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January 11: The Crossword's Got Talent


Today's crossword by Rebecca Goldstein includes these theme answers, each with six circled letters (shown here in boldface):

Home of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks: STAPLESCENTER
Flat-topped South African landmark: TABLEMOUNTAIN
Giving 110%, say: TOTALCOMMITMENT

"Unpublicized skill found in each set of circles" is HIDDENTALENT.

Goldstein is apparently not a basketball fan. Otherwise she would know that the Los Angeles facility that is home to the Sparks, Clippers, Lakers and Kings was renamed Arena on December 25, 2021, following an agreement entered into by Anschutz Entertainment Group and the Singapore cryptocurrency exchange which paid $700,000,000 for naming rights for the next 20 years. The deal was announced on November 16. And of course it is not possible for anyone to make an effort of more than 100%, even though many athletes brag that they "go out and give 110%."

Three answers and two clues contain brand names – which used to be taboo in crosswords:  IMAC ("Apple on a desk"), NAIR ("Wax Ready-Strips maker"), ORALB ("Dental care brand"), AFRAMES ("Early IHOPs, structurally") and EMU ("Bird in Liberty Mutual ads").

"With ___ breath: tensely anticipatory" is BATED. The phrase "bated breath" first appeared in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in 1596. In Act I, scene 3, Shylock says to Antonio, "Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key with bated breath and whispering humbleness say this: 'Fair sir, you spet on me on Wednesday last; you spurned me such a day; another time you called me 'dog' – and for these courtesies I’ll lend you thus much moneys?" "Bated" is a shortened form of "abated." The word is no longer used except in the phrase "with bated breath," referring to the breath being held because of anticipation or fear or excitement. It is often misspelled as "baited breath" – which is wrong, unless the person being referred to has a mouthful of worms or salmon eggs.

"Public transit option" is BUS. That reminds me of a friend who told me he started a new job. Knowing he didn't own a car, I asked him, "How did you get to work?" "I took a bus," he said. "But the next day they made me give it back."


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