THEME: Middle C — "C" is added to the front of "R" words that are also the second words in familiar two-word phrases, creating wacky etc.
Still too easy for a late-week puzzle, but headed back in the right direction from last week's difficulty nadir. This one feels very ordinary, very forgettable. Just CRANKed out. None of the resulting theme answers are particularly memorable / funny / groan-inducing. With this add-a-letter type theme, the real test is the snap of the resulting answers, and today's are just dull. Except PUNK CROCK. That's almost funny. I think my real disappointment with the LAT puzzles right now has to do with the serious restrictions on clues — they are too straightforward, not playful or daring. Half the life of a puzzle is in its clues, and the clues have had the life sucked out of them, probably (again) from people writing to complain that they were too "convoluted" or "tricky" or god knows what. I admit that tricky clues can be dicey, and when they fail they fail hard. But I will take interesting, daring failure over dullness Any day.
- 20A: Grouch in the army? (MILITARY CRANK) — [Donald Rumsfeld?] ... too controversial, I know, but come on ... give me a real CRANK in the clue.
- 27A: Small-time hood's pottery? (PUNK CROCK) — [Lies from Sid Vicious?]
- 36A: Accident in a qualifying race? (HEAT CRASH) — [Miami team's late-season meltdown?]
- 47A: Family insignia for designer Edith? (HEAD CREST) — love Edith HEAD, so I won't tamper with this one. Don't like "inSIGNia" and "deSIGNer" in same clue, though. Oh, what the hell? [Run a toothpaste company?]
- 54A: Jalopy used as a trade-in? (EXCHANGE CRATE) — uh ... [Soapbox on the trading floor?]
Love HAGGIS, as I love All Things Scottish (and Pizza ... that's an old SNL reference that only about three people are going to get today, but whatever) (47D: Traditional Scottish dish). SPECTER (41D: Phantom) and MOCKERY (13D: Farce) are also hot, but the ETHENES / DIOXIDE pairing is dire (39D: Refinery gases + 40D: Carbon _____). Just horrible. One or the other would be possible, as a dullish word from the world of science, but together they're unlikeable. The small corners of this puzzle feel phoned-in, which is disappointing. PPP + IUM, OSS + ETE, etc. WTF is a PERETTI (43D: Italian jewelry designer Elsa)? Why would you make that your anchor Down in the SE? How many -E-E--- answers are there out there? Dozens? Scores? Come on. Be more imaginative! What about DENEUVE?! Or ... REVENGE!
Crosswordese 101: ZIA (51A: '70s-'80s Pakistani leader) — Learned it from xwords. Overthrew Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (Benazir's father), who was then hanged after being convicted on (probably trumped-up) charges of murdering a political opponent. ZIA later died in a plane crash with several of his generals. All before I had any sense of world politics. ZIA looks cool 'cause of the "Z," but I'd treat it like crosswordese. Use sparingly — only when necessary.
- 64A: River near Kassel, Germany (EDER) — more crosswordese. Oh, the rivers ...
- 3D: Old Viking descendants of northern France (NORMANS) — as a medievalist, this should have been a gimme, but I just don't associate NORMANS with Vikings. At all. I had those first letters and figured the answer would have something to do with NORWAY.
- 21D: Express's opp. (loc.) — "Opp.?" Maybe "alt." Awkward cluing.
- 7D: Pro _____ (rata) — supercrosswordesey. Blecch (again, except where necessary — in a 4x5 section, it's hardly necessary in this instance).
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P.S. Two new cool crossword projects to announce / support this morning.
1. Patrick Blindauer has just launched his 2009 Holiday Puzzlefest. He's going to make a suite of 10-12 Holiday-themed puzzles, which will be tied to a contest, the grand prize of which will be either your registration fee for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament or the equivalent in cash ($290). Patrick is one of the very best constructors in the country, and you can get in on this Puzzlefest for a mere $5. You must do this. Ridiculously cheap for what will undoubtedly be superior, thoughtful, entertaining puzzle craftsmanship. Go here now to sign up. Right now. Seriously.
