SUNDAY, March 29, 2009 — Kathleen Fay O'Brien (syndicated)

THEME: "Los Angeles Clippers" — The Los Angeles Clippers are an NBA team, and in this theme, the letters LA are clipped from nine phrases to make nutty phrases with playful clues.

Hey, folks, it's Orange again, bringing you the syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword edited by Rich Norris and Joyce Nichols Lewis. This one appears in newspapers nationwide—but not in the L.A. Times. Southern Californians are missing out on some primo puzzling, I tell you. If you don't get this puzzle in your paper, have no fear: Just sign yourself up at Cruciverb.com (standard membership is free) and you, too, can get the puzzle in the Across Lite format. Across Lite allows you to do crosswords on your computer (offline) or print 'em out, and you can download the Across Lite application here. Edited to add: Or download version 2.0 from the New York Times website.)

Crosswordese 101: Any Sunday puzzle will have several candidates for a Crosswordese 101 lesson. This crossword has some stars and constellations, which certainly will merit a discourse at some point. And KNAR is a crazy sort of word that throws people for a loop when it bulges into the grid (2D: Tree trunk bulge). But today's winner is 33D: Prince Valiant's bride, ALETA. "Prince Valiant," Toonopedia tells me, is a comic strip, running since 1937, that stars the 5th-century hero Prince Valiant. He marries ALETA and one of their children is a son named ARN. He shows up in crosswords too. ALETA and ARN are tough to clue without resorting to a "Prince Valiant" reference, but the names have such common letters they're handy for crossword constructors.

Comic strips are a fertile source of pop-culture names for crosswords. Why, just look at the canine contingent: "Beetle Bailey" gives us a dog named OTTO, while "Hagar the Horrible's" pet is SNERT. The drooling dog in "Garfield" is named ODIE. "Hi and Lois" have a dog named...DAWG.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Toy guns? (FALSE ARMS). This one plays on false alarms.
  • 24A: Education for lab rats? (MAZE CLASSES). This is Lamaze classes minus the LA.
  • 39A: Thug down in the dumps? (BLUE GOON). Blue Lagoon was a racy 1980 movie starring Brooke Shields.
  • 43A: Where the South American school gp. meets? (RIO DE LA P.T.A.). Rio de la Plata is a South American river.
  • 65A: Dana Carvey doing The Police's lead singer? (STING IMPRESSION). That might give a lasting impression.
  • 92A: Cop who brings back the genie when he goes AWOL? (ALADDIN'S M.P.). Aladdin's lamp is the base phrase here.
  • 94A: Dubbed-in sounds of disgust? (UGH TRACK). A laugh track turns into an UGH TRACK? That's perfect. Only the cleverest theme entries actually make solvers laugh, and this one got me. American Idol has an ugh track, thanks to Simon Cowell.
  • 113A: Appropriate style of dress for exams? (TEST FASHION). The latest fashion.
  • 115A: ATM accesses that nobody can guess? (GREAT PINS). Most of the theme answers lop the LA off the beginning of a word. Here, it's extracted from the middle of the Great Plains.
The Coolest Answers:

I'm a sucker for clues that ask you to ignore the usual meaning of some words and instead go hyper-literal. That's the sort of thinking that's required in cryptic crosswords, and there's a taste of that in 87D: Writing feature? (SILENT W). A feature of the word writing is that first letter, a SILENT W.

I'm also a sucker for slangy language, especially if it's fun to say. We get a one-two hit of that with ALL ABUZZ (14D: Teeming with activity) and GASBAG (15D: Blowhard). "After that gasbag claimed to be an expert on 'Prince Valiant,' the room was all abuzz with skeptics saying he wouldn't know Arn if he bit him on the ass." Do you know anybody who actually reads that comic strip? I challenge you to NAME ONE (91D: "Give me an example!").

Names in crossword grids tend to be either first or last names. It's much trickier to wedge in a longer first/last name combo, so ED NORTON (60A: Ralph Kramden's friend) is a terrific-looking answer. So's the HEAT WAVE (83D: Stretch in the 90s, e.g.). I once had a business trip in ST. LOUIS (98A: Arch city) when it was 100°. The air was hot, the cab ride was hot, and then our far-flung gate at the airport was hot. When are airports ever not freakishly climate-controlled? During a dreadful HEAT WAVE, that's when.

There were other groovy entries, too: I like PORTUGAL (73A: The Azores are part of it) because we get relatively few 8-letter place names—ERIE is so played out, man. Speaking of foreign countries, 51D: Foreign correspondents? are PEN PALS; the question mark tells you we're not talking about overseas reporters. KOSHER mostly refers to Jewish food laws, but the word also means legitimate and sometimes 55D: Authentic. One of my favorite clues here is 71D: Crown location for TOOTH. Was your first thought of a queen or king's crown? Mine sure was. And you gotta love the GINSU knife, a classic 74D: Infomercial knife. It's still around, you know.

Tough Stuff:
  • 5A: Off-the-market apple spray is ALAR. Didn't Meryl Streep help get this banned? 49A: Coal industry labor org. is UMW. The "org." abbreviation signals the abbreviated answer, and UMW is short for United Mine Workers. The first name of 63D: Actor Katz is OMRI. You know any other famous OMRIs? I sure don't.
  • 59A: Mr. Magoo, notably is a MYOPE. Myopia means near-sightedness, though really, Mr. Magoo's vision problems went well beyond a minor case of myopia.
  • 107A: Powerful shooter marbles are STEELIES. Other marbles seen in crosswords include agates and taws.
  • There are plenty of stars and constellations in the sky. (At least billions, right?) Some of 'em even find their way into the grid. Here we have CYGNUS, the 53D: Swan constellation, and SPICA, a 67D: Star in Virgo.
  • 37D: Fingers, so to speak clues RATS ON. Two-word verb phrase! Usually with a clue like this, you'd fill in an S in the last square...but sometimes it's going to be wrong. If you're mired in a corner that just isn't working with that final S, consider erasing it because crossword constructors are quite fond of these verb phrases that tuck the S in a surprising spot.
  • 105D: Husband of Octavia is NERO, who fiddled while Rome burned. Hey, who doesn't like a little music?
  • SEGO is a 108D: Lily with an edible root. This answer's in crosswords pretty regularly.
  • The 116D: "Kung Fu" actor on TV was Philip AHN . He's thought to be the first U.S. citizen born here to Korean parents.
Foreign Vocabulary:

Words in other languages can be signaled several ways. You can go geographic—3D: Cuba, to Cubans tells you to come up with a Spanish word like ISLA ("island"), and the French word RESTE is evoked by the French place name in 8D: What's left, in Le Mans. 81A: Niño's emphatic yes includes a Spanish word to point towards the Spanish answer (SI SI, or "Yes, yes!"). Clues can also include a language tag: 40D: Others: Span. asks for the Spanish word for "others," OTROS. And then there's 114D: __ vous plait, which counts on the solver to recognize the French phrase and know that SIL is missing.

Everything Else: 1A: Lose traction (SKID). 9A: African expanse (SAHARA). 15A: Hanks Oscar-winning role (GUMP). 19A: Like some training programs (IN SERVICE). 21A: Cloisonne material (ENAMEL). 22A: Ending for stink (AROO). 26A: Political essay (TRACT). 27A: Mall tenant (RETAILER). 29A: Capital on the Hudson (ALBANY). 30A: Musical ability (EAR). 32A: Altercations (SET-TOS). 33A: "Waterloo" singers (ABBA). 34A: Intersection caution (BLINKER). 38A: Head lines? (EEG). 46A: Cold symptom (SNEEZE). 48A: Fight ender, briefly (TKO). 50A: Bridge bid (NO TRUMP). 52A: Insect-world animated film (ANTZ). 53A: Dungeness delicacy (CRAB). 54A: Furniture wood (TEAK). 56A: Cubs' A.L. rivals (SOX). 57A: 'Enry's Broadway protegee (ELIZA). 63A: Where to see 60-Across (ON TV). 64A: Loafs on the job (DOGS IT). 69A: Enjoys the tub (BATHES). 72A: Musical syllables (TRAS). 77A: Healing plants (ALOES). 78A: Hiker's route (TRAIL). 80A: Hodges of baseball (GIL). 82A: Jordan's dowager queen (NOOR). 83A: Get better (HEAL). 84A: Biological subdivision (SPECIES). 88A: '60s theater, briefly (NAM). 89A: Rubble creator (TNT). 90A: Guiding signal (BEACON). 96A: Cleo's downfall (ASP). 99A: Including (WITH). 100A: Some dirty politics (SMEARS). 103A: November honoree (VET). 104A: Observable (IN VIEW). 109A: Massage targets (NECKS). 117A: Camaro __-Z (IROC). 118A: Boys' Choir home (VIENNA). 119A: Tidal maximum (HIGH WATER). 120A: Junior, last yr. (SOPH). 121A: Makes rhapsodic (ELATES). 122A: Bugs, for one (TOON). 123A: Henna and her sisters? (DYES). 1D: Baking instruction (SIFT). 4D: Come down (DESCEND). 5D: Actress Gardner (AVA). 6D: N.Y.C. commuter line (LIRR). 7D: Peaks (ACMES). 9D: Israeli, e.g. (SEMITE). 10D: Substances similar in structure, in chemistry (ANALOGS). 11D: Fogs (HAZES). 12D: Part of VOA: Abbr. (AMER). 13D: Remote button (REC). 16D: __ Minor (URSA). 17D: Big name in faucets (MOEN). 18D: Bride's throwaway (POSY). 20D: Shot again, as photos (RETAKEN). 25D: "Tiny Alice" dramatist (ALBEE). 28D: Mr. T's squad (A-TEAM). 31D: Move, in brokerese (RELO). 34D: Big bully (BRUTE). 35D: Treated the soil, in a way (LIMED). 36D: Davenport native (IOWAN). 39D: Auto pioneer Karl (BENZ). 41D: Giraffe cousin (OKAPI). 42D: "Check," in poker (NO BET). 44D: Plug projection (PRONG). 45D: Affair wear (TUX). 47D: Gullible (NAIVE). 58D: P.O. sackful (LTRS). 59D: No longer at issue (MOOT). 61D: Numbered rds. (RTES). 62D: Not counting fas and las, word after "holly" (TIS). 64D: N, E, S or W (DIR). 66D: Roman prefix (ITALO). 68D: Pyramids, e.g. (SOLIDS). 69D: African language group (BANTU). 70D: __ for the ride (ALONG). 75D: "Me, too!" (AS AM I). 76D: Walks like House (LIMPS). 78D: Show the ropes (TEACH). 79D: Pool accessory (RACK). 80D: It holds locks in place (GEL). 85D: Like the Holy See (PAPAL). 86D: 1999 Ron Howard film (ED TV). 90D: Lawyer's writing (BRIEF). 93D: Jotting place (NOTEPAD). 95D: Muscle spasm (TWITCH). 97D: Perceived to be (SEEN AS). 100D: Tour of duty (STINT). 101D: Correct (RIGHT). 102D: Comic opening? (SERIO-). 104D: Tendon suffix (-ITIS). 106D: Brandy letters (VSOP). 107D: 2000 World Series venue (SHEA). 110D: Mayor's domain (CITY). 111D: Cello stabilizer (KNEE). 112D: Georgia et al., once: Abbr. (SSRS).


