Theme: R to RK — familiar words and phrases have a "K" added following an "R," creating wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style
I think this may be the toughest LAT puzzle of the past few weeks, certainly the toughest since the old TMS puzzle died and newspapers nationwide switched to the LAT (this won't mean anything to those who have always solved the LAT, but to solvers around the country, the shift was kind of a big deal). For whatever reason, many of the theme answers today were not self-evident, and there were enough places around the grid where the cluing was deliberately skewed hard that the puzzle proved a worthy late-week challenge. You can see in my picture of the completely grid that there are black triangles in three squares in the SE corner. This is an object lesson in stupidity. A grid full of legitimate toughness, all of which I tamed successfully, only to blow the whole thing by making the stupid mistake of Not Checking My Crosses in the SE. Threw down EXILE for 56D: Political outcast (EX-PAT) and didn't even notice what a mess that made of all the Acrosses. Sloppy.
As for the theme — it's a bit awkward, in places, in that the "K" is sometimes added to the end of a word, sometimes shoved into the middle of a word. At least it's always added to the first syllable — that's an admirable consistency. The wacky phrases are pretty amusing, and the fact that the added letter is my favorite letter means that it's hard for me to stay mad at it. I would have clued STARK-GAZING as [Staring at Iron Man?] — if you are at the Steppes, are you really gazing at STARK? The others make more sense. I think my favorite of the lot is BARK CODES. I've been trying to interpret my own dog's BARF CODES for the past week, and we may be zeroing in on a culprit. It's not really barf — it's a disgustingly productive cough that is probably the result of something called "aspirational pneumonia." I saw the images from her upper G.I. series yesterday, and one of her lungs is "a little too busy," as the vet said. Radiologist is looking at images today and we go from there. She seems very healthy and normal otherwise, and she'll be starting antibiotics today, so ... fingers crossed. Sorry to regale you with dog vomit stories on this lovely morning, but it's on my mind (not to mention my floor ... OK, I'm done)
- 18A: Sightseeing at the Steppes? (STARK-GAZING)
- 24A: Dogs' communication systems? (BARK CODES)
- 39A: Creative executive compensation techniques? (PERK-FORMING ARTS)
- 51A: Price of the village green? (PARK VALUE)
- 62A: Ones who never know what to use for their salad? (FORK DUMMIES)
- 15A: "L.A. Law" co-creator (BOCHCO) — I believe he is also responsible for "Cop Rock." "L.A. Law" was a huge hit when I was in college.
- 27A: Wall St. trader (ARB.) — short for "arbitrageur" — Learned it from crosswords.
- 36A: Cádiz cat (GATO) — With the foreign words in particular, editors Love the alliterative clue. Can't resist.
- 49A: Crooner's asset (EAR) — Good asset for any musician.
- 60A: Certain presentee (DEB) — Makes sense, but "presentee" hurts, as a word.
["... laser rays ..."]
- 68A: Windy City "L" runner (CTA) — Chicago Transit Authority — More things I learned from crosswords.
- 1D: Witticism (SQUIB) — Did Not know this. I think of a SQUIB as little explosive. Or a non-magical person born to at least one magical parent.
- 6D: American Greetings "mailing" (e-CARD) — Thus it doesn't go through the "mail."
- 19D: Literary miscellanea (ANAS) — Old school crosswordese. I wanted OLIO here ... and a few answers later, I got my wish. This is a phenomenon that got dubbed a "malapop" over at my NYT site. It's when you want a word that ends up being wrong in one place but shows up as the correct word elsewhere in the grid.
- 32D: Swedish actress Persson (ESSY) — Never seen her or heard of her before, ever.
- 40D: "I _____ you liked your drink, 'sez Gunga Din" ('OPE) — He spoke like Eliza Doolittle? One of the central settings in "Watchmen" (the book) is the Gunga Diner.
- 52D: Pitch specialists? (AD MEN) — Be on the lookout for ad-related answers that use the word "pitch" in the clues. Very, very common. AD MEN is a dated term, but still has much grid cred.
- 58D: Castel Gandolfo resident (POPE) — No idea. None. Had to guess that second "P," as that OPIE guy was unknown to me too (66A: Swing era bandleader Cates). That's two OPIES in two days, neither of which I knew (the other was in the NYT — the English painter John OPIE).
- 64D: MS. enclosure (SAE) — Self-addressed envelope. More commonly SASE (second "S" standing for "stamped").
All the best
Everything Else — 1A: What's up? (SKY); 4A: It may be split at lunch (THETAB); 10A: Big name in shoes (MCAN); 14A: Sine __ non (QUA); 15A: "L.A. Law" co-creator (BOCHCO); 16A: Mishmash (OLIO); 17A: Young __ (UNS); 18A: Sightseeing at The Steppes? (STARKGAZING); 20A: Medical suffix (ITIS); 22A: Paid player (PRO); 23A: Stand at attention (SNAPTO); 24A: Dogs' communication systems? (BARKCODES); 27A: Wall St. trader (ARB); 28A: Final: Abbr. (ULT); 29A: Close-at-hand (INSTORE); 33A: Point of view (ANGLE); 36A: C·diz cat (GATO); 38A: '50s campaign monogram (AES); 39A: Creative executive compensation techniques? (PERKFORMINGARTS); 43A: Stowe girl (EVA); 44A: Hurt (PAIN); 45A: Healthy-looking (RUDDY); 46A: Cow country sights (RANCHES); 49A: Crooner's asset (EAR); 50A: Soft & __: deodorant (DRI); 51A: Price of the village green? (PARKVALUE); 57A: Increasing (UPPING); 60A: Certain presentee (DEB); 61A: Old Mercury model (LYNX); 62A: Ones who never know what to use for their salad? (FORKDUMMIES); 65A: Cool air feature (NIP); 66A: Swing era bandleader Cates (OPIE); 67A: Egyptian god (AMENRA); 68A: Windy City "L" runner (CTA); 69A: Steamy (SEXY); 70A: __ ‡ trois (MENAGE); 71A: Angry, with "up" (HET); 1D: Witticism (SQUIB); 2D: "Roots" hero (KUNTA); 3D: Co-Nobelist Arafat (YASIR); 4D: "Very funny" station (TBS); 5D: Family-style Asian dish (HOTPOT); 6D: American Greetings "mailing" (ECARD); 7D: Severe pang (THROE); 8D: Disgusted cry (ACK); 9D: Soft spots (BOGS); 10D: Haydn contemporary (MOZART); 11D: Medical office accessory (CLIPBOARD); 12D: Isn't wrong? (AINT); 13D: Canceled (NOGO); 19D: Literary miscellanea (ANAS); 21D: Move stealthily (SKULK); 25D: Pitch indicator (CLEF); 26D: Nonviolent protest (SITIN); 30D: Nice way to beg off? (NON); 31D: Like Gen. Schwarzkopf (RETD); 32D: Swedish actress Persson (ESSY); 33D: Imitator (APER); 34D: St. Petersburg's river (NEVA); 35D: Formula One race (GRANDPRIX); 36D: Get (GRASP); 37D: Chartres chum (AMI); 40D: "'I __ you liked your drink,' sez Gunga Din" (OPE); 41D: Attractive force: Abbr. (GRAV); 42D: Kind of comprehension (AURAL); 47D: "Holy cow!" (CRIKEY); 48D: Rear (HIND); 49D: "La Dolce Vita" actress (EKBERG); 52D: Pitch specialists? (ADMEN); 53D: Madrid monarch (REINA); 54D: "Mulholland Drive" director (LYNCH); 55D: Get together (UNITE); 56D: Political outcast (EXPAT); 57D: Sci-fi hoverers (UFOS); 58D: Castel Gandolfo resident (POPE); 59D: Largest of the Marianas (GUAM); 63D: Fr. title (MME); 64D: MS. enclosure (SAE).