THEME: No theme today—Just a themeless Saturday puzzle
Usually I do the L.A. Times crossword on screen in Across Lite, but this one I tackled while putting my son to bed, with only a wee Book Owl light for illumination. I didn't look at the clock, but I had figured out a chunk of the answers at the top before I even picked up my pencil, and my write-overs indicate only a couple snags. If you usually have to fight your way through a Saturday puzzle, was this one more pliable?
The first snag I hit was 22A: Bible book before Nehemiah. I had the first letter in place, an E, so I plugged in ESTH., an abbreviation for the book of Esther. Then 12D: Online shopping mecca asserted itself—it was AMAZON and not AMASON, of course. So I changed my Bible book abbreviation to EZEK., for Ezekiel. Mind you, the clue had Nehemiah and not the abbreviated Neh., so there was zero reason for me to abbreviate the answer instead of going straight to EZRA.
The other hitch was a single-letter problem. 4D: Climb could be the verb ASCEND, which I started with, or the noun ASCENT. On Saturdays, you need to be wary of clue words that can be in different tenses (e.g., the verbs put or set or lay) or represent different parts of speech (as with climb today).
Crosswordese 101: My favorite old crosswordese answer in today's puzzle is 63A: ORTS, clued as food Disposal bits. Obviously, such a nutty little morsel of crosswordese has already been covered in this section, two times. (And both times by me. Whoops.) So instead, let's chat about the components of 2D: Uncommon thing, or RARA AVIS. That's Latin for "rare bird." The full phrase is, like every other eight-letter answer not remotely a common crosswordese answer. But its halves are. For AVIS, the constructor usually writes a clue relating to the rental car company, but what else can you do with RARA besides go with a fill-in-the-blank clue, ___ avis? Good constructors try to avoid RARA because there's only one clue for it, and either a solver knows the answer or she doesn't; there's no fun brainwork involved in sussing out the answer.
- I enjoy conversational phrases dropped into a crossword grid. Doug gives us two, both super informal: 23A: "Care to make it interesting?" ("WANNA BET?") and 56A: "See ya!" ("I'M OUTA HERE!"). I prefer the two-T outta spelling, but my dictionary lists both spellings.
- I'm a fan or the first/last name combo in crosswords, too. Usually AMIS is clued by way of author Kingsley Amis or his son Martin Amis, but MARTIN AMIS (60A: "London Fields" novelist) looks cooler. I haven't read either Amis.
- 3D: Successor to the mini (IPOD NANO)—boy, crossword makers lucked out when Apple chose the iPod name. Alternating vowels and consonants, plus it's livelier than the other I*O* options, like IRON, IROC, IDOL, ICON, or IPOS.
- I'm a bit of a geography nerd, so I appreciate fill like 34D: Horn of Africa country (DJIBOUTI). Plus: That country, which is near Ethiopia and Somalia, practically rhymes with "shake your booty."
- 53D: Movers, but hopefully not shakers (VANS). You don't want a moving VAN to shake your boxes of fine china.
- Hey, I never knew this: 48D: Italian for "frozen" is GELATO. Gelid is a high-end vocabulary word meaning "icy" that's related. Opera fans may recognize the La Boheme aria "Che gelida manina," which is about Mimi's cold hands. (Why has no one written a song about my cold hands?) Despite GELATO and gelatin looking so similar, apparently the latter derives from a Latin word for "jelly."
Everything Else — 1A: Often dramatic number (ARIA); 5A: Dumps (SCRAP HEAPS); 15A: Finds fault with (RAPS); 16A: Dashiell Hammett's last novel (THE THIN MAN); 17A: Marsh critter (CROC); 18A: Tubeless and with no moving parts, electronically (SOLID STATE); 19A: Site of the mythical Lethe River (HADES); 21A: Little foxes (KITS); 25A: Trout spot (BROOK); 26A: Personification (AVATAR); 27A: How to see the obvious (PLAINLY); 29A: Feminine force (YIN); 30A: Speed limit posting, e.g. (ROAD SIGN); 33A: Lawn strip (SOD); 35A: Acknowledge silently (NOD AT); 36A: Obtain (GET); 39A: Wearing a bolero (JACKETED); 42A: Lab alert? (GRR); 44A: Some modern tribal operations (CASINOS); 47A: Grammy category (REGGAE); 49A: Recline next to (LIE BY); 50A: Blush, for one (COSMETIC); 52A: River to the Ligurian Sea (ARNO); 53A: Playback machines, briefly (VCRS); 55A: Move (away), like a coward (SLINK); 59A: Juvenile retort (AM SO); 61A: Prom dancer (TEEN); 62A: Very slow rate (SNAIL'S PACE); 1D: Majestic entrance (ARCHWAY); 5D: Bourbon and Sesame: Abbr. (STS.); 6D: Require the Heimlich maneuver (CHOKE); 7D: Kindled again (RELIT); 8D: Busting one's hump (AT IT); 9D: Profs' degrees (PH.D.'S); 10D: Casual greetings (HIS); 11D: Recording, as in a journal (ENTERING); 13D: Cop's duty (PATROL); 14D: Double-dealing (SNEAKY); 20D: Franco-German border region (SAAR); 24D: Rodeo mount (BRONCO); 25D: Specialty, slangily (BAG); 27D: Three-part H.S. exam (PSAT); 28D: Some water bottles (LITERS); 31D: NASA go-aheads (A-OKS); 32D: '50s pres. (DDE); 37D: Boggle accessory (EGG TIMER); 38D: Toy with an engine (TRAIN SET); 40D: Vague amount (ANY); 41D: 32-Down wasn't one of them (DEMS); 43D: S'poses (RECKONS); 44D: They may be staked (CLAIMS); 45D: Aviator (AIRMAN); 46D: Chihuahua female (SEÑORA); 50D: Espresso foam (CREMA); 51D: Courtier in "Hamlet" (OSRIC); 54D: Fellow (CHAP); 57D: '80s band '__ Tuesday (TIL); 58D: Language suffix (-ESE).