THEME: Rhode Island — familiar phrases have their "IR" changed to "RI," creating wacky phrases which are then clued, "?"-style
Maybe slightly tougher than last week's Friday, but not by much. The difficulty level of these late-week puzzles seems still to be set somewhat underneath the typical level, as solvers whose papers have only recently converted to the LAT puzzle get used to its graded difficulty level and its style of cluing. Puzzles are supposed to get harder as the week progresses, with Saturday's being the hardest. At the NYT, the Friday puzzle is typically a big step up in difficulty from Thursday. Also, it's typically themeless. Neither thing is true for today's LAT, which is a solid themed puzzle whose difficulty level is only slightly higher than yesterday's. I thought for a minute that the theme might have an added layer of depth, with the day of the week (FRI) embedded in each one — but that only held true for the first two.
The theme answers, or their clues, felt slightly off to me in places. When I think of someone who is "FRIED," I do not think of a drunk. I imagine the phrase "YOU'RE FRIED" (18A: Words to a drunk?) being uttered in a smoke-filled dorm room, followed by the word "man." I've heard of "right of first refusal," but I don't think of "first refusal" as a stand-alone phrase - though I like the resulting silly answer here — FRIST REFUSAL (26A: 2000s Senate leader's turndown?). PARIS SKATING (40A: Hilton on the ice?) is the odd man out in that the "R" isn't moved into an initial consonant blend (e.g. "FR" or "TR"). And I think I only just now grasped the meaning of SPARE TRIES (50A: What you never see after strikes?). I knew the phrase was playing off of "spare tires," but I thought the clue had something to do with strikes of the work stoppage / picketing variety. But no. Bowling.
Crosswordese 101: RANIS (30A: Indian royalty) — If you do crosswords for any length of time, you will run across both RAJA and RANI, which are terms that mean, roughly, "king" and "queen" in India. About half the time, RAJAH has an "H" on the end (which appears to be the preferred spelling), and occasionally RANEE gets the two-E treatment. Both terms are often clued as "Asian" or "Hindu" or "Eastern" royalty, and a RANI will often be "Sari-clad" (SARI being another important bit of crosswordese). Ironically, though I've known RAJA and RANI since my earliest crosswording days (I started solving in Ann Arbor in the early 90s, where there was a restaurant just down the street from me called "Raja Rani's"), today I briefly struggled in the RANIS section of the grid, as the clue didn't clearly say "plural" to me, so I had RANEE there. Ugh.
Love the long Downs in this one — never heard ROOSTER TAIL used in this way (6D: Motorboat's wake), but it was easy to infer from crosses. SUNNY SIDE UP, on the other hand, was a virtual gimme (24D: Eggs order), though Not the way I prefer my eggs — those yolks must must must be hard. Otherwise — GAG REFLEX. In general, according to "rules" posted somewhere at cruciverb.com, non-theme answers should not exceed theme answers in length, but since these are Downs, and there are no Down theme answers, I don't think their length matters much. Not like to cause confusion.
- 10A: Robert who played Anthony Soprano, Jr. (ILER) — yeah, you need to learn this guy right now, because he's surprisingly common. Be prepared to botch his name for a while. For instance, today, I remembered him as ILES.
- 15A: Sacred five-book collection (TORAH) — I was so proud of remembering Sting's wife's name, only her name turned out not to be SKYLER but STYLER (5D: Actress Trudie who's married to Sting). If I had gotten that right, maybe I wouldn't have entered KORAN here at first. :(
- 16A: Residencia room (SALA) — more crosswordese
- 23A: Creedal holding (TENET) — such a weird-sounding clue, and yet I got it right away.
- 39A: Bourne portrayer (DAMON) — actor Matt, playing Jason Bourne.
- 47A: Pharyngeal tissue (ADENOIDS) — had real trouble at the end of this one, mainly because I misread 56A: Years during Nero's reign as "Year..." singular, so had ANNO. This gave me -KOS at 49D: Street supplies? Didn't understand the clue, but it must be TKOS, right? but ADENOIDT is impossible. OK, does SKOS mean anything? Is it SROS? No, NOOR is a queen, but not somewhere you'd have breakfast. Finally reread the Nero clue and changed it to ANNI, which gave me SKIS, and then the "Street" part made sense - "Street" in question = Skier Picabo Street.
