SATURDAY, July 25, 2009—Brad Wilber

THEME: No theme today—Just a themeless Saturday puzzle with an abundance of fresh fill, plus Scrabbly letters up the wazoo

Holy frijoles, did I ever like this puzzle. Here's what I like best in a themeless puzzle:
  • Lots of long answers, especially in the 9- to 11-letter range and all stacked together like intellectual Oreos.
  • Surprising phrases, titles, names, and words—things that are decidedly not a dime a dozen in crosswords.
  • Uncommon letters, which I like to call "Scrabbly" because they earn a lot of points in Scrabble.
The edges of Brad's crossword feature a dozen long answers, stacked three deep in each corner. There are all sorts of nutty entries I've never seen in a crossword before. And once I got MALT LIQUOR at 1-Across (clued with a brand of malt liquor, Colt 45, e.g.), I began to suspect there'd be all sorts of Scrabbly goodness lurking throughout. This is one of Rex's favorite themeless puzzles this year, and I gotta agree with his assessment.

Before I give you the lowdown on the answers and clues that delighted me (and the smaller list of ones that left me clueless), let's edjumicate.

Crosswordese 101: AGEE is the last name of two famous men. There's today's guy, 41A: Tommie of the "Miracle Mets," and there's a writer named James AGEE. Usually the crossword skews more literary and the clue goes with James. Key facts that show up in his clues: He won a posthumous Pulitzer in 1958. He wrote the screenplays for The African Queen and The Night of the Hunter. He was a movie critic. And he wrote A Death in the Family, The Morning Watch, and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The AGEE fellows have a name that's 75% vowels, so their fame may live on forever in crosswords.

Favorite answers and clues: I'll pick and choose and leave out some of my favorites, because dangit, there are just too many today.
  • 17A: Emmy-winning 1972 TV concert film (LIZA WITH A Z). Wow, this one took me a long time to piece together. I had L*Z*WIT*AZ and was mystified. Two Zs! Total pop culture—but pop culture that is likely familiar to people from a wide range of ages. Me, I have little interest in Liza Minnelli's oeuvre (showtunes and I do not get along), so I'm not going to watch this video.

  • 28A: Brief turndown ('FRAID NOT). 100% colloquial spoken English, 100% familiar, less than 1% likely to appear in a crossword. My dad liked to tell the old joke about the piece of string who kept getting thrown out of a bar. He tied himself in a knot and roughed up his ends on the sidewalk and tried ordering a drink again. "Say, aren't you the piece of string I just threw out of here?" asked the bartender. "No, I'm a frayed knot," the string replied.
  • 37A: Bismarck's realm (PRUSSIA). I think some of my ancestors came to America from what was then labeled Prussia on the map. I should start telling people I'm part Prussian.
  • 44A: Military brass? (BUGLES). Usually "military brass" means the generals in charge; here it means the brass instruments used to play "Taps."
  • 61A: Prescription that might give you shakes? (LIQUID DIET). As in the milkshakes, the protein shakes, etc.
  • 64A: Head turner, at times (REIN). Usually "head turner" means "good-looking person," but here it refers to the REINs that turn a horse's head. Excellent mislead—the sort of misleading clue that's right at home in a Saturday crossword.
  • 65A: 1988 winner of seven Olympic swimming medals (MATT BIONDI). I'm a sucker for first/last name combos as crossword fill. Poor Matt Biondi, eclipsed by Ian Thorpe and especially Michael Phelps. Speaking of full names, we also have LEW AYRES (5D: "Johnny Belinda" Oscar nominee).
  • 6D: Where a pupil sits? (IRIS). I'll bet a lot of you wanted to put DESK here, didn't you? Saturday clues like to mess with our heads. Pupil = student, pupil = the black spot in your eye.
  • 32D: You'll need one for your flat (SPARE TIRE). The clue wants you to think of English apartments and be misled.
  • 34D: North American Francophone (QUEBECOIS). I like geographical names and I like the letter Q.
  • 40D: Kipling's "limpin' lump o' brick-dust" (GUNGA DIN). I didn't know the colorful quote, but there aren't many Kipling characters' names that (a) I know and (b) are 8 letters long.
  • 63D: Semi-colon? (DOT). A colon has two dots (:) so half a colon is one DOT.
Overall, this crossword really wasn't too tough, not as themeless Saturday puzzles go. There were a couple short answers that kept me waiting for crossings, though. There's 2D: Hypothetical particle (AXION), which I've never heard of. (Physics is not my forte.) And the abbreviation DAU. was kinda painful; it's clued as 31A: Abbr. in a genealogy volume, so I surmise that it's short for "daughter." You really have to expect to see some things you simply have no way of knowing in a Saturday puzzle, so you really can't call foul on these. And their crossings were rock-solid—it's not as if we had to guess a letter in DAU that crossed an Armenian river, you know? This puzzle is eminently fair in addition to being a sparkly marvel of yumminess.

Everything Else — 11A: Shelter protests (ARFS); 15A: Joy to the max (EXUBERANCE); 16A: Become distorted (WARP); 18A: Logical start? (IDEO-); 19A: Greet the visitors? (BOO); 20A: Comparison words (AS A); 21A: Washington summit (RAINIER); 23A: Vex (ANNOY); 25A: Palais du Louvre resident, once (ROI); 27A: Hybrid garment (SKORT); 32A: Film follower (SEQUEL); 35A: Site of semicircular canals (EAR); 36A: "__ No Sunshine": 1971 Bill Withers hit (AIN'T); 39A: Street corner feature (SIGNAGE); 42A: Logos, e.g.: Abbr. (TMS); 45A: Knock over (ROB); 46A: Olivier's "Rebecca" costar (FONTAINE); 48A: Filing material (EMERY); 50A: 2002 British Open champ (ELS); 51A: Comprehend (GRASP); 55A: Best Buy's Geek Squad, e.g. (TECHIES); 57A: New Deal dam-building org. (TVA); 59A: Battle of Chancellorsville victor, 1863 (LEE); 60A: "Am __ sensitive?" (I TOO); 66A: Celtic language (ERSE); 67A: Opportunity for a Hollywood hopeful (SCREEN TEST); 1D: Peach __ (MELBA); 3D: Manila's island (LUZON); 4D: Not yet filled: Abbr. (TBA); 7D: Saudi neighbor (QATARI); 8D: Granite State sch. (UNH); 9D: Ovoid wind instruments (OCARINAS); 10D: Exiled Shah Mohammed __ Pahlavi (REZA); 11D: Didn't sleep __ (A WINK); 12D: Car tuning aid (RADIO DIAL); 13D: Allowed to graze (FREE-RANGE); 14D: Durango and Sorento (SPORT UTES); 22D: Lobby add-on (-IST); 24D: Helpful (OF USE); 26D: Dedicated lines (ODE); 29D: Bush Supreme Court nominee (ALITO); 30D: Small antelope (ORIBI); 33D: Indoor rowing machine (ERGOMETER); 36D: Inflame (ANGER); 38D: One having an identity crisis? (AMNESIAC); 43D: Cardinal's insignia (STL); 46D: Memo opener (FYI); 47D: Perceptive (ASTUTE); 49D: Lake Geneva feeder (RHONE); 52D: Dress introduced by Dior (A-LINE); 53D: Navel orange's lack (SEEDS); 54D: Word before four or point (PETIT); 56D: Colonnade choices (ELMS); 58D: Vague feeling (VIBE); 62D: Super Bowl div. (QTR.).


Rex Parker said...

As I told Amy last night, that NW corner deserves an award all its own.

With the very notable exception of DAU, I thought this puzzle ruled. I literally said "wow" or "cool" several times as I was doing it. 'FRAID NOT, GUNGA DIN, QUEBECOIS, SKORT ... it just didn't let up. I'm often not on B Wilber's wavelength (i.e. his puzzles often smack me around), and while this one was still tough (tougher than most stuff the LAT has been serving up lately), it was also right in my knowledge (and pleasure) zone. I hope that didn't sound too sexual.

Off to drink some MALT LIQUOR and watch LIZA WITH A Z.


Jeffrey said...

Is it possible to make a wonderful themeless puzzle that easily solvable and loads of fun? This puzzle proves the anwer is yes.

Favorite personal moment - Ovoid wind instruments - first thought - OCARINAS? Yes! The word that cost me about 50 places at a previous Tournament has gone down! Revenge is mine!

mac said...

After Orange's favorable report on this puzzle yesterday, I printed it out and enjoyed every minute of the solve. Agree with you word for word!

Unknown said...

Excellent puzzle today. Favorite clue/answer: AMNESIAC! Awesome. Abundance of Qs and Zs kept me thinking. Lots of names that were gettable eventually. PEACH MELBA - yum - got it right off the bat and thought this was gonna be easy. A challenging but solvable round today. Thanks Orange for the great write-up! Great start to a rainy Saturday.

PuzzleGirl said...

Yes, yes, and yes. Awesome puzzle. I paused for a quick second at DAU and then thought: "What the hell do I know about genealogy? Maybe they use that abbreviation all the time!"

LIZA WITH A Z! One of the albums I grew up on. This song is a personal fave.

Off to the beach. Bravo, Brad Wilber!

Denise said...

Love LIZA -- thank you!

Fun puzzle -- lots of interruptions this morning (grandsons are here)but I ignored the pitter patter and had an enjoyable solve.

Unknown said...

Car references lose me. I don't drive and could identify any vehicle other than the PTCruiser or VW Bug. What are SPORT UTES. I got OCARINAS and MATT BIONDI but when car clues come up, forget it.

Unknown said...

Sorry I meant "couldn't" identify vehicles

Al said...

I have to quibble with SPORT UTES, too. Assuming UTES is short for Utility Vehicles, I didn't see any abbreviation indicator in the clue, and have never heard them referred to that way. SUV, sure, but not UTES. Otherwise, very fresh answers and an enjoyable puzzle.

Carol said...

I was thinking the LIQUID DIET that might give you the shakes would be too much MALT LIQUOR. :)

The only place I've heard of UTES is in crossword puzzles. SUV is the common usage, at least where I live.

ArtLvr said...

Excellent! On top of other favorites mentioned so far, I was grateful for QATARI and LUZON, which gave me the whole NW.

Also Joan FONTAINE, costar with "Larry" Olivier in Rebecca. (My father's sister was a modest sort, but it turned out she was a close friend of his in their drama school days in London: they frequently cooked spaghetti dinners together to save money.)


shrub5 said...

@Orange: Thanks for your EXUBERANCE this morning in the entertaining write-up! I enjoyed this one, too. Especially BOO for greet the visitors?!! Lots of oohs and aahs while solving. Way to go, Brad Wilber!

I learned QUEBECOIS for N.A. Francophone -- think I have seen only Quebecer or Quebecker (sp?) previously.

Well, off to fix breakfast for the clamoring masses. I'll aim for "a sparkly marvel of yumminess" ala Orange.


Well, we asked for more challenging puzzles and today we got it!

Québécois, a French speaking Quebec native... now that was a doozy. But having just returned from a vacation in French Canada, I knew this word, OMG I actually learned some French.

Why did I keep thinking that Colt 45 had something to do with pistols?

The first three rows of 10 letter words came hard.

I'm with you, Bob, on the SPORTUTES thing. I call a Sport Utility Vehicle an SUV. I guess I'm not hip in the car/truck jive.

I thought FRAIDNOT (28a) and BOO (19a) was a bit of a stretch for Brad Wilber, but he's still my fave constructor.

But, all in all, I got a nice warm fuzzy feeling from completing this puzzle... I gave myself an A+ today. And, I want to give Brad Wilber an A+ too for a very creative puzzle.

Joon said...

this puzzle is stunningly good. in retrospect, it's 1% less good than i thought after finishing it, because i worked the crossings and never noticed the ugly DAU until afterwards. but that's the only blemish on a puzzle full of remarkably many great entries.

i think SPORT UTE is totally in-the-language, but maybe that just means i do too many crosswords. i did slap down AXION with only a moment's hesitation. there are lots of hypothetical particles, but not that many in five letters, and it helps to know that brad wilber's puzzles lean toward the scrabbly side.

there have been about four or five themeless puzzles this year that made me sit up and say "wow," and this is one of them. bravo, brad!

Orange said...

Joon, I once used "sport utes" in conversation and it made my friend giggle—she'd never heard the term. It Googles up OK, but it feels like something I encounter only in crosswords.

Anonymous said...

And while not gorgeous, DAU is listed in RHUD, so is really no worse than so many other abbrevs. and has a reasonably sensible clue too.
Great puzzle!


Anonymous said...

A very nice puzzle and a fun Saturday solve. One of the better LA Times puzzle of late with tons of really cool fill.

Anonymous said...

Had no trouble with 5d LEW AYRES, 46a FONTAINE or 17a LIZA WITH A Z. Age sometimes has it's rewards. Also was surprised to see 33d ERGOMETER, having just read an article using it last week. A good puzzle!

Anonymous said...

Sport ute is a common expression meant to distinguish between a recreational utility vehicle and a type of utility vehicle used for work purposes only.

Contrarian said...

The best things in the puzzle are MALTLIQUOR, LIQUIDDIET, and FRAIDNOT.

OTOH, 37 year old TV films are hardly great fill. They're just not. Sorry, LIZA...

Some other stuff seems like it's stuck in another era. LEWAYRES, FONTAINE, and GUNGADIN. The last one's nice, but really, this is 2009.

There are some other things are less than desirable. Nothing special in the NE. SIGNAGE very blah. DAU sucks. Some abbrevs like TMS are kinda sucky. There are a couple of partials. You get the shah's middle name. The grid layout is fine but hardly anything adventurous or very appealing.

I don't mean to bash the puzzle. It's good. Really. But it's not Brad Wilber's best work. I'm not so sure it's the best puzzle of the day and if you think it might be best puzzle of the year, I'll take whatever you're smoking.

PurpleGuy said...

EDJUDICATE ! Wow. way to go Orange !!!!!!
This certainly was a sparkly puzzle. Many smiles and wow moments.

@Contrarian- if your near Phoenix,I'll gladly share with you! ;)

Thought this one of the best LA Times puzzles in a long time.
Bravo Brad !

PurpleGuy said...

Ohhhhhh my typing skills.
Should be "you're."
I'm an English major too !!!!!
Retired schoolteacer, also !!!!!

Backmto thepuzzle,I've seen the wordUTES before and clued as being different ftom ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles).

sfingi said...

My g'ma was a genealogist - dau is very common.

Quebecois is common in these parts as we're close enough to the border to get bi-lingual Canadian news.

Some very lovely words.

Anyone have suggestions on how to learn sports names and words used in puzzles w/o having to learn much else @ sports?

Unknown said...

Hate to pick at nits, but according to Wikipedia Matt Biondi won five gold medals in the 1988 olympics. But I don't pretend to be a sports junkie

Joon said...

RDS, the clue says seven medals. has michael phelps spoiled you? there are other medals.

patdugg79 said...

I was undone by misreading the SPORTUTES clue as singular and ended up with SPORTSTER. The geneological abbr. could have just as easily been DAS to me instead of DAU as I had no idea anyway, and BUGLER made as much sense as BUGLES. It took me a whiiile, to see where I went wrong!

Jazzbumpa said...

Just want to defend SPORT UTES. SUV's are often called this, or even just UTES. Not sure if it's regional. I'm in the midwest and somebody from CA at C.C.'s blog knew it as well. I'm from the industry, so maybe I have an inside track I wasn't aware of.

What I didn't like in this otherwise great puzzle was FRAID NOT. The fill is OK, but the clue is wrong. As Orange's joke indicates, it's not a turndown, it's a denial.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jazzbumpa, if you said "Wanna go out sometime?" and I said "Fraid not!" isn't that a turn down?