THEME: "NIX ON" (53D: Follower of Johnson, and a two-word hint to this crossword's theme) — four theme answers are common phrases that have had the letters "ON" removed ("nixed") from their ends, resulting in wacky phrases, which are "?"-clued
Hello and Happy May,
This felt quite easy for a Friday. Normally, at the end of the week, we are looking at themeless puzzles of considerable difficulty, or at least low-level thorniness. But this one has a fairly easily discernible theme, and a difficulty level more typical of a Wednesday puzzle. I realized as I typed that last sentence that the perceived difficulty level could vary widely — longtime solvers will sail right through stuff that might seem arcane to casual or novice solvers. Stuff like ISERE (32D: Department bordering Savoie) and EDINA (52A: Twin Cities suburb) and OKAPI and IBEX and EDIE (65A: Actress Falco) and AMATIS (36A: Some National Music Museum treasures) and even CRT (6D: Monitor, for short), all of which are high-end repeaters, i.e. Crosswordese 301-501. So maybe this is the kind of puzzle that separates the constant solver from the casual solver. If so, it's good news for the casual solver, who can learn a lot here today.
I was not that fond of the theme, mainly because the resulting ON-less phrases were less than felicitous. BEG YOUR PARD (3D: Plead with one's frontier buddy?) and THE RED BAR (18A: Communist watering hole?) work OK, but LEG OF MUTT (59A: Place for a paw?) sounds like a menu item no matter what the clue says, and CUTE AS A BUTT (26D: Adorable, bottom-wise?) simply doesn't work. Not as clued, not with any clue. [Adorable, bottomwise?] suggests that the phrase is something you would call someone with an adorable bottom, whereas the answer, CUTE AS A BUTT, is more like a synonym for "ass-faced." Yes, I like that clue. [Ass-faced?]. Or [Adorably ass-faced?], perhaps. Anyway, there's no way you can make CUTE AS A BUTT work in any way that isn't insulting. [Like an adorable cigarette?]? Nope, still doesn't work.
Crosswordese 101: Let's go with OKAPI today, by far my favorite crossword animal. They're kind of like giraffe-zebra-deer, and the puzzle loves them because a. terminal-I words are always in high demand (they aren't terribly common in English), b. OKAPI is 60% vowels (always attractive to a grid-maker), c. OKAPIs are exotic, so they add a little flair to the puzzle, and d. Scrabbly letters are always cool, and oddly-placed "K"s are even cooler. Despite what this puzzle has done, I do not recommend crossing an OKAPI (23A: Long-tongued Congo critter) and an IBEX (24D: Goat with recurved horns). P.S. I think of a "critter" as something smallish. At 8 feet tall and 500 lbs. ... not a "critter."
- 22A: Fishing for marlin, e.g. (AT SEA) — Something about this clue phrasing irks me. [Like someone fishing for marlin] feels more exact. I know I'm supposed to see "Fishing for marlin" as an adjectival phrase, not a nominal phrase. But I refuse.
- 31A: "Turn Me Loose" singer, 1959 (FABIAN) — Sorry Fabian, but "Turn Me Loose" means only one thing to me:
Here's Fabian's version:
- 44A: Blowup in a jam (ROAD RAGE) — Nice colorful phrase.
- 67A: Ford, for example (WADE) — This made no sense to me. My last letter in the puzzle was the "E" in this word. A few seconds after finishing, I realized that you can "ford" a stream by wading ... so OK.
- 13D: Neighbor of ESP, in the Olympics (POR) — Another clue that made no sense to me. They're your neighbor. "Olympics" seems to be trying to signal the abbrev., but "ESP" already does that. In the Olympics, ESP and POR would not be "neighbors" at the Opening Ceremonies, as they are nowhere near each other alphabetically (that's how they come out, right?).
- 4D: Project Gutenberg offering (E-BOOK) — I know, "Gutenberg" sounds old-fashioned and "E-BOOK" sounds modern. Project Gutenberg produces free electronic books. See here.
