THEME: "NO WAY!" (51D: "Forget it!" (and a clue to this puzzle's theme)) — familiar phrases have the letter string "WAY" removed, creating wacky phrases, which are then clued "?"-style.
Dan Naddor has to be the most prolific constructor at work right now (besides Brendan Emmett Quigley, I mean — no one can touch three quality puzzles a week, as far as I know). Lately he seems to be going in for grids that are choked with theme answers, several pairs of which are at least partially overlapping. That is to say his grids are ambitious, perhaps increasingly so. This is a good thing, and bodes well or my (and your) puzzle-solving future. The danger with ambitious grids is that the non-theme fill will suffer. How much are you willing to sacrifice in the non-theme fill in order to pull your Grand Idea off? That's a crucial question, and people can have wildly different opinions on the matter. I tend to have more tolerance for crap fill if the theme is great, but even a great theme can only bear so much. I say this today because I think what we have here is largely a success, which means I can point out the blotches more as curiosities and objects of consideration — i.e. I can ask of some of the iffiest non-theme answers, How Bad Are They? And How Bad is Too Bad?
My BAD list is only three entries long, but they're pretty bad. Bad/few. Yin/yang. Debt/asset. This is all to say that I think DN was able to pull the whole thing off by knowing *just* when to say when, marginal fill-wise. Here's my BAD list, in ascending order of jarringness.
- TNS (50A: Hamlets: Abbr.) — rotten. Seven entries in the cruciverb.com database, but the NYT and New York Sun (i.e. best of the best) have never touched it, and in every other instance TNS was clued as an abbrev. of TONS (not much better). One old Washington Post puzzle has it clued [RR runners], and I don't even know what that means. I was able to "fix" this corner, but the fix wasn't exactly light years better.
- NROTC (42A: Midshipman's prog., perhaps) — inferrable, from the more common ROTC, but still junky. This time, only two examples in the cruciverb database, and again, no NYT or NY Sun. An absolute hail mary. I can tell you that the examples in the database are not from the best or most seasoned constructors, either (same with TNS).
- ARIUM (28D: Planet ending) — Ugh. Two examples in database, neither from NYT or NY Sun. To this answer's credit, Merl Reagle used it once (with this exact clue). But He Is Merl Reagle. He's doing all kinds of acrobatic @#$# in his puzzles all the time, so I can cut him a little slack. This non-word just hurts. Like being hit upside the PATE (27A: Toast topping).
While none of the theme answers really sizzle, they're solid, and there are SEVEN of them, plus the theme revealer ("NO WAY"), so bravo. End result is more than acceptable. But a truly Great puzzle would have only one, at most, of the above three BAD answers in it. This is why Greatness is @#$#ing hard to achieve. DN has occasionally been great in the past (award-winning, in fact), and clearly has more greatness in his future.
- 19A: Alleviate a tie-up? (FREE TRAFFIC)
- 21A: Partly built residence, perhaps? (HALF HOUSE)
- 29A: Periscope lens kept as a souvenir? (SUB TOKEN)
- 38A: Euphoria at Pebble Beach? (PACIFIC COAST HIGH)
- 44A: Embodiment of a footrace? (RUN MODEL)
- 57A: Play on a wide stage? (BROAD SHOW)
- 59A: Shot at a DC bar? (CAPITAL BELT)
Clues could have been *way* more interesting for both PACIFIC COAST HIGH and BROAD SHOW.
Oh, and as you can tell if you look at the grid closely, I had an error. MOLTI / ASTIN instead of MOLTO / ASTON. As MOLTI and ASTIN are both perfectly good words (for other clues), I had no chance there. Dead in the water.
Crosswordese 101: ZASU Pitts (34D: Silents star Pitts) — OMG ZASU is a woman. I swear to you that, despite writing her name in my puzzle many times over the years, I never bothered to remember (or even find out) that she was a she. Wow. Eliza Susan = eliZA SUsan = ZaSu. That's a name derivation to make any crossword lover's heart flutter. Wikipedia entry makes her sound heroic: "She overcame her unglamorous looks and wallflower tendencies by using them to craft her stage and screen persona in scores of comedies." ZASU is the ESAI of the 20th century (whereas ESAU is the ESAI of Biblical times) (41A: Son of Rebekah).
- 26A: Church-owned Lone Star State inst. (SMU) — Southern Methodist University. Got this off the "M" — the good thing about SAMBAS, MAMBOS, and RUMBAS (all of which I tried at 20D: Latin ballroom dances) is that they all have that "M" in the same damned place.
- 1A: Mine tram bit (lump) — hmmm. I had LODE, which I guess is considerable more than a LUMP.
- 5A: Univ. sites (bldgs.) — deathly boring / hazy cluing.
