Saturday, December 16, 2006
Solving time: Why rush when you're doing a Quarfoot? Slow down and savor the goodness.
THEME: none (although...)
[ERROR: incorrectly transcribed the grid this morning => 64A should be OTRANTO and thus 59D should be ABA (not OTRONTO and ABO, as my posted grid claims)]
Here is how this puzzle went down. Fell asleep last night before even seeing the puzzle. So got up this morning, yoga, breakfast ... and then, hit the puzzle. 1A: Faux finish ... VENEER? No. PATINA? No. PLYWOOD? Ugh, move on. 8A: Ancient fertility goddess. I know one. Her name is ASTARTE. God I love a 7-letter gimme. ASTARTE starts to pan out. 10D: "_____ bon" (très) off the first "T" in ASTARTE forces me to change NECK TIE (18A: Father's Day gift, perhaps) to TIE-something (I had TIE RACK and TIE TACK before eventually getting TIE CLIP). Then, with just the initial "A" and the third letter "T," I nail 8D: Where to work out, maybe (at the gym), which is immediately confirmed by 33A: Composes (typesets), which crosses AT THE GYM at the "Y" (OK, I had TYPES OUT at first, but whatever). I then get 14D: Cable program with team coverage? (ESPNEWS), thereby corralling the entire NE corner in a warm ASTARTE-ESPNEWS-TYPESETS-ATTHEGYM embrace.
At that point I stopped and looked up to see who the hell wrote this awesome puzzle. And I saw DQ's name and stopped in amazement. Yes, this is a Quarfoot puzzle, isn't it? He's some kind of grid-fill genius. I forgot all about timing myself and really just enjoyed the unfolding puzzle, with answer after answer making me shake my head in genuine, disbelieving admiration. It helps that the difficulty level was not Terribly high - and that I just seem to have some weird wavelength connection to the constructor. What I love most about the puzzle is the way really everyday (and long) words and phrases work their way into the grid. DOG FOOD. AT THE GYM. I HOPE SO. It keeps the puzzle from being a pretentious obscurities-and-foreign-words fest, and makes those obscurities and foreign words that do show up really Pop off the Page. Intermingling of words and phrases from entirely different universes - that perversely inclusive spirit makes Quarfoot puzzles fun, unexpected ... revelatory. I mean, come on, where else but in a Quarfoot are you going to see such an unlikely pack of roommates as you find in this puzzle's SE corner: Pretenchy McFrenchy, ETIENNE (63A: French politician _____ de Silhouette, from whom the word "silhouette" comes), gets sandwiched between MR. APRIL (60A: Certain Playgirl centerfold) and SAME SEX (65A: Like some couples), with Corey HAIM (56D: Corey of "The Lost Boys") lying across all three of them! SAME SEX, indeed. (I'll resist the dirty joke that should come from the observation that the SE corner roommates also have PEE (61D) all over them). No one has the highbrow-to-lowbrow range that Quarfoot does. Oh, and that 1A clue I couldn't get at the very beginning - "Faux finish" - yeah, the answer ended up being SILENT X. It was the last answer I filled in. That is what is called "sticking the landing."
MASTER OF THE COLLOQUIAL FILL!
15A: A position of prominence (the fore)
Had THE F___, which caused me to exclaim, "What THE F-!?" Well, not really, but that's what I should have exclaimed. Anyway, I couldn't get it and had to wait and come at the answer backwards from other clues. Following ASTARTE, this answer marks an astonishing run of Across answers - 21, by my count - that don't step in pretension or obscurity even once. All the fun (and challenge) is in the clever cluing. This run of answers starts with a fabulous quartet. Following THE FORE, we get THREE R'S (16A: Fundamental group), DOG FOOD (17A: Pedigree, e.g.) and TIE CLIP (18A). Clues for those middle two are perfect in being both apt and highly misdirectional. "Apt!" And we don't hit recondite fill on an Across clue until we hit 49A: Tundra or rain forest (biome). Seriously, if Quarfoot could have made that answer be BIODOME ("Shore vehicle," perhaps), I would have had to build a little shrine to him in the corner of my office. So, not a god. But a demigod. Per another blogger's suggestion, here is a picture of Adonis, in honor of DQ's demigod status.
26D: Answer to "No, that's not!" (yes, it is)
44D: Last song recorded by the Beatles (I Me Mine)
62A: Trapped (in a bind)
2D: Wishful reply (I hope so)
Again with the colloquial niceness. Here, we see another element of the Quarfootian charm - multiple-word entries, and lots of 'em. Line up these answers and they start to read like dialogue: "In a bind?" "I hope so [wink]" "LEG IRON?" [3D: Shackle] "Yes, it is." OK, it's absurdist dialogue, but dialogue nonetheless.
7D: Struck (X'ed out)
48D: Annual competition since 1995 (X-Games)
X-GAMES could be the title of this puzzle's most prominent subtheme, as we get 4 X's, thus 8 X-answers, two of which, as we see here, START with X (the other 6 all END with X, nice). No cheap tic-tac-toe-related answers. Even the little 3-letter X-word, 47A: General Mills brand (Kix), is fresh and Scrabbly. I especially like the rhyming intersectors, STAX (50A: 1960's soul record label) and FLAT TAX (24D: Recurring economic proposal) // SAME SEX and PERPLEX (45D: Puzzle). That's a radio-friendly rap hit waiting to happen.
51A: Back parts of a keel (skegs)
55A: Headdress wearer (pharaoh)
58A: Home of the Moai statues (Rapa Nui)
These three are stacked unevenly, one atop the other, in the, let's say, "Albuquerque" region of the puzzle (my sister was born there!). SKEGS is the one new word for me in this puzzle. A SKEG is like a rudder, only not one. Here is a page that explains the difference. Between the red ants and all the AIDA action of the past week or so, PHARAOH has been on my mind, and so came easily here. Lastly, we get the return of NUI, yesterday clued as part of a Tahitian airline name, and here clued as a movie nobody saw.
55D: Nabokov novel (Pnin)
64A: Italian city, setting of a Walpole novel (Otranto)
Oh, snap! Just when you think it's all playful, colloquial, everyday fun, Quarfoot busts out the books and gets all literary on your ass. Just in case you doubted DQ's highbrow cred. PNIN is about an odd little professor (my kinda guy) and The Castle of Otranto ... man, what the hell is that about? Shaun, why do I know (of) The Castle of Otranto? Sounds like something you had to read in grad school. One of those marginal curiosities that goes on a Ph.D. exam reading list. This puzzle's only demerits come from bringing @#$#-ing "Will Ampersand Grace" into the puzzle (only a few steps up from "Ally McBeal" in puzzle undesirability). But I can forgive 38D: "Will & Grace" maid (Rosario) first, because Rosario is neither Will nor Grace, and second, because her initial "R" is used to lead off perhaps this puzzle's greatest (which is to say, campiest) answer: 38A: 1988 Burt Reynolds flop (Rent-a-Cop). The clue alone made me laugh, and the fill is just gravy.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld