Solving time: 1:00:57, which is above average for me by only five minutes. Nonetheless, I cheated an *ungodly* amount in order to complete this puzzle. Looking over the grid now, I realize that I consulted Mr. Google at least ten times to finish clues that I had only partially answered. No bueno. Very, very bad day for me. I can’t tell whether the fill was hard, or whether I was just exceptionally stupid today, so I think I’ll peg this one as a medium. The grid does not have a ridiculous amount of arcana for a Thursday (though there are bits of obscure knowledge here and there), so it was probably the latter. More on my idiocy below.
Theme: There are eight theme answers in today’s puzzle that have literally “lost art”; they were words that had the word “art” subtracted from them, resulting in new, still English words. Among them, we have:
- CAR THIEF – ART = CHIEF (1A: Auto booster). One of the more obscure definitions of “booster” is “shoplifter,” which I didn’t know.
- PARTIES – ART = PARTIES (10A: Has a ball)
- BARTENDER – ART = BENDER (33A: One making the rounds?)
- THE ARTIST – ART = THEIST (44A: Black-and-white Best Picture winner)
- PART ONE – ART = PONE (67A: Series opener). Pone is a type of “unleavened cornbread … prepared with water by North American Indians,” according to Mr. Oxford.
- MARTINIS – ART = MINIS (69A: Bond orders). As in, James Bond orders from a bartender (who lost his art earlier in the puzzle).
- PARTISANS – ART = PISANS (6D: Ones taking sides). I guess a Pisan is a citizen of Pisa, Italy, even though Mr. WordPress is underlining it in red.
- RESTARTED – ART = RESTED (48D: Went back to square one).
Theme revealer: LOST ART (39A: Letter writing, they say … or a hint to eight answers in this puzzle)
Sidé noté: Now that I look at them, six out of the eight theme answers had their “ART” removed from them starting from the second letter of the word.
Oh boy. No memes or cartoons today, just a story of the struggle I went through.
So I get SOBS (40D: Breaks down) and GETTY (28D: L.A.’s __ Museum) right off the bat (I’ve been to the latter a couple times and have experienced the former too many times to count) and assumed that the last letter of 26D: Lady of Brazil (DONA) was A, since women’s names in Portuguese typically end in A. Already, I have three of the seven letters (_ _STA_ _) in the theme revealer.
Hmm … I think to myself. RESTART? BEST ART? Neither of those make sense. OK, let’s move on to another part of the grid. 44A: “Black-and-white Best Picture winner.” Ah! That must be “The Artist,” the silent movie that was released in 2011. But wait! That title is nine letters, and there are only six available letters in the across. There must be a rebus! Where could it go? Filling in some of the surrounding downs (OH HI, WETS, ASST.,), I realize that the rebus is probably in the second letter, meaning that the answer to the clue is T[HEAR]TIST. Oh, the theme must have something to do with putting the word HEAR in a rebus! How wrong I was.
The next twenty minutes or so were spent in futility as I tried to put HEAR in a rebus. Nothing worked. Often, I came to a part of the grid where only one letter was remaining, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Take the LL (lower-left). I had every letter except the one at the intersection of 55D: Give gratis (COM_) and 67A: Series opener (_ONE). I didn’t know that COMP isn’t just short for “a composition,” but can also mean “to give (something) away free.” And I couldn’t think of a single letter to put at the start of 67A. Maybe TONE? But how could a tone open a series? The only other option was to put the HEAR rebus at the intersection, but that would’ve resulted in COM [HEAR] and [HEAR] ONE, neither of which made any sense.
Besides, I was already starting to discover that my rebus wasn’t holding up. 23D: “So there!”, which crossed with 44A: T[HEAR]TIST, had to be TAKE THAT. As a result, I had two conflicting letters/phrases at the intersection of 23D and 44A. I had the H from TAKE THAT and the [HEAR] rebus from T[HEAR]TIST. Which would it be? I chose not to reconcile the difference and moved on, still hanging on to my (very erroneous) belief that there were HEAR rebuses hidden in the puzzle.