2. Matt Gaffney wrote me this morning with the following message:
October is "Hell Month" at MGWCC [Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest] -- five spooky Fridays with haunted themes that get progressively tougher as the days get shorter. And unlike other months, *every* Hell Month entrant who sends in the correct contest answer to all five October puzzles will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set.As always, MGWCC can be found here. One of the great independent puzzle sites out there.
Naturally the crosswords and metapuzzles will be cruel and unusual in difficulty...
Everything Else — 1A: List of options (MENU); 5A: "Get lost!" ("SCRAM!"); 10A: Capricious notion (WHIM); 14A: Informed about (UP ON); 15A: Rod Stewart's ex (ALANA); 16A: Parade honoree (HERO); 17A: Sugar and spice product? (GIRL); 18A: Turbine part (ROTOR); 19A: __-Z: classic Camaro (IROC); 20A: Grouch in the army? (MILITARY CRANK); 23A: Upright, for one (PIANO); 25A: Campfire leftover (ASH); 26A: Tell stories (LIE); 27A: Small-time hood's pottery? (PUNK CROCK); 31A: Hardwood tree (ALDER); 33A: Downing St. VIPs (PMS); 34A: Small island (CAY); 35A: Cheeky (BRASSY); 36A: Accident in a qualifying race? (HEAT CRASH); 39A: Ford failures (EDSELS); 42A: "Bad" cholesterol, briefly (LDL); 43A: "The Gold Bug" author (POE); 46A: Hedren of "The Birds" (TIPPI); 47A: Family insignia for designer Edith? (HEAD CREST); 50A: Clod chopper (HOE); 51A: '70s-'80s Pakistani leader (ZIA); 53A: Analyze grammatically (PARSE); 54A: Jalopy used as a trade-in? (EXCHANGE CRATE); 59A: Evening, in ads (NITE); 60A: Concur (AGREE); 61A: Singer Redding (OTIS); 64A: River near Kassel, Germany (EDER); 65A: Like Chicago, so they say (WINDY); 66A: Where the Jazz play (UTAH); 67A: Belgrade native (SERB); 68A: Pair in the middle of dressing? (ESSES); 69A: Very small (TINY); 1D: Morning container (MUG); 2D: Prefix with center (EPI); 3D: Old Viking descendants of northern France (NORMANS); 4D: Separate, as chain parts (UNLINK); 5D: Indian cover-up (SARI); 6D: Congeal, as blood (CLOT); 7D: Pro __ (RATA); 8D: Arctic jacket (ANORAK); 9D: Martin and Magdalene (MARYS); 10D: Spinning sound (WHIR); 11D: Harbingers (HERALDS); 12D: Many O. Henry endings (IRONIES); 13D: Farce (MOCKERY); 21D: Express's opp. (LOC.); 22D: Scorches (CHARS); 23D: Very quietly, in music (PPP); 24D: Periodic table suffix (-IUM); 28D: Old ColorTrak TVs (RCAS); 29D: Cholesterol-reducing grain (OAT); 30D: Repeating series (CYCLE); 32D: __-di-dah (LAH); 35D: Like worn tires (BALD); 36D: With it (HEP); 37D: "My Fair Lady" flower seller (ELIZA); 38D: Old vitamin bottle abbr. (RDA); 39D: Refinery gases (ETHENES); 40D: Carbon __ (DIOXIDE); 41D: Phantom (SPECTER); 43D: Italian jewelry designer Elsa (PERETTI); 44D: CIA predecessor (OSS); 45D: When the French fry? (ÉTÉ); 47D: Traditional Scottish dish (HAGGIS); 48D: Yr.-end auditor (CPA); 49D: Inform on, slangily (RAT OUT); 52D: Really impressed (IN AWE); 55D: Chef's secret ingredient, perhaps (HERB); 56D: Fish-eating birds (ERNS); 57D: Give up (CEDE); 58D: Actor Fernando et al. (REYS); 62D: Author Fleming (IAN); 63D: Short at the poker table (SHY).