THEME: No theme today—It's a themeless puzzle, just like every other Saturday.
With a 4:20 solving time for me, I'll rate this puzzle a bit tougher than the average Saturday L.A. Times crossword.
I'll walk you through the puzzle now, focusing mostly on my favorite parts:
- 1a. [McCarthy era phenomenon] is the RED SCARE. Wouldn't it be awesome to use that clue for an answer like BUDDY HOLLY?
- 17a. The clue [1985 John Irving best-seller] is missing with "The". With or without The, CIDER HOUSE RULES looks good in the grid. 1985? Holy cow. I still think of this as one of Irving's more recent novels.
- 20a. I like this clue. Yes, CUTENESS is a [Baby's asset]. Without said asset, the human race might've died out eons ago. If you're going to disrupt my sleep for months, you'd damn well better be cute.
- 30a. [Rested] clues TOOK FIVE, a solidly idiomatic phrase. I got addled by a wrong crossing. For 23d: [Show approval, or disapproval], I had RATE instead of the correct RAVE. (One raves about good things but gets raving mad about terrible ones.)
- 35a. This clue is misleading. [Frequent saver] is a GOALIE? As if. If I were the goalie, I assure you the saves would be infrequent.
- 42a. HOME STRETCH is perhaps my favorite answer today. [It's right before the end].
- 53a. AN ERA completes ["Corporations have been enthroned and ___ of corruption in high places will follow": Lincoln]. Good old Abe knew whereof he spoke.
- 54a. One [Cryptozoologist's subject] is the LOCH NESS MONSTER. Another is the yeti. Imagine my surprise when I drove past a store that had gone out of business and saw its name: Yeti Boutique.
- 8d. [They're not wild] isn't about untamed beasts, it's about EDUCATED GUESSES.
- 27d. [It's sold in bars] clues OLEO. "Barkeep! Double oleo, neat."
- 29d. The only reason I know that a [Paving stone] is sometimes called a SETT is because that word's been in crosswords before. It's too rare to count as crosswordese, I think. Luckily, all four crossings are more common, which should take the guesswork out of SETT. You won't see this entry before Saturday.
- 34d. FRESHEN UP is another great in-the-language phrase. [Shower and change, say] pretty much covers it.
- 56d. [Where "Shazbot!" is a curse] is ORK, as in the planet in Mork and Mindy. Ah, that takes me back to my tween years.
- 6d. [Sports fig.] clues ATH., short for "athlete," rather than some sort of statistic.
- 12d. [Everyone, in Essen] is ALLE. People seem to grumble when there are German words in the grid. (Me, I like 'em because I studied German.)
- 13d. [Suburban followers?] is a cute clue for a plural suffix, -ITES.
- 31d. Boring ONE-A is clued as [Service rank], which makes it sound like a military rank (along the lines of CPL, SGT, COL, MAJ) rather than a draft classification.
- 32d. Sure, a partial like OF AN is not great fill. But I do like the clue: ["Confessions __ English Opium-Eater": 1821 De Quincey work]. Are any of you opium-eaters? No? How about lotus-eaters? Anyone?
- 35d. GOT AT isn't so easy to put in a natural-sounding sentence in the past tense. The clue is [Touched], but I feel like "getting at" is more about implying. Dictionary tells me "get at" also means "reach" and "bribe." "I crawled under the car and GOT AT the damaged muffler"—that works, right?
- 41d. ["Life With Father" co-star Leon] AMES is no longer a household name. There was a guy in my college dorm who always called me "Ames." I'm still surprised no one else ever has.
- 45d. If you haven't encountered James ENSOR, the ["Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889" artist], in crosswords, you probably haven't run into him anywhere else. He had a decidedly macabre bent, with skeletons playing a prominent part in his art. Check out his work, and then he won't be an obscure entry anymore. (Advice: Belgian artist, 5 letters, your answer will invariably be ENSOR.)
- 51d. [Plasm lead-in] is the prefix ECTO-.
Crosswordese 101: ARETE is standard crosswordese with a lengthy pedigree. It means 9d: [Narrow ridge], meaning a sharp mountain ridge. Learn it, because it's not going anywhere.
Everything Else — 9A: Trysting relationship (AFFAIR); 15A: Flattered, in a way (IMITATED); 16A: Grand Canal span (RIALTO); 19A: Architect Saarinen (ELIEL); 21A: Goes back (RETROGRADES); 24A: "Shucks!" ("RATS!"); 25A: Displays, with "out" (TROTS); 36A: Medical malpractice issue (INFORMED CONSENT); 38A: Naval construction worker (SEABEE); 39A: Garden entrance component, perhaps (GATE POST); 40A: Beefy-T maker (HANES); 41A: A psychic may see one (AURA); 49A: Goes before (PRECEDES); 57A: Celebrate a promotion, maybe (EAT OUT); 58A: Grin measure? (EAR TO EAR); 59A: Shows exhaustion (DROOPS); 60A: Aviation pioneer (SIKORSKY); 1D: Sous chef's gadget (RICER); 2D: '60s boxing champ Griffith (EMILE); 3D: Finished the job (DID IT); 4D: Guide (STEER); 5D: Swindler Ponzi, at birth (CARLO); 7D: Popular '20s auto (REO); 10D: Early Ford supplier (FIRESTONE); 11D: Woodland spirit (FAUN); 14D: 18th-century sewer (ROSS); 18D: Brewski (SUDS); 22D: Ugly buildup (GRIME); 26D: Grating sound (RASP); 28D: Pie containers (TINS); 30D: Mrs. Addams, to Gomez (TISH); 33D: Capital of Hyogo Prefecture (KOBE); 37D: Traffic units (CARS); 43D: "Night Music" playwright (ODETS); 44D: Sought aid from (RAN TO); 46D: Beans of Paris? (TÊTES); 47D: Reason to lubricate (CREAK); 48D: Potter of fiction (HARRY); 49D: Asked in earnest (PLED); 50D: Jungle warning (ROAR); 52D: Half a track sound (CHOO); 55D: It follows April in Paris (MAI).