Friday, December 8, 2006
Solving time: about 22 min.***
THEME: a whole hell of a lot of 15-letter answers (or, none, or possibly something biblical; actually, none)
***ERROR - grid has TWO errors: one at 57D / 62A crossing (should be ETUI / RYUN, not ETAI / RYAN) and another at 34D / 44A crossing (should be AARE / OSES, not AARI / OSIS)
There is architectural genius in this puzzle - especially if the constructor had no computer help in filling this grid. An astonishing NINE (9) 15-letter answers cut across this grid, including three that run vertically and thus must intersect each of the six others. What I love about this: the long fill is uniformly good, and, in the case of the vertical fill (7D: Bar line ("Your place of mine?"), 11D: Quite some time (a month of Sundays), and, my favorite of them all, 3D: Passage leading to Panama? (a man a plan a canal)), excellent. Looking at that last sentence, I have to say that that's a long parenthetical comment to interpose between the penultimate and ultimate word, but I'm just that excited. Stylistic elegance be damned.
The puzzle was quite slow-going for me, because, as is typical of these architecturally dazzling puzzles, with their excess of long fill, the shorter fill is taxed - by which I mean straining, and not as elegant. A bit forced. Lots (and lots) of abbreviations to compensate for the fact that there aren't enough short words or phrases that can be made to fit into such a restrictive grid. It's OK - it's a trade-off you accept. But the little answers were like a swarm of gnats that at times kept me from fully enjoying an otherwise delicious picnic. There were some small obscurities. A ton of partial words or abbreviations. Crossing words in the SE that I still don't understand. But all in all, a very worthy puzzle, even with the gnats. I'll start with what I hate.
57D: German iPod holder (etui)
62A: Track star elected to Congress in 1996 (Ryun)
Crossing obscurities. And trust me, no matter who out there speaks German or follows Kansas (Kansas, for god's sake!) politics or idolizes track stars of the, I'm guessing, 60's, these are obscure. What idiotic family decides that RYAN should be spelled with a "U" - I'm guessing that Congressman RYUN's family had No experience with Ellis Island and the odd name-changing that would go on there, so what gives? No excuse. ETUI is crossword gold, but I had No Idea it was a German word for a small case of some sort. I have two words to say to these intersecting answers: the first is profane, and the second is "you." [Now I cross my fingers and hope that Mr. RYUN is not the one faithful reader I appear to have somewhere inside the US House of Representatives. If so, I'm just kidding sir. Good luck with that fence-along-the-Mexican-border thing ... sir.]
OK, now that I've breathed that out, on to other things.
1A: "Hoc _____ in votis" (erat)
Sometimes I like to show off the fact that I know a little Latin. Today I would like to counter that pretension by telling you that I had, and have, no idea what this is all about. Thankfully, I knew enough Latin to know that ERAT is 3rd person singular imperfect of the verb ESSE (to be). So at least it was plausible (unlike the goofy ETAI I originally ... and ultimately, actually ... had for ETUI, ugh). Worse, this is a quotation from my boy Horace, one of the three greatest writers of Augustan Rome. To be precise, "hoc ERAT in votis" ["this was in my prayers"] is the opening of Satires, book 2, no. 6. Here is the translation of that opening passage by Sidney Alexander:
This is what I prayed for: a plot of land
not very large where there could be a garden,
and a perennial spring near my house,
and besides these, a little patch of wood.
The gods have granted my wish -- and more.
I wish to dwell on my Latin ignorance no further.
10A: Eponym of a classic Minnesota-brewed beer (Hamm)
"From the land of sky blue waters (...waters)..." I remember these TV ads from my childhood. "Hamm's, the beer refreshing, Hamm's, the beer refreshing ... Hamm's!" Not sure what rules of grammar are being followed there. I can only hope the ad-makers weren't trying to approximate what they imagined to be "injun-speak" (the music that accompanied the jingle was very pow-wow, wigwam, "HI-ya-ya-ya-HI-ya-ya-ya," if you follow). Anyway, this clue is Awful. "Eponym"!? - OK, so maybe "Soccer star Mia" is too easy, but since the beer's full name IS "Hamm's," I figured that that must be the answer, so spelled it HAM'S and moved on, though unsure of what a SONEY roll (13D) could be (13D: Composition of some rolls (Money).
24A: Start of a new season: Abbr. (Sep.)
I guess! I understand your meaning, but it's a very very very non-specific way to clue SEPtember. Much of the month, most, in fact, is the END of a season, not the beginning. Now maybe you meant TV season, but even that's not really true any more, what with the year-round schedule some networks are on, and with even non-cable networks releasing shows from their "fall" schedule in August sometimes. All in all, this is needle in a haystack stuff. It's legit, but not pleasant.
I'm spending time I don't have bitching about tiny stuff. Fifteen minutes left - what to do?
38A: _____ Krispies (Cocoa)
Wanted RICE. Inserted RICED out of desperation before the should've-been-obvious COCOA presented itself.
39A: "Dial _____ Murder" (M for)
35D: Time to draw? (noon)
Thank god for Grace Kelly. I used to have a minor obsession with her back in the mid-90s. When I learned to write HTML code (which I subsequently forgot), the first thing I did was put up a little Grace Kelly tribute site. Loved her. She's a bit on the icy side, where most of my celebrity crushes are concerned ("icy" is Not an amusing reference to the fact that she is dead). Anyway, I like how Grace Kelly's movie Dial 'M' for Murder is made to cross here with half the title of another movie she was in, High Noon.
43A: _____ Center (Chicago's second-tallest building) [AON]
Look, two of the very best solvers in the world live in Chicago. They don't need any more help. Know what I'd like to see in a puzzle: "Binghamton river." There are two, so it's ... mildly tricky. AON is the best example in the puzzle of the way small fill has to be tortured to accommodate the Glorious Long Fill. If only AON had an "E" in it, we could have gone down this road...
(MORE) STUFF I DIDN'T KNOW:
2D: Opera _____ (classical music record label) [RARA]
18D: Japanese mushroom (enoki) (maybe that one was lurking in the back of my mind somewhere, but not the front)
6D: River of Leeds (Aire)
34D: River to the Rhine (Aare) (ugh, rivers)
49D: "Waterworld" girl (Enola) (Gay Gay Gay!)
50D: Goldfinger's first name (Auric) (thank you, chart of the periodic table in 11th-grade Chemistry, which I stared at when bored, i.e. most of the year)
Not much to say about those. Just didn't know them. Waterworld!?!? The movie? Really?
40A: Doctor's tool (tongue depressor)
Nice - the first big answer to break for me, and one that got me another answer to boot - 29A: Sound associated with a 40-Across (aah). I guess that AH is the sound you make when you make love to your morning cup of coffee (see yesterday's puzzle) and AAH is the awkward bestial sound you make for your doctor. Amazing what a difference one little letter can make.
25D: Dollar rival (euro)
God I hate this way of cluing EURO. I hate it in part because I've seen it several times and still get fooled by it. It's cheap - you know the solver will think rental car, because rental car companies Make Much Much Much more sense as "rivals" than currencies do. Like EURO and dollar have a boxing match or something. I'm no economist, but I don't think "rival" best describes relationships between (or among) currencies. Help me Milton Friedman, you're my only hope.
33D: Swells (fops)
Love it! Bring on the FOPS! Can't see enough of them. They really liven up the joint. This one was one of my few gimmes (which says something about how I think, since "Swells" could just as easily have been a verb here).
And now, finally, a word from God:
28D: Start of an invocation (O God)
10D: Bad thing to abandon (hope)
48A: Bad thing to live in (fear)
37A: "Dies _____" (irae)
I'm liking this assortment of biblically-oriented answers. O GOD, I HOPE you will welcome me into heaven but I FEAR that when you return, all mad-as-hell in the Days of Wrath (IRAE), you will put me in hell - which will make me UPSET (46D), as surely you will mete out some Dantesque punishment that involves my being roasted on a SPIT (24D), then covered with AIOLI (15A) and served to a pack of ravenous PLATINUM BLONDES (53A). I would have noticed none of this biblicality, in all probability, if 28D had been clued "Exclamation in a porn movie," or better yet, "Sexclamation!"
Speaking of AIOLI (15A: Pungent fish garnish), there were a striking number of Pantheon members and contenders in this grid. AIOLI is almost certain to become a high-ranking official among the five-letter entries. We've already seen @#$#-ing ETUI. There's EBAY lurking down there at 60A, countered by OMOO (16A: Novel of the South Seas) over in the opposite corner of the grid. Herman Melville wants to know when TYPEE is going to see some action. They are a pair, after all, those novels. If TYPE A can make a bid for Pantheon status (as he has recently) surely there is room in the grid for OMOO's less telegenic brother.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld