Solving time: 10:34, which was so low for me that it lowered my Tuesday average by about half a minute. However, the fact that I had not one, not two, not three, but four! (Egad!) errors when I filled in the grid could make for a SAD TALE. So perhaps if I were more careful when I was completing the puzzle the first time around, I might have added one or even two minutes to my solving time. Regardless, this one was an easy A.
Refer to exhibit A for puzzle quality.
Theme: All of the theme answers are two-word phrases in which the first word starts with “S” and the second word starts with “T.” Aaaand the revealer is ESTÉE (68A: Girl’s name that phonetically provides the initials to the answers in the asterisked clues), which … literally … does not phonetically sound like “ST.”
The inner monologue that is probably going on in your head right now:
Like, wat. Are you serious.
First things first, Matt Gaffney, who’s filling in for King Rex Parker of Crossworld today, is completely right about the theme revealer (65A: Girl’s name that phonetically provides the initials to the answers to the asterisked clues). There is only one famous person who has the girl’s name ESTÉE, and that’s ESTÉE Lauder. There’s a reason why the name has an accent over the second “e” – it’s pronounced ES-TAY and not ES-TEE. A salesman at a cosmetics counter might not even understand you if you ask for some ES-TEE Lauder.
So, no, the clue for the revealer is wrong; the name ESTÉE does not provide the “ST,” pronounced ES-TEE, initials to the theme answers. Not only is the theme utterly bland, but it also just does not make sense.
Ay, ay, ay.
The fill is only slightly less unremarkable than the theme itself. TSAR (18A: Winter palace autocrat, a clue that’s just a tad more original than “Nicholas I or II”) and OMAN (14A: Mideast monarchy, a clue that’s as plain as you can get) nearly cross each other to form an authoritarian pair of Eastern political leaders. I would have appreciated the fresh clue 16A: “From your mouth to God’s ears!” (or at least to the top of the ALPS) for I HOPE, if only anybody actually utters that expression anymore with the exception of dusty, musty crossword puzzle constructors. OH HI (10D: “Fancy meeting you here!”) is a sight for sore eyes with its adjacent aitches, but it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb in a grid that also has AGS (31A: Dept. of Justice heads – this answer makes me want to go AGH!), TBAR (45D: Ski lift, a clue that’s about as dry as a ski slope) and EMLY (47A: “Little” girl in “David Copperfield”), which I thought was *definitely* missing an I. Maybe if I actually read books, I would have known better.
Me, in a picture.
And on top of all that, this puzzle would have been black-and-white like the grid itself if its pop culture references were any older. ENOW (28D: Sufficient, to a bard), more like, something that no one ever says now. SPOT is clued with 72A: Dick and Jane’s dog. Dick and Jane, for modern audiences like me who were unfamiliar with it, are the main characters in books that taught children how to read from the ’30s to the ’50s (though the books were still in circulation during the ’70s, their popularity declined soon after mid-century). So unless you were in grade school during that time – in which case you’re at least 60 – or you’re a knowledge master, you probably struggled with that clue. But if you are at least 60, then you might have recalled even more childhood memories to remember that BORIS (40A: Foe of Rocky and Bullwinkle) was the character of an animated TV show from the early ’60s. Sorry, Millennials – no TV references for you today.
Looking on the brighter side, I was INCHes (33A: Move slowly (along)) – er, I guess, seconds – within solving this puzzle under 10 minutes, which is a rare feat for me when it comes to Tuesdays. If I hadn’t written PROD for 33A and STAY HERE for 9D: *”Don’t go anywhere!” (which I had written in before I caught onto the theme) and also hadn’t made all those errors I mentioned above, maybe I would have crossed the finish line quicker.
MEH at best, and certainly not FAB.
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld