Friday, November 3, 2006
Solving time: 20:28 (on screen)
THEME: "The" (or, none)
Though there is no real theme to this puzzle, there is a crazy [prepositional phrase + definite article] mash-up in the dead center of this puzzle, resulting in some interesting letter patterns. First,the "T," "H," and "E" in 38A: Floor it (Gun THE engine) also make up parts of the definite article "THE" in their respective crosses (all of which have "THE" in prepositional phrases: 21D: Mediocre (Run OF THE mill), 7D: Exactly (Right ON THE money) and 8D: Over there (ACROSS THE way)). Plus, both the "T" in 7D and the "H" in 8D intersect a second crossing "THE" at 34A: "Well, looky who just came in!" (Speak OF THE devil). Further, the "T"s from the various "THE"s create a SW-to-NE run of three "T"s through the center of the puzzle, which is weirdly paralleled by a run of "O"s just to the NW. The "T"s all come from "THE"s, and the "O"s all come from prepositions (OK, the "ON" in 31A: Longtime musical group with a world capital in its name (KingstON Trio) is not technically a preposition, but it's so Close!) Anyway, the main point is that I've never seen such definite article density in a puzzle in my life. Probably not what Mr. Nosowsky intended to be the most striking aspect of the puzzle, but my mind sees what it sees. I would also like to acknowledge the white-square density of the grid. 201/225 of the squares are white, making for lots of long and longish answers, and thus some inventive, ingenious fill and cluing. Here we go:
1A: Santa _____ (Monica)
So warm. So much good food. Home to many celebrities and pseudo-celebrities. Home to Bongo Comics (publishers of all of my Simpsons Comics). Also, home to my second-most faithful reader.
7A: Like an absent-minded professor, maybe (rambling)
14D: Eccentric sort (geezer)
These answers intersect at the "G" in the NE corner. As a sometime absent-minded professor, this concerns me. Is there an implied connection? While I am frequently 7A, I hope my days of being a 14D are far, far in the future ... although ... I am frequently tempted to address my students with sentences beginning, "In my day..." e.g. "In my day, we didn't have the 'Internet' - we had books. Dusty books. And you had to get off your ass and go to this place called the 'Library' to read them." "In my day, we didn't have cell phones. If you wanted to call your friend, you had to cup your hands around your mouth and yell real hard." And so on.
18A: Winter race vehicle (ice canoe)
"Canoe Canoe?" Anyone? Defunct ad campaign. Sorry. As far as this answer goes, I want to Challenge, as ... ICE CANOE reminds me of something that the boy Wonder Twin would turn into when he and his sister activated their Wonder Twins Powers: "Form of, an Ice Machine Gun!" Is the canoe made of ice? Or does it navigate ice? Hang on... Google me! Well, it looks like ... a canoe. I guess it's specially built for navigating ice-filled waters. I would have preferred to find images of canoes sculpted out of ice, but this'll have to do:
20A: Breathing aid (airhole)
25A: Crackers (nutsy)
9D: Not fine (mealy)
This was an unfortunate confluence of answers. For the first two of these clues, I had AIRHOSE and NUTSO, respectively (and I still think the latter is better than its "correct" alternative). This left me with the befuddling MEASO as an answer for 9D, which I didn't really want to change because it was making me laugh (if you say "MEASO," and are of a certain age, you will be nearly unable to keep yourself from saying "Horny" immediately thereafter - thank you, 2 Live Crew. Or perhaps you would be inclined to follow MEASO with "Soup"; doesn't make me titter, but OK). I nearly left MEASO, thinking it some piece of Friday arcana that I would just have to look up. But I persevered. "NUTSY" is terrible, but the white-square density factor prompts me to give it a "pass."
42A: Cabinet acronym, once (H.E.W.)
Was this obscure to anyone else? I looked at it thinking "that can't be right." But it is: it stands for the "Department of Health, Education and Welfare," which was a cabinet-level post from 1953 to 1979, when it was HEWn - or cleft, rather, in two: the Department of Education went independent, and the remainder of H.E.W. was renamed the Department of Health and Human Services. This cabinet-level reorganization was revolutionary, as it ended up solving all of our country's education and health problems.
58A: How déjà vu often occurs (spookily)
The puzzle is not ready to give up on Halloween yet. Other Evil Entries include OGRES (43A), STREP (39A), NICOTINE (3D), and ONION DIP (2D).
1D: Units of work (man-weeks)
What? Is this some economics or Department of Labor stat? Sounds like the plural form of a summertime festival in Provincetown or San Francisco. "Are you going to Man-Week this year?" "Girl, you know I am." / "What happens at Man-Week stays at Man-Week." / etc.
33D: Riddle-me- (ree)
This is from a nursery rhyme of some sort? I wanted "THIS, BATMAN," but alas, the answer was far too short.
50D: Noted 19th-century French illustrator (Doré)
This week's puzzles have now featured both artists I have used in my courses this term: first Goya, now DORÉ. Why DORÉ? Well, despite the fact that the course I teach is called "British Literature I," I spend half our time teaching classical and early medieval writing that is not British at all. Why? Because British Literature came from somewhere; it didn't just spring fully formed from the head of Queen Elizabeth (or Chaucer, or whoever wrote Beowulf). So we just finished Dante's Inferno, and DORÉ did a very famous set of gorgeous, horrifying illustrations to accompany a 19th-century edition of Dante's magisterial poem. DORÉ does good monsters. Clearly, I refuse to let Halloween die.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld