Saturday, November 11, 2006
Solving time: 42:21 (applet)
The theme could just as well have been "staring into the void," which is what I did in the NW corner for a good long while. Or it could have been "1984" - the year that saved my life, where this puzzle is concerned (see below). The puzzle was a bit heavy on the esoterica, but overall: tough but fair. Very Saturday. My on-line puzzle-solving skills still need honing, although I can't blame my time on the computer today. My brain was a bit slow on the uptake, and the puzzle was just hard for me. Too many "aha" solving moments brought not satisfaction but a feeling of "@#$#@, how the hell did I not see that very simple @#$#-ing word, right in front of my face!" I shall start in the soul-crushing NW corner (O, "Seattle," I've always loved you; why must you be so cruel?)
1A: The might be protected by an 8-Across (rabbits)
8A: See 1-Across (game law)
Hey, I just started this damned puzzle; don't send me off looking to other parts of the puzzle before I've even gotten my feet wet! What I resented most about this clue set is that the answer to 1A was arbitrary where the 8A clue was concerned. Could have been anything. Monkeys? Pandas? Jennets? Genets? Prairie dogs? Who can say? Are rabbits really "protected" somewhere? [my wife says "game law" makes her think of British laws having to do with hunting restrictions on a monarch's or noble(wo)man's land] Where were the rabbit protectors when Fiver and Bigwig and all of them were driven out of the Sandleford Warren by the horrible humans!?!
3D: Member of the sedge family (bulrush)
17A: Kind of grape (sultana)
Mmm, plant life. Not my area of expertise. I had both of these answers screwed up six ways from Sunday before I finally scratched my way to correctness. SULTANA started out as CONCORD and then eventually became PUTTANA for a while, which is not a word, or if it is, is surely a dirty word. I knew there was such a thing as PUTTANescA sauce in Italian cooking, so I just played a hunch. And lost. Turns out grapes are not involved in the making of PUTTANescA sauce. Anchovies, garlic, onions, tomatoes ... no grapes (grape tomatoes?). Here's a recipe for PUTTANescA sauce. Sounds good right now, for some reason, even though it's 9am. As far as BULRUSH goes, I had the much better and, in retrospect, more hilarious NUTBUSH, which I pieced together from having _ U _ _ USH. The answer is clearly a plant, so why not a BUSH? I have no idea what a NUTBUSH is except as the "city limits" in Tennessee where Tina Turner grew up. Hey Tennessee - you could have elected a dignified senator, but instead you elected a useless midget. Congratulations! Florida better be careful, or you all are gonna take over as most politically idiotic state in the Union. Where was I? Oh, the puzzle. Sorry, Tina Turner gets me so excited. PS Tina Turner shares a birthday with me, now just 15 days away! See also Charles Schulz and former basketball star Sean Kemp (born on exactly the same Day as I was). Seriously, where was I?
7D: St Louis Arch designer (Saarinen)
19A: Associate (partner)
Here are two easy ones - the first because I just had a version of it recently, the second because, well, duh. Yet I didn't get them for the Longest time. I had convinced myself that the Arch designer had a 4-letter last name and that the answer was therefore his full name. Nice to see SAARINEN as an answer instead of his far, far more crossword-common first name, EERO. And where PARTNER is concerned ... just to give you an idea of how lost I got in this NW corner, let's just just say I had HABITUÉ for a while, which, aside from Not being a synonym of ["Associate"], is far more ridiculous and pretentious a word than the very common, practical PARTNER.
14D: "Baseball Tonight" segment featuring the day's best defensive plays (Web Gems)
18A: Where Marat was murdered (bathtub)
This is where I kicked off the puzzle in style, with two gimmes that are both highly entertaining. That Marat death is priceless - pure cinema - and this painting is precisely the image that came into my head when I read the clue. I watch "Baseball Tonight" regularly, though I like it a lot less now that Harold Reynolds has left / been fired for unspecified misconduct. This guy is baseball smarts, eloquence, and charisma all in one. By far my favorite baseball commentator, and he and John Kruk made the perfect team: ex-players who could communicate the subtleties of the game to a general audience. Fabulous. I hate the blow-dried blowhards that have filled the Reynolds void. I miss you Harold. "Call me!" (is it too soon for Harold Ford, Jr. jokes?)
11D: Biblical kingdom of the Hebrews (Ephraim)
56A: People described by Josephus (Essenes)
Ugh, I suck at the ancient Near East. I will now do a brief report on these two answers. Described by Josephus in "The Jewish War" (ca. 75 C.E.), the Essenes are a sect of Judaism that flourished from the 2nd c. B.C.E. to the 1st c. C.E. They had a rigorously ascetic but communal life: celibate vegetarians! Huzzah! No animal sacrifice, no slaves. The Buddhists of the Jewish world. And as for EPHRAIM - according to "aboutbibleprophecy.com" (I laugh as I type):
When the Kingdom of Israel divided about 2900 years ago, the northern portion was often referred to by the name of Ephraim. In Revelation 7:7, Ephraim is not listed as one of the tribes receiving the Seal of God for 12,000 of its members. The name Ephraim means "fruitful."Whatever that's worth. The only EPHRAIM I know is the ancient actor Ephraim Zimbalist, Jr., and well, it turns out he spells it EFREM, and, according to the Trinity Broadcasting Network, he has brought "untold multitudes" to Jesus Christ through his witness. Not as Jewish as I'd hoped. Here he is sitting on a throne (throne courtesy of Jesus H. Christ Heavenly Designs).
27A: Editor Talese (Nan)
Super-tricky, as GAY would have worked here too (He "edited" stuff too, right?). GAY Talese, like Gabby Hayes, is a great-sounding man's name that no red-blooded North American man will ever have again unless he enjoys merciless taunting. NAN is a sweet little name, despite reminding me of a goat. This nanny goat looks as if it will kill you and set fire to the barn the second you turn your back.
50A: It may be a bear to throw down (area rug)
This should win some kind of cluing award, because the answer makes perfect sense once you see it, but with no squares filled, it is very bizarre and inscrutable. Even after I got it, for the first second or so I thought "well, OK, I guess a very large AREA RUG is difficult to lay down by yourself but ..." Oh. Yes. Bear rug. Being very much against the slaughter of animals for the purposes of home decoration, these kinds of answers tend not to come to me quickly. This SW corner also has the very up-to-the-minute 54A: Google company (YouTube), which every other solver in the country probably thought of immediately, but which I, sitting in front of BLOGGER for much of my day, completely failed to see for a good long time. I did not know the word BELAYED (34D: Secured while rock climbing) before this puzzle, and probably will not know it again in the future. Not a fan of 35D: Needlelike (acerose), but it's passable Saturday fare. I had ACERBIC, knowing it was wrong but having nothing better at the time. The SW corner amuses me for the intersection of YOUTUBE and TUBER (47D). Just as the NW corner, had it not (water-) tortured me, would have amused me with its AQUARIA (15A) and AQUATIC (2D) crossing.
32A: Villain (menacer)
34A: Villain (bad man)
Two very different answers, the one almost completely unused, the other wildly pedestrian - something you would say if your vocabulary had dropped off the face of the earth. MENACER! Really? I can see that it is a noun, and comprehensible as such, but when does one use it? Dennis is a Menace, not a MENACER. "I'm Dennis, sir, the MENACER." All Google hits appear to lead to 1. dictionaries, 2. video games, 3. France (where it has actual meaning as a verb). BAD MAN makes me think of the "Simpsons" episode entitled "Homer Bad Man," in which he steals the Gummi Venus De Milo and then, when he finds it stuck to the ass of a young co-ed (!), he pulls it off, only to find himself accused of sexual harassment. Good stuff.
40D: Fleet of warplanes (airmada)
That's one of the Worst coinages of all time. How much of a hurry do you have to be in to decide that that is an acceptable word? "I know, we'll call it AIRmada. Get it? A fleet of boats is called an ARmada, and I just ..." "Yes, we get it. You're fired!" By the way, the next-door answer, 41D: Sugar daddy, e.g. (treater), is nearly as bad. I wanted something so much more exciting and borderline salacious than this: CHICKENHAWK or RICHOLDDUDE or something. Something!
52A: 1984 movie with the tag line "It's 4 a.m., do you know where your car is?" (Repo Man)
59A: Appropriately named band with the 1984 hit "Drive" (The Cars)
"Who's gonna drive you home ... tonight." Thank god for 1984 (my Wonder Year), because I needed these two gimmes something awful. Here's what I love about this puzzle, and about Shortz-era puzzles generally - very democratic. These pop culture answers share space with technical jargon like ACEROSE and BELAYED, and the effect is beautifully harmonious. The effect is also that dorks like me who spent their Wonder Years in front of the (M)TV can feel super smart on Saturdays. Congratulations to The Cars, who make their second puzzle appearance this week. And congratulations to Mr. Quigley, for getting two seven-letter, 1984- and car-related clues into the same little corner of the puzzle - along with the automotive-sounding CC RIDER (57A). The intersection of 38A: Ones in hip joints? (cool cats) and 42D: Jam band fans, stereotypically (stoners) was icing on the pop culture cake.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld