SATURDAY, March 28, 2009 — Robert H. Wolfe

THEME: None (Saturdays have themeless crosswords)

Orange here, checking in with the Saturday L.A. Times crossword—almost always the week's toughest. The Sunday puzzle might take longer, but that's a factor of its bigger size. In a themed puzzle, once you cotton to what's going on in the theme answers, it often gives you a leg up on the last theme answers. A themeless puzzle doesn't offer that. Instead, it focuses on longer answers and trickier clues. The usual rule is that a themeless crossword will have no more than 72 answers, while the themed weekday ones can go up to 78.

In lieu of a theme, constructor Robert Wolfe anchors this grid with three 15-letter answers, all of them phrases you might say rather than nouns or verbs or what-have-you. Here are the triplets:
  • 17A: "No need to get so excited" (keep your shirt on)
  • 37A: "No way!" (don't make me laugh)
  • 59A: "No idea" (I haven't got a clue)
Overall, this puzzle wasn't as hard as most Saturday crosswords, but it's got its challenging bits.

Crosswordese 101: A.k.a. European Rivers 101. Yesterday, Rex focused on a European river called the YSER. Guess what? There are a great many rivers in Europe with four-letter names that flow into crosswords far out of proportion to their familiarity among Americans. Today's crossword brings us the ARNO (20A: River of Tuscany); that's it in the photo below, with the Ponte Vecchio spanning it. Spain has the EBRO; if you know that Spain and Portugal make up the peninsula called Iberia, remember that the river's name is related to it and shares its consonants. Now, EBRO sounds Italian to me, so it took me years to put the ARNO in my "Italian river clue" memory and the EBRO in the "Spanish river clue" spot.

Switzerland's main crosswordese river has two acceptable spellings: AAR and AARE. Hooray! The number of squares will tell you which one you want.

England has the OUSE, which always looks French to me, TYNE, and AVON. France has the OISE (not to be confused with the OUSE), ORNE, and a number of five-letter rivers (including the SEINE, LOIRE, MARNE, and SAONE). France has the gall to contain a five-letter ISERE River, which apparently is not the same thing as the Belgian YSER.

The URAL, NEVA, and LENA are Russia's leading four-letter crosswordese rivers; there's also the three-letter OKA.

Germany is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the four-letter crosswordese river world, with the ELBE, EDER, ODER, RUHR, SAAR, EGER, and (less commonly) ISAR.

Head south from Europe and you run into the NILE—which has the advantage of being a world-famous river that you've heard of.

Now, you don't have to memorize where all these rivers originate, pass through, and empty. But it will stand you in good stead to familiarize yourself with the names so that when the crossing answers spell them out, you can feel certain that they're correct. The main ones you'll encounter are the Swiss AAR/AARE, Italian ARNO, Spanish EBRO, German/Polish ODER, and Russian URAL.

But Wait! There's More!

It's been my sense that the L.A. Times crossword tends to include a little more pop culture—names and titles from Hollywood movies and TV—than other puzzles do. Here's today's allotment:
  • 24A: Kiara's mother in "The Lion King" (NALA). Animated feature film.
  • 29A: "Medium" network (NBC). Broadcast TV series.
  • 40A: "The Lord of the Rings" monster (ORC). Blockbuster movie franchise based on Tolkien's books.
  • 58A: Stimpy's pal (REN). A '90s cartoon.
  • 6D: "The Killing Fields" Oscar winner Haing S. __ (NGOR). Drama on the big screen.
  • 12D: "Contact" acronym (SETI). Sci-fi drama starring Jodie Foster.
  • 13D: Presley's middle name (ARON). Elvis!
  • 24D: Peggy Lee and Marilyn Monroe, at birth (NORMAS). Stage names!
Prefixes, suffixes, and abbreviations, oh my!: Crossword constructors prefer stand-alone words to these short bits, but making a puzzle with none of these sorts of answers is no mean feat. Today's abbreviations include ERS, or emergency rooms (19A: Triage sites, briefly); RECT., or rectangle (22A: Geometric fig.); IRR., or irregular (25A: Letters on seconds); LAB, not exactly an abbreviation but short for laboratory (35A: Language teaching site); DTS, or delirium tremens (9D: Rehab symptoms); RPM, or revolutions per minute (26D: Dashboard letters); BHT, or...I'm not sure what it stands for, but its best friend is BHA (36D: Food preservative letters); and A-TEN, or the Atlantic 10 Conference (56D: Fordham's hoops conf.). Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac-10, ACC—I know those conferences. This A-10 isn't familiar to me.

HIERO- and TWI- are prefixes—16A: Prefix with glyph and 60D: Prefix with light, respectively. ROTO is a commercial prefix here (55D: __-Rooter). MARM isn't a suffix, but it has a tough time standing apart from "school" (57D: School closing?). That question mark reminds you not to take the phrase "school closing" at face value—there's no snow day here, just a word that's a "closing" for the word "school."

