Core O’Nations

New York Times crossword Feb. 19 / Constructed by James F.C. Burns

Greetings from the Left Coast! Out here to surprise my dad for his 70th birthday and to meet my new, 6-week-old niece. So apologies for the three-hour-late post.

To get right down to it, today’s puzzle is essentially a geographic word search — each theme answer is hiding the name of a country. “Show of affection” is A HUG AND A KISS (21 Across), but it also contains Uganda:  A HUG AND A KISS.

Others: Denmark is hidden in GARDEN MARKET (“Place for produce stands,” 102 Across); Malta is concealed in INFORMAL TALKS (“Unofficial discussions,” 15 Down); Iran is in FAIR AND SQUARE (“On the level,” 50 Down); Spain is found in TAKES PAINS (“Makes an extra effort,” 30 Down); Kenya hides in SUNKEN YACHT (“Sea salvager’s quest, maybe,” 44 Down); China is buried in CATCH IN A LIE (“Trip up, perhaps,” 26 Down); and Peru is cached in AS PER USUAL (“Like always,” 46 Down).

The puzzle went pretty fast for me. My only quibble would be that the title “Core O’Nations” might imply these countries have monarchs (“coronations”). Though some of the nations do (Spain, Denmark) I’m pretty sure China does not.

Walk of Fame Dept.: Whenever I come home to L.A., I’m always overwhelmed by the amount of movie advertising. That’s especially true now as the Oscars approach. Only a week until 83 Down comes to pass:  “It’s much thanked once a year” — the ACADEMY.

Campus Life Dept.: “College town SW of Cleveland” is OBERLIN (10 Across). “Home of the N.C.A.A.’s Minutemen” is UMASS (72 Across). And a “Pac-12 team, for short” is ASU (94 Across). You could also throw in IRISH (“Like leprechauns,” 52 Across) as a reference to Notre Dame.

Musical Notes Dept.: Mick Jagger sings “‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash, it’s ___'” A GAS (4 Down). “Rap’s Dr. ___” is DRE (78 Across). “One-named rapper with the 2008 hit ‘Paper Planes'” is M.I.A. (45 Down), who might better be remembered for her appearance during the Super Bowl halftime show earlier this month. And “Record label for Cee Lo and Whitney Houston” is ARISTA (59 Across), although Houston, of course, will no longer be recording. I drove by the Beverly Hilton on Friday and saw the huge memorial of balloons, flowers and candles outside. A truly sad ending for someone who was on top of the world when I last lived here as a teen in the mid-‘1980s.

Marks The Spot Dept.: “X” is TEN (5 Down) in Roman numerals. “X, in Roma” is DIECI (22 Down).

Missing (My Adopted) Home Dept.: The Philly area is filled with WAWA convenience stores, but Will Shortz tied that answer to an SNL clue for 88 Across:  “Baba ___ (Gilda Radner character).” (Here’s Radner doing her Barbara Walters impression, and here is Walters’ reaction to it.) And “N.J. and Pa. each have a famous one” is TPKE (108 Across). I never thought of the Pennsylvania Turnpike as famous, but if Will Shortz thinks it is, it must be true.

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