Saturday, December 9, 2006
Solving time: about 48 min.
THEME: Odd Jobs (or none)
This was basically four puzzles in one, with varying degrees of difficulty - starting in the NW and moving clockwise, I'd rate the quadrants as follows: Medium, Hard, Easy, SINISTER (48A: Dark). I am on record as not being a very big fan of segmented puzzles like this. Or if I wasn't on the record before, I am now. And the problem isn't just the increased difficulty level (with only one narrow passage through which to weasel your way into any particular quadrant). The bigger problem for me is that a super-segmented puzzle tends to lack an overarching identity. It doesn't have its own particular vibe or feel. It's just a struggle. And struggles are good, in their way. But ... I like my puzzles to have personality, and this one doesn't have much of one.
Why did I say the theme was "Odd Jobs?" I just wanted to draw attention to the many verb+"er" constructions in this puzzle, resulting in nouns (describing people who Do Things - hence "Odd Jobs") that range from fairly common to nutso. The least Odd Job is ETCHER (28A: Goya, for one) - which was the correct stab-in-the-dark that opened up the SE for me - followed closely by GROUTER (23A: Mason, at times). Then we get a couple of stretches: EXPUNGER (4D: One who strikes out) and, worst of all (though I guessed it quite quickly) TOLLER (10D: Quasimodo, notably). "I used to be an EXPUNGER, but work dried up, so I became a TOLLER. Nice, steady work, if you've got the arm strength and can stand the heights. And the bats. The hunchback? What hunchback?" Next time you clue TOLLER, why not go to the dog breed? Not well known (good for a Saturday puzzle) and Look How Cute! Puppies!
Since I'm basically dealing with four puzzles, I'll take 'em one at a time.
I always start in the NW, out of habit or convention. Starting at 1A seems as natural as starting a maze at "start" (if I did mazes, which I don't, as I'm not 8). Maybe I should get out and venture to other parts of the puzzle first some time. One thing I love about this NW corner (which I should hate) is the shout-out to an unimaginably brutal clue from earlier in the year. If today's puzzle caused you to wonder "What the hell is "Auriga!?" (1D: Auriga's brightest star (Capella)) then you know how many solvers felt several weeks ago when AURIGA showed up as the answer to the clue "Capella's constellation." The only reason I liked the clue here was that I was somehow able to retrieve CAPELLA from the bottom of my brain - see, it pays to tear into the clues/answers you don't like, because when they come back again you can beat them down and say tough things like "didn't I tell you never to show your face in this town again?"
Had two notable miscues in the NW: after nailing CAPELLA, I entered AUGUR for 24A: It's a sign (Aries). Fixed that, but then after getting 12A: Climbers' goals (apexes) - though I was not sure about the spelling at first - I semi-confidently entered EXPLORER at "X" (4D) where the dread EXPUNGER was supposed to go (as did at least one reader - see Comments). There was one real obscurity up there - 20A: Russian writer Andreyev famous for his horrific tales (Leonid) - but thanks to a few reasonably guessable other answers in the region, I sewed up this corner in a not too embarrassing amount of time. The worst, by far, was yet to come.
6A: Is dishonest with (lies to)
11D: But (only)
10D: Quasimodo, notably (toller) (ugh, see above)
I got these three, in order, bam bam bam, and felt very good about my chances. Why would I make the mistake of starting to feel good about my chances on a Saturday puzzle. After these three I ground to a halt and had to restart my adventures in the SE. I must object yet again to the Chicago (area)-oriented clues of late; yesterday you had the AON building, and now you get nearby EVANSTON!? (14A: Illinois home of Rotary International) Again, Chicago solvers need no help. Let's move away from Lake Michigan, OK? Never heard of LAST POST (6D: Taps, in the British military). Not that fond of ESPRIT for 8D: Wit. Was able to get 9D: Knighted essayist (Steele) (of "Addison and Steele" fame) because of my close association with Shaun the 18th-century scholar (after originally having filled in STERNE - also 18th century!). Very much loved 17A: Write seperately, say (misspell), if only because it had me baffled for a long time (unlike many of my solving peers, I did not notice that "seperately" was misspelled), and I didn't really catch the significance of the answer until the puzzle was done. Then had the very satisfying "aha" / "gotcha!" moment. Well played, Messrs. Wolfe and Shortz.
Not much to say here because I Dominated this quadrant. If you've been reading this blog for a good length of time, then you will remember that I have blogged Goya before - not only that, I specifically wrote about a set of his ETCHings (see 18A here). So I entered ETCHER on a lark for 28A: Goya, for one, thinking that it would probably be wrong but ... the "H" in ETCHER got me 30D: Trophies in a tournament, informally (hardware), which I knew in my gut to be absolutely right, and I was off to the races. The only semi-tricky part was 49A: It can be carved out (career), which I briefly had as CORNER. The rest was a piece of cake, though I have no idea what a CYCLECAR (29D: Light hybrid vehicle of the 1910's) is or looks like. O, now I do:
THE SINISTER SOUTHWEST
I, like my first Commenter today, took about as long to do the SW as I did to do the other three quadrants combined. Nothing felt right. I was fairly confident about LENIENCE (25D: Sentencing judge's prerogative), which I had dangling down into the quadrant like some pathetic, poorly baited fishing line - but I couldn't build off of it. I am still stunned that my absolute Hail Mary guess of EMINENCE for 46A: Note - with absolutely no letters except that second "N" - actually ended up paying off. Real tricksters were 38D: Fix, as an old swimming pool (reline) and 39D: Baseball Hall-of-Famer Joe (Cronin), both of which desperately wanted to be other things (REPAVE and MORGAN, respectively ... though PAVE just seems wrong now that I look at it). Never heard of 44D: Tax, in Tottenham (cess) and don't believe that ATOMIC is a very good answer for 37D: Minute, though I see the logic. The intersecting -ANT words make me wince a little (27D: Points from which light emanates (radiants) and 44A: Shade provider (colorant)). Doesn't seem very elegant, somehow. I wince more, however, at my own faltering mind, which somehow could not think of any "Bull" (42A) but DURHAM and SESSION (actual answer: TERRIER), and could not see 37A: Peaceful place (Arcadia) despite a. its being the title of the only play I've ever seen in London, and b. its being the name of a very famous work by an author I taught just this past semester.
It was with great regret that I completed the puzzle by EXPUNGing Joe MORGAN's name from the grid and inserting this CRONIN guy I've never heard of instead. MORGAN won back-to-back MVP Awards with Cincinnati's Big Red Machine back in the mid-70's. CRONIN ... was a teammate of Red Sox greats Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, and, most notably, Ted Williams. Then the war started and Williams went off to serve while CRONIN stayed behind like a coward and played baseball. Oh, and I checked: no relation to Hume CRONIN (which, I'm told, is spelled with a "Y," which would explain the non-relation thing).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld