Theme: Baby Steps - the theme clues all begin with something which is commonly found in a nursery.
20A *“Jolene” singer: DOLLY PARTON. Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear sleep on its back? Is Bill G. going to comment on this?
50A *Rush hour jam spots: BOTTLENECKS. We've got our fair share of these in SoCal. I particularly like the one in Orange County at the confluence of the 5, 22 and 57 freeways which is nicknamed "The Orange Crush".
11D *Residence in a park, often: MOBILE HOME. Those pesky 9D phenomena always seem to seek out these places.
29D *Rickety wheels: RATTLETRAP. My BMW falls into this category at the moment - the rear struts need replacing and they're squeaking like a 17th-century chuck wagon, and the engine idle is too low and making every panel inside rattle when I'm at a stop light. I'd better call my mechanic.
37A Illicit exam aids, and places where the first parts of the answers to starred clues can be found: CRIBS. Those books of log tables that we were allowed to carry into math exams back in the Stone Age were handy places for cribs (mine, of course, was pristine).
Happy Wednesday everyone - Steve here with what I believe might be Howard Barkin's debut puzzle for Tribune - if that's the case congratulations! (I couldn't anagram anything "Rich Norris"-related!) (Note from C.C.: Howard Barkin finished 13th in this year's ACPT. )
Four fun theme entries with a unifier and some nice fill too - lots of high-scoring Scrabble letters in the grid - missing only a Q and an F for the pangram. Let's check out the rest, including a back-reference to the theme at 61A.
1 Insectivore’s meal: BUGS. And Bizarre Food presenter Andrew Zimmern.
5 Toppled tyrant: TSAR. Alternatively CZAR, so I wait for the crosses.
9 Circus chairman?: TAMER. I liked this one. Some might quibble about the lack of "LION" but I'm good with it.
14 The “Aeneid,” for one: EPIC. It is quite an epic, it took Virgil 10 years to write.
15 Squeegee, e.g.: WIPE
16 Layer to worry about: OZONE
17 Cutting-edge brand?: ATRA. Gillette razor blades from the 90's now manufactured in India.
18 Yoked team: OXEN
19 Spa wear: ROBES
23 Tax shelter, briefly: IRA. Topical subject for Tax Week.
24 Place for a date: PALM. I was trying to figure if this was a fair clue/answer as you can put your calendar entries in any organizer, not just a Palm, then the food-related penny dropped.
25 Hibiscus plant’s family: MALLOW. The State Flower of Hawai'i
27 Once in a blue moon: RARELY.
30 Little bit: SMIDGE
32 Weight Watchers meeting need: SCALE. Not a strengthened floor?
33 Software with crop and marquee tools: PHOTOSHOP
36 Vintner’s vessel: VAT. I love the alliteration.
38 Egg cells: OVA
39 Baked snacks often dipped in hummus: PITA CHIPS. A friend of mine named one of her bichons Pita, which is an acronym for Pain In The Ass. She was prescient as well, the poor dog is on Prozac.
42 Bond-Bond link?: JAMES. "My name is Bond. James Bond".
44 Easter flowers: LILIES
45 Death Valley, for example: DESERT
46 Oscar winner Charlize: THERON
48 Salty seven: SEAS. I tried naming them, and came up with a lot more than seven.
49 Though: YET
56 Medicare insurance segment: PART B
58 Breakfast chain: IHOP. The International House Of Pancakes is not really international, and serves more than just pancakes, but hey, why spoil a good name.
59 Many a blog post: RANT. Not me, mine are always reasoned and balanced. Really.
60 Backspace through text: ERASE. When I was a computer programmer, I was a very fast but highly inaccurate typist. I was given the nickname "Backspace". You could always tell which was my keyboard - that key was worn blank.
61 Word heard in 37-Across: MAMA
62 Low card: TREY. I was going to grumble that the deuce is lower, but then realized "A low card" not "THE low card".
63 On the say-so of: AS PER
64 Furry sci-fi creature: EWOK
65 Glasses, in ads: SPEX. Do pubescent boys still want a pair of X-Ray Spex?
1 Abacus slider: BEAD
2 __-the-minute: UP-TO
3 Miss: GIRL
4 “Grey’s Anatomy” prop: SCALPEL
5 Like more absorbent paper towels: TWO-PLY. I often have trouble reading the downs, and could not figure out what on earth this word was until I realized it was hyphenated.
6 Workday alarm hr.: SIX AM. My Pilates trainer was knocking on my door at 6AM today. I like to start the day with pain and suffering.
7 Copycat: APER
8 “La Vie Bohème” musical: RENT
9 Carrier to Oz: TORNADO. I wanted "QANTAS" here, very nice clue/answer
10 __ dye: food-coloring compound: AZO. Learning moment for me.
12 Start of el año: ENERO. The Spanish year starts with this month.
13 Sat through again: RESAW. This one got a "hmmmmmmm, not really" from me today.
21 New Haven’s biggest employer: YALE. I posted a pic of West Point last time out, so here's one of Yale - it looks flooded to me!
22 Skips: OMITS
26 Some cellphones: LG'S. Cellphone manufacturer with the slogan "Life's Good"
27 Invitation abbr.: R.S.V.P. The "s'il vous plaît" part of this phrase is an alternate to the clue at 33D - a fun tie-in
28 Trendy berry: ACAI. When did berries get trendy? They undoubtedly are in L.A. - people claim almost mystical results from adding Goji berries to their smoothies.
30 Uses FedEx: SHIPS
31 “Flash” gatherings: MOBS. There have been bigger, longer and more musical flashmobs, but this was one of the first and my favorite - at Grand Central Terminal in New York.
33 “Je vous en __”:“Please”: PRIE. A more pleading way of saying please in French than "s'il vous plaît" - this translates more literally as "I pray of you .."
34 CBer’s “Your turn”: OVER
35 Former time: PAST
37 Sturdy material: CHINO. I had no idea the reason my pants are chinos is because of the fabric - I thought it was the cut and color.
40 Go public with: AIR
41 Knock into next week: CLOBBER. Great word!
42 Composer Sibelius: JEAN
43 Strongly maintains: ASSERTS
45 “Spiritual Solutions” author Chopra: DEEPAK. Are there any other Chopras?
46 Go-go personality: TYPE A
47 Pays heed to: HEARS
48 NFL highlight reel technique: SLO-MO
51 Hourglass figure?: TIME
52 Deice?: THAW. I had to look at this clue a dozen times before I saw what it was - I thought it was a misprint at first.
53 Beef, or a fish: CARP. Nice one!
54 Joint with a cap: KNEE
55 Netherworld river: STYX. And an earworm which is a favorite of classic rock fans everywhere
57 “Cats” initials: T.S.E. T.S.Eliot. Did you know that T.S. stands for Thomas Sterns? I didn't.
And that's it! I'm cutting my teeth in my first competitive crossword competition out here in Sherman Oaks this coming Sunday in aid of the Brain Research Foundation - Four NYT puzzles from Will Shortz - I promise to tell you all if I make an unholy mess of it! If any other left-coasters are interested, here are the details.
Have a good Wednesday. Hug your family and appreciate your friends.