SATURDAY, Dec. 9, 2006 - Robert H. Wolfe

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.

NORTHWEST

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.

THE NORTHEAST

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.

THE SOUTHEAST

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

17 comments:

Anonymous 11:18 AM  

I agree with you that this was one tough cookie. I went NE, SE, NW, SW.

The SW seemed to take as long as the other quadrants combined.

Had "sessions" for BULL____. Had "reseal" then "retile" for the swimming pool clue. Had "morgan" then "carter" before finally getting CRONIN. Tough corner.

For 4D ONE WHO STRIKES OUT, I like my original "explorer" better than the correct "expunger."

Tough 4-in-1 Saturday.

Dave

Rex Parker 12:47 PM  

I too had EXPLORER, as did most right-thinking people I'm sure. Thought but did not write in SESSIONS.

Maybe I should actually finish my commentary before I start responding to comments... more in a bit.

RP

Orange 1:33 PM  

That's exactly the beauty of looking up the little bastard entries that stump you—it lets you kick their ass the next time they show up. And most people probably don't view crossword answers in such violent terms, but you know what? I'm competitive, and don't care to let some measly word best me more than once.

Some of my favorite themeless constructors have a certain flavor to their work, hallmarks that they use more often than not. Karen Tracey likes Scrabbly letters and insane-named geographic entities (an exotic curry); Byron Walden likes to build a puzzle around one or two entries with a showy batch of letters in them, plus devious clues (bittersweet chocolate with nuts and a smoky whiskey); Harvey Estes tends toward fill that feels light and droll, with a smattering of churchy words (a soufflé you can't hurry through).

Constructors like Bob Klahn and Sherry Blackard seem to go more for straight-up wicked hardness, like Scotch bonnet peppers.

Hey, I gotta copy this over to a post at my own blog. I'm sure other people can come up with the flavors they associate with various constructors' styles.

Howard B 2:05 PM  

Had VOYAGER, then EXPLORER (with the ER filled in), then said "the heck with it" until I returned to the NW corner - which for me, was the corner from hell. The SW was tricky but didn't offer nearly as much resistance. And this was with guessing 1-Across right off the bat.

I'm with you on the quadrant puzzles - I love the challenge, but they can be the most frustrating of all types of layouts.

CAPELLA has beaten me twice now - it won't happen again (I hope).

Rex Parker 2:33 PM  

NW went like this: CAPELLA, APEXES, PENPAL, SLEDS ... so that even with the initial screwups (AUGUR for ARIES, EXPLORER for EXPUNGER), I got outta the NW in reasonable time (which is to say, in all likelihood, the time it took Howard to complete the Entire Puzzle).

In the SW, "Shade provider" was Killing me. I was thinking shade from the sun, of course, like every other sucker, so at one point I Really wanted OVERHANG, which I imagined was some kind of AWNING (which sadly was too short to work).

Thanks to Orange for choosing my humble site as a place to draft her magnificent essay on the styles of the great crossword constructors. I usually save my good stuff for my own site, but not Orange. Ever-generous. Save Something For The Book!

rp

Orange 2:43 PM  

You know what? I kind of miss that thing you used to do, with assigning cities or states to the geographical spots of the grid.

I figured you could carve BALEEN, that whale krill-straining substitute for teeth. Turns out baleen can be woven into baskets (the osier of the Arctic! the raffia of the South Pole!) but not carved out like a career.

Rex Parker 2:54 PM  

Speaking of OSIER (as I often do), it's one of the answers in today's Bizarro crossword (David Quarfoot's great 10/28 puzzle, which much of the country is seeing for the first time today - you remember: "Immovable object" vs. "Irresistible force." Sweet).

I think that one can carve most anything... if one tries hard enough. BALEEN is great wrong fill.

I will return to geographizing the grid if that makes you happy. Thought it might get old, you know, like Rex's referring to himself in the 3rd person...

RP

Howard B 4:10 PM  

I think you'll start noticing that the more of these puzzles you solve, the more 'Hail Mary guess'es you make that will turn out to be correct. There's a certain bit of unconscious knowledge that I believe seeps in through repetition, writing, osmosis, or however else you wish to attribute it. Of course, you'll also more often be sure you've got it right ("I've seen this trick before"), only to be fooled by a misdirection, or simply overthinking the clue.

Anonymous 10:55 AM  

The edition of the NYT that I receive by snail mail in the Tennessee countryside does not name constructors of the puzzles, only the editor. How can I find out who the constructors are?

I only recently found your site. Thanks. Love it. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous 11:42 AM  

17 across in my paper-write separately,say- was printed this way, somebody must have corrected the spelling & threw me off. pgh post gazette

Rex Parker 1:35 PM  

Wow, that sucks - finally some evidence that someone, somewhere in the publishing industry is actually doing some proof-reading ... and he/she corrects the one "mistake" that was intentional (nay, crucial).

Sorry, anonymous.

RP

Jen 3:07 PM  

At least the Dallas Morning News only left off critical parts of clues and did not correct intentional mistakes. 14A was "Illinois Home" (pick a city, any city), 44A was just "shade," and 39D simply "baseball." I was quite proud when I realized I had completed the puzzle with such handicaps. Thank you, Rex, for the blog that restored my sanity after 15 minutes of "how the hell is 'cronin' 'baseball'?" Not that the rest of the clue would have given me the answer as I'm not a walking sports almanac, but at least my ignorance would have made sense.

Anonymous 8:54 PM  

i just found this site. thanks.

to jen: i also get the puzzle from the dmn. this is the 1st time i've noticed the botched clues. it pissed me off, but at least it caused me to find this blog.

rick from dallas

Rex Parker 10:31 PM  

Woo hoo, Dallas, Dallas! Sorry 'bout them Cowboys.

Y'all should write the puzzle person at the DMN and tell him/her to quit second-guessing Will Shortz. And double-check the damned type-setting.

Thanks for reading. Tell a friend.

RP

Anonymous 2:16 AM  

It didn't help that my paper corrected the spelling of "seperately" thus making the clue not match the answer.
Enjoyed your comments.

rudiger simpson 7:01 PM  

Love (& have bookmarked) this site after stumbling across it in frustration: I am a long-time puzzler, but I had indeed hit a wall in the SE quadrant (after completing NE, NW, SW). I'd tried REEDS and REPASSED but with CABLECAR, which obviously hamstrung me.

My main gripe would be with words unknown to me despite my solving experience. I never would have thought of SENHORS (HOMBRES got me nowhere); CESS, COSET, SENSORIA, and TOLLER also offended my sense of fairness but I got them only as a result of getting the answers involving them. (Concur that ESPRIT for "Wit" was weak.)

Though I did get stuck for the first time in a long time, I'll take redemption where I can find it, considering the comments above: baseball nut that I am, I knew CRONIN (after trying MORGAN) & had the right mindset on "strike out" so that EXPUNGER came easy enough.

Aagain, thanks for the site & I'll be back, without my tail between my legs, promise....

PS - For the record: the San Diego Union-Tribune did NOT correct "seperately."

Rex Parker 11:04 PM  

Rudiger!

I was laughing before I ever read your comment. The very name ...

Good to know that not every paper botched the "seperately" thing.

I'd forgotten how brutal this puzzle was. Sorry to say, they don't get any easier. Today's (1/27/07), for instance, was pretty crushing - but you'll discover that soon enough. Come back often, "Rudiger"

RP

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