This is my solution to the crossword published in the New York Times today ...
COMPLETION TIME: 7m 46s
THEME: B(vowel)D ... the theme clues are all five words formed by the placing the vowels (in order) between the letters B-D, i.e. BAD, BED, BID, BOD, BUD
ANSWERS I MISSED: 0
6. Late football star and FTD pitchman Merlin : OLSEN
Merlin Olsen played in the NFL with the LA Rams. After retiring from the game, his career continued to flourish. He worked as a sports broadcaster for many years, and then landed a major role on television's "Little House on the Prairie", playing Jonathan Garvey. In one episode, Garvey was to help coach a boy's football team, so the writers gave the character the tongue-in-cheek line "I don't know nothin' about football!" Olsen was also the commercial face of FTD florists for many years. Olson passed away in March 2010, aged 69.
15. Sluggo's comics pal : NANCY
Little 8-year-old Nancy Ritz has been in her own comic strip "Nancy" since 1938. Since 1938, her best friend has been the lazy Sluggo Smith. Nancy is actually a little older than she looks. She first appeared in 1933 when the same strip was called "Fritzi Ritz". Within a few Nancy took over as the main character, and so the strop was renames to "Nancy".
21. Morales of "La Bamba" : ESAI
Esai Morales is best known for his role in the 1987 movie "La Bamba", which depicted the life of Rickie Valens, and his half-brother, Bob Morales (played by Esai Morales).
23. BED : PLACE TO SLEEP
31. Van Susteren of Fox News : GRETA
I remember watching Greta Van Susteren as a legal commentator on CNN during the celebrated O. J. Simpson murder trial. she parlayed those appearances into a permanent slot as co-host of CNN's "Burden of Proof", before moving onto her current gig as host of her won show on the Fox News Channel.
32. Ajax or Bon Ami : CLEANSER
Ajax cleanser has been around since 1947, and it's "stronger than dirt!" That was the most famous slogan over here in the US. On my side of the pond, the infamous slogan was "it cleans like a white tornado". Bon Ami cleanser has been around much longer. The cleanser was introduced just a few years after Bon Ami soap went to market in 1886.
37. BID : OFFER
39. Movie pal of Stitch : LILO
"Lilo & Stitch" was released by Disney in 2002. Compared to other Disney feature-length cartoons, "Lilo & Stitch" was relatively cheaply produced, using the voices of lesser known actors. One interesting change had to take place in the storyline during production, when Lilo was meant to fly a Jumbo Jet through downtown Honolulu in one sequence. This was replaced with a sequence using a spaceship instead, as the producers were sensitive to public sentiment after the September 11 attacks.
44. "Animal House" beanie sporters : PLEDGES
The very funny 1978 movie "Animal House" has the prefix "National Lampoon's ..." because the storyline came out of tales that had already appeared in "National Lampoon" magazine. "Animal House" was to become the first in a long line of successful "National Lampoon" films. The main pledges in the movie were Tom Hulce, who later played a magnificent "Amadeus", and Stephen Furst, later played a regular role on television's "Babylon 5".
46. BOD : PERSON'S BUILD
51. Late singer Horne : LENA
Lena Horne was an American jazz singer, actress, dancer and civil rights activist. she passed away just a few months ago, on May 9, 2010. She started out her career as a nightclub singer, and then started to get some meaty acting roles in Hollywood before being blacklisted for left wing political views during the McCarthy Era. One of her starring roles was in the 1943 movie "Stormy Weather" for which she also performed the title song.
52. F.D.R. power project: Abbr. : TVA
The Tennessee Valley Authority has to be one of America's great success stories when it comes to economic development. Created in 1933, the TVA spearheaded economic development in the Tennessee Valley at the height of the Great Depression. Central to the success was the federally funded construction of flood control and electricity generation facilities.
55. Blood-type abbr. : POS
Blood types are either positive or negative.
56. BUD : FUTURE BLOOM
60. Versatile vehicle, for short : UTE
A utility vehicle is often called a "ute" for short. Nowadays one mainly hears about sports utes and crossover utes.
62. Not quite round : OVATE
63. Place that's "up the river" : PEN
The pen (penitentiary) is "up the river". The phrase derives from the fact that Sing Sing prison (in Ossinging, NY) is up the Hudson River from New York City.
64. Hobbyist's knife brand : X-ACTO
The X-Acto knife was invented in the thirties by a polish immigrant, although his intention was to come up with a scalpel for surgeons. The knife couldn't cut it (pun intended!) as a scalpel though, because it was difficult to clean. The inventor's brother-in law suggested it be used as a craft knife, and it is still around today.
1. Rolaids alternative : TUMS
The main ingredient in Tums antacid is calcium carbonate made by GlaxoSmithKline. It has been on the market since 1930. If you want to save a few pennies, Target brand antacid is identical to Tums, so I hear.
2. Province of ancient Rome : ASIA
The Roman province of Asia (also called Asiana) was very different than the continent that we today call Asia. Roman Asia was just the land lying east of the Mediterranean.
4. Tolkien beast : ORC
According to Tolkien, Orcs are small humanoids, very ugly, dirty and are fond of eating human flesh.
5. Shakespeare character who goes insane : OPHELIA
Shakespeare's "Hamlet", Ophelia is courted by Hamlet.
7. "___ en Rose" (Edith Piaf song) : LA VIE
The literal translation of "La Vie en rose" is "Life in pink", but a better translation would be "Life through rose-colored glasses". Edith Piaf wrote the words to the song herself, to the melody by Louis Gugliemi. Edith Piaf became so associated with the song, that it appeared on almost every album she released. A 2007 biopic about Piaf's life was also called "La Vie en rose".
8. ___-cone : SNO
A sno-cone (also "snow cone") is just a paper cone filled with crushed ice and topped with flavored water. Italian ice is similar, but different. Italian ice is made with ice that is flavored before the water is frozen, whereas the flavoring is added to the ice in a sno-cone.
9. Old French coin : ECU
The ecu was an Old French coin, and when introduced in 1640, was worth three livres (an older coin, called a "pound" in English). The word "ecu" comes from the Latin "scutum" meaning shield. The original ecu used to have a coat of arms on it, a shield.
11. The movie "Wordplay," for one : INDIE
Every fan of the New York Times crossword just has to see the Indie film "Wordplay" released in 2006. The movie is about Will Shortz and some of the more famous solvers and setters, as well as celebrity solvers. There's even some suspense and drama at the end! It is well worth the price of a rental, if you haven't seen it.
12. L.E.D. part : DIODE
A Light Emitting Diode is a specialized form of semiconductor that when switched on releases photons (light). LEDs are getting more and more popular and have moved from use in electronic equipment to mainstream lighting, replacing the much less efficient tungsten bulb. I replaced many of my tungsten Xmas lights last year and saved a lot on my electricity bill. I am definitely replacing the rest this coming Christmas.
22. "Shane" star : ALAN LADD
The classic 1953 western movie called "Shane" was based on the novel of the same name by Jack Schaefer published in 1949. Alan Ladd had a rough end to his life. In 1962 he was found unconscious in a pool of blood with a bullet wound in his chest, an abortive suicide attempt. Two years later he was found dead, apparently having died from an accidental overdose of drugs and sedatives. He was 50 years old.
25. Wroclaw's river : ODER
The Oder rises in the Czech Republic, and forms just over a hundred miles of the border between Germany and Poland. Wroclaw is a city in southwestern Poland.
27. Ottoman Empire chief : AGHA
An aga, or agha, is a title that was used by both civil and military officials in the Ottoman Empire.
29. Hammer part : PEEN
The peen of a hammer is on the head, and is the side of the hammer that is opposite the striking surface. Often the peen is in the shape of a hemisphere (a Ball-peen hammer), but usually it is shaped like a claw (mainly for removing nails).
32. North-of-the-border grid org. : CFL
The Canadian Football League was formed back in 1958, and has helped increase the popularity of football in the country, although the sport still lags behind ice hockey.
34. Sommer in cinema : ELKE
Elke Sommer is a German-born actress, who was at the height of her success on the silver screen in the sixties. She also sings and has released several albums. Now she focuses on painting, producing artwork that is strongly influenced by Marc Chagall.
35. Woman depicted in "The Birth of Old Glory" : ROSS
"The Birth of Old Glory" is a 1908 painting by E. Percy Moran. It depicts Betsy Ross presenting the new American flag to George Washington and some members of the Continental Congress.
37. Neighbor of Yemen : OMAN
Oman is lies on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, neighbored by the OAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
38. Some are saturated : FATS
Saturated fats differ from unsaturated fats chemically in that saturated fats have chains of fatty acids that are relatively straight, allowing individual molecules to pack closely together. This close packing largely explains why saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fatty acids on the other hand have "kinks" in the chains of their fatty acids, so that they cannot pack together closely. Unsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature. Food manufacturers have learned that humans get sick by consuming saturated fats (i.e. fats from animal sources). So, they market "healthy" vegetable fats (naturally unsaturated and liquid at room temperature) that they have magically transformed in solid fats (like vegetable spreads). All they did was saturate the healthy fats, so that now it solidifies at room temperature, and in your arteries. There should be a law ...
41. Letter after pi : RHO
Rho is the Greek letter that looks just like our Roman letter "p".
42. Beat to death, so to speak : BELABOR
You wouldn't want to belabor your point, beat it to death.
44. ___ Vallarta, Mexico : PUERTO
Puerto Vallarta is a resort city in Mexico, on the Pacific Ocean. The name Vallarta comes from a former governor of the state, Ignacio Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta partly got on the map as a resort after the filming of the 1963 John Huston film "The Night of the Iguana". There was lots of publicity surrounding the making of the movie, as Richard Burton brought Elizabeth Taylor to the shoot, with whom he was having an extramarital affair at the time.
54. Spy Aldrich : AMES
Aldrich Ames worked for the CIA, until in 1994 he was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union. Prior to identifying Ames as a spy, the CIA was highly concerned at the high rate of disappearance of their own agents behind the Iron Curtain, and they struggled for years to find the mole that they assumed must be working within their own ranks. After he was finally arrested, the CIA was criticized for not having identified Ames sooner, particularly as he was living an extravagant lifestyle relative to his apparent means. He is serving a life sentence in the US Penitentiary in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
57. Sch. founded by Thomas Jefferson : UVA
Thomas Jefferson himself attended another Virginia school, the College of William and Mary. Jefferson wanted to found a university that had less religious bias and a greater focus on the sciences. He had been making plans for such a school since 1800 (according to his correspondence), and eventually saw the plans come to fruition not long before his death. he school held its first classes in 1825, and Jefferson passed away on July 4 the following year.
58. Gumshoe : TEC
Gumshoe and tec are both slang terms for a private detective. Apparently the term "gumshoe" dates back to the early 1900s, and refers to the rubber-soled shoes popular with private detectives.