Friday, December 22, 2006
Solving time: untimed, but fast
I am very sorry that of all the puzzles I've done in the past three months, this is the first one that gets the abbreviated commentary treatment, because it truly deserves my full attention. This is one of the best Friday puzzles I've done since I began the blog - it's got that sizzling, surprising, Quarfootian quality that I Luhhhhve in a puzzle. There is Nothing dull or old-fashioned or painful about the puzzle at all. It's super-clever in its cluing and fresh and inventive in its fill. Really first rate.
The whole NE is some kind of miracle quadrant. 8D: Lecture follow-up (Q and A) has been done before, sure, but its "Q" and (first) "A" crosses are phenomenal: 8A: Special delivery? (quints) made me very happy, and 16A: When some hands join (at noon) really blew me away - but I'm a sucker for longer entries that include short words normally left out of answers - indefinite articles, definite articles, and (in this case) prepositions. 11D: Rarely (not often) is fairly unremarkable, but it sparkles here because, as a negative, it contrasts beautifully with its much more positive (and deliciously dated) neighbor to the east, 12D: 100% (to the max).
I had FOUR gimmes in this puzzle, which is a ton for me, for a Friday. The first thing I filled in was 53A: Met who won the 1985 Cy Young Award (Gooden) - that's right at the tail end of my dorky-teen / baseball-card-collecting phase (I'm being told the "dorky-teen" part was not a phase, just a state of being). Gooden was a force of nature. Then he won a World Series. THE World Series. Then he coked out, right? Or was that Strawberry? Anyhoo, speaking of THE World Series, another baseball gimme lies just across the grid: 41D: Winner of the first World Series (as the "Americans") [Red Sox]. RED SOX were of course the infamous losers of THE World Series (1986). I wasn't sure if the answer was BOSTON or REDSOX, but I knew it. BOSTON seems more accurate - how can a team that doesn't exist yet win anything? That's like saying Ali beat Liston. Clay beat Liston. Still, I don't care, 'cause I knew this one cold.
I like the two other gimmes because they are so colorful, and from opposite ends of the pop culture spectrum (high and low brow). 30A: Wonderland directive made me think EAT ME before I'd even looked to see how many letters it was. EAT ME is just a great phrase, and I'm glad someone found a way to get around its apparent profanity to work it into a puzzle. I grew up listening to INXS (Aussies), and I really liked them, so it's mildly depressing to see them clued here at the nadir of their career as 10D: Band featured on the reality show "Rock Star". Should have been called "Who Wants To Replace Our Singer, Who Died From Auto-Erotic Asphyxiation?"
My proudest correct guess of the puzzle: with only the final "T," I got 57A: Stumblebum (galoot). The very long crossing fill in this puzzle - 15D: Clinical trial phenomenon (placebo effect) and 34A: Superstition that a rookie's second season will fail (sophomore season) were remarkably easy to get. That latter clue needs to be re-written, though. The rookie must have had a good first season ("rookie phenom"?) - and a rookie can't have a second season ... "a player's second season"? Superstition usually comes into play, or up for discussion, when rookie is no longer one.
Loved how this puzzle forced me to stick with answers that just seemed Wrong when partially filled in, e.g. 32A: Relaxed (Type B) - "What ends in "-EB???" - and that mysterious "X" floating out in the middle of 55A: Doesn't let differences cause conflict, what could that be? Answer: COEXISTS. Loved also the clever cluing in 29D: It can help you carry a tune (iPod) - mine will be helping me carry thousands of tunes tomorrow on a flight to Denver (fingers crossed). Thought that 28D: Rescuee's cry (My hero!) should have had "in cartoons" or "in melodrama" appended to the clue. Again, as I did recently with "TGIF," I take issue with the idea that anyone, anywhere, actually "cried" this phrase.
NW was the last to fall, mainly because of perhaps the most insidious clue of the bunch - never has a three-letter answer stymied me for so long. I wanted 7D: It helps in passing to be DEE or CEE. Then, when I totally nailed 17A: "Sold!" (It's a deal!), I knew that the final letter was A, so I thought "wow, how cute: AN A. That sure does help in passing. But that meant that a word would have to end in -NP, which I was willing to believe for a while, given other odd letter combos in the puzzle. But then 14A: Shop steward, briefly (union rep) became undeniable, giving me _EA, and then the full weight of the clue's sinisterness hit me. "Passing" as in "passing a (@#$#-ing) law." YEA (as opposed to NAY). Genius. Seriously. If only I had known my non-baseball-related 80s questions - 1A: Seminal computer game of 1989 (Sim City) and 19A: 1982 Richard Pryor flick (The Toy), the whole NW might have been much easier, and the YEA issue might never have come up.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS Damn, this commentary wasn't "abbreviated" at all. I gotta work on this "writing less" thing.