Famous Last Words

New York Times, June 21

I hate to say it, but this is almost my least favorite kind of puzzle. There are no plays on words and no clever theme to uncover, really, because the cleverness is kind of self-contained in the smug clues.

“Famous Last Words” gives you some amusing (purported) final thoughts — “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.” (1- and 13 Across) — but no deeper connection between any of the answers. (The wallpaper guy was OSCAR WILDE.)

Of course GROUCHO MARX is always funny (27 Across, “Die, my dear? Why, that’s the last thing I’ll do!”) and emperors like CALIGULA are always imperious (46 Down, “I live!”). And live he does, incidentally, through at least one movie and a song by Macy Gray that bear his name.

I’ll admit to be temporarily tricked by “Eva is leaving” (48 Down), which I initially filled in as EVA GABOR before I realized it was EVA PERON. Somehow, I think my first answer might have been appropriate as well.

I’m also going to take issue with 34 Down, “It has 10 branches: Abbr.” Having grown up in California, I’ve never heard the University of California system referred to as UCAL, as the answer would have you believe. Cal is UC Berkeley; the rest of the system is referred to as the UC system. And branches? It’s not a bank. Campuses would be more accurate.

For the record, my least favorite type of puzzle is the long quote that goes across four or five rows of the grid. You are stuck with clues like, “Quote, part 4,” which are not only completely useless but fail to provide the layered challenge of the best puzzles. Oh well. Now watch — that’s going to be the theme next week, just to spite me.

Questions or comments? Twitter me @crosswordkathy

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