Solving time: 40:25, which just lowered my Saturday average under the hour-and-a-half mark! (Rex Parker probably thinks I’m a crossword newb for taking that long to solve an average Saturday.) Indeed, despite the abundance of proper nouns, today’s crossword is easy.
Puzzle quality – the clue FAT SUITS (26A: Outfit for big pants) immediately made me think of robber barons and this famous cartoon from the height of the Gilded Age (to be clear, the quality of today’s puzzle is best captured by the faintly smiling robber baron in blue pants on the far right):
Theme: Like yesterday’s puzzle, no theme! Zip, zero, nada.
Thought of the day: The PIRATE SHIPS spent their SHORE LEAVE CHILLAX[ing] by touching their SANDALS and OARS to the GREEN ALGAE lapping IDLY against the effervescent waves on the OUTER BANKS of the ZANZIBAR coastline.
Ah, ZANZIBAR (23D: Island known for its spices). Like the aroma of French camembert – certainly far superior to that of a mere CHEEZ IT (36A: Orange snack in a red box) – paired with an aging Cabernet. Just kidding. I’m too much of a country bumpkin to know what either of those taste like, unlike Will Shortz, who has probably sampled every single food on the planet during his timeless reign as Most Glorious Crossword Chief of the Universe.
But oh, does ZANZIBAR roll off the tongue. It might be the finest proper noun that I’ve ever seen in a crossword grid. I’ve just added traveling there on a PIRATE SHIP (1A: One might have black-and-white standards) to my bucket list.
By the way, while we’re on the topic of PIRATE SHIP, the “black-and-white standards” in the clue refer to the skull-and-crossbones flags, or Jolly Rogers, that are flown on such ships. One of the more obscure definitions of a “standard” is: “a military or ceremonial flag carried on a pole or hoisted on a rope,” according to Mr. Oxford. Pirates have more standards to raise than you might think. 😉
Jolly Rogers, who never looks jolly at all.
And while we’re on the topic of pirates (who, I guess, hunt for treasure) the clue for IDOL – 11A: Treasure hunter’s loot, maybe – is a bit too vague for my taste. Perhaps a reference to Indiana Jones, who searches for the Golden Idol in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, would have improved the clue.
The Golden Idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I feel like the Aztec gods are going to smite me for writing that caption.
If there is one theme that can be spotted from this puzzle, it is the prevalence of imagery that is vaguely linked to ships, seas, and water. Another clue that also requires us to know a fairly unknown definition is 15A: Stay off the water?, whose answer is SHORE LEAVE. Mr. Oxford again: a shore leave is “leisure time spent ashore by a sailor.” GREEN ALGAE (60A: Film about rock groups?) quite literally lies underneath OUTER BANKS (56A: North Carolina vacation area) both in the grid and in real life, I suppose. The clue, by the way, for GREEN ALGAE is divinely witty. You might be thinking that the phrase “film about rock groups” would be referring to one of the four Beatles films or This is Spinal Tap when it’s actually alluding to a marine life form, since “film” can refer to any thin layer covering a surface and “about” can express an object’s location.
Katy Perry algae vibes.
Some stray notes on today’s puzzle:
- Even ARES (4D: War force) probably couldn’t have guided the Lost Battalion to victory in ARGONNE (38A: Where the Lost Battalion got lost). They were completely flanked by German forces in World War I and had to sustain nearly hundreds of casualties.
- I wonder if there’s a MAP (29A: Station display, which I thought was a clue for ETA) out there that indicates the location of a TREE LINE (34A: Certain upper-growth limit), which means the “edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing.” If you’re hiking on a mountain and you don’t see trees anymore, that means you should probably head back before your ass turns into an iced dessert for the yetis. Or before the yeti gives you a BLACK EYE (43A: Boxing ring? – like, ring as in the black circle around your injured eye).
- I would’ve preferred a more original clue for HOP (48A: Small vault). I got the answer right off the bat since an April puzzle that I was solving recently, which also happened to be a Saturday, had the exact same clue.
- OLD MASTERS (62A: Bellini and Botticelli) are skilled European painters who produced art before 1800. Yes, that can refer to LOTS (14D: Heaps), repeat LOTS, of painters.
And finally, in reference to TESLA COIL (33D: It causes sparks to fly) and the sexual nature of its clue,
Who could resist Tesla’s dreamy eyes?
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld