movies and TV—than other puzzles do. Here's today's allotment:
- 24A: Kiara's mother in "The Lion King" (NALA). Animated feature film.
- 29A: "Medium" network (NBC). Broadcast TV series.
- 40A: "The Lord of the Rings" monster (ORC). Blockbuster movie franchise based on Tolkien's books.
- 58A: Stimpy's pal (REN). A '90s cartoon.
- 6D: "The Killing Fields" Oscar winner Haing S. __ (NGOR). Drama on the big screen.
- 12D: "Contact" acronym (SETI). Sci-fi drama starring Jodie Foster.
- 13D: Presley's middle name (ARON). Elvis!
- 24D: Peggy Lee and Marilyn Monroe, at birth (NORMAS). Stage names!
HIERO- and TWI- are prefixes—16A: Prefix with glyph and 60D: Prefix with light, respectively. ROTO is a commercial prefix here (55D: __-Rooter). MARM isn't a suffix, but it has a tough time standing apart from "school" (57D: School closing?). That question mark reminds you not to take the phrase "school closing" at face value—there's no snow day here, just a word that's a "closing" for the word "school."
Rex applies the term "odd jobs" to words like ASKER—a word ending in -ER that's generally a legitimate extrapolation from its root word, but not a word you're likely to ever use. An ASKER is clued as 1D: Invitation sender. Have you ever thought of yourself as an asker, even when you're feeling inquisitive? Some words look like odd-jobbers but aren't. I suspect INKERS (27D: Comic book artists) is a perfectly ordinary word in comic book circles.
An olio of other answers:
Two of the longer answers are phrases with colors—RED AS A BEET (41A: Visibly embarrassed) and BLUE MARLIN (30D: Atlantic game fish).
One word you're unlikely to encounter outside of crosswords is STERE (2D: Cubic measure). It's a boring word, but look how common its letters are. Why, it's perfect for crosswords! If only people actually used the word routinely.
JUJUBE! I used to like ripping my molars out by biting down on JUJUBEs (51A: Gelatin candy).
To play us out, here's ARAM Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance," played by the Berlin Philharmonic. I hope it's not too early in your morning for that piece. It's rousing!
Everything else: — 1A: According to design (ASPLANNED). 10A: Attended (WASAT). 15A: Prolong (STRINGOUT). 21A: Short-tailed weasel (ERMINE). 27A: "__ out?" (INOR). 32A: Breakthroughs in therapy, say (EYEOPENERS). 42A: Thin swimmer (EEL). 44A: Speaker in Cooperstown (TRIS). 45A: Bit of treasure (GEM). 46A: Fireworks reactions (OOHS). 48A: What a nyctophobe fears (DARK). 54A: Composer Khachaturian (ARAM). 62A: Crescent shapes (LUNES). 63A: Floating point (WATERLINE). 64A: That point (THERE). 65A: Hematite producers (IRONMINES). 2D: Cubic measure (STERE). 3D: Foreknowledge (PRESCIENCE). 4D: Sass (LIP). 5D: Novelist Seton (ANYA). 7D: Lions or tigers or bears (NOUN). 8D: It replaced the Slovak koruna on 1/1/2009 (EURO). 10D: Eddy (WHIRL). 11D: Pilot (AIRMAN). 14D: Voice mail cue (TONE). 18D: Limo leaders, at times (HEARSES). 23D: Relaxed pace (TROT). 28D: "__ say more?" (NEEDI). 31D: Zoo enclosure (CAGE). 32D: Shogun's capital (EDO). 33D: Bygone days (YORE). 34D: Like much pottery (EARTHEN). 38D: Fall back (LAG). 39D: Tucked in (ABED). 43D: Slatted window opening (LOUVER). 47D: Quite weighty (OBESE). 49D: Meet with the old gang (REUNE). 50D: Joints with caps (KNEES). 51D: Leave abruptly, as a lover (JILT). 52D: "Nope" (UHUH). 53D: Doe to be identified (JANE). 54D: Culture medium (AGAR). 61D: One-third of CDLIII (CLI).