THEME: "From I TO (20A: First woman to land a triple axel in competition) U" - "I" is changed to "U" in familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style
Sometimes you don't have to have a complicated theme. Sometimes change-a-letter works just fine. And today's puzzle was that - just fine. The difficulty level appears to be staying low in these late-week puzzles. Or, I should say, comparatively low (takes me 2 to 3 times longer to do a NYT late-week puzzle, for instance). There were lots of gimmes lurking around the grid, just waiting to give you the toe-hold you need to climb this thing. The first thing I PUT in the grid was "I PUT" (2D: "_____ a Spell on You": 1957 Screamin' Jay Hawkins song) - I know that song from Nina Simone's version, which is great in its own right.
"I PUT" gave me ITO, but I still had to wrestle with the NW a bit, in part because SOG (4D: Soak, in British dialect) just wasn't on my radar. Once I turned MIASMA (?) to FIASCO (1A: Debacle), then the ball got rolling and never really stopped thereafter.
- 17A: Flared garb for Tarzan? (JUNGLE BELLS)
- 24A: Manage to provide morning refreshment? (MUSTER COFFEE) - I will do this soon...
- 37A: Scarf makers? (BOA CONSTRUCTORS)
- 46A: Wrinkle on a dessert topper? (CHERRY PUCKER) - this one grosses me out for reasons I can't / won't even go into
- 57A: Wolves full of themselves? (BLUSTER PACK)
Crosswordese 101 - a Cluing Special: "flower" - there were many candidates for Crosswordese 101 word of the day today (OPAH, SOIE, OPART, ORC, AWN, and YMA are all notable repeaters), but the clue for ARNO has a bit of old school trickery in it that I thought worthy of mention. Specifically - the use of "flower" to mean "that which flows," i.e. a river. This trick of using a word that looks like one thing but means another (you can do it with TOWER, LOWER, etc. . . . NYT once had an entire puzzle theme based on this kind of misdirection), and the "flower" trick in particular, is old as the hills and yet still remarkably effective, especially at tripping up novice solvers. You're just lucky you got the "?" in the clue today, to let you know something tricky was going on. There's no reason Rich should have given that to you, as [Florentine flower] is actually pretty damned literal. The ARNO flows through Florence.
My favorite part of this puzzle, by far, was the NE - the tower created by "MY LEFT FOOT" (11D: 1989 Daniel Day-Lewis film) and IMPRESARIOS (12D: One putting on a show) is really majestic. I learned the word IMPRESARIO from a Paul McCartney song of the 1980s: "Take It Away"
I knew OPAH was a fish (and a candidate for Crosswordese 101 in its own right), but I had no idea it was a 7A: Fish used in sashimi, so I flailed a tiny bit up there in the N. But otherwise, I solved without much struggle.
Stuff I knew instantly - always start with what you know and build off of it for as long as you can:
- YMA (16A: Sumac from South America)
- FAY (35A: Actress Wray)
- BATOR (45A: Ulan _____)
- LAYLA (51A: Clapton hit that won the 1992 Best Rock Song Grammy) - a far inferior version compared with the original from many years earlier
- "I PUT"
- ABBA (26D: "Dancing Queen" group)
- ARE (34D: "You _____ here")
- ACNE (54D: Teen breakout?)
- ERL (44D: Goethe's "The _____ -King")
- IF A (23D: "_____ tree falls")
That's a lot of stuff to have just handed to you on a Friday. Lots to build off of. And I'm not even including the answers I had that I was *almost* certain of (e.g. MIT, LPS, etc.) but wrote in only after crosses confirmed them. I'd love to hear where difficulty lay for everyone. A tough cross? A completely blank patch? Let me know.
See you Monday (or, possibly, later today, in Comments section),
Everything Else — 1A: Debacle (FIASCO); 7A: Fish used in sashimi (OPAH); 11A: "Good Will Hunting" setting, briefly (MIT); 14A: Racket (UPROAR); 15A: Denpasar is its capital (BALI); 16A: Sumac from South America (YMA); 17A: Flared garb for Tarzan? (JUNGLE BELLS); 19A: Old platters (LPS); 20A: First woman to land a triple axel in competition (ITO); 21A: Crumb (LOUSE); 22A: Levels (TIERS); 24A: Manage to provide morning refreshment? (MUSTER COFFEE); 26A: Orbital point (APSIS); 29A: Keisters (PRATS); 30A: Alphabetical orders? (BLTS); 31A: Mogadishu native (SOMALI); 35A: Actress Wray (FAY); 37A: Scarf makers? (BOA CONSTRUCTORS); 40A: Wheat beard (AWN); 41A: Short stops (PAUSES); 42A: Silk, in St.-…tienne (SOIE); 43A: Finely contoured (SLEEK); 45A: Ulan __ (BATOR); 46A: Wrinkle on a dessert topper? (CHERRY PUCKER); 51A: Clapton hit that won the 1992 Best Rock Song Grammy (LAYLA); 52A: Off-the-wall piece on the wall? (OP ART); 53A: Humanities degs. (BAS); 56A: Tolkien creature (ORC); 57A: Wolves full of themselves? (BLUSTER PACK); 60A: Modern, in Mannheim (NEU); 61A: Tales and such (LORE); 62A: Yacht spot (MARINA); 63A: Sixth of five? (ESP); 64A: Odessa-to-Waco direction (EAST); 65A: Lacing aid (EYELET); 1D: Big film maker (FUJI); 2D: "__ a Spell on You": 1957 Screamin' Jay Hawkins song (I PUT); 3D: Florentine flower? (ARNO); 4D: Soak, in British dialect (SOG); 5D: "We want to hear from you" (CALLUS); 6D: Ingredients in a McFlurry, perhaps (OREOS); 7D: Very heavy (OBESE); 8D: Not so bright (PALER); 9D: Every (ALL); 10D: Memorable (HISTORIC); 11D: 1989 Daniel Day-Lewis film (MY LEFT FOOT); 12D: One putting on a show (IMPRESARIO); 13D: Café cup (TASSE); 18D: "Despite what I just said ..." (BUT); 23D: "__ tree falls ..." (IF A); 24D: Odds and ends: Abbr. (MISC.); 25D: Not quite a B (C-PLUS); 26D: "Dancing Queen" group (ABBA); 27D: Cutting-edge farm parts (PLOWSHARES); 28D: It's hoisted on ice annually (STANLEY CUP); 31D: Serpentine (SNAKY); 32D: Home of the NCAA's Buckeyes (OSU); 33D: Whitney et al.: Abbr. (MTS); 34D: "You __ here" (ARE); 36D: River to the North Sea (YSER); 38D: In working order (OPERABLE); 39D: 1917 abdicator (TSAR); 44D: Goethe's "The __-King" (ERL); 45D: Sell out (BETRAY); 46D: Knockoff (CLONE); 47D: Falls heavily (POURS); 48D: Discomfit (UPSET); 49D: Ailurophobe's dread (CAT); 50D: Last word in doughnuts (KREME); 53D: Rescue, with "out" (BAIL); 54D: Teen breakout? (ACNE); 55D: Game with no card lower than seven (SKAT); 58D: Mauna __ (LOA); 59D: Ante- (PRE-).