Rex applies the term "odd jobs" to words like ASKER—a word ending in -ER that's generally a legitimate extrapolation from its root word, but not a word you're likely to ever use. An ASKER is clued as 1D: Invitation sender. Have you ever thought of yourself as an asker, even when you're feeling inquisitive? Some words look like odd-jobbers but aren't. I suspect INKERS (27D: Comic book artists) is a perfectly ordinary word in comic book circles.

An olio of other answers:

Two of the longer answers are phrases with colors—RED AS A BEET (41A: Visibly embarrassed) and BLUE MARLIN (30D: Atlantic game fish).

One word you're unlikely to encounter outside of crosswords is STERE (2D: Cubic measure). It's a boring word, but look how common its letters are. Why, it's perfect for crosswords! If only people actually used the word routinely.

JUJUBE! I used to like ripping my molars out by biting down on JUJUBEs (51A: Gelatin candy).

To play us out, here's ARAM Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance," played by the Berlin Philharmonic. I hope it's not too early in your morning for that piece. It's rousing!

Everything else: — 1A: According to design (ASPLANNED). 10A: Attended (WASAT). 15A: Prolong (STRINGOUT). 21A: Short-tailed weasel (ERMINE). 27A: "__ out?" (INOR). 32A: Breakthroughs in therapy, say (EYEOPENERS). 42A: Thin swimmer (EEL). 44A: Speaker in Cooperstown (TRIS). 45A: Bit of treasure (GEM). 46A: Fireworks reactions (OOHS). 48A: What a nyctophobe fears (DARK). 54A: Composer Khachaturian (ARAM). 62A: Crescent shapes (LUNES). 63A: Floating point (WATERLINE). 64A: That point (THERE). 65A: Hematite producers (IRONMINES). 2D: Cubic measure (STERE). 3D: Foreknowledge (PRESCIENCE). 4D: Sass (LIP). 5D: Novelist Seton (ANYA). 7D: Lions or tigers or bears (NOUN). 8D: It replaced the Slovak koruna on 1/1/2009 (EURO). 10D: Eddy (WHIRL). 11D: Pilot (AIRMAN). 14D: Voice mail cue (TONE). 18D: Limo leaders, at times (HEARSES). 23D: Relaxed pace (TROT). 28D: "__ say more?" (NEEDI). 31D: Zoo enclosure (CAGE). 32D: Shogun's capital (EDO). 33D: Bygone days (YORE). 34D: Like much pottery (EARTHEN). 38D: Fall back (LAG). 39D: Tucked in (ABED). 43D: Slatted window opening (LOUVER). 47D: Quite weighty (OBESE). 49D: Meet with the old gang (REUNE). 50D: Joints with caps (KNEES). 51D: Leave abruptly, as a lover (JILT). 52D: "Nope" (UHUH). 53D: Doe to be identified (JANE). 54D: Culture medium (AGAR). 61D: One-third of CDLIII (CLI).


John said...

This is the easiest saturday LAT in a LONG time!

Orange said...

I agree, John. Editor Rich Norris says the L.A. Times crossword will be eased up a bit for a while on behalf of the folks who are used to the Chicago Tribune/Tribune Media Services daily crossword—that puzzle, which was just discontinued, was pitched at a Tuesday/Wednesday NYT level on weekdays. TMS also syndicates the LAT puzzle, so many former TMS solvers are new to its replacement, the LAT crossword. The TMS Saturday puzzle was a themeless one, though, so those solvers might be ready for an LAT puzzle that's every bit as challenging as usual.

Rex Parker said...

O, PontE Vecchio. Interesting.

Dude, you gotta dole out the crosswordese in small doses. You just took half the rivers off the list.

ANYA and ARAM are great, higher-end xwordese too.

And yes, very easy. I should not be able to do a Saturday in under 7. Not yet, anyway. Love JUJUBE.

Rex Parker said...

INKERS is, indeed, very ordinary in comics. It's an actual job. Unlike ASKER.


chefbea said...

Of course I loved this puzzle and I am not embarrassed to say so!!!!

I normally don't do the Saturday LA times puzzle - doing too many errands but since you great people have this blog...

Jeffrey said...

How can you not love a puzzle with JUJUBE? It is crossing OBESE, though; eat too many and it'll be hard to KEEP YOUR SHIRT ON.

PRESCIENCE arrived late to the party; it belonged in yesterday's puzzle.

chefbea said...

meant to ask... what does BHT stand for? I'll try google

Rex Parker said...

Oh man, good question. BHT sounds like a pork-laden sandwich. "Screw lettuce!"

chefbea said...

I looked it up. Its one of those words you can't pronounce that is put in food so it won't spoil.

Anonymous said...

I am one of the switchees from the Trib puzzle and I found the LAT if not more challenging then defintely different, more pop culture references, more tricky clues. I really like it. Now the bad part: The Detroit Free Press goes digital on Monday and now I have to decide if I will logon, print the puzzle each morning and solve it with my cornflakes. I am leaning towards 'yes' right now. I have been reading the Freep for 40 years and this is going to be a huge adjustment (although walking 100 yards to the mailbox in the cold dark mornings will not be missed).

Rex Parker said...


