THEME: No theme today—Just a themeless Saturday puzzle with an abundance of fresh fill, plus Scrabbly letters up the wazoo
Holy frijoles, did I ever like this puzzle. Here's what I like best in a themeless puzzle:
- Lots of long answers, especially in the 9- to 11-letter range and all stacked together like intellectual Oreos.
- Surprising phrases, titles, names, and words—things that are decidedly not a dime a dozen in crosswords.
- Uncommon letters, which I like to call "Scrabbly" because they earn a lot of points in Scrabble.
Before I give you the lowdown on the answers and clues that delighted me (and the smaller list of ones that left me clueless), let's edjumicate.
Crosswordese 101: AGEE is the last name of two famous men. There's today's guy, 41A: Tommie of the "Miracle Mets," and there's a writer named James AGEE. Usually the crossword skews more literary and the clue goes with James. Key facts that show up in his clues: He won a posthumous Pulitzer in 1958. He wrote the screenplays for The African Queen and The Night of the Hunter. He was a movie critic. And he wrote A Death in the Family, The Morning Watch, and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The AGEE fellows have a name that's 75% vowels, so their fame may live on forever in crosswords.
Favorite answers and clues: I'll pick and choose and leave out some of my favorites, because dangit, there are just too many today.
- 17A: Emmy-winning 1972 TV concert film (LIZA WITH A Z). Wow, this one took me a long time to piece together. I had L*Z*WIT*AZ and was mystified. Two Zs! Total pop culture—but pop culture that is likely familiar to people from a wide range of ages. Me, I have little interest in Liza Minnelli's oeuvre (showtunes and I do not get along), so I'm not going to watch this video.
- 28A: Brief turndown ('FRAID NOT). 100% colloquial spoken English, 100% familiar, less than 1% likely to appear in a crossword. My dad liked to tell the old joke about the piece of string who kept getting thrown out of a bar. He tied himself in a knot and roughed up his ends on the sidewalk and tried ordering a drink again. "Say, aren't you the piece of string I just threw out of here?" asked the bartender. "No, I'm a frayed knot," the string replied.
- 37A: Bismarck's realm (PRUSSIA). I think some of my ancestors came to America from what was then labeled Prussia on the map. I should start telling people I'm part Prussian.
- 44A: Military brass? (BUGLES). Usually "military brass" means the generals in charge; here it means the brass instruments used to play "Taps."
- 61A: Prescription that might give you shakes? (LIQUID DIET). As in the milkshakes, the protein shakes, etc.
- 64A: Head turner, at times (REIN). Usually "head turner" means "good-looking person," but here it refers to the REINs that turn a horse's head. Excellent mislead—the sort of misleading clue that's right at home in a Saturday crossword.
- 65A: 1988 winner of seven Olympic swimming medals (MATT BIONDI). I'm a sucker for first/last name combos as crossword fill. Poor Matt Biondi, eclipsed by Ian Thorpe and especially Michael Phelps. Speaking of full names, we also have LEW AYRES (5D: "Johnny Belinda" Oscar nominee).
- 6D: Where a pupil sits? (IRIS). I'll bet a lot of you wanted to put DESK here, didn't you? Saturday clues like to mess with our heads. Pupil = student, pupil = the black spot in your eye.
- 32D: You'll need one for your flat (SPARE TIRE). The clue wants you to think of English apartments and be misled.
- 34D: North American Francophone (QUEBECOIS). I like geographical names and I like the letter Q.
- 40D: Kipling's "limpin' lump o' brick-dust" (GUNGA DIN). I didn't know the colorful quote, but there aren't many Kipling characters' names that (a) I know and (b) are 8 letters long.
- 63D: Semi-colon? (DOT). A colon has two dots (:) so half a colon is one DOT.
Everything Else — 11A: Shelter protests (ARFS); 15A: Joy to the max (EXUBERANCE); 16A: Become distorted (WARP); 18A: Logical start? (IDEO-); 19A: Greet the visitors? (BOO); 20A: Comparison words (AS A); 21A: Washington summit (RAINIER); 23A: Vex (ANNOY); 25A: Palais du Louvre resident, once (ROI); 27A: Hybrid garment (SKORT); 32A: Film follower (SEQUEL); 35A: Site of semicircular canals (EAR); 36A: "__ No Sunshine": 1971 Bill Withers hit (AIN'T); 39A: Street corner feature (SIGNAGE); 42A: Logos, e.g.: Abbr. (TMS); 45A: Knock over (ROB); 46A: Olivier's "Rebecca" costar (FONTAINE); 48A: Filing material (EMERY); 50A: 2002 British Open champ (ELS); 51A: Comprehend (GRASP); 55A: Best Buy's Geek Squad, e.g. (TECHIES); 57A: New Deal dam-building org. (TVA); 59A: Battle of Chancellorsville victor, 1863 (LEE); 60A: "Am __ sensitive?" (I TOO); 66A: Celtic language (ERSE); 67A: Opportunity for a Hollywood hopeful (SCREEN TEST); 1D: Peach __ (MELBA); 3D: Manila's island (LUZON); 4D: Not yet filled: Abbr. (TBA); 7D: Saudi neighbor (QATARI); 8D: Granite State sch. (UNH); 9D: Ovoid wind instruments (OCARINAS); 10D: Exiled Shah Mohammed __ Pahlavi (REZA); 11D: Didn't sleep __ (A WINK); 12D: Car tuning aid (RADIO DIAL); 13D: Allowed to graze (FREE-RANGE); 14D: Durango and Sorento (SPORT UTES); 22D: Lobby add-on (-IST); 24D: Helpful (OF USE); 26D: Dedicated lines (ODE); 29D: Bush Supreme Court nominee (ALITO); 30D: Small antelope (ORIBI); 33D: Indoor rowing machine (ERGOMETER); 36D: Inflame (ANGER); 38D: One having an identity crisis? (AMNESIAC); 43D: Cardinal's insignia (STL); 46D: Memo opener (FYI); 47D: Perceptive (ASTUTE); 49D: Lake Geneva feeder (RHONE); 52D: Dress introduced by Dior (A-LINE); 53D: Navel orange's lack (SEEDS); 54D: Word before four or point (PETIT); 56D: Colonnade choices (ELMS); 58D: Vague feeling (VIBE); 62D: Super Bowl div. (QTR.).