OK, I lied. There’s going to be one gif.
Some brief recollection of childhood memories caused me to remember that MR. TOAD must be the answer to 37D: Squire of “The Wind in the Willows.” After some more time, I correctly wrote in FEEL FREE for 25D: “Help yourself.” So now, I had six out of the seven letters in theme revealer: (L _ START). Oh! Of course, my single-celled brain thought, the revealer must be LIST ART. Yes, I actually thought of LIST ART before LOST ART. Even though LIST ART is literally a meaningless phrase. Unless you’re making art out of lists. Which isn’t a thing.
OK, maybe multiple gifs.
In spite of the fact that I had this nonsensical (!!) answer for the revealer and that this answer had absolutely to do with the word “HEAR” (!!!) and that there were no other “HEAR” rebuses besides the one that I’d found in 44A (!!!!), I was still confident that the HEAR rebus was linked to the theme of the puzzle. Ugh.
I think these gifs are better at expressing my doltishness than I am.
Finally, about forty minutes into the puzzle, I knew that I was wrong. Much like the LL, I had almost all the letters filled into the UM (upper middle), but I was missing the intersection of 6A: It lends a smoky flavor to Scotch (where I had _EAT) and 6D: One’s taking sides (where I had _ISANS). EUREKA! I found the other rebus! Except this time, it wasn’t “HEAR”! It was “PART”! Yes, only then would I have the answer to 6D: [PART]ISANS. Forget the fact that [PART] EAT makes no sense for 6A. Also forget the fact that [PART] EAT is, much like LIST ART, a gibberish phrase.
So the conclusion from the UM was that there were rebuses in the puzzle, but they didn’t all involve the word HEAR. Somehow there was a connection between HEAR and PART. And both of the rebuses were also related to LIST ART, a phrase that didn’t have any meaning to start with. Right…
More evidence of my incompetence: On the UR (upper-right), I had all but one letter for the answer to 10D: Guiding light – _OLARIS, and needed to ask Mr. Google in order to get P as the missing first letter. My ineptitude at its best (or worst, I suppose). It took me over ten minutes to fill in ADAPT for 66A: Evolve (definitely one of the easier clues in this puzzle), even though I had two letters from the downs. I had the five starting letters (PATR and an incorrect I) to 21D: Keep the beat?, which crossed with LIST ART. From that, I filled in PATRIA, even though that had nothing – repeat, nothing! – to do with keeping a beat.
And then my prokaryotic brain finally had its (only) bright idea of the day. Maybe… maybe … the I was incorrect! Maybe … maybe … the I was actually an O! So the answer to the revealer was, in fact, LOST ART. Oooooooh. Right, people say letter writing is a LOST ART, not a … LIST ART, whatever that is. Got it. But I still didn’t put 2 and 2 together and see that all eight of the theme answers had lost the word “ART.” Instead, I was now trying to connect my two incorrect rebuses to a “LOST ART” theme.
After I recognized that the “Rock of Ages” in 17A wasn’t referring to the musical but rather a Christian hymn (obscure much??), that AEROFLOT is the largest airline in Russia (evidently I don’t fly enough, even though I’ve been to 8 different countries in this summer alone!), and that KNORR is a “big name in soup” (evidently I don’t eat enough, even though I ate 3 different meals yesterday alone!), I had finally finished the majority of the puzzle. I had left empty spaces where I thought there was a rebus, but I couldn’t figure out what those rebuses were.
So I had [PART]EAT in 6A, PI[unknown rebus]S in 10A, T[HEAR]TIST in 44A, and [unknown rebus]ONE in 67A. I certainly had enough context to get the theme, but it somehow kept eluding me. From their surrounding downs, I had penned in the theme answers CHIEF, BENDERS, MINIS, and RESTED. Yet I didn’t grasp that those words had “lost art” – to me, they were just baffling.
Finally, after crossing the one-hour mark, I raised a white flag and resorted to Mr. Rex Parker’s blog. And then I uttered one big…
Theme of the day: I’m a *facepalm* ignoramus.
Kenneth, chief dunce of Crossworld