Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: Mickey Mouse Wearing a Gigantic Bow Tie, I Think
Word of the Day: Elliott SADLER (29D: Nascar driver Elliott) —
Elliott William Barnes Sadler (born April 30, 1975) is a NASCAR driver. He currently drives the #2 OneMain Financial Chevrolet Impala for Richard Childress Racing in the Nationwide Series. He is one of only 23 drivers to have won in each of NASCAR's top three series. Sadler was born in Emporia, Virginia, along with his older brother, Hermie Sadler, who is an announcer for Speed Channel (wikipedia)
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It wants to be a heart. It really does. It's trying so hard.
The "theme" fill here is decidedly pathetic. Your marquee, grid-spanning answer is a *partial*? How is that good? Maybe I'm supposed to be impressed by the low word-count. No dice. Also, this puzzle is totally ANTLERS™—by which I mean it's filled primarily with the most common letters in the alphabet. This is necessary for low word-count puzzles, which is part of the reason I don't generally like low word-count puzzles. Very marginal names in the SW, a very bygone and unfamous Cadillac in the NW, and plurals plurals everywhere. This is a one-trick pony, and that trick is over as soon as you see the grid.
Still, there was a small amount of toughness there, and the solving experience was not entirely terrible. With the exception of CARNERA (?) (23D: Boxing Hall-of-Famer Primo) and SADLER (??), names were my friends today. ROLLIE was a gimme (1D: Fingers on a diamond), as were WINANS (6D: CeCe of gospel) and ALICIAS (5D: Keys and Markova) (those last two gave me my first real foothold). LLEYTON was also a gimme, though spelling was (not shockingly) a problem (27D: ___ Hewitt, 2002 Wimbledon winner). Biggest issue was the NW, where 7A: Make a major decision? (GO PRO) had me stymied, largely because I had I MEAN TO instead of I PLAN TO at 2D: "That's my intention". Also, [Quickly reproduces] did not lead me to PRINTS UP very easily, perhaps because print hasn't been touted primarily for its "quickness" since roughly the 16th century. But the clue is, technically, accurate. The rest of the grid, I moved through with reasonable dispatch. Just set up your ETAPE under the ESPARTO SEA STEPS, and voilà: you're done (35D: Military encampment + 42A: Grass for some baskets + 4D: Ship's boarding ladder).
Who knew ENA had "namesakes" (28A: Spanish queen and namesakes)?
- 1A: Fashion show disaster (R.I.P.) — I had RUN.
- 11A: Element in many semiconductors (GALLIUM) — sounds French.
- 24A: Collection of Blaise Pascal writings ("PENSÉES") — I had to read some of these, in French, in my first year of college. Despite being all common letters, this is one of my favorite answers in this grid. That said, I'd have preferred either BLAISE or PASCAL.
- 34A: 9-5 connector ('TIL) — someone does not know his Dolly Parton songs/movies.
- 10D: Food topping in France (GELÉE) — French didn't help me much here. Looks like this simply means "jelly."
- 13D: They let traffic through after a crash (CLEARED LANES) — This is stretching "let through" a bit far.
If you want to see a killer SAINT VALENTINE'S (Day) puzzle, you should go do Liz Gorski's WSJ puzzle this week. It's a beaut. Get the .puz file here, or a .pdf here.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld