For some reason, the set of topics in today's puzzle reminded me of the old Trivial Pursuit (TM) categories. Remember those? As in former times when playing the game, I did pretty well in Science & Nature and Literature. And, true to form I had no trouble with PSEC and LACTIC, or "Backdrop of many John Le Carré novels" (COLDWAR). Things were always a little more hit or miss for me in Entertainment and History. Entertainment was more on the hit side today. I knew both Johnny OLSON and KATHIELEE. History-wise, however, I did not know that TAFT was the last U.S. president to have facial hair or where he was born, but now I do! As our faithful readers know, Sports has never been my strong suit, but I do have a certain level of expertise when it comes to Leisure. :) For example, I got HOPSCOTCH right off the bat ("Game on an erasable court), but needed every cross for TERPS ("They joined the Big Ten in '14). My worst category - or pie hole, if you will - was and ever will be, I fear, Geography, with the result that I needed all the crosses "Seaport whose name derives from the Arabic for 'obstacle'" (AQABA) and "Former name of Kazakhstan's capital" (ASTANA). I'm INAWE of people who can name the countries, capitals, and contours of the world.
Of course, unlike TP (TM), the very nature of the crossword puzzle structure helps you figure out answers even if you don't actually know them. I must have said, "Yellow-striped ball"? in my head two or three times, mentally reviewing all the sports balls I could think of, but coming up empty. However, once I got the two N's one from SNIPEHUNT and the other from PRONG, I realized we were looking for a different kind of sports ball - if pool is even considered a sport. Maybe it's a leisure activity? There were quite a few beautifully ambiguous clues today for which the crossing answers certainly helped, including "File types" (RASPS), "Tabasco, for one" (STATE), "Fleet" (RAPID), "Sweeping, say" (CHORE), and "Fast time" (RAMADAN).
One element TP (TM) lacked completely - at least in my memory - was a sense of humor. I don't remember questions that made you laugh. That's not the case with this puzzle, which had a number of entertaining C/AP's including "Something one can't stand to do" (SIT) and "Good name for a landscaper?" (MOE). I also enjoyed the clue "Start working, perhaps" (PUNCHIN).
So, while I wouldn't say today's puzzle was easy as pie, thanks to my being WIZEN the ways of puzzle solving, I was able to ACTS relatively fast.