THEME: No theme today—Just a themeless Saturday puzzle
Well, this one was a little harder than last Saturday's but still easier than the Saturday L.A. Times crossword was six months ago. The New York Times Saturday puzzle may take 50% to 100% longer than this one, but hey, at least the tougher one's out there for those who want it, and those who are cutting their teeth on the themeless format have a more pliable puzzle to contend with here.
The word count (the total number of answers in the puzzle) is rather low: 64. The maximum for a themeless puzzle is customarily 72, and it becomes increasingly difficult to get interlocking fill to work out the lower the word count goes. If you're an all-star constructing deity like Patrick Berry, you crank out 64-worders without any compromises in the fill, but mere mortals usually have some uninspiring answers in such puzzles.
What do I mean? Well, look at the mini-theme (a mini-theme is a symmetric pair of related answers in a themeless puzzle). The 27D: Oscar winners' winnings are STATUETTES—that's eminently reasonable. But its partner is PRESENTEES (6D: Oscar winners, e.g.). Wha...? There are presenters, but does anyone ever call the award recipients PRESENTEES? This is ringing zero bells for me. There's an ugly abbreviation, SURG. (46A: OR activity). 35D: Royal office clues KINGSHIP, which is not a -ship word we see often (though it is indeed an inflected form listed under king in my dictionary).
A 64-worder tends to have less aggressive sparkle than 70- or 72-worders do. Nothing really zippy like a BAZOOKA JOE here, but the livelier answers include:
- 20A: Like expensive fight seats (RINGSIDE). I do not like the hitting-people sports, personally, but RINGSIDE is a cool answer.
- 40A: Winter Olympics contestants (SKI JUMPERS). Both the K and J are Scrabbly letters.
- 54A: Small and unimportant, as a town (ONE-HORSE). The more modern equivalent is the one-stoplight town, but "one-horse" is here to stay.
- 7D: Have a wild time (GO CRAZY).
- 36D: Magic charm (MOJO). Mojo!
Crosswordese 101: There's a new twist on the seldom-welcome 32D: Playground retort, this time DOES SO. While each individual "playground retort" phrase doesn't exactly meet the usual loose criteria for what constitutes crosswordese, there are so many of them, and their primary purpose is to help a constructor finish up a section of the grid. From the Cruciverb.com database (database function available only to gold members), I gathered a partial list of the other "playground retorts" that have appeared in crosswords. You never know which one it's gonna be, so you have to work through the crossings to see if it's AM NOT, AM SO, ARE TOO, CAN SO, DID TOO, I DO TOO, IS NOT, or IS TOO—among others. What they all have in common is that they're two or three short words and the last word is NOT, SO, or TOO. Are you tired of these answers? If not, have no fear! You will be soon enough.
Everything Else — 1A: Speaker booster (PREAMP); 7A: Overcharged illegally (GOUGED); 13A: Western evergreen named for its eventual bark color (RED FIR); 14A: Theoretical, as profits (ON PAPER); 16A: Unending, in poetry (ETERNE); 17A: Based on medical observation instead of theory (CLINICAL); 19A: White sale items (LINENS); 21A: Bearded blossom (IRIS); 22A: Enthusiasm (ELAN); 24A: Chief Valhalla god (ODIN); 25A: Makes automatic (MECHANIZES); 28A: God, in Guadalajara (DIOS); 29A: "Don't move, Fido" (STAY); 30A: Adjective for a yellow bikini, in a 1960 #1 hit (TEENIE); 32A: More shadowy, as evening (DUSKIER); 36A: Slanders (MALIGNS); 37A: Punctual (ON TIME); 38A: Carry (TOTE); 39A: Eddie __, New York cop involved in the actual "French Connection" (EGAN); 47A: It might save your skin (ALOE); 48A: Mariner's heading (ALEE); 49A: Shoves off (SETS SAIL); 52A: Again and again? (THRICE); 55A: __ powder (TALCUM); 56A: Garden tool (TRIMMER); 57A: Plaza Hotel sprite (ELOISE); 58A: Divers' fishing implements (SPEARS); 59A: Classified (SORTED); 1D: It's before the main event, briefly (PRELIM); 2D: Hang it up, so to speak (RETIRE); 3D: Blissful (EDENIC); 4D: Anew (AFRESH); 5D: State where the Mississippi R. originates (MINN.); 8D: Modern way to shop (ONLINE); 9D: __ arms (UP IN); 10D: Turf controller (GANG); 11D: TV series opener (EPISODE I); 12D: Tough job for a beauty contest judge (DECIDING); 15D: Contact the harbor master from one's ship (RADIO IN); 18D: Camera parts (LENSES); 23D: Inventive sort? (LIAR); 26D: "Sure __ standing ..." (AS I'M); 31D: Na or Cl, e.g. (ELEM.); 33D: Salve (UNGUENT); 34D: Appetizers (STARTERS); 38D: Tractor attachments (TILLERS); 41D: Wilhelm's title in WWI Germany (KAISER); 42D: Sitting room (PARLOR); 43D: Draw out (ELICIT); 44D: Disqualify (oneself), as a judge (RECUSE); 45D: Appeared to be (SEEMED); 50D: A few (SOME); 51D: Weapons, in Latin (ARMA); 53D: Head light? (HALO).