- 35A: Seat of Dallas County, Alabama (Selma) — my eye completely missed the "Alabama" part of this clue.
- 61A: Davenport site (Iowa) — the word "davenport" is endlessly hilarious to me, for highly personal reasons I couldn't begin to describe. To get a hint of why the word slays me, go here and click on the speaker icon next to the sample sentence under "Word Tutor." Something about the robot intonation ... and the mysterious "two poodles" ... made "davenport" legendary for me. I completely forgot it was also a town in Iowa.
- 62A: Argumentative retort ("are so") — I wish constructors would take a pledge to keep all playground retorts out of their puzzles. Hate 'em.
- 4D: Plum, e.g., Abbr. (Prof.) — yeah, that's a great clue.
- 13D: "Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist" essayist (Elia) — "essayist" in four letters = ELIA (pen name of Charles Lamb and Crosswordese 101 fodder).
See you Monday.
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]
Everything Else — 1A: Mine tram bit (LUMP); 5A: Univ. sites (BLDGS.); 10A: Foul line indicators (POLES); 15A: Beam of support (I-BAR); 16A: Baseball Hall of Famer Combs (EARLE); 17A: Submit taxes on an impulse? (E-FILE); 18A: "__ the mornin'!" (TOP O'); 19A: Alleviate a tie-up? (FREE TRAFFIC); 21A: Partly built residence, perhaps? (HALF HOUSE); 23A: Throw from the saddle (UNSEAT); 24A: Quebec's Festival d'__ (ETE); 25A: Ticks off (IRES); 26A: Church-owned Lone Star State inst. (SMU); 27A: Toast topping (PATE); 29A: Periscope lens kept as a souvenir? (SUB TOKEN); 34A: Goose egg (ZERO); 35A: Seat of Dallas County, Alabama (SELMA); 37A: Old dagger (SNEE); 38A: Euphoria at Pebble Beach? (PACIFIC COAST HIGH); 41A: Son of Rebekah (ESAU); 42A: Midshipman's prog., perhaps (NROTC); 43A: Asks to be excused, with "off" (BEGS); 44A: Embodiment of a footrace? (RUN MODEL); 46A: Noted pairs guardian (NOAH); 47A: Nietzsche's "never" (NIE); 48A: Feds (G-MEN); 50A: Hamlets: Abbr. (TNS.); 53A: Little guy (SHAVER); 57A: Play on a wide stage? (BROAD SHOW); 59A: Shot at a D.C. bar? (CAPITAL BELT); 61A: Davenport site (IOWA); 62A: Argumentative retort (ARE SO); 63A: Thrill (ELATE); 64A: Reddish brown (ROAN); 65A: Odessa native (TEXAN); 66A: __ Martin (ASTON); 67A: "Grand" brand of ice cream (EDY'S); 1D: Athletic (LITHE); 2D: Destroyer destroyer (U-BOAT); 3D: Sweet, nutty pie (MAPLE PECAN); 4D: Plum, e.g.: Abbr. (PROF.); 5D: "__ I forget ..." (BEFORE); 6D: "Law of the Lash" star (LARUE); 7D: Slip cover? (DRESS); 8D: Mirth (GLEE); 9D: Spike preceder, in volleyball (SET); 10D: Oil source (PEANUT); 11D: Whacks (OFFS); 12D: Long sentence (LIFE); 13D: "Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist" essayist (ELIA); 14D: Cainites, e.g. (SECT); 20D: Latin ballroom dances (RUMBAS); 22D: "__ the Week": 1930s record label (HIT OF); 26D: Rash source, maybe (SUMAC); 28D: Planet ending (ARIUM); 29D: Bandit one hopes to take money from? (SLOT); 30D: Irish-born actor Milo (O'SHEA); 31D: Honor for Connery (KNIGHTHOOD); 32D: Lines of thought? (EEGS); 33D: O.T. book (NEH.); 34D: Silents star Pitts (ZASU); 35D: Mountainside debris (SCREE); 36D: Sierra Club concern: Abbr. (ECOL.); 38D: According to (PER); 39D: Jawaharlal's daughter (INDIRA); 40D: Govt. obligation (T-BOND); 45D: Common pickup capacity (ONE TON); 46D: Pick up (NEATEN); 48D: Terrific (GREAT); 49D: Musical tempo modifier (MOLTO); 51D: "Forget it!" (and a clue to this puzzle's theme) ("NO WAY!"); 52D: Some trumpeters (SWANS); 53D: "Beat it!" ("SCAT!"); 54D: Fictional braggart (HARE); 55D: Top spot (APEX); 56D: It's usually taken in stores (VISA); 57D: OPEC units (BBLS); 58D: Term of royal respect (SIRE); 60D: Bucolic setting (LEA).