THEME: No theme today—It's a themeless puzzle, just like every other Saturday. I always wonder how many people get accustomed to figuring out themes the rest of the week and rack their brains trying to tease out a theme from a Saturday grid.
Happy birthday to PuzzleGirl! She hits the big three-O today, and you'd never know it to look at her. Andrea Carla Michaels and Doug Peterson and PuzzleSister Elizabeth Olson White teamed up to make a birthday crossword for Andrea; you can get it here.
Happy birthday to my son Ben, too. He's turning 10. Double digits! There is no denying his tween status. Yesterday, he tuned the car radio to a pop hits station for the first time and identified that song I thought was by a woman as a song by Justin Bieber. Oh! The 15-year-old singin' boy does a good falsetto. No wonder the girls go wild for him.
Today's puZZle is packed with the letter Z and its friends. You've got your QUIZZICAL and PAPARAZZI, [Übermensch philosopher] NIETZSCHE with his five-consonant pile-up, ZOOMING ZEALOTS, the papal Star Wars conclave of JEDI and JOHN PAUL I, and more. After putting in my first answer, MOLOKAI, I gambled that the [Big name in publishing] would be KNOPF (20A) owing to its oddball consonant pairs, and that pointed the way towards the overall Scrabbliness-on-speed of the crossword. Either the clues were really easy or I coasted on Sam's wavelength, as sub-4:00 themelesses are not my norm.
Favorite bits, on top of the aforementioned words:
- If you've got to have crosswordese geography names URAL and ARAL, why not cross them? We've got 15A: [Evaporating sea] for ARAL and 7D: [Kazakhstan river] for URAL. I can't tell you what a disappointment it was for me last November when Ural Williams didn't show up for my high school class reunion. I knew his name was crosswordese when we were 14, but never got a chance to discuss it with him. I am astonished to see no listing for URAL in the Crosswordese 101 index.
- Speaking of crosswordese geography, OREM gets dressed up with a fresh clue—16A: [Utah home of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival]. Call me a nerd if you must, but sometimes I appreciate it when lame repeaters get new clues. Surprisingly, OREM hasn't been XW101ed yet, either. That one's easy—4-letter Utah town = OREM. 4-letter Russian town = OREL, which is also the first name of pitcher Orel Hershiser. Oh, unless the Russian town starting with O is ORSK or OMSK—just to keep you off balance.
- 30A: ELIA KAZAN usually gets the crosswordese fill-in-the-blank (FITB) treatment with just ELIA in the grid, but he gets the full name this time. Man, without "Kazan" in the clue, ["Gentlemen's Agreement" Oscar winner] was a mystery to me.
- 1D: The [Groundbreaking invention] isn't so amazing after all. It's a PICKAXE, which may be used to hack away at the ground.
- 4D: [Dime novels] are PULPS. Rex Parker's non-crossword blog is Pop Sensation, where he writes about pulp fiction book covers. Do they call 'em PULPS, Rex?
- 6D, 22D. For [Star chasers], I wanted something like ASTRONOMERS to fit, but it turned out to be the double-Z PAPARAZZI. The other kind of stars figure into [Stellar]/ASTRAL.
I have no idea who 38D: [Russian supermodel Vodianova] is, but with the N in place, NATA**A was likely. Turned out to be NATALIA rather than NATASHA. According to New York magazine, she's got three kids and is an activist on behalf of Russian orphans. Check this out: One of her kids is named Neva, after the 4-letter river crossword solvers know and love.
Crosswordese 101: URAL! At long last! The usual clues touch on these points: It's the name of a Russian and Kazakh river that feeds the Caspian Sea as well as the mountain range that separates Europe and Asia.
Now, I've made it all the way to the end of the post without including a video. I refuse to embed Justin Bieber in this blog, much less your consciousness. How about Bill Shannon instead? He's a performance artist and dancer who's created his own art form, dancing with the crutches he's always used to walk because of a congenital hip deformity. Words in the crossword that may relate, however tenuously, to this video include FLEXES, ZOOMING, and IMPRESS. Mainly I just wanted to share it because it's cool. You can find Shannon's street and stage performances on YouTube too. Like carrying a suitcase by putting it on a skateboard and clamping it between his lower legs, or whirling around in the air like a breakdancer who's elevated his game a few feet off the ground.
Everything Else — 1A: Psychs (up) (PUMPS); 6A: Frolicker in a Peter, Paul and Mary song (PUFF); 10A: Sith rivals (JEDI); 14A: "Cut __!" (IT OUT); 15A: Evaporating sea (ARAL); 16A: Utah home of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival (OREM); 17A: Symphony section (CELLI); 18A: Go back and forth (PACE); 19A: It can be hard to get over (HUMP); 20A: Big name in publishing (KNOPF); 21A: Costanza portrayer (ALEXANDER); 23A: Requests (ASKS FOR); 25A: Even considering (DESPITE); 26A: First chronicled Chinese dynasty (XIA); 27A: Bind (JAM); 29A: Washington et al. (STATES); 30A: "Gentlemen's Agreement" Oscar winner (ELIA KAZAN); 34A: Sorry lot? (RUERS); 35A: Curious (QUIZZICAL); 37A: About to bloom (IN BUD); 40A: Saw only good qualities in (IDEALIZED); 44A: "__ Boom-de-ay": vaudeville song (TA-RA-RA); 46A: Withdrawal aid, for short (ATM); 47A: I, to Claudius (ONE); 48A: Lit conditions? (STUPORS); 50A: Fanatics (ZEALOTS); 53A: Aircraft accelerators (TAILWINDS); 55A: They precede finals (SEMIS); 56A: "Play it, Sam" speaker (ILSA); 57A: Fed. anti-discrimination org. (EEOC); 58A: "What __ surprise!" (A NICE); 59A: Demeanor (MIEN); 60A: Eye protector (LASH); 61A: Roadside sign (DINER); 62A: Soothe (EASE); 63A: Half an arcade trademark (SKEE); 64A: Inner turmoil (ANGST); 1D: Groundbreaking invention (PICKAXE); 2D: Part of a place setting (UTENSIL); 3D: Island where Father Damien cared for lepers (MOLOKAI); 4D: Dime novels (PULPS); 5D: Lucky one? (STIFF); 6D: Star chasers (PAPARAZZI); 7D: Kazakhstan river (URAL); 8D: Confronted (FACED); 9D: Shows off at the gym (FLEXES); 10D: 33-day pope, 1978 (JOHN PAUL I); 11D: Learned (ERUDITE); 12D: Greek goddess of agriculture (DEMETER); 13D: Wow (IMPRESS); 22D: Stellar (ASTRAL); 24D: California city near Los Padres National Forest (OJAI); 28D: Tribute maker (MAZDA); 31D: Water skis alternative (AQUAPLANE); 32D: "Friends" actress (KUDROW); 33D: ‹bermensch philosopher (NIETZSCHE); 36D: Attended (CAME); 37D: "Let's go now" ("IT'S TIME"); 38D: Russian supermodel Vodianova (NATALIA); 39D: Bumps' partners (BRUISES); 41D: Moving quickly (ZOOMING); 42D: Lures (ENTICES); 43D: Finishing course (DESSERT); 45D: __ Grotto: ocean-themed Disney World play area (ARIEL'S); 49D: Quarterback's play (SNEAK); 51D: Carne __: Mexican beef dish (ASADA); 52D: October Revolution leader (LENIN); 54D: Shot amount (DOSE).