THEME: No theme today—It's a themeless/freestyle puzzle
We're back within range of the usual Saturday L.A. Times crossword's difficulty level—this one took me as long as a Wednesday-to-Thursday NYT puzzle. There's some odd fill that requires reliance on the crossings (yes, even for the world's 13th best solver of American crosswords), and there are some clues that venture far afield of mere definitions. (Such clues tend to be my favorites.)
I said hi to Brad Wilber at the ACPT and told him that although plenty of people have called him their nemesis lately, I don't think he's that tough. And I don't. If you handle the other constructors you encounter here on a Saturday, you can tackle Brad. Don't be scared! He's totally non-scary in person. He's a librarian, for Pete's sake. You're not going to be afraid of a librarian who's not going to fine you for returning a book late, are you? (Photo by ACPT photographer Don Christensen. That's Brad on the left clinking glasses with Bruce Venzke, who had last Saturday's LAT crossword byline. No, wait. Brad is clinking with a salt shaker. Bottoms up!)
- 1A: [Game with a hollow ball] (TABLE TENNIS). That clue doesn't narrow things down much, does it?
- 15A: [Unexpected nickname of a Hughes Aircraft plane built mostly of birch] (SPRUCE GOOSE). That's Howard Hughes. I missed the recent(ish) movie in which Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed Hughes.
- 17A: [It won't go out] (TRICK CANDLE). Infuriating when trick candles delay one's attack on a birthday cake!
- 21A: [Hypothetical links] (APEMEN). As in "the missing link."
- 24A: [Annual event won five times by Fred Couples] (SKINS GAME). This is one of those golf things I've heard of but don't understand.
- 47A: [Men's periodical, in British slang] (LAD MAG). I wasn't sure if this was LAD MAG or LAD RAG. I think the term glad rags muddled my head.
- 10D: [1975 Elton John chart-topper] ("ISLAND GIRL"). YouTube time!
- 13D, 50D: [El Capitan's locale] (YOSEMITE) and [Natural steam source] (GEYSER). "I'll take National Parks of the West for $1,000, Alex."
- 22D: [Anti-intellectual epithet] (EGGHEAD). I don't care for anti-intellectualism.
- 29D: [Sunkist offering] (ORANGE SODA). No! Orange likes Diet Coke.
- 36D: [Holey vessel] (COLANDER). Love this clue!
- 34A: [Table d'___] (HOTE). Ouch. Don't want to find yourself with no choice but to use "table" in a clue when TABLE TENNIS makes itself quite obvious at 1A.
- 39A: [Upset winner at the 1992 Kentucky Derby] (LILETEE). Wha...? That's Lil E. Tee, apparently. Horse racing trivia is tied with nautical terminology for my least favorite crossword fill.
- 8D: [Demand-based, briefly, as charter plane services] (NON-SKED). Any of you ever hear this word before? I haven't. Between 39A and 8D...oy.
- 53D: [Fox hunt cry] (HALLO). "Hallo"? Does this go with "tally-ho"? Onward, to the dictionary! Dictionary says HALLO is a variant of "halloo," which is an exclamation "used to incite dogs to the chase during a hunt." There you have it.
- 57D: [Opp. of a petitioner, in court] (RESP.). Respondent? To me, RESP. is short for respiration or respiratory, but I don't know that those are accepted abbreviations. Dictionary tells me resp. means respondent, respective(ly), or respelled. Respelled? That means "spell a word again or differently, esp. phonetically in order to indicate its pronunciation." Okay, so I'm glad RESP wasn't clued with that sense.