I feel your pain. This is going to be the big change for xword solvers over the next few years. Traditional outlets will die and people will have to get their puzzles online ... or stop solving. I'm going to do everything I can to encourage the former, but it'll be tough. Hang in there.

RP (formerly of Ann Arbor)

Badir said...


I beat you, I beat you, I beat you!!! Sorry to be obnoxious and gloat, but since you've beaten me all other 843 times we're been joined in battle, I wanted to savor my 9-second victory on today's _LAT_ puzzle. Savoring... savoring. There. Anyway, great job on toasting me all the other times!

Jeffrey said...


It was the SE ARAM/ATEN area that slowed me down.

Nice job. I'm sure it won't be the last time.

John said...

I just Cant resist this,

"And the BEET goes on...."

Apologies to Sonny and Cher

John Reid said...

Great puzzle, but it sure felt like an early-in-the-week offering. I hope the Saturday LA Times isn't going to be this easy every weekend now - I always look forward to the tougher themeless puzzles each weekend and it would be disappointing if any of them were made less challenging.

Joon said...

yep, it's definitely gotten easier this week. i set personal bests for monday, friday, and saturday. not sure if that's a bad thing. this one was a pretty smooth solve... good thing i didn't actually need to know NGOR or BHT.

chefbea said...

I just realized: Ren is in both puzzles today. Very popular dog.

SaminMiam said...

I've been reading both blogs about the LATimes puzzle. It's great, Orange, that you're explaining basic 'crosswordese,' but from what I read over there, those solvers are plenty used to them, as long as the clues keep repeating word for word!
What they seem to have a little trouble with is the two-word answers, which completely surprises them. So a lesson about them (somehow!) would make a nice blog explanation from you, the Expert.
Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

You grad from UM right? Then you will be glad to know the AA News will no longer exist come June. I am very glad I started reading the NYT about 3 yrs ago. I hope they aren't going under!
LSA Grad 1982

mac said...

@chefbea: I'm not embarassed to say that I try to stay away from those BHT's as much as possible!

Very smooth puzzle, which I had to do online since husband is doing tax work on the computer with the printer. I like it ok, but I always notice that I've missed clues and answers because I start with the downs, then do the acrosses. Sometimes a pity.

Odd that there are two of the same answers in the NYT and LAT puzzles, although one is clued differently.

It's so sad to see our newspapers shrink and disappear. Especially with a journalist in the family.....

John said...

The same answers appear in same day puzzles more often than one would ever think. I would like to know why/how??

Rex Parker said...

Sometimes answers are two words. There's your lesson. I think I went on at length about parsing yesterday.

As for repeat words in puzzles appearing on the same day - complete and utter coincidence. There is no explanation.

@LSA grad 82, I got my Ph.D. from UM in '00 - lived in AA for eight years.


Rex Parker said...

That should be '99, not '00. Not that it really matters.

Jeffrey said...

There is a vast government conspiracy covering up the fact that aliens insert the same word in multiple puzzles. Rex is part of the coverup.

Jon said...

As someone who always confuses the rivers, this list is a godsend. Thanks so much!

xyz said...
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JaJaJoe said...

Not having known initially of EYEOPENERS as for 32A "Breakthroughs in therapy,say" I thought of EGOOPENERS.
As for European short-named rivers, Poland has the Bug; and a fave clue-play to me is ITALY (having the Po River Valley) for "Po-land".

Rex Parker said...

Sadly, you will forget all those rivers very shortly - except the EBRO, ARNO, RUHR, AARE, ELBE, and LENA, which are not going to be ignored, Dan (sorry, channeling "Fatal Attraction" there).


Anne said...

@Anonymous at 8:33 - I left the Detroit Free Press hard copy at the end of the year and switched to the online NYT. There I found I was good up to Thursday (also Sunday) and I've been doing Friday and Saturday since then. They are challenging but I'm getting better. I then found Rex's blog and now this. So I think it was all for the best. Good luck.

obertb said...

@Orange: Thanks for the explanation of why the LAT puzzles have seemed easier of late. I, too, hope they don't remain this way. Today's seemed like about a Wed/Thurs NYT level.

xyz said...
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Orange said...

obertb: Editor Rich Norris reports that the easing up will be phased out in about a month. I think that'll be plenty of time for the newcomers to the puzzle to get accustomed to things like two-word parts of phrases serving as answers, and just a wee vacation from the usual difficulty level for us long-time solvers.

Anonymous said...

FYI...BHT is butylated hydroxy toluene and BHA is butylated hydroxy anisole. (Thank you biochem 101!)

Anonymous said...

I concur in the thanks for explaining why this puzzle was so easy. It's funny, because until recently, my perception was the LAT puzzles were getting harder and more interesting, almost as if to keep up with the Sun. And now that the Sun is gone....

BTW, the puzzles might be getting easier, but my technological incompetence remains -- no matter how many times and how many ways I try, I can't decode the mystery to setting up a Google account. It claims my email does not match, even though it's actually my Google mail account. Go figure.


liquid el lay said...

wanted WHORL for WHIRL but KEEPYOURSHORTSON wouldn't fit.

JUJUBE and the entire Sandiego-Tijuana block I particularly like, but I like everything in the south, really.