- 59A: D-day transports (LSTs) — more crossword commonness.
- 3D: Marginal comments (NOTATIONS) — just made a whole Bunch of these on student papers. Wanted ANNOTATIONS.
- 25D: Preceders of omegas (PSIS) — ah, "preceders." One of the great absurd words in the crossword cluing arsenal.
- 26D: Man-goat deities (FAUNS) — One I know best = Mr. Tumnus ("Chronicles of Narnia")
- 40D: Everycity, USA (PEORIA) — got this instantly, despite not knowing for certain if it was true. "Family City, USA" = OREM, Utah.
- 41D: Kmart founder (KRESGE) — News to me. So that's what the "K" stands for.
- 43D: Finland's second largest city (ESPOO) — I've seen this answer before, and though I couldn't retrieve it completely this time, there was one thing I knew for certain: POO was involved. That was enough.
- 47D: Verdi's slave girl (AIDA) — you see her about once a week. She'll be the Crosswordese 101 entry some day.
Everything Else — 1A: Beachfront property? (SAND); 5A: Sp. misses (SRTAS); 10A: Robert who played Anthony Soprano Jr. (ILER); 14A: Jumbo__: scoreboard display (TRON); 15A: Sacred five-book collection (TORAH); 16A: Residencia room (SALA); 17A: Numerical prefix (OCTA); 18A: Words to a drunk? (YOUREFRIED); 20A: "Is there more?" (WHATELSE); 22A: Chigger, e.g. (LARVA); 23A: Creedal holding (TENET); 24A: One concerned with 13-Down (SPEEDER); 26A: 2000s Senate leader's turndown? (FRISTREFUSAL); 29A: Rifles (LOOTS); 30A: Indian royalty (RANIS); 31A: Morning glistener (DEW); 34A: Has (OWNS); 35A: Amazes (STUNS); 36A: "Was it you?" answer (NOTI); 37A: "Scream" director Craven (WES); 38A: Stinker (MEANY); 39A: Bourne portrayer (DAMON); 40A: Hilton on the ice? (PARISSKATING); 42A: Vague (GENERAL); 45A: Novelist Shaw (IRWIN); 46A: Apply to (USEON); 47A: Pharyngeal tissue (ADENOIDS); 50A: What you never see after strikes? (SPARETRIES); 53A: Breakfast area (NOOK); 54A: Spelling of TV (TORI); 55A: Excavated again (REDUG); 56A: Years during Nero's reign (ANNI); 57A: 2000 N.L. home run champ (SOSA); 58A: Brotherly love (AGAPE); 59A: D-day transports (LSTS); 1D: Lade (STOW); 2D: St. Louis landmark (ARCH); 3D: Marginal comments (NOTATIONS); 4D: Evidence in paternity suits (DNATESTS); 5D: Actress Trudie who's married to Sting (STYLER); 6D: Motorboat's wake (ROOSTERTAIL); 7D: "Right you are" (TRUE); 8D: Rhine tributary (AAR); 9D: Miss identification? (SHE); 10D: Where Mount Carmel is (ISRAEL); 11D: Scottish landowner (LAIRD); 12D: Collège attendee (ELEVE); 13D: It can trap a 24-Across (RADAR); 19D: Circus performers (FLEAS); 21D: Middle Earth beings (ENTS); 24D: Eggs order (SUNNYSIDEUP); 25D: Preceders of omegas (PSIS); 26D: Stream (FLOW); 27D: "Lady Jane Grey" dramatist (ROWE); 28D: Man-goat deities (FAUNS); 31D: India and Pakistan under British influence, e.g. (DOMINIONS); 32D: School founded by Henry VI (ETON); 33D: What birds take? (WING); 35D: Medical supplies (SERA); 36D: Like some pride (NATIONAL); 38D: Strategic WWI river (MARNE); 39D: First light (DAWN); 40D: Everycity, USA (PEORIA); 41D: Kmart founder (KRESGE); 42D: Windy day features (GUSTS); 43D: Finland's second largest city (ESPOO); 44D: Comes close (NEARS); 47D: Verdi's slave girl (AIDA); 48D: "Stop" (DONT); 49D: Street supplies? (SKIS); 51D: Carol syllable (TRA); 52D: Enrolled: Abbr. (REG).