- 5D: Haile Selassie worshipers' movement (RASTAFARI) — Wicked good, and absolutely gorgeous in its symmetrical pairing with MADRILENO (37D: Native of central Spain) — the only word in the puzzle I really didn't know.
Everything Else — 1A: Not loaded (SOBER); 6A: Guy (CHAP); 10A: Nuts' opposite? (SOUP); 14A: Slide subject (AMEBA); 15A: Tuna order (RARE); 16A: Ballpark phrase (ORSO); 17A: Corporate icons (LOGOS); 18A: Communist watering hole? (THEREDBAR); 20A: Prius automaker (TOYOTA); 22A: Fishing for marlin, e.g. (ATSEA); 23A: Long-tongued Congo critter (OKAPI); 25A: Pet name (HON); 26A: MV ˜ V (CCI); 29A: French vineyard (CRU); 31A: "Turn Me Loose" singer, 1959 (FABIAN); 33A: Use up (BURN); 34A: Costs of getting high? (AIRFARES); 36A: Some National Music Museum treasures (AMATIS); 38A: Deep sleep (SOPOR); 39A: Gen-__ (XER); 41A: "__ we all?" (ARENT); 42A: Stressed type (ITALIC); 44A: Blowup in a jam (ROADRAGE); 46A: Teen movie stereotype (NERD); 47A: Ensign's affirmative (AYESIR); 49A: Virgo's mo., maybe (SEP); 50A: Roulette bet (ODD); 51A: Bile (IRE); 52A: Twin Cities suburb (EDINA); 54A: D-Day beach (OMAHA); 56A: Defendants' spouses, sometimes (ALIBIS); 59A: Place for a paw? (LEGOFMUTT); 63A: Show jubilation (EXULT); 64A: All-inclusive (ATOZ); 65A: Actress Falco (EDIE); 66A: "On the contrary" (NOTSO); 67A: Ford, for example (WADE); 68A: Lo-cal (LITE); 69A: Readily accessible (ONTAP); 1D: It can be helpful in a pinch (SALT); 2D: Melville South Seas novel (OMOO); 3D: Plead with one's frontier buddy? (BEGYOURPARD); 4D: Project Gutenberg offering (EBOOK); 5D: Haile Selassie worshipers' movement (RASTAFARI); 6D: Monitor, for short (CRT); 7D: "I get it, but ..." (HAHA); 8D: First name in soul (ARETHA); 9D: Image (PERSONA); 10D: Shake alternative (SODA); 11D: Sphere (ORB); 12D: Permanent U.N. Security Council member (USA); 13D: Neighbor of ESP, in the Olympics (POR); 19D: Dark'ning time (EEN); 21D: On __ with (APAR); 24D: Goat with recurved horns (IBEX); 26D: Adorable, bottomwise? (CUTEASABUTT); 27D: Cower (CRINGE); 28D: Marching well (INSTEP); 29D: Strip tease? (CASINO); 30D: Took to the streets (RIOTED); 32D: Department bordering Savoie (ISERE); 33D: "Roseanne" star (BARR); 35D: Choose not to call (FOLD); 37D: Native of central Spain (MADRILENO); 40D: Increased (ROSE); 43D: Confection created by heating sugar (CARAMEL); 45D: Operatic princess (AIDA); 48D: Violinist Menuhin (YEHUDI); 51D: Global currency org. (IMF); 53D: Follower of Johnson, and a two-word hint to this crossword's theme (NIXON); 54D: Exhibit aplenty, as confidence (OOZE); 55D: Working hard (ATIT); 57D: The "she" in "Of all the gin joints ... she walks into mine" (ILSA); 58D: Discontinue (STOP); 59D: Mason's field (LAW); 60D: Letter from Athens (ETA); 61D: Mars, for one (GOD); 62D: Golf bag item (TEE).