I rarely finish one of Paula Gamache's puzzle without resorting to Google...but today was an exception. That's somewhat surprising...considering how few gimmes I had.
But I just kept plodding along...guessing here and there, changing a few answers...and I got it. I checked the grid on the Applet and had something wrong. I changed 64A: "Finnegans Wake" wife from Anne to Anna...and my solution was accepted.
I'm always delighted to see circles in the grid. A note at the top of the puzzle (in Across Lite...I don't know about the print version) said: The circled letters in the answers to the seven starred clues, reading left to right or top to bottom, spell words that can complete familiar phrases that start with "break."
16A: * Not just stupid (brain dead)...[break bread]. I'm sure they meant no disrespect with that clue and answer. It seemed a little off, although I've been known to describe myself that way on occasion.
22A: * Setting in Sherlock Holmes's "The Man with the Twisted Lip" (opium den)...[break open].
37A: * Perplexed state (wit's end)...[break wind]. I don't know if that passes the breakfast test, but I'm sure it got a few laughs.
49A: * Informers (rat finks)...[break ranks].
59A: * Dessert made from a product of a 10-Down (apple tart)...[break apart].
10D: * Orchard part (fruit tree)...[break free].
33D: * Fairy tale meanie (evil queen)...[break even].
I thought the theme was clever, and the construction of a puzzle like this just blows me away. The theme answers were all better-than-average fill, as was much of the nontheme fill:
18A: Where William the Conqueror died (Rouen). That's one of those words that I must have heard sometime in my life. When I had a couple of letters in place, I just knew what the answer was.
19A: Kerosene (lamp oil). This was one of the last answers to fall...in large part because of an error at 2D: "That's __!" (director's cry). I couldn't decide between a wrap (the correct answer, and the first thing I wrote) and a take. I should always go with my gut.
20A: N.B.A. center who has pitched for McDonald's, Pepsi and Visa (Yao Ming). I was at a real disadvantage here...I don't follow basketball, and I don't watch television. Fortunately, that section of the puzzle was falling into place nicely, so the crosses gave me his name.
36A: Daily or weekly, e.g.: Abbr. (adv.). I love clues like this...I get the answer, but I don't get the answer. Until later.
47A: Grill (quiz). That has to be one of the best words ever...both a Q and a Z!
57A: Major Italian tourist site (Pompeii). That was in the puzzle a few weeks ago...in fact, the syndicated puzzle for today (Wednesday...not Thursday).
58A: "Ich __ dich" (German words of endearment) (liebe).
63A: This and that (olio). Another of those words I'd never heard until I started doing crossword puzzles. I can't remember when I saw it last, though.
1D: Cellist Casals (Pablo).
6D: __ Hugo, 1975 Isabelle Adjani role based on a real-life story (Adele).
15D: Stimulated (aroused).
21D: Completely strange (alien).
23D: Music download source (Napster).
27D: They replaced C rations (MREs). When the girls were in Civil Air Patrol, we thought this was very funny...now I can't remember why. I'll have to ask them.
37D: Some luau dancers (wahines). I haven't shown a Hawaii picture in some time. Here's one from our first trip...taken for the book I plan to write about bathrooms I've visited. Reserve your copy now.
38D: Resort island ESE of Valencia (Ibiza). This was in the puzzle a few weeks ago and I hadn't heard of it. This is its second appearance since then...and a gimme now.
48D: Planetary shadow (umbra). I wouldn't have gotten it without crosses. Because I had Anne for 64A, I had umbre for this...it looked okay to me.
51D: Author Zora __ Hurston (Neale).
52D: Popular Japanese beer (Kirin). Wouldn't have remembered that, but the crosses took care of it.
That's it for tonight. My goal is to be asleep before 10:30...at least in bed by then.
Here's the grid...
...and I'll see you tomorrow.