THEME: Tee break — drop the -TLE from words ending -TTLE in familiar phrases; enjoy the wackiness.
Another in an apparently endless line of "Let's See What Letter(s) I Can Drop/Add to Induce Wackiness"-themed puzzles. Today it's "-TLE" from "-TTLE" words. Why? It's pointless even asking that question any more. Add-/drop-a-letter puzzles are so tired that they really should have a great theme-revealer, some saying or expression or Something that gives the puzzle a rationale. Just dropping crap is getting very, very old. To this puzzle's credit, every "-TLE"-preceding vowel is covered in the altered words. Against its credit, they are not in alphabetical order (A, I, E, U, O). Further, the cheater squares* are really distracting / annoying. There are Huge corners in the NE and SW, but then cheaters in these smallish sections in the N and S. I see that the cheaters are likely there to accommodate the restrictiveness of the theme answers (i.e. they are near places where two theme answers overlap). But still, ugly (though crossing BVD and D-CUPS is kind of cute). I did like DUST-UPS, WET BAR, PSYCHED, and WHITE CAP.
*["cheater squares" are black squares that do not affect the total word count. They are added specifically to make the grid easier to fill. Today, they follow SPAT and precede ESSE, respectively.]
- 17A: Princeton jazzman? (JERSEY CAT)
- 21A: "Egg-laying for Dummies," etc.? (CHICKEN LIT) — "For Dummies" books are in no way "LIT." Further, this answer is confusing, as it seems to be playing on the very familiar phrase "CHICK LIT"
- 27A: What a New York baseball owner would do to ensure player fitness? (TEST ONE'S MET) — notably, not TEST ONE'S NY MET
- 42A: Sign outside a boarded-up JFK? (AIRPORT SHUT)
- 50A: Little Londoner? (PEANUT BRIT)
- 56A: Carpet-cleaning android? (VACUUM BOT)
Crosswordese 101: MENSA (38A: Its youngest British member, Elise Tan Roberts, was admitted at age 2) — a very common crossword answer, and one that rarely fails to annoy; see today's clue to understand why? What kind of #$#$&'d up parent is so insecure / desperate / deranged that he/she would push a 2-yr-old into MENSA? And please don't tell me "But she wanted to be in it?" Come on. If you're smart, you're smart. Awesome. Do you really need to be in a group where you are certified smart by some highly dubious test score? Ugh x infinity + 1. But I guess if it gets you out of the house and away from your Double-Stuf Oreos and RPGs and action figures and "Dr. Who" marathons, then that's probably good.
[re: "Gifted" children... LOTS of profanity near end of clip]
- 13A: Mo. in 1781 in which Cornwallis surrendered (OCT.) — completely random. And why is "in 1781" in here? That does not *Nothing* for solvers. Did Cornwallis surrender in other years too?
- 14A: "___ Really Going Out With Him?": Joe Jackson hit ("IS SHE") — great song. Terrible partial.
- 19A: Retirement legislation acronym (ERISA) — not on my radar. Seems like if this were a solid answer, I'd see it a LOT more. It's got that vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel structure that puzzles just love. Its rarity says something about its quality as an answer.
- 2D: Nickname for a player who performs under pressure (ICE MAN) — you could improve this / make it harder by cluing via basketball great George Gervin, whose nickname was ...
- 7D: Pad ___: Asian noodle dish (THAI) — come on! Just use [Pad ___]. It's Friday; make people work a little.
- 43D: Works (OPUSES) — Latin plural of OPUS is OPERA, but in English that plural would just create confusion.
See you Monday,
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]
Everything Else — 1A: Fire starter? (MIS-); 4A: Squabble (SPAT); 8A: Exorbitant (STEEP); 13A: Mo. in 1781 in which Cornwallis surrendered (OCT.); 14A: "__ Really Going Out With Him?": Joe Jackson hit (IS SHE); 16A: Volcanic flowers? (LAVAS); 17A: Princeton jazzman? (JERSEY CAT); 19A: Retirement legislation acronym (ERISA); 20A: One way to run (AMOK); 21A: "Egg-laying for Dummies," etc.? (CHICKEN LIT); 23A: Disappear (VANISH); 25A: Par __ (AVION); 26A: Subj. including grammar (ENG.); 27A: What a New York baseball owner would do to ensure player fitness? (TEST ONE'S MET); 32A: It's hard to cut through (RED TAPE); 33A: Company with toy trucks (HESS); 34A: Young hooter (OWLET); 37A: LAX datum (ARR); 38A: Its youngest British member, Elise Tan Roberts, was admitted at age 2 (MENSA); 39A: Pres. Jefferson (THOS.); 40A: Like Wiener schnitzel (BREADED); 42A: Sign outside a boarded-up JFK? (AIRPORT SHUT); 44A: Joker (WAG); 47A: Figure of speech (TROPE); 48A: Hard to endure (SEVERE); 50A: Little Londoner? (PEANUT BRIT); 54A: Rte. through Houston (I-TEN); 55A: Litmus reddeners (ACIDS); 56A: Carpet-cleaning android? (VACUUM BOT); 58A: Indian royal (RANEE); 59A: Parts of some support systems? (D CUPS); 60A: 100% (ALL); 61A: Imitators (APERS); 62A: Latin infinitive (ESSE); 63A: Hope unit (RAY); 1D: Desert known for Joshua trees (MOJAVE); 2D: Nickname for a player who performs under pressure (ICEMAN); 3D: Like espresso (STRONG); 4D: Bonn pronoun (SIE); 5D: Fired (up) (PSYCHED); 6D: Author Sholem (ASCH); 7D: Pad __: Asian noodle dish (THAI); 8D: Record holder (SLEEVE); 9D: Sullied (TARNISHED); 10D: Not a good sign (EVIL OMEN); 11D: Facility (EASINESS); 12D: Jr.'s exam (PSAT); 15D: Abbr. often following a comma (ETC.); 18D: Brew follower? (-SKI); 22D: Classic Welles role (KANE); 24D: "Let it stand" (STET); 28D: Genesis (START); 29D: Shipping container weights (TARES); 30D: Day star? (OPRAH); 31D: Airport safety gp. (TSA); 32D: Squad car cop, often (RESPONDER); 34D: Taxonomic suffix (-OTA); 35D: Choppy seas feature (WHITECAP); 36D: Nancy's region (LORRAINE); 38D: Dole (METE); 40D: Author Harte (BRET); 41D: Quarrels (DUST-UPS); 43D: Works (OPUSES); 44D: Bachelor pad amenity (WET BAR); 45D: Colored circle around the pupil (AREOLA); 46D: One way to break the news (GENTLY); 49D: Get-up-and-go (VIM); 50D: Legal hire (PARA); 51D: Underwear initials (BVD); 52D: Sprint (RACE); 53D: "ER" areas (ICUS); 57D: "What's the __?" (USE).