Rex Parker said...

Did this pretty quickly, but definitely tripped over the SILENT W. The "Letteral" clue returns! Feels like I haven't seen one of these in a while. I remember last year it felt like I was tripping over them all the time.

Nice BLUE GOON pic, BTW.


Jeffrey said...

So the LA puzzle with an LA theme isn't seen in LA? Kind of like pro football.

Thanks for explaining GREAT PINS. The EA was my last fill, as I was lost in LA on that one.

I like the B & Z pileup in the NE.

John said...

This was a fun solve. FYI, something appears to be wrong at Rex's Blog. The comment's aren't there. Has He been flagged again??

Greene said...

Enjoyed this. Zipped through in about 30 minutes. Well...that's zipping for me anyway. Got the theme right away and thought most of the theme answers were pretty good. Really liked UGH TRACK which was just bizarre enough to make me smile.

I am loving this blog. Don't always have time to solve the LAT in addition to NYT, but I always read the write-ups here just because there is so much good advice and instruction in crossword basics. More, please!

Rex Parker said...

Re: my site - Comments Are There. Right ... There. I just went there, they are working just fine. Comments continue to roll in. Maybe there was a glitch for a tiny bit, but Comments are OK.

UGH TRACK was my fav. theme answer. I should get one of those for my site. Would save me lots of typing.


chefbea said...

I have a question?? I did the sunday puzzle in my paper but it is not the one you guys are discussing. Why is that. ? I was looking forward to seeing the two words I couldnt get :-(

mac said...

Great write-up and lesson, Orange!
I had never done a LA Sunday puzzle, and it's very good.

I figured out the LA trick with the false arms, and enjoyed getting the other ones, my favorite also being ugh track. I got the "great pins" but was wondering if Great Lapins were a breed of rabbits.....

@Rex: the comment option was also out for a few minutes mid-day.

Anonymous said...

Two words were probably "oospore", a fungal zygote,and "bboards", sysadmins may run them....

Ann Arbor News (soon to die also) didn't have the one referenced above either.

chefbea said...

sorry I cant chime in for this puzzle. I had a different one in the greenwich times. I think its the puzzle that you all will be doing next week

Joon said...

chefbea, was your puzzle by sylvia bursztyn? if so, then it's the LA times calendar puzzle. i think puzzlegirl is planning to blog this puzzle regularly, but today it wasn't available online until very late in the day.

Alex said...

ChefBea and anonymous -- who constructed your puzzle?

As far as the puzzle that's actually in the L.A. Times, it's finally online now ...

Alex said...

Dammit Joon, get out of my head.

chefbea said...

my puzzle was by Will Nediger entitled "in the Nonfiction Section. Below the puzzle was the answer to last weeks puzzle which is what y'all are blogging about

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. The one in the AA paper was "Premier Crossword" by Frank A. Longo, "Two Devilish Definitions". No answer to the last one. But since the AA paper is disappearing soon, who knows what they're doing.

xyz said...
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