Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: SPLIT / HAIRS (23A: With 51-Across, nitpick ... or a hint to 17-, 37- and 60-Across) — three theme answers whose first and last letters spell out HAIR
Word of the Day: CAVA (19A: Spanish sparkling wine) —
Cava [...] is a Spanish sparkling wine of Denominación de Origen (DO) status, most of which is produced in Catalonia. It may be white or rosé. The macabeu, parellada and xarel·lo are the most popular and traditional grape varieties for producing cava. Only wines produced in the traditional method (méthode champenoise) may be labelled cavas, those produced by other processes may only be called vinos espumosos (sparkling wines). About 95% of all cava is produced in the Penedès area in Catalonia, with the village of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia being home to many of Spain's largest production houses. The two major producers are Codorníu and Freixenet. [...] The word cava means "cave, cellar" in both Catalan and Spanish. Caves were used in the early days of cava production for the preservation or aging of wine. Catalan winemakers officially adopted the term in 1970 to distinguish their product from French champagne. (wikipedia)
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I was sluggish on this one, for reasons I don't quite understand, though I do recall staring at S-L-T and thinking "that can't be part of the theme ... what the hell word is that, SALUT!?" Maybe one too many Halloween candies... Didn't care much for the theme. The only interesting theme answer is HARLEM BOYS CHOIR. If you want to know why pangrams suck, check out the SW corner of this puzzle. That "Q" is awkwardly shoehorned in there, with resulting ugliness (e.g. both "Q" "words," ECRUS). ARGUE beats ESQUE (48A: Suffix with Kafka or Zola). By a million country miles. And if that doesn't work, pull out SULTAN. Whatever. There's just no reason for that "Q" to be there. Makes puzzle uglier than it could've been otherwise.
- 17A: Do-it-yourselfer's activity (HOME REPAIR)
- 37A: New York singing group that last performed in 2007 (HARLEM BOYS CHOIR)
- 60A: Forum cheer ("HAIL, CAESAR!")
- 31A: Altogether it's worth the most bonus troops in Risk (ASIA) — blah blah blah Risk, four letters, done.
- 46D: Nutlike Chinese fruit (LITCHEE) — I think there are several acceptable spellings of LITCHEE, which is one reason I'm never too thrilled to see it in crosswords.
- 9D: Vega's constellation (LYRA) — Think I've seen it once before. Most of what I know about constellations, I know from crosswords. LYRICA is a prescription treatment for fibromyalgia. Haven't seen that in the grid yet.
- 35D: Charlie Brown toy that's often "eaten" by a tree (KITE) — Wish ROCK were in the puzzle—would make for a more timely crossword clue, i.e. "I got a ___!" (repeated trick-or-treating exclamation from Charlie Brown)