Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: Phrase / headless phrase — common two-word phrases have first letters of each word circled; removing circled letters creates different two-word phrase. Both phrases are clued, [clue for phrase w/ circles] --> [clue for circle-less phrase]
Word of the Day: RAREBIT (2D: Cheesy dish) —
Welsh rabbit, or infrequently rarebit, is a dish made with a savoury sauce of melted cheese and various other ingredients and served hot over toast. The names of the dish originate from 18th century Great Britain, after Wales. Welsh rarebit is typically made with Cheddar cheese, in contrast to the Continental European fondue which classically depends on Swiss cheeses. (wikipedia)
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Theme was not immediately apparent to me. Had the SMILES part of 17A first, looked at clues, and decided that it would be one of those theme where phrases are just broken at different places, e.g. the answer could be understood as something SMILES or something'S MILES. But I'd never heard of BROAD'S MILES. Then I figured the circles must mean something... and they do. Leave 'em in, one answer (first clue), take 'em out, another (second clue). Specific letters in the circles are meaningless. That is, doesn't matter that it's a "B," or an "S," or whatever; they're circled only because they're the first letters of words in full phrase. So I guess that's a cute idea. Should've made the puzzle easier than normal, but somehow didn't. Very typical time for me. Nothing in the grid is particularly tough or out-of-the-ordinary, except maybe the clue on ESTONIA (45D: Where Skype was invented)—I had no idea.
- 17A: Signs of elation --> marathon segments (BROAD SMILES)
- 25A: Sign of trouble --> commercial writers (BAD OMEN)
- 37A: Pigtail --> cause for a siren (HAIR BRAID)
- 52A: Toaster food --> dazzling designs (POP TART)
- 62A: Fireplace part --> fall color (HEARTH STONE)
- 34A: "Born from jets" automaker (SAAB) — a slogan that I learned from xwords, and one that (mercifully) has stuck.
- 49A: Furry sci-fi creature (EWOK) — Super-common, as furry sci-fi creatures go.
- 54A: Smoothly, on a score (LEGATO) — Needed crosses; words on musical scores are frequently road bumps for me.
- 60A: Rotund Wolfe (NERO) — I am fairly committed to (finally) reading one of his mysteries this winter. You'd think I'd take more of a shine to a writer named Rex. But no.
- 66A: Katharine Hepburn's foursome (OSCARS) — Could tell answer was OSCARS before I ever saw the clue; I'd forgotten she won that many.
- 6D: Holy man in an Ogden Nash verse (LAMA) — the one-L LAMA. The NYT crossword *loves* this poem, for some reason.
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