This puzzle might be smack dab in the middle of the Thursday difficulty level, or it might be a little tougher. It seemed Fridayish to me, but when you're doing the puzzle and blogging Wednesday night with a pinot grigio handicap, it's hard to express any degree of certainty.
THEME: "Take That—Somewhere"—Six theme entries are all clued as take + a preposition, with the prepositions paired logically (on/off, up/down, in/out). This is one of those flip-flop puzzles where the theme entries are the sorts of phrases we might expect to see in the clues in a typical puzzle.
- 18A: Take on (GO UP AGAINST).
- 23A: Takeoff (AIR DEPARTURE). Boring phrase, no? By the way, if you are wondering where PuzzleGirl is, she had an AIR DEPARTURE from D.C. to Houston to Costa Rica, so I'm filling in today. She'll be back Sunday, blogging from Central America.
- 32A: Take up (BEGIN LEARNING). See what I mean? BEGIN LEARNING is not the sort of phrase that normally passes muster as a crossword entry, because it could be "begin anything." That's why I called it a flip-flop theme.
- 41A: Takedown (WRESTLING MOVE). Oh, man, PuzzleGirl is a huge Iowa wrestling fan. If you would be bored by a wrestling video, you're in luck! I have zero interest in wrestling.
- 48A: Take in (PUT ONE OVER ON). Solid entry, with or without a flip-flop theme. I hope you haven't been taken in lately—certainly not by this clue, which could also have to do with the sort of "taking in" that a tailor does.
- 57A: Takeout (HOT FOOD TO GO). Meh. Your takeout order might be a salad or a bowl of gazpacho. Also? "Hot food to go" is not remotely an in-the-language phrase in and of itself.
Crosswordese 101: Dang, PuzzleGirl already covered ETON, so that leaves APSE as the obvious choice. Today's clue is 12D: It adjoins the altar. The key words to look out for are church/cathedral/basilica recess/area/section, or possible the nave neighbor. The NAVE is the other church section that gets a lot of play in crosswords.
...And now I'm thinking about Planet of the Apse.
Atypical grumbling: Dan Naddor's one of the most talented crossword constructors working in the L.A. Times today. It's challenging to squeeze six theme entries (occupying a whopping 72 squares) into a daily-sized crossword. But there are often compromises when a puzzle includes so much thematic material.
3D: Peel out (BURN RUBBER) is awesome—both the answer and its clue are delightfully fresh and slangy language—but there are more than the usual amount of clunkers in a Naddor puzzle:
- Awkward abbreviations! ALC. is clued as 44A: DUI's excess, and it's simply not an abbreviation we encounter often. RAL., short for Raleigh, is 26D: N.C.'s capital, but I've never seen this abbreviation before.
- Obscure words! PRILL is 24D: Dry residue from molten liquid, and I honestly don't think this counts as crosswordese because I don't recall seeing it in crosswords (or anywhere else) before. ARMCO is clued as 35D: AK Steel Holding Corp., formerly. This, too, is madly unfamiliar to me, and I've been doing crosswords for three decades.
- Authorial initials! We have a smattering of writers' initials that show up periodically in the puzzle. RLS is Robert Louis Stevenson, TSE is T.S. Eliot, GBS is George Bernard Shaw, EAP is Edgar Allan Poe. But RWE, or Ralph Waldo Emerson, is not among the usual suspects. He's clue with 38D: "Nature" author's monogram.
- Weird prefix! PETR- is clued as 13D: Rock: Pref. My dictionary gives
as an abbreviation for petrology and petro- as the combining form for rocks.
- Foreign words! If not for these other pesky entries, a couple foreign words would pose no trouble on a Thursday—but with 'em, they further complicate matters for some solvers. DER is German for the male version of "the" and it completes the title in 17A: Strauss's "__ Rosenkavalier". Crossing the border to France, we have SEL, 67A: Cannes condiment, or "salt."
- A multi-word partial! Honestly, such answers don't bother me as long as they're few and far between, but the most elegant crosswords won't have any of these so-called partials, which do look goofy in the grid. IT GO fills in the blank in 45A: "Make __ Away": Sheryl Crow song. My husband has a Sheryl Crow CD or two, but even he has not heard of this song.
Here are a few more clues and answers:
- 62A: Union founded by Samuel Gompers, for short (A.F. OF L.). That's an unusual crossword answer. We see AFL and we see CIO, but hardly ever does the AF OF L pop up.
- 64A: Kenan's TV pal (KEL). This is outdated Nickelodeoniana from before my son was old enough to watch Nickelodeon. As I recall from my sister, Kenan and Kel were teenage boys working at a place called Goodburger. Or else that was an entirely unrelated movie they were in. Kenan Thompson, I believe, is the one who went on to become a Saturday Night Live cast member.
- 1D: Unfair judgment, slangily (BAD RAP). I put in BAD RAP. Then I changed it to BUM RAP. Then I changed it back to BAD RAP. I kinda wish it were BUM RAP instead.
- 19D: Bearded grazer (GNU). Pretty much any time you need a three-letter bearded animal, you want the GNU...
- ...which is not to be confused with a bearded human. 46D: Colonel Sanders trademark (GOATEE)? That's altogether different, even if Colonel Sanders and the average GNU did go to the same barber.
Everything Else — 1A: Spill catcher (BIB); 4A: Cornered (AT BAY); 9A: A pump lacks one (STRAP); 14A: Sun Devils' sch. (ASU); 15A: Cry of innocence (NOT ME); 16A: Hogwash (TRIPE); 20A: __ artery, which supplies the kidneys (RENAL); 22A: Tee-hee (SNICKER); 27A: Expectoration sound (PTUI); 28A: River inlet (RIA); 29A: Bando of the 1960s-'70s Athletics (SAL); 38A: Like some auto engines (REBUILT); 40A: Daughter of King Minos (ARIADNE); 43A: Place for a stud (EAR); 53A: Big name in art glass (STEUBEN); 56A: Sci-fi writer Asimov (ISAAC); 61A: Windy City transportation gp. (CTA); 62A: Union founded by Samuel Gompers, for short (A.F. OF L.); 63A: Y, sometimes (VOWEL); 65A: Kirsten of "Spider-Man" (DUNST); 66A: Land formation named for its usual shape (DELTA); 1D: Unfair judgment, slangily (BAD RAP); 2D: "Thar she blows!" ("I SEE IT!"); 4D: Perspective (ANGLE); 5D: Overly (TOO); 6D: HVAC measure (BTU); 7D: Band aid? (AMP); 8D: Brewer's ingredient (YEAST); 9D: Flight segment (STAIR); 10D: Very short time (TRICE); 11D: Lemieux's milieu (RINK); 21D: Parting words (ADIEUS); 25D: "__ a stinker?": Bugs Bunny line (AIN'T I); 29D: Gets off the point (SIDE TRACKS); 30D: First name in advice (ANN); 31D: Bigger than med. (LGE.); 33D: "Skedaddle!" ("GIT!"); 34D: Birdie beater (EAGLE); 36D: __ Grande (RIO); 37D: Marine combatants (NAVIES); 39D: Diamond stat (ERA); 42D: Indian bread (NAN); 47D: Prepared to be summoned (ON CALL); 48D: Light, filled pastries (PUFFS); 49D: Letter-shaped fastener (U-BOLT); 50D: Fabi of racing (TEO); 51D: Available from Netflix, say (ON DVD); 52D: String quartet member (VIOLA); 53D: River herring (SHAD); 54D: Vegan staple (TOFU); 55D: Orwell's alma mater (ETON); 58D: Water tester (TOE); 59D: Barn bird (OWL); 60D: Comprehend (GET).