Author: Patrick Blindauer
Theme: ? (figuratively and literally)
- 24a: "No way!" alternative (IT IS?).
- 40a: A question of time (WHEN?).
- 67a: Unimpressed person's comment (SO?).
- 4d: "I didn't catch that" (WHAT?).
- 13d: Coming-to query (WHERE AM I?).
- 25d: Bit from "The Naughty Nineties" (WHO'S ON FIRST?).
So, the theme here is definitely the question mark. The first thing I noticed was the large one embedded in the grid via the black squares. The second thing I noticed was that this was a 15x16 puzzle. One thing I didn't notice until afterwards was the lack of grid symmetry, which doesn't bother me at all since it's necessary for the embedded '?'. The thing I'm not so clear on is the title, "Twenty Question Marks". The only thing I can up with is that the large question mark is made of 16 black squares, so those 16 "marks" plus the three '?'s in the puzzle, plus the large one in its entirety adds up to 20 (16 + 3 + 1). This seems like a stretch, but the theme doesn't seem to play directly to the game of 20 Questions, as that would involve more "Is it?" or "Does it?" questions. So, I'm a little fuzzy on that. The two longer theme entries are nice; the others are kind of drab, though it's probably the first time you've ever seen "SO?" in a puzzle, as two-letter words are not generally acceptable.
Update: Reader Ruy points out what I clearly missed, the 16 question marks in the clues themselves. Doh! In retrospect, I recall thinking in the back of my mind while solving that there were an awful lot of punny clues. Sometimes you don't see the forest for the trees.
Let's check out the rest of the fill.
- 15a: Land with an autumn mist, in song (HONALEE). From "Puff, the Magic Dragon".
- 36a: Kal-El's gift (X-RAY VISION). Kal-El, of course, being the birth name of Superman.
- 47a: "The Crime Dog" (MCGRUFF). Take a bite out of crime.
- 3d: "Man of La Mancha" song (DULCINEA). Great song, great play.
- 11d: Place to get sheets for a song (WHITE SALE). I admit, I fell into the sheet music trap here. Excellent clue.
- 30d: Singer with the 1999 album "To the Teeth" (ANI DIFRANCO). Kudos for including the whole name here.
- 45d: Musician with the real name Stuart Goddard (ADAM ANT). His best known song is probably "Goody Two Shoes". Trivia: His original Adam and the Ants band members left him to form Bow Wow Wow (of "I Want Candy" fame.
- 1a: Signed off on (OKD). Sometimes this is OKED, too. I don't know if one is more correct than the other, but they're both easy enough.
- 4a: Novel activity? (WRITING). This brings to mind a classic Monty Python sketch.
- 11a: Dir. from Minorca to Majorca (WSW). Do you know how rare it is for this answer to involve "west"? It's almost always ENE, ESE, or NNE.
- 14a: ___ de mots (pun) (JEU). Game of words, in French.
- 17a: Short vehicle of the 1980s, for short (SNL). Martin Short, that is.
- 18a: One from Luanda (ANGOLAN).
- 19a: "Now That ___ Seen Her" ("Miss Saigon" song) (I'VE). Never saw it; never heard the song. And still it's a gimme. I mean, what else could it be?
- 22a: Clean and jerk performer (LIFTER). Timely clue, with the Olympics pending, which is about the only time I ever see weightlifting.
- 28a: Castle with many steps? (IRENE). Not fooled for a second here.
- 29a: Dead-___ float (MAN'S).
- 30a: 1877 flop by Bret Harte and Mark Twain (AH SIN). I've seen this in puzzles before.
- 32a: Polo grounds? (ASIA). Marco Polo.
- 35a: One-room schoolhouse figure (MARM). We just saw MARM recently.
- 38a: Wells made them more than a century ago (ELOI). H.G. Wells, in "The Time Machine". Standard crossword fare.
- 41a: Melted glace (EAU). Glace is French for ice.
- 44a: Bathtub liquid? (GIN). I tried GEL to start.
- 45a: Buck's tail? (AROO). Cryptic suffix.
- 49a: Lays bare (DENUDES).
- 53a: Oscar-winning role for Abraham (SALIERI). F. Murray Abraham, in "Amadeus".
- 54a: Starts to court (ASKS OUT). Easy.
- 59a: Small character in Oz? (ZEE). Cryptic letter reference.
- 60a: Subjugate (ENSLAVE).
- 68a: Child's meas. (TSP). Julia Child, the chef.
- 69a: 1989 Jack Lemmon film (DAD).
- 2d: Bush 41's Solicitor General (KEN STARR).
- 5d: Brown and Silver (RONS).
- 6d: Dutch financial services giant (ING). My wife used to work for them, so this was a gimme for me.
- 7d: Way out East? (TAO). Cute.
- 8d: Buggy? (ILL). As in, having a bug, I guess.
- 9d: Bald Globetrotters member Curly (NEAL). He and Meadowlark Lemmon were the heart and soul of that team. If you never got to see them back then, you missed something special.
- 10d: Bottled spirits? (GENII). This seems like it should be the plural of genius, doesn't it?
- 12d: Pitcher (SEVEN IRON). I have to take mild exception to this one. Chipper, sure. A chip is a low running shot near the green, and the seven iron's loft is low enough to often be a good choice. A pitch, on the other hand, is a high, lob shot that drops in and usually either stops dead or backs up. For most golfers, the club of choice for this would be a wedge or perhaps a nine iron. Maybe a choked-down eight iron. And while, yes, it's probably possible to make a shot with a seven iron that is characterized as a pitch, that doesn't make it a pitcher. I can chip with a 3-wood, that doesn't make it a chipper.
- 23d: It has a wood skeleton (FRAME HOUSE).
- 24d: Format that debuted with "Tiger Child" (IMAX).
- 27d: Wheels of fortune? (LIMO).
- 31d: Relief pitcher Robb (NEN). I knew the name instinctively, even though I can't even remember who he played for, which probably means he spent most of his career in the National League.
- 41d: Items found off-center in symmetry? (EMS). Another cryptic letter reference.
- 42d: University environment (ACADEME). I wanted ACADEMIA, but it didn't fit.
- 48d: Dead letters? (RIP). Gimme.
- 51d: Ronald Reagan's alma mater (EUREKA). I did not know that.
- 52d: Like carry-on luggage during takeoff and landing (STOWED). Maybe I've travelled too much, but this seemed way too easy for a Friday clue.
- 60d: Mother of Zephyrus (EOS). EOS is the goddess; IOS is the island. Repeat it like a mantra.
- 61d: Zener cards test it (ESP).
Suns of Bitches:
- 39a: Island home of Thomas the Tank Engine (SODOR). Is this a Sodom and Gomorrah cross?
- 40d: Grind (WONK). Is this a noun or a verb? Isn't a wonk a nerd? I really wanted WORK here, but I knew DENUDED had to be right.
Despite my mild confusion regarding the theme title, I really liked this puzzle. It had plenty of good fill and clever clues, though I must say it was considerably easier for me than yesterday's themeless. Felt more like a Wednesday/Thursday.
Thanks for listening.
- Pete M.