Author: Tom Heilman
This is a nicely constructed themeless with four 9-letter stacks and two additional 9-letter fills for a total of 14. It's the quality of these longer entries that makes or breaks a good themeless, so let's have a look.
- TACO SALAD (1a: Mexican restaurant dish). Doesn't hurt to start off with a nice colorful food entry.
- ECONOLINE (15a: Ford van). Not bad. Reminds me of the Neil Young song "Tonight's the Night", which includes the lyrics: "Bruce Berry was a working man, he used to load that Econoline van".
- SHOE PHONE (17a: Smart method of communication?). This is my favorite clue of the bunch. Love "Get Smart".
- JOE CRONIN (52a: President of the American League before Lee MacPhail). The name is familiar, once I figured it out from the crossings.
- ARBITRATE (55a: Determine). Kind of dull, with a dull clue to match.
- GOOD SENSE (57a: Savvy). Nice phrase.
- DEEP SIXES (9d: Jettisons). Excellent.
- I NEED A NAP (12d: Insomniac's declaration). This is right up there with SHOE PHONE for me. Love it! And I do need a nap, too, even though I'm not an insomniac.
- TANGERINE (13d: Atomic ___ (Crayola color formerly called Chartreuse). Nice combination of food and pop-culture reference (I would consider Crayola to be "pop culture", wouldn't you?)
- STEERSMEN (14d: Helm handlers). Going a little old school with this one, but I like it.
- DOGNAPPER (28d: Person who takes pointers from others?). Nice fill with an excellent clue.
- OVERDRIVE (29d: Intense state of activity). Decent.
- ZETA-JONES (30d: Best Supporting Actress of 2002). Also good, with the added bonus of a J and a Z. I started with ZE- and guessed ZELLWEGER. who coincidentally shows up at 47d: George's "Leatherheads" costar (RENÉE).
- CRYING JAG (31d: Fit of uncontrolled weeping). I'm torn on this one. It seems like a cool phrase, but I don't I've ever actually heard it used, so it feels kind of forced. I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt since the Steely Dan song "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" includes the phrase "cry a jag on me".
Overall, that's a nice set of long entries. Let's look at the rest of the puzzle.
- 19a: King's English? (TOPSPIN). I'm assuming it's referring to Billie Jean King and tennis. This is a very clever clue, but as a pool player I have to nitpick: Topspin (or "follow") is not technically English. Neither is backspin (draw). English implies left or right spin. Merriam-Webster backs me up on this: "spin around the vertical axis deliberately imparted to a ball that is driven or rolled" (emphasis mine). I know it's probably one of those things where enough people generalize "English" to refer to any spin that it becomes "acceptable", but I don't have to like it.
- 20a: Mentor's tutee (PROTÉGÉ). Nice to see this clued without reference to the car.
- 23a: Form letters? (IRS). This would been especially appropriate a few weeks ago.
- 32a: ___ Chimpsky (chimp in a language experiment) (NIM). A clear play on linguist Noam Chomsky. Very cute.
- 44a: Diet Coke forerunner (TAB). There was a running gag concerning Tab in the first season of the Sarah Silverman Show on Comedy Central, a pretty offbeat show that is often downright raunchy.
- 2d: Cold call? (ACHOO). Cute.
- 6d: Trumpeter nicknamed "The Round Mound of Sound" (AL HIRT). Not to be confused with Charles Barkley, who was the "Round Mound of Rebound". Here's Al playing our national anthem. Not bad, but my favorite version of all time, by far, was done by Branford Marsalis and Bruce Hornsby. I heard it played for an NBA All-star game back in 1991 when Desert Storm was just getting under way; it literally made people cry. You can find it on the soundtrack to Ken Burns's "Baseball" or, if you don't mind a quick, free download, you can hear it here for nothing. Oh, and by the way, guess who the MVP of that game was? None other than Charles Barkley. See how it all comes together?
- 25d: Cross product (PEN). As a former math major, I love this clue.
- 37d: Half-pints (SQUIRTS). Great fill and clue.
- 41d: Bad (RANCID). Rancid is a great word. It's also the name of a punk/ska band. You might have heard this one on the radio.
- 45d: Two-time screen role for Arnold Schwarzenegger (CONAN). Most people in his position would want to forget these films ever came out. But I get the distinct impression he's pretty proud of them.
- 50d: Twist request (MORE). It took me a second to make sense of this one. The clever twist here is that the Twist in question is Oliver Twist. Very nice.
- 24a: More financially sound (SOLIDER). This one makes me grimace a bit. Does anyone say "solider"? I totally understand why constructors put these in, but they feel kind of lazy to me. Just because it's an adjective doesn't mean you can add -ER to it and still have it sound "in-the-language".
- 27a: "___ longa, vita brevis" (ARS). Yeah, whatever. I do note that ARS shows up in the puzzle database five times more often in the NY Times than the NY Sun. Thank you for that, Peter Gordon. I also note that the much more commonly used ARSE never shows up in either. I'm just saying.
- 28a: Earthmover for short (DOZER). Dozer is also Tank's brother in "The Matrix".
- 31a: Forward-facing crew members (COXES). This one threw me a little. I immediately thought of COXSWAINS, the leader of a rowing crew, but I've never seen it abbreviated this way. I guessed COX'NS at first, which wasn't far off.
- 34a: Pushy person (URGER). More with the -ER fill, this time using it to change verbs to nouns. Correct or not, it's certainly not pretty.
- 35a: Die down (WANE)
- 36a: Grasp (GET). As in understand, get it?
- 38a: Become more tasty (RIPEN). I'd be more comfortable with this clue if it had a "perhaps" in it. Not everything becomes more tasty as it ripens. Meat, for example.
- 39a: Org. that opposed the Brady Bill (NRA). The "Brady Bill" was a gun legislation named for James Brady, a White House Press Secretary who was shot during one of the attempted assassinations of Reagan in 1981.
- 41a: Peri's role on "Frasier" (ROZ).
- 45a: Heel (CUR). I had CAD, which I think is closer in meaning to HEEL than CUR is.
- 48a: Math homework at times (PROVING). Yeah, okay. PROOFS feels more correct, but I'll let it slide.
- 49a: Tentacled zoophyte (ANEMONE). Great word; cool creature.
- 51a: Yearning person (PINER). You already know what I'm going to say about this one, right?
- 54a: She won the 1976, 1977, and 1978 U.S. Opens without losing a set (Chris EVERT). That's domination!
- 56a: Signs of silence (RESTS). Reference to sheet music.
- 1d: Placement determiners, sometimes (TESTS)
- 3d: Some apartments (CO-OPS). Or COOPS, if you're a chicken. I had LOFTS to start.
- 4d: Tip jar contents (ONES). I suppose g-string contents would have been too risqué?
- 5d: More drenched (SOPPIER). Ugh.
- 10d: Team owned by Peter Angelos (ORIOLES)
- 11d: Prefix with family or room (MULTI)
- 21d: Playmate of Spot (ROVER). Is this a reference to two specific dogs named Spot and Rover, or just based on the fact that Spot and Rover are common dog names? If the former, what is the reference? If the latter, I think I deserves a "?" or "maybe" at the end.
- 26d: Subject of the book "The Man Who Made Lists" (ROGET). Didn't know this, but it makes sense.
- 34d: One-way street no-no (U-TURN). Thank you for spelling this one out; when it's only three letters I never know if it's UIE or UEY.
- 35d: 1978 Michael Jackson movie, the "The" (WIZ). The cast of this Wizard of Oz remake also includes Diana Ross, Richard Pryor, Lena Horne, and Nipsey Russell.
- 38d: Chief Justice of the United States (John G. ROBERTS)
- 44d: Cardio workout routine (TAE BO)
- 53d: Montana motto metal (ORO). We're not sure why Montana's motto (Oro y plata) is in Spanish, but it is. Any Montanans out there that care to chime in?
Suns of Bitches:
- 18a: "Ryan's Hope actress ___ Kristen (ILENE).
- 22a: 2007 Jonas Brothers song (SOS). Don't know the Jonas Brothers. Is this an Abba remake, or an original song?
- 37a: Chalazia (STYES). Not familiar with the term.
- 8d: "The Voice of Bugle ___" (1936 Lionel Barrymore film) (ANN). Also with Maureen O'Sullivan, but I haven't seen it.
All in all, not a bad themeless. Not particularly hard, but with nice longer entries. I could do with fewer -ER fills, but that's pretty minor in the big scheme of things.
Thanks for listening.
- Pete M.