Author: Jeffrey Harris
Theme: Solving by the clues is only possible by leaving 12 blank squares scattered through the grid. These squares can then be filled such that all resulting crossings are still valid words, and these missing letters, taken in order, spell CHAIN LETTERS. As follows:
- 5a: Tartan (PLA_ID) => PLACID. My youngest is starting at Carnegie Mellon this fall. Until a couple of years ago, their "mascot" was tartan. They finally decided that plaid didn't make much of a mascot, so they settled on the Scottie dog.
- 8d: Corn or lemon follower (_LAW) => CLAW. Corn law is a new one on me.
- 15a: Sign off on (_ALLOW) => HALLOW.
- 5d: Johnnycake (P_ONE) => PHONE. This was funny, because I thought of PONE for 8d, but I didn't think there was such a thing as a lemon pone.
- 17a: First-ever designated hitter Blomberg (RO_N) => ROAN. Not a name I'm familiar with.
- 3d: When most B'way theaters are dark (MO_N) => MOAN.
- 25a: Pol Nol (L_ON) => LION. Lon Nol is becoming a crossword staple.
- 23d: TV exec Moonves (L_ES) => LIES. I was not familiar with LESley Moonves. He's married to "The Early Show" co-anchor, Julie Chen.
- 36a: Succumb to gravity (SA_G) => SANG. I'll resist putting up a picture for this one.
- 38d: Contents of some chests (_ICE) => NICE. Good clue for ICE.
- 41a: Traces (TING_ES) => TINGLES.
- 31d: Tavern frequented by Barney Gumble (MO_ES) => MOLES. The first time I glanced at this I thought it said Barney Rubble. Barney Gumble is from "The Simpsons".
- 44a: Mount ___ (Crete's highest peak) (ID_A) => IDEA.
- 28d: Site of some knots (LOG_) => LOGE. Tough clue, but excellent.
- 50a: Got 100 on (AC_ED) => ACTED.
- 37d: Vigoda of "Barney Miller" (ABE_) => ABET.
- 52a: I, to a Roman (_ONE) => TONE.
- 52d: Coordinate system reference (_AXIS) => TAXIS.
- 65a: Fall back? (ELS_) => ELSE. This one hurt, because I thought the answer was ELSE (as in we'll plan this, else we'll do that if we have to). I totally missed the cryptic clue for the double Ls in "fall". ELS is more commonly clued as "Golfer Ernie".
- 61d: By (P_ER) => PEER.
- 67a: Tall order? (LATTE_) => LATTER.
- 54d: Menhaden relative (SHA_D) => SHARD. I didn't know what a menhaden was; apparently it's a fish.
- 71a: It fits in a thole (_OAR) => SOAR.
- 51d: Worries (CARES_) => CARESS.
This is one of those puzzles that I like more after it's completed than I did while solving it. It is actually a very clever and aggressive theme, certainly befitting a Friday where one might be expecting a Weekend Warrior. At first, I was frustrated and perplexed. There were many clues I just didn't know, and many of those that I did know I couldn't fill in because I didn't know where to leave the blank. Eventually, I reread the instructions and realized that the fact that each missing letter created two new words was absolutely key. For instance, I knew right away that "Tartan" was PLAID. What I should have realized sooner was that there aren't many places to add a letter to PLAID that result in another word. In fact, other than the answer, PLACID, I can't think of any. So, in retrospect, I think it was a fair and challenging theme. And certainly impressive from a construction standpoint.
I'm skipping this section since I've already had to break out so many clues in the theme section.
- 1a: "Toy Story" piggy bank (HAMM).
- 16a: Was in the van (LED). This must be some car racing reference, perhaps?
- 18a: Figure on a certain island (OCTANE). As in a gas station island. Very good.
- 19a: Prop in "The Shining" (AXE). "Heeeeeere' Johnny!"
- 24a: Lanolin of "U.S. Acres," e.g. (EWE). "U.S. Acres" was a late 1980s comic strip by "Garfield" creator Jim Davis. I'd never heard of it, but it makes sense that Lanolin would be a sheep.
- 26a: Part of some Italian names (DELLA).
- 33a: I, to a Roman (EGO). Same clue as 52a, to which the answer was ONE.
- 34a: Affixable with heat and pressure (IRON ON).
- 47a: "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana" author (Umberto ECO). Probably best known for "The Name of the Rose".
- 48a: Fishing baskets (CREELS).
- 55a: Conservative choice (SAFE BET).
- 58a: Fortify (SHORE UP).
- 63a: Cuthbert of "24" (ELISHA). I like "24", which lost out this year to the writers' strike. Cuthbert was not my favorite part, though she is kind of cute. I just saw her in something else recently on TV, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was.
- 66a: ___ Fighter ("Star Wars" craft) (TIE). This is one of the more interesting ways I've seen TIE clued. A gimme for me.
- 2d: Beltrán teammate (ALOU). A crossword staple.
- 4d: Pea-brained scientist? (MENDEL). Gregor Mendel studied inheritance using pea plants. Nicely clued.
- 6d: Chemisette makeup (LACE). Chemise is French for shirt or blouse, so this is logical.
- 7d: Smokejumper's concern: Abbr. (ALT). A smokejumper is just what it sounds like, a firefighting parachutist.
- 9d: Skye of "Say Anything ..." (IONE). Another crossword staple. IONA is the college in New York.
- 12d: Reliant Stadium player (TEXAN).
- 13d: Elysium (EDEN).
- 26d: New York City's Carnegie ___ (DELI). Raise your hand if you entered HALL here. I've been caught on this one before, so I stepped over the trap.
- 29d: Noted elegist (DONNE). Known best for quotes like "Death be not proud" and "No man is an island".
- 39d: Kind (GOOD). Are good people always kind, and vice versa? I'm not so sure.
- 42d: Gp. created by the Manila Pact (SEATO). NATO's counterpart in Southeast Asia.
- 49d: Iconoclasts (REBELS). "Iconoclast Without a Cause" just doesn't have the same appeal.
- 56d: Titular valley of a 2007 film (ELAH). Constructors have been drooling for this word to enter the language so they could use it puzzles more often.
- 58d: "Runny Babbit" author's first name (SHEL). My kids grew up reading Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree". Great book.
- 64d: Poker great Ungar (STU). This one I knew off the top. Stu was a brilliant and charismatic poker player whose relatively short life (45 years) was a whirlwind of successes and crashes. He won the World Series of Poker main event three times, but ultimately his drug addictions caught up with him. Kids, don't do drugs!
Suns of Bitches:
- 22a: Director of "Wings," the first Best Picture winner (WELLMAN).
- 40a: ___ b'Omer (Israeli holiday with bonfires) (LAG). I would have preferred a pool clue. I've never heard of this holiday.
- 30d: ___ v. Vitale (landmark Supreme Court case of 1962) (ENGEL). Didn't know this one, which knocked down school prayer as unconstitutional.
- 32d: Mike of Alice in Chains (INEZ). I have several Alice in Chains albums, but didn't know this name. I guess I don't keep up on bands like I used to; I just listen to the music.
- 57d: 2001 space tourist Dennis (TITO). Don't recall this name.
- 59d: Italian filmmaker Petri (ELIO).
All in all, this was a tough puzzle, but we expect that on a Friday. I pretty much covered the theme above. The fill was a bit crosswordy (ELIO, ALOU, IONE, ELAH, INEZ, etc.), but undoubtedly necessary to pull off the theme. From the comfort of being finished, I'll give this puzzle decent marks.
Thanks for listening.
- Pete M.