Friday, November 24, 2006
Solving time: approx. 17 minutes
Did this puzzle fairly quickly last night while sitting in "bed" [reader Andrew would have you know I don't sleep in an actual bed, but on a futon on the floor like some kind of 90's college student], after having eaten Thanksgiving dinner ... twice: once with wife and our friends around 3-4 pm, and then again right before Survivor (which I am somehow watching again after a multi-season boycott). Not sure if the Thanksgiving fullness helped or hurt. Seemed like it had no effect. The puzzle had an eerily Maleskan feel to it - some weird (to me) words and phrases that felt like they came from a land I'd never heard of, let alone been to. 36A: Olivine variety (Peridot) is a very good example, as I have no idea what OLIVINE or PERIDOT is, though I feel as if I've heard of the latter, at least. Had to guess a letter in the NW (guessed right). Had to suffer the ignominy of being caught in baseball ignorance yet again (feels like it's happening all the time lately). Learned a couple of things about major pop culture figures who appear frequently in puzzles. Overall, an OK experience. I take back the "Maleskan" part, actually, upon further review. Not enough back-breaking arcana to merit that distinction. But this was definitely a puzzle where my solving skills, and not my general fund of knowledge, was largely responsible for successful completion. Nice to see two guys named "Sal" in the puzzle: MINEO (19A) is angling for Pantheon status, while BANDO (18D) is just happy to get out of the house (notice how he doesn't even care that his clue was really pointing to a railroad name, and not to him at all).
1A: Some Italian baby food (pastina)
3D: Former "60 Minutes" debater Alexander (Shana)
Here is where I guessed a letter ("S"), though really what else could it have been? I inferred PASTINA from PASTA, but what the hell do I know about Italian babies? And though SHANA sounded far too ... unnewsworthy a name to be the right answer to 3D, I had to go with it. Honestly, until I looked it up, I didn't know if the clue referred to a SHANA Alexander or an Alexander SHANA. Shana Alexander was a successful female journalist back when there weren't that many of them. She provided the "liberal" viewpoint in debates with "conservative" James J. Kilpatrick at the end of "60 Minutes" episodes in the late 1970s. She died in June of last year. And yet Andy Rooney lives on. Where is the justice in that?
8A: Company that owns the brands Playtex, Kiwi and Hillshire Farm (Sara Lee)
Hmmm, Playtex, Kiwi, and Hillshire Farm. That's quite a hand you're holding, Ms. Lee. Three-of-a-...kind? "Forget snack treats. I have seen the future, and it is, in order: tampons, shoe polish, and sausage." That has to represent the highest level of difficulty for an ad exec charged with creating synergy among a company's products.
PS somebody tell SARA LEE that despite the fact that she has appeared in the grid, in her entirety, at least twice in the past couple of months, 7-letter words are simply not allowed in the Pantheon.
25A: _____ Ray of the Indigo Girls (Amy)
52A: "_____ to recall..." (I seem)
Thank god for fill-in-the-blank clues like these, or I don't know where my toehold(s) would have come from. I SEEM to recall that I briefly dated the sister of one of the Indigo Girls (Emily's sister, not AMY's). I just like to drop that odd bit of information into conversation whenever I have the chance, even though it's the saddest claim to celebrity proximity ever made by a grown man. The Indigo Girls are of course famous (now) for their crossword fondness. Of all their albums, I am most fond of the oddly titled "Come On Now Social."
39A: Baseball Hall-of-Famer Tim (Keefe)
Uh, who? I've got RAINES and MCCARVER and then I'm tapped out. Holy Moly - I'm going to have to bring the "Maleskan" designation back, as this answer is Old-Timey ... to the Xtreme! Tim KEEFE was a massive baseball star ... in the 19th century. He was a submarine pitcher (HA ha, I didn't know those existed until the days of Kent Tekulve and Dan Quisenberry) who won an astonishing number of games and struck out thousands. If I'd been born in 1869 and not 1969, I'd have known this.
12D: Put in abeyance (laid aside)
13D: One who's not being precise (estimator)
14D: Some bloggers (essayists)
I found these parallel long answers in the NE corner of the puzzle kind of icky and off for some reason. 12D's cluing just sounds clunky, despite being reasonably correct on a definitional level. I guessed ESTIMATOR with just the "M" - my long answer coup of the day. ESTIMATOR as a noun ... hrrmph. Yes, it's a word. As for "some bloggers" - I got ESSAYISTS in fairly short order, but ... what do you mean by "some?" Moreover, what do you mean by "ESSAY?" Again, the answer is not untrue, but the connection between the world of blogging and the world of ESSAYs does not seem very tight. The very word "ESSAYIST" smacks of a world that would sneer at the practice of blogging. POLITICOS would have fit. EGOMANIACS is too long, but would have worked nicely in the singular. This corner is so boring that I can't even think of a good picture to go with it. Here is Henry David Thoreau. He was an actual ESSAYIST.
24D: Sophisticated (smart)
We were watching the British version of "What Not To Wear" just prior to bedtime, so this one came quite easily. Whether most of the fashion on that show could be said to be SMART, however, is debatable.
30D: Quaker product (Rice-a-Roni)
I have no real commentary to offer on this one. I just like the (apparent) incongruity of clue and answer. RICE-A-RONI is very good long fill. It's the San Franscisco treat that was often given away in large quantities as the consolation prize on game shows in the 1970's. Its cable car ads remind me, not surprisingly, of S.F., where I was born.
38D: Fish basket (creel)
44D: Prospect (vista)
I pick these two for different but related reasons: I got them both almost immediately, and I don't know why. I mean I pulled CREEL out of my ... brain - out of the deep, deep recesses. I think I startled the word as it slept, unused and un-thought-of for years. As I wrote it in, I was deeply suspicious, but it panned out. As for VISTA, it's a fairly easy word, but I had only the "I," and I just knew somehow that the answer must be VISTA. I can't explain. It was this weird peek into how top solvers' minds must work all the time. Something weirdly Rain-Man-ish takes over and you see things that reasonable, intelligent people would not see, or not see so quickly. Sadly, this kind of instant divination happens to me far too infrequently to have a huge impact on my overall solving times. But it feels oddly magical when it does happen.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld