THEME: Sleight of Hand — theme answers start with MAGIC, TRICK, and ILLUSION, respectively
A very nice early-week puzzle with one big problem: ILLUSION COLLAR?!? I have a hard time accepting this as a theme answer, in that it isn't common, famous, widely known, etc., to anyone except (perhaps) those that watch Cesar Milan's show. I have watched his show before and I still hadn't heard of this. Maybe in L.A. it's all the rage, but as well known commercial products go, this one doesn't even rate. I'm sure it was the best ILLUSION _____ phrase there was, but I still don't like it. Too marginal. MAGIC EIGHT BALL, on the other hand, is just right. A product that is famous outside of any one celebrity or TV show. Hours of constant, stupid fun for kids. As for the rest of the puzzle, it's gorgeous. Smooth and solid and interesting — except for SEDGY. W+T+F? That answer makes me a little WOOZY (but WOOZY is so good that it almost makes me forget about SEDGY).
- 20A: Toy that might answer "It is decidedly so" (MAGIC EIGHT BALL)
- 35A: Sly inquiry (TRICK QUESTION)
- 51A: Cesar Milan dog-training apparatus (ILLUSION COLLAR)
Aside from the entirety of ILLUSION COLLAR, I had trouble only in the SE, where I wrote in AFLAME for ABLAZE (45D: On fire). Oh, and in the SW I wrote in TEEN-AGER for TEEN IDOL (35D: Miley Cyrus, for one), but immediately knew it was wrong. Clue was way too specific for the very general TEEN-AGER. Coincidentally, I watched the Miley Cyrus episode of "Family Guy" last night...
Crosswordese 101: AUK (28D: Northern diving bird) — One of many great avian members of the Crosswordese Hall of Fame. AUKs are like SKUAs, only without the "S" and with the letters rearranged. Also, check out this wikifact about AUKs: "Judging from molecular data, their closest living relatives appear to be the skuas, with these two lineages separating about 30 million years ago." SKUAs, however, are way more fond of (and capable of) flying. Technically AUKs can fly, but they'd prefer not. And now you know.
- 40A: Charlatan (FAKER) — not to be confused with a FAKIR, "A Hindu ascetic or religious mendicant, especially one who performs feats of MAGIC (!) or endurance" (answers.com)
- 7D: Criticize in a witty way (ZING) — what a great, original clue for ZING. YOOHOO ... ZING! That's a wacky north region for sure.
- 49A: Critic Reed (REX) — normally don't comment on instances of Me in the puzzle, but today REX crosses "HE'S So Fine" and RULER, so, you know, I had to say something.
See you Friday,
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