Saturday, October 28, 2006
Solving time: about 40 minutes, 20 of which were spent staring at an empty SE corner
THEME: WrestleMania! (or, none)
All hail King Quarfoot - or he will sic his pack of sweet but vicious puzzles on you and they will tear you to pieces before you can clear the castle wall. Here's the thing - there's so much playful, pop-cultury fun in a Quarfoot puzzle that if you're like me (under 40, raised on TV, slightly cocky) you can get a good rhythm going in a Quarfoot puzzle and start feeling pretty good about yourself. There comes, however, the inevitable moment wherein I hit a brick wall (an immovable object, if you will), and the little voice that lives in my head goes "...sucker." That moment came the second CRANIAL, with great uncertainty, dipped its big toe down into the swampy Everglades of this puzzle, which we'll call "Lake Okeechobee" if only for all the improbable letter combinations. The -IAL in CRANIAL (which, by the way, is an Awesome answer for 26D: Heady? and made me think of the time that Apu tried to excuse the presence of a teddy bear head in one of his bags of ice by claiming that the bag was "chock full of ... heady goodness!"). Where was I? Oh, the -IAL in CRANIAL just dangled there, like a very ineffectively baited hook, catching Nothing. It all ended with a NEOCENE / NEOGENE smackdown, and while NEOGENE appears to have won, NEOCENE refuses to leave the ring.
And the Cardinals won the World Series, thereby redefining the word BATHOS. So good for them. To show that I am not the sorest loser in the world, I hereby acknowledge that at least one Cardinal in that team's history was indeed Great. BOB GIBSON, one of the four best pitchers in the history of baseball (with Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, and Pedro Martinez):
2D: Wifely (uxorial)
14A: Leading evidence (exhibit A)
To understand the high on which I started this puzzle, consider that UXORIAL was the First word I thought of when I saw "wifely," and that when I crosschecked it, its correctness was immediately borne out by the manifest rightness of EXHIBIT A. If I can pull 7- and 8-letter answers out of thin air, really, what can't I do? [I'd like to take this moment to thank my wife for being UXORIAL, and apologize if I have been insufficiently UXORIOUS]
17A: "Way to go, bro! (you da man!)
18A: TV title role for Brandy (Moesha)
It's like God created a puzzle Just for Me. Not only are these two answers awesomely contemporary and sure to be completely esoteric in twenty years time, but they are right across the hall from each other on the grid. Even though "you da man!" is something I imagine white people saying in the misguided belief that they are sounding black, I still have to believe that somebody on Moesha, at some time, must have uttered that phrase. Remember UPN?
25A: small finch (serin)
Even my sometime bird-watching wife couldn't get this (it's not technically cheating on my part if she couldn't answer the question, right?). Isn't this a nerve gas? Oops, nope, I'm one (very important) letter off. Look how cute!
35A: Wrestler once called the "Irresistible Force" (Hulk Hogan)
15D: Wrestler once called the "Immovable Object" (Andre the Giant)
Not only does Mr. Quarfoot beautifully literalize an abstract hypothetical concept, but "Force" and "Object" collide at their exact centers. What happens when an Irresistible Force meets an Immovable Object in real life? Sadly, this:In keeping with the wrestling theme, the names of these wrestlers end up functioning a bit like ropes, dividing the grid into four discrete rings (why is it called a ring when it's square?). Warning: you do NOT want to go into that southeast ring without some protective gear.
56A: Aged (got old)
63A: Cursed (doggone)
Good examples of how simple little words can be very, very difficult to get because of the trillions of potential ways of interpreting them. I love GOT OLD because it is so perfectly, straightforwardly literal. No references to wine or cheese. Just GOT OLD. Nice. DOGGONE was the first "aha" moment that I had in the swampy SE corner, and despite my taking forever to get it, I LOVE it (as often happens with these Quarfoot clues - they bring out whatever latent masochism I have). I stared at it for so long wishing the answer could just be DOOMED. Then I tried to convince myself DONE FOR might actually be a synonym for "cursed." No good. Once I imagined "cursed" as having two syllables (easier to do when you've been teaching a lot of Renaissance poetry), then there it was. And it was so sweetly colloquial that I just wanted to pinch its cheeks.
Let's take the northern part of the lake first:
30D: Menotti boy (Amahl)
40A: Warren resident (Ohioan)
What happens when you a. know almost nothing about opera, b. have recently been reading Watership Down, and c. try to do a David Quarfoot puzzle? Answer: nothing. Nothing happens, and it keeps happening. It wasn't until I had the improbable but certainly correct "IOA" combination that I got that the clue must have something to do with the state of Ohio and not the place that rabbits live. For a while I tried to convince myself that ORIOLES lived in warrens. No dice. Amahl and the Night Visitors is apparently a very famous American opera. Never Heard of It. According to this website, it was "first performed Christmas Eve, 1951, by the NBC Television Theater." Mmm, inauspicious!
41D: Comment when you're almost done (one to go)
42D: Influence (act upon)
43D: Latter part of the Tertiary period (Neogene)
This increasingly-tricky triad jumped up and down on my sternum for the better part of a half hour, but eventually fell, in order, though I'm still not sure NEOGENE isn't a Cylon. First, ONE TO GO. God, it's good, but it's not a phrase that rises to the surface of your brain when you have NO crosses. "Comment when you're almost done ..." doing what!?!?! JUST A SEC would be great if a. it fit and b. the frame of reference were the bathroom. IN A BIT ... too short. Clearly I had it in my mind that whatever the answer was, it was being said to an impatient person who wanted you, or wanted to do whatever you were doing or use whatever you were using. Once I imagined a hot-dog eating contest, the answer came swiftly (helped along by my fearless entry of TARRAGON at 61A: Rémoulade ingredient, despite my having no idea what a "rémoulade" is - this gave me the penultimate "G" in ONE TO GO). ONE TO GO gave me the "N" in LANCE (for 47A: Sticker) which in turn gave me the "C" that helped topple ACT UPON. That leaves 43D, which at that point looked like this: NE__ENE. I knew that the answer was likely Greek, so NEO- for the prefix, and I had heard of geologic ages ending in -CENE, so that's what I entered, despite the fact that that gave me TUC for 55A: River tower. So confident was I of my NEOCENE coup that I was willing to accept TUC, imagining it to be a piece of Welsh arcana (like CWM and other improbable words), despite the manifest rightness of TUG ("tower" = "one that tows" = TUG boat, duh). I was solidified in my wrongness by the post-puzzle Google search of NEOCENE, the definition of which (and I can't stress this strongly enough) MENTIONS THE TERTIARY PERIOD. In fact, after all my reading, I'm not convinced that NEOCENE couldn't also be considered correct (you know, if it weren't for the very wrong TUC). But I know squat about rocks, clearly. If you want to enlighten me on the finer points of geologic time, you are hereby invited to do so.
54D: Prominent puppet show producer (Sarg)
Ultimately got this right, but had to Google it: apparently Tony SARG was "one of the fathers of modern puppet theater," a phrase that makes me laugh just typing it. Oh modern puppet theater! I see... To me, there are two eras of puppet theater. The first looks like this:
And the second, more evolved kind looks like this:
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld