[Note: This is the syndicated L.A. Times crossword puzzle. It doesn't actually appear in the L.A. Times newspaper. No, it doesn't completely make sense to me either, but there you are. You can download this puzzle from the cruciverb.com website by clicking on the link over on the sidebar.]
Theme: "Den of Thieves" — Theme answers are familiar phrases with the letters CON added at the beginning of one of its words creating new wacky phrases which are clued "?"-style.
- 23A: Builder's political clout? ([CON]TRACTOR PULL).
- 34A: Patronizing part of the digestive tract? ([CON]DESCENDING COLON).
- 47A: Lacking partners? (OUT OF [CON]SORTS).
- 60A: Oppose, while tippling? ([CON]FRONT LOADED).
- 68A: Lawyer in line for a title shot? (LEGAL [CON]TENDER).
- 86A: "Da" or "ja"? ([CON]SENT ABROAD).
- 93A: Angel on one's shoulder? (MASTER OF [CON]SCIENCE).
- 113A: Charge of the TV? ([CON]SOLE CUSTODY).
Crosswordese 101: If you're gonna do crossword puzzles, you're gonna have to know ERLE Stanley Gardner. Gardner was an attorney and prolific writer of detective stories. He is typically clued either broadly (like today's 54D: First name in legal fiction), or specifically in relation to his most famous creation, Perry Mason (and/or Mason's secretary, Della Street). He is also sometimes clued as a contemporary of Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, or Dashiell Hammett.
Smooth and steady solve for me today. Figuring out the theme pretty much immediately helped a lot. I liked all the theme answers although CONDESCENDING COLON is a little icky and MASTER OF CONSCIENCE requires a pronunciation change from the original phrase, so that's a little bump in the road. I'm sure I've said it before: In a puzzle this big, you're bound to find a few clunkers. I really think it just can't be helped. You really don't want to see ATE AT and NAGS AT in the same puzzle (74A: Bothered no end / 95D: Bothers incessantly). And you hate to see a pile-up of ROTA and YOST (117A: Personnel list / 121A: Baseball's "Walking Man" Eddie). And sure, INÉS Sastre (119A: Model Sastre) is pretty and everything but have any of you ever heard of her? Me neither. I also saw a couple plurals I didn't much like. OREGANOS?? (85D: Spaghetti sauce herbs) Well at least that's not as bad as BOOERS (67A: Jeer leaders). Oh I get it. Trying to be cute with the clue: cheerleader —> jeer leader. Okay, maybe. Maybe. But, like I said, I think we just have to accept a few clunkers in a puzzle this big. I mean, there was definitely some good stuff too.
Good stuff (or at least stuff worth talking about):
- 5A: "Hi and Lois" pooch (DAWG). You remember all the cartoon dogs you need to know, right? If not, you'll want to review this Crosswordese 101 lesson.
- 27A: Screen names, e.g. (USER IDS). Seems like every puzzle I pick up these days includes the word avatars, so that's where my brain went with this one even though it clearly doesn't make sense.
- 28A: Pointillism marks (DOTS). I had a huge fascination with pointillism in junior high. Not really sure what that was all about but I remember spending a Lot of time painting little tiny dots onto a piece of paper that eventually became a mediocre desert scene.
- 29A: Race that once began in Wasilla (IDITAROD). Or, as they now call it in Wasilla, the "I-quit-arod." Heh.
- 109A: Toasted breakfast brand (EGGO). Mmm ... waffles!
- 123A: "__ la vie" (C'EST). My friend Drew and I used to say "c'est la vache" (translation: "That's the cow").
- 3D: Cellulose fiber (ARNEL). This word comes up a couple times a year but it's not one I ever remember. I wish they'd clue it as "Singer Pineda who replaced Steven Perry of Journey."
- 4D: Like ugli fruit (CITRIC). Me: "Um ... ugly?"
- 5D: Pooped out (DEAD). To go with the colon theme answer. I know, sorry.
- 17D: Kent State locale (OHIO).
- 35D: 2008 L.A.-Phila. showdown (NLCS). National League Championship Series.
- 70D: Neuters (GELDS). I used to spend some time at the track on occasion, and it always struck me as a little harsh when they would be announcing the scratches, equipment changes, etc., and they would say "And the number four horse, whatever-his-name-was, is now a gelding."
- 86D: Winans of gospel (CECE). Never know if it's going to be BeBe or CeCe, so you put in the E's and check the crosses.
- 90D: Quite removed (from) (A FAR CRY). My favorite answer in the whole puzzle. Love it.
- 94D: "All politics is applesauce" speaker (ROGERS). Fred? Roy? No, Will. I kinda wish it was Fred. Does anyone know what this is supposed to mean?
- 99D: Type of dancer (EXOTIC). I believe this is another example of the type of clue we've been noticing and commenting on quite a bit recently. An exotic is not a type of dancer. An exotic dancer is a type of dancer. Just a little something for you to add to your list of pet peeves. (Did I get that right, Orange?)
- 106D: Lady __: Tenn. team (VOLS). Not a fan of the "Lady [Whatever]" sports teams. Do they call the men's team the Gentleman Vols? I didn't think so.