THEME: No theme today—Just a themeless Saturday puzzle framed with a slew of seven-letter answers
Have we talked about pangrams here before? The dictionary will tell you that a pangram is a sentence or verse that contains every letter of the alphabet—"The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog," for example. The crossword community also applies the word to a puzzle that contains all 26 letters, like today's crossword by Barry Silk. Barry has a habit of including a lot of what I call "Scrabbly" letters, so when you see his byline, it's usually a good idea to suspect that he'll include words containing Q, X, Z, J, and K. Today, he worked two Qs, two Zs, and two Ks into the mix.
I dunno about this puzzle. Usually I enjoy Barry's puzzles quite a bit, but this one didn't do it for me. Maybe I'm just tired. Or maybe it's that crosswords with this sort of grid—tons of seven-letter answers but not much in the Really Cool Long Answers department—seldom delight me. When Saturday rolls around, dang it, I want Really Cool Long Answers.
Crosswordese 101: ESTE has the most solid crosswordese credentials of any word in this puzzle. 23A: Ferrara ruling family is today's clue. The most common clues for ESTE include Villa d'___ as a fill-in-the-blank, Renaissance family name, Italian noble surname, and city near Padua. You could read all about the House of Este at Wikipedia, but the article's packed with all sorts of information that...will never show up in a clue. I'm not curious enough about this topic to read further. The Villa looks pretty, though.
Here's the lowdown on some tough or interesting answers and clues:
- 22A: ConAgra spray (PAM). Eww. Makes it sound like a pesticide rather than a cooking spray, doesn't it? I'll stick with butter and olive oil, thanks. (And I'll pass on the OLIVE PIT, or 33D: Salad leftover.)
- 27A: They usually lose at war (TREYS). Treys are playing cards, the three of diamonds/spades/hearts/clubs.
- 29A: Low-fat breakfast brand (SPECIAL K). Terrific crossword entry...but as stomach entries go, I prefer Frosted Flakes.
- 44A: "Saga of the Greenlanders" hero (LEIF). Who doesn't like Vikings? Not those subjected to Viking pillaging, I suppose. Anyone in their 40s now thinks of just one thing when they see the name LEIF:
If he was "made for dancing," why is this dancing so uninspired and...wan? The 10- to 12-year-old boys at my son's day camp last-day talent show yesterday, they were workin' it. You might think boys that age would be shy about dancing in public, but they each took a turn to showboat. They were much better than the girls were.
- 50A: Name from a Hebrew word for "God is with us" (EMANUEL). What? A name meaning clue when Rahm EMANUEL is currently so well-known?
- 52A: Of more interest to a nitpicker (PETTIER). It's awkward to clue those -ER and -EST comparative words. Coincidentally, potential mistakes in crossword clues are of great interest to nitpickers.
- 55A: Brobdingnagian (IMMENSE). IMMENSE is a less-than-thrilling word, but Brobdingnagian? Love it! It's from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Brobdingnag, one of the many fictional lands Swift concocted, is where giants live. Lilliput is home to the wee Lilliputians. The Houyhnhnms are horses, superior to humans, a.k.a. Yahoos.
- 56A: Some small suits (SPEEDOS). Ah, swimsuits. Business suits, playing card suits, executives, lawsuits—all other kinds of "suits" I thought about here.
- 7D: Bookstore section (SELF-HELP). Hey! I wrote one of those books. But they put it in the puzzles and games section and not over in self-help. (Gratuitous self-plug. Ain't I a stinker?)
- 21D: Northernmost national capital (REYKJAVIK). Ah, Iceland. Poor, bankrupt, formerly prosperous Iceland. I love its capital city for the nutty assortment of consonants.
- 51D: Nuremberg negative (NIE). Okay, I took German, ja, and I got stumped here. Nein means "no." Nicht means "not." And neither of those is three letters long! The crossing answers eventually took me to NIE, which means "never."
Everything Else — 1A: Tops (BETTERS); 8A: Grows fond of (WARMS TO); 15A: City WNW of Cheyenne (LARAMIE); 16A: Sister of Iphigenia (ELECTRA); 17A: Predictably (AS USUAL); 18A: Ceremonious event (BANQUET); 19A: Peels (ZESTS); 20A: Réunion attendee (FRERE); 24A: Heat unit (THERM); 25A: Style (MODE); 26A: Caribbean export (RUM); 28A: Hood of "Our Gang" fame (DARLA); 31A: Bit of gossip (MORSEL); 32A: Place where a customer may be taken? (CLIP JOINT); 34A: Gel cap alternative (TABLET); 37A: Urban scavenger (ALLEY CAT); 41A: Miscalculated (ERRED); 42A: Like bighorns (OVINE); 43A: President of Pakistan, 1978-'88 (ZIA); 45A: Sunday outing (DRIVE); 46A: 1950s-'60s TV quiz show host (MARX); 47A: Internet annoyance (LAG); 48A: Product of a fault (QUAKE); 49A: Helvetica's lack (SERIF); 54A: Emit (RADIATE); 57A: Test the concentration of, in chem lab (TITRATE); 1D: Apparel with insignias, at times (BLAZERS); 2D: Backs off (EASES UP); 3D: Words to a skeptic (TRUST ME); 4D: Decorator's asset (TASTE); 5D: Layers of green eggs (EMUS); 6D: River valley formation (RIA); 8D: Units of magnetic flux (WEBERS); 9D: Elevator button (ALARM); 10D: Filmmaker Clair (RENE); 11D: 1974 John Wayne title role (MCQ); 12D: Dazes (STUPORS); 13D: Old sewing machine part (TREADLE); 14D: Common haggis ingredient (OATMEAL); 24D: Baldness, e.g. (TRAIT); 25D: Best Picture of 1955 (MARTY); 27D: Like many a backsplash (TILED); 28D: Charitable organization, e.g. (DONEE); 30D: Symbol seen in viola music (C CLEF); 31D: Creator of Heffalumps (MILNE); 34D: They have a lot of bills (TELLERS); 35D: Garmin display (AREA MAP); 36D: Fighting force (BRIGADE); 38D: Winter Palace resident (CZARINA); 39D: Least substantial (AIRIEST); 40D: Exempt, in a way (TAX-FREE); 42D: Papal vestments (ORALES); 45D: Because of (DUE TO); 46D: Coin collector? (METER); 48D: Beyond stereo (QUAD); 49D: Acct. summary (STMT.); 53D: One of the "big four" record labels (EMI).