THEME: No theme today—Just a themeless Saturday puzzle with some cool fill
This puzzle's got three real people's full names—all people whose first or last names pop up singly fairly often in crosswords, but John's classed up the joint by given these folks the full name treatment. There's 17A: "Night" writer (ELIE WIESEL), whose last name is usually consigned to the clues because that delicious 75%-vowels first name is so popular in crosswords. Then we have 14D: 1922 physics Nobelist (NIELS BOHR), who also has a grid-friendly first name. And rounding out the trio is 10D: "Naughty Marietta" costar (1935) (NELSON EDDY). I've never heard of Naughty Marietta, but Marietta is my brother-in-law's mom's name so I'll bet she knows of it. Poor thing. Nelson is not my favorite Eddy, though:
More highlights below—but first, Crosswordese 101! I couldn't be more excited to have a hardcore old-school crosswordese prefix to tell you about.
Crosswordese 101: OENO- is a prefix referring to wine, and it's given a good clue here: 36A: Cellar prefix. If you're anything like me, your eye filled in a couple more letters and had you thinking it said "cellular prefix." OENO is pronounced like Brian Eno, and the most common clue key words you'll encounter include vintner's, sommelier's, Napa, or wine lover's prefix.
Favorite answers and clues: School's out. Now, back to the party.
This is the sort of themeless grid pattern I prefer—all four corners having 9-, 10-, or 11-letter answers stacked together. The total word count, 72, is the maximum allowed for a themeless puzzle, but that doesn't mean we should disdain it as "just barely making the grade." On the contrary—a 72-worder is typically easier for the constructor to fill than a puzzle with a lower word count is, so there's more wiggle room to play around with the fill. The result, if you're lucky, is a puzzle that's so fresh, it may need to be slapped. This one's not off the charts with its freshness, but it's definitely got fun packed into it. Here's the stuff that pleased me:
- 15A: Comic strip guy with an eye patch (BAZOOKA JOE). One Z, one K, one J? Super-Scrabbly phrase. Evocations of childhood bubblegum? Oh, yes. The sort of thing that we see in lots of crosswords? I wish.
- 32A: Marked by obscenities, say (RATED R). The multi-part answers in which one part is a single letter are tricky. Saturday + tricky = recipe for happiness (or extreme frustration, depending on your mood).
- 37A: "Don't change a thing!" ("I LOVE IT!"). Zippy spoken phrase, makes me think of those TV commercials they had promoting, if memory serves, L.A. tourism. All the people shouting "I love it!" or "We love it!"—remember those?
- 39A: "Composer" of "Fanfare for the Common Cold" (P.D.Q. BACH). Can't say I've ever had any interest in P.D.Q. Bach, but that is an awesome name to drop in a crossword, and the composition's title is funny.
- 56A: "Anna and the King" actress Ling (BAI). I haven't actually seen any of Bai Ling's work, but her insane fashion choices as documented by Go Fug Yourself amuse me. Yes, those are message bandaids on her shins. They read "The Hit Song" and "China Girl." She's done the message bandaids more than once.
- 60A: Battle fatigue? (RUN ON EMPTY). I kept reading the clue as a noun phrase, but it's the verb phrase. If you're battling fatigue, you're running on empty.
- 65A: Sign of possession (APOSTROPHE). Aaah! Love that clue. I was thinking of demonic possession, not grammatical.
- 12D: Fast-food combo order (VALUE MEAL). In these recessionary times, everyone loves the VALUE MEAL.
- 27D: Have a problem ordering sirloin steak? (LISP). That's a thirloin thteak, then.
- 51D: Longstocking of kids' books (PIPPI). I loved the Pippi books and movies when I was a kid. Here's the beginning of the 1973 movie:
Everything Else — 1A: Tightens the screws (CLAMPS DOWN); 11A: One of the Karamazovs (IVAN); 16A: Indonesian island (BALI); 18A: Fashion issue (ELLE); 19A: Awesome (RAD); 20A: Uncle of Prince Wm. (EDW.); 21A: Kind of identity (SEXUAL); 23A: Curse (SWEAR); 25A: Acrylic from DuPont (ORLON); 28A: Visitors from afar? (ETS); 29A: Breathing heavily, perhaps (LABORING); 31A: __ rule (MOB); 35A: Mariner's dir. (SSE); 41A: Slalom feature (GATE); 42A: 49-Across product (TEA); 44A: Pistol-packing pacer (DUELER); 45A: U.K. honor (OBE); 46A: Suspicious looks (FISHEYES); 48A: Skip (LAM); 49A: State in northeast India (ASSAM); 50A: Fix, as a reed instrument (REPAD); 54A: Sci-fi psychic (EMPATH); 56A: "Anna and the King" actress Ling (BAI); 58A: Workers' rights gp. since 1919 (ILO); 59A: Mexican kin (TIOS); 64A: Rumors (TALK); 66A: Singles (ONES); 67A: Cats' get-together (JAM SESSION); 1D: Some radio users (CBERS); 2D: TV drama whose title appeared on a California license plate (L.A. LAW); 3D: Sodium __: salt used in airbag systems (AZIDE); 4D: Stooge with bangs (MOE); 5D: Coca-Cola quencher (POWERADE); 6D: Icy road risk (SKID); 7D: Korean automaker bought by GM (DAEWOO); 8D: IHOP orders (OJS); 9D: Trouble (WOE); 11D: Alpine goat (IBEX); 13D: Just like that (ALL AT ONCE); 22D: College dept. (ENG.); 24D: Naproxen brand (ALEVE); 26D: Santa Fe et al.: Abbr. (RRS); 30D: Former dominion that included India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (BRITISH RAJ); 32D: Verdi classic (RIGOLETTO); 33D: Hank Aaron, by birth (ALABAMIAN); 34D: Family tree? (TOTEM POLE); 36D: Large and then some (OBESE); 38D: Mystery novelist Gerritsen (TESS); 40D: They want to know (QUERIERS); 43D: Solution reaction (AHA); 46D: Budgetary excess (FAT); 47D: Adorn in relief (EMBOSS); 52D: Notwithstanding that, informally (ALTHO); 53D: Elder statesman (DOYEN); 55D: Names, as a price (ASKS); 57D: Chamber opening? (ANTE-); 61D: Put __ fight (UP A); 62D: Pierre, e.g. (NOM); 63D: Perps' patterns (MOS).