THEME: No theme today—This is a themeless Saturday puzzle, a.k.a. "freestyle" crossword
Happy Halloween! My costume is "very tired person staying up too late to blog about this puzzle, despite having had a very long and rainy day to be followed by a cold evening of wearing her feet out trick-or-treating." Super-easy to make. The accompanying yawns are what really sells it.
Okay. Puzzle time! Rich Norris wasn't kidding when he said the signs of moderate retoughenization wouldn't be evident before November. Once again, one of my fastest-ever themeless solving times here. I may have a memory lapse, but I think this is "Not that" Sam Donaldson's first published themeless.
I'm partial to grids with four quadrants of stacked, longish answers. This one's got just two such quadrants, but they have quad-stacked 9s rather than the standard triple-stacked fill. The puzzle combines lively and fresh words and phrases with a lot of ordinary fill, which stands in contrast to the Saturday NYT crossword, which had lots of uncommon but not exciting fill. Sure, TESTS and EMOTE are pretty boring words, but I'll take them over stilted or obscure words.
Here's most of the long stuff and the clues/answers I liked best:
- 1A: War and more (CARD GAMES). I didn't see that one coming. Even with GAMES in place, I was still thinking of actual war.
- 15A: Strain (OVEREXERT). I like the X, but wish it had been put to better use—the crossing is the partial AXE TO.
- 17A: Place with trays (CAFETERIA). Super-easy clue, no?
- 32A: Cosmetic surgeries (NOSE JOBS). Again, easy clue—but crispy crossword entry.
- 40A: Sherry, often (APERITIF). OK, this is my cue to look up this word, and probably not for the first time. Turning to the dictionary...aperient, "(chiefly of a drug) used to prevent constipation"...wait, just, a little further...here it is. Apéritif is from a French word which draws on the Latin aperire, "to open." You drink it before you eat to whet your appetite. You eat an appetizer for the same reason, purportedly, but the two ap— words are unrelated. Appetite stems from Latin words meaning "desire for/seek after." Not that anyone asked, but I think sherry is gross.
- Here's the nutty Star Wars zone. 47A: Film that's out of order? is a PREQUEL, while 13D: End of a pentamerous serial is PART V. If you're lucky, that is, PART V is the end of the series. Crazy George Lucas went for VI.
- 53A: Seeking advancement at any cost (ON THE MAKE). I almost went with ON THE TAKE, but TAKE has another home in this puzzle.
- 60A: Eastern Canadian province grouping, with "the" (MARITIMES). I'll bet the people near Canada's Pacific coast wish they could be called the Maritimes, too. The Maritime Provinces are Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. How many of you have been to any of those? I've hit Ontario and British Columbia and that's it.
- 62A: Smithsonian collection (AMERICANA). Hey! I went to the National Museum of American History for my first time this summer. Here's some AMERICANA for you:
That George Washington was a hottie, huh? Talk about your American beefcake.
- 4D: Cologne crowd? (DREI). "Two's company, but three's a crowd."
- 9D: Child actor's chauffeur? (STAGE MOM). Alternatively, a virtual mother who's going to the party alone is a STAG E-MOM.
- 10D: R.E.M. vocalist Michael (STIPE). Who's in the mood for "Man on the Moon"? How about with a little Bruce Springsteen for good measure?
- 11D: Tolerates teasing gracefully (TAKES A JOKE). See? This could also have been MAKES A JOKE, though that would be a fairly flat answer, and ON THE MAKE could've been ON THE TAKE. I find that the most of the time when someone says "Can't you take a joke?"—really, that person was being a jerk and the jokee should not be expected to "take a joke."
- 27D: Unwavering (FOUR-SQUARE). Not a term I use. Isn't "four square" also a playground game using a ball?
- 38D: One with immunity (DIPLOMAT). I blew my son's mind when I told him that people with diplomatic plates on their cars can probably get away with parking illegally.
Crosswordese 101: MICA! Today it's clued as 55D: Flaky mineral and indeed, it's easy to break off sheets of mica. Talk about cleavage! Mica's got it in spades. Other popular clues for MICA include isinglass and easily split, shiny, or translucent mineral.
See you all here again on Wednesday. In the meantime, be kind to one another! Naughty children will be sent to their rooms without any Halloween candy.
Everything Else — 1A: War and more (CARD GAMES); 10A: R.E.M. vocalist Michael (STIPE); 15A: Strain (OVER-EXERT); 16A: Turkic inhabitant of Russia (TATAR); 17A: Place with trays (CAFETERIA); 18A: Director Kurosawa (AKIRA); 19A: Aide's job (ASSISTING); 20A: Doctor's orders (TESTS); 21A: Rolls on the lawn (SOD); 22A: Hard to nail down (ELUSIVE); 24A: Social blunder (GAFFE); 28A: Eritrea's capital (ASMARA); 30A: Ness et al. (ELIOTS); 32A: Cosmetic surgeries (NOSE JOBS); 36A: Vegan entrée (TOFU); 37A: Imported cheeses (EDAMS); 39A: Cajun pod (OKRA); 40A: Sherry, often (APERITIF); 42A: Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show costar (OAKLEY); 44A: Grab before someone else does (SNAP UP); 46A: It merged with Kmart in 2005 (SEARS); 47A: Film that's out of order? (PREQUEL); 50A: PC panic button (ESC); 52A: Mammal of Madagascar (LEMUR); 53A: Seeking advancement at any cost (ON THE MAKE); 59A: Take out __: borrow money (A LOAN); 60A: Eastern Canadian province grouping, with "the" (MARITIMES); 61A: Saltpeter, to a Brit (NITRE); 62A: Smithsonian collection (AMERICANA); 63A: Spirited horse (STEED); 64A: Nielsen ratings subjects (TELECASTS); 1D: Caesar's partner Imogene (COCA); 2D: Actress Gardner et al. (AVAS); 3D: Court call makers (REFS); 4D: Cologne crowd? (DREI); 5D: Prepares (GETS SET); 6D: Has an __ grind (AXE TO); 7D: Yucatán's capital (MERIDA); 8D: "__ Brockovich" (ERIN); 9D: Child actor's chauffeur? (STAGE MOM); 10D: Height (STATURE); 11D: Tolerates teasing gracefully (TAKES A JOKE); 12D: Formal answer to "Who's there?" (IT IS I); 13D: End of a pentamerous serial (PART V); 14D: TiVo option (ERASE); 23D: Will Rogers prop (LASSO); 24D: "__ grip!" (GET A); 25D: Crooked (ALOP); 26D: High wind (FIFE); 27D: Unwavering (FOUR-SQUARE); 29D: Messy situation (SNAFU); 31D: Hairlike parts, such as those that help geckos cling to walls (SETAE); 33D: St. with counties named Comanche and Choctaw (OKLA.); 34D: Uncle Remus's __ Fox (BRER); 35D: Speaks (SAYS); 38D: One with immunity (DIPLOMAT); 41D: Buried (INURNED); 43D: One leading a spartan lifestyle (ASCETIC); 45D: Marine bird (PETREL); 47D: Blueprints (PLANS); 48D: Ignited again (RELIT); 49D: Cry on cue, say (EMOTE); 51D: U.S.: county :: U.K. : __ (SHIRE); 54D: Moniker (NAME); 55D: Flaky mineral (MICA); 56D: Latin 101 verb (AMAS); 57D: Colleague of Lane and Olsen (KENT); 58D: Those, to Teresa (ESAS).