THEME: "On the Cutting Board"—four phrases end with words that are are kitchen verbs
Crosswordese 101: Today's featured word-we-don't-use-often is POME (26D: Apple or quince). The sort of fruit that has a smooth skin, a whitish inside, and a core with seeds in the middle is called a POME, and the pear is in this category too. Can you guess what the crossword's most popular variety of POME is? It's gotta be the BOSC pear. Another fruit category, the DRUPE, includes peaches, plums, cherries, and their cousins with a big stone in the middle. DRUPE doesn't show up so often in the crossword, but now you can't say I never told you about it. The SLOE wins the DRUPE category, hands down—you've probably never seen it in the produce section, but you can practically taste it from how often it appears in crosswords.
- 17A: Shady high roller's advantage (LOADED DICE). Dice your veggies if you like soft little veggies.
- 28A: Harbors ulterior motives (HAS AN AX TO GRIND). You don't see many five-word answers in the puzzle, do you? What are we grinding in the kitchen? Black pepper? Coffee beans? Maybe my "cutting board" theme description doesn't work so well.
- 44A: Log holder (FIREPLACE GRATE). Grate some cheese or maybe some lemon zest.
- 58A: Dojo blow (KARATE CHOP). Chop anything.
- 1A: Betting setting (VEGAS). "OTB is only three letters long," I said to myself. "What's five letters? The DERBY for horse racing?" VEGAS seems utterly obvious and yet I was blanking on it.
- 14A: "Get __!": "Relax!" (A GRIP). This one's right under VEGAS. I had prepositions on the brain. "Get on something? Get on tranquilizers?" I think the unusual phrase in quotes/colon/phrase in quotes clue structure threw me off.
- 10D: Capital of Lorraine (METZ). I tried MERZ first, thinking of Chicago's old German Merz Apothecary. METZ has got a lot of nerve being a French town with a German-sounding name, if you ask me. (Equally annoying: Scottish-sounding Dunkirk is also in France.) METZ is one of those place names I learned from crosswords and have had no use for anywhere else.
- 6A: Oratory with lots of arm-waving (RANT). Dennis Miller should wave his arms more.
- 22A: Garden hose feature (NOZZLE). Double-Z Scrabbly action!
- 51A: Resealable bag brand (ZIPLOC). Another Z. It pops in the grid, doesn't it?
- THOSE is a fairly lifeless word, but the clue jump-starts it: 63A: "__ who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it": Santayana.
- 3D: Goes for, as straws? (GRASPS AT). Not sure why there's a question mark here. Perhaps because "grasping at straws" is a figurative expression...but then, it's not as if "go for straws" is a familiar literal expression.
- 5D: Explore caves (SPELUNK). Kerplunk!
- 6D: Team that ended a "curse" in 2004 (RED SOX). This one's for Rex. My Cubs are still waiting for the curse of the billy goat to be lifted.
- 35D: Emptied one's bags (UNPACKED). This reminds me of a series of Language Log posts on the topic of the phrase "still unpacked" meaning "still un-unpacked."
- 44D: Minor failing (FOIBLE). The word just plain sounds funny.
- 45D: Not out-of-bounds, as a ball (IN PLAY).
- 53D: Panama border? (BRIM). As in a Panama hat with a BRIM.