THEME: The Saturday puzzle is themeless—the game is decoding tougher clues and figuring out a slew of longer words and phrases.
For me, this puzzle was about 25% harder than the last two Saturday crosswords. I made a couple wrong turns, but mostly it wsa a matter of the clues not announcing their answers to me. For 45D: __ bloc (SOVIET), I started out with VOTING but eventually corrected course thanks to the V in DAVE ( 54A: Rocker Matthews). I went with NARROW TARGET for 6D: Horse's nose, say (NARROW MARGIN). Uh, a horse wins by a nose, Orange. People don't shoot arrows at horse's noses. And for 29D: Greenfly, for one (APHID), I had NAIAD. Mayfly larvae are called naiads, and I've never heard APHIDs called greenflies. I think of them as those little green jobbers, but not as greenflies. Luckily, the crossings for these answers unraveled everything for me.
Crosswordese 101: Under the rubric of "crosswordese," we include the names of people who get mentioned in crosswords much more than in everything else we read and hear. Rex talked about the old-time actresses whose names help crossword constructors to fill a section of the grid, but whose days of fame ran out long ago—except in crosswords. 22A: Three-time all-star reliever Robb (NEN) is in this category for me. Wikipedia tells me his career peaked in his years ('98-'02) with the San Francisco Giants but when he played for the Florida Marlins in '97, they won the World Series. If you're not a baseball fan or San Franciscan, do you know who this guy is? All I know is: He's the most famous person named NEN and he spells Robb with the unusual double B.
Now, who's ready for some more clues and answers? I like the pairing of ASTRONOMY and AGRONOMIC—the tricky clue 1A: Stardom? for the first and the strictly factual 56A: Like farming for the other. Two guys named BOBBY and ALBERT meet in the middle of the grid, with 33A: 9/15/63 site of the only concert including both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (ROYAL ALBERT HALL) and 8D: Whom "feeling good was good enough for," in a 1971 #1 song (ME AND BOBBY MCGEE). Was Bobby McGee a country boy? Because 15A: Hicksville is a RURAL AREA, where you might find a GENERAL STORE. The clue for that is 21D: Rural retailer, and generally crossword makers try to avoid repeating a clue word (other than, say, "it" or "on" or "the") in an answer. Here's Janis Joplin singing her hit:
Moving along to the bullets:
- 16A: "I speak for the trees" speaker (LORAX). Classic Dr. Seuss but not a part of my childhood. It came out when I was 5, so maybe I'd moved on from reading Dr. Seuss by that age. I often don't know the answer when the clue is hinting at LORAX.
- 23A: One spooning (FONDLER). Eww. Spooning is lovely cuddling, but to me "fondle" doesn't have connotations of mutually accepted touching. Do you and your honey fondle each other, or do you find the word too creepy to apply to your own affections?
- 26A: Plant anew (RESOW). Actually, I initially had a wrong answer here, too. I had REPOT. You know why? Because you can pull out a plant and "plant it anew" in a different pot. Sowing is planting seeds, so to RESOW means...to take that seed and plant it again? Who's crouching down and planting individual seeds a second time? "Come here, you little nubbin! Get back in the dirt where I put you before." This one really doesn't make sense to me.
- 42A: Lively (GAY). Yes, tomorrow's Pride Parade in Chicago will indeed be lively.
- 58A: Earth (TERRA) crosses 52D: Trillion: Pref. (TERA-).
- 14D: Questions to those who are leaving (EXIT POLL). I was thinking the clue was about party guests, and it probably would be a good idea to do an EXIT POLL to find out if you need to hone your party-hosting skills.
- 27D: Whiz (SHARK). Nobody ever calls me a crossword shark. How can I cultivate that?
- 33D: Have a moving experience? (RELOCATE). Am I the only one who read this clue as being about bowel movements?