Saturday, December 9, 2006
Solving time: 42:59 (grrrrrrr...)
THEME: "Putting on Heirs" - Familiar phrases with SON added to create new phrases, which are clued fairly straightly, e.g. 74A (THEME): Newly mortared bricks and stones? (virgin maSONry)
[typo on the grid: 96A and 99D cross at an "A," not an "S" (thus CARIBBEAN SEASON and AERIE)]
Talk about your Wraths of Kahn. . . Let's cut to the chase - if you had serious trouble with this puzzle, I believe that I can tell you where that trouble was located, within a one-inch radius on a printed grid. Don't believe me? OK, let me show you. Here, specifically, is the region of the grid in which you crashed, and possibly burned. Let's call it the "Nashville" region of the puzzle:
59A: Bluish gray (slaty)
61D: Yellow ball (yolk)
79A: Decrees (ukases)
"How did you know that, Rex?" How? Let's see: I have two eyes, a reasonably functioning brain, and, like you (in all likelihood), have never lived in Imperial Russia and am not prone to describe colors by slangily modifying the name of a color that was Barely A Color To Begin With.
"And now, 'Inside Crossword Puzzles' - with your host SLATY UKASES. Slaty?"
"Thanks, Rex. In today's puzzle..."
I spent eternity with the much more respectable SLATE as my answer for 59A: Bluish gray, and a big hole where the "K" in UKASES should have been, which gave me the mystifying EOL_ for 61D: Yellow ball. When you are certain that SLATE is right (what else could it be? SLATX? SLATY? SLATZ? Ha ha, those are ridiculous answers) and know of no letter that could conceivably complete U_ASES, tell me, what are you supposed to do!? Seriously, I was this close to putting a "C" in the empty box, imagining that maybe, possibly, in some as yet unimagined context, there was such a thing as a U-CASE (like a combo of U-TURN and TEST CASE - "in a move that has baffled many, the president has recently decided to issue several U-CASES as a means of realizing some of the primarily goals on his agenda"). I don't remember how I was going to justify EOLC at 61D. But come on, if UKASES can be a word, why not EOLC? "Excuse me sir, have you seen my EOLC? Little yellow ball, about yay big? Means a lot to me. My dad bought it for me in LVOV. From an ORACH farmer."
So I finally removed the "E" from the SLATE / EOL_ crossing and just stared down _OL_ for a while. Yellow ball, yellow ball. Then YOLK came to me, and I knew it was right even as I contemplated the atrocities that it created. How often are your missing letters @#@#$-ing "Y" and "K"??? Usually when there are confusing crosses that result in an open mystery square, you're dealing with one of your lesser vowels, or maybe one of the RLSTN gang. But "Y" and "K" - who would guess those, unless you were trying to be goofy and wrong? I should be grateful that a reasonable clue-answer pairing ("yellow ball" / YOLK) ultimately allowed me to solve the puzzle completely. Yet somehow gratitude is not what I'm feeling. What is with the horrible hedge words that have crept into the puzzle of late. Yesterday: NEWISH. Today: SLATY. Tomorrow? HUNGRYESQUE? (probably not - not really a Monday-looking word, that one). One nice consolation - it's as if the other side of the puzzle knew how I was feeling, as my pained entry of YOLK was echoed on the puzzle's west side by BAD EGG (46D: Dishonest sort). Also nice that UKASES runs straight through FIASCO (68D: Flop).
Man, is there even anything else to say about this puzzle? Yes. Yes there is.
21A: Horse ridden by Hotspur in "King Henry IV, Part I" (Roan)
Shakespeare is all up in this puzzizzle. Here, we see a very colorful clue that ends up at a rather ordinary answer. I like this way of livening up ordinary fill. It's no substitute for great fill, but I don't mind if my common four-letter fill comes with trivia attached. Other Shakespeare answers of note include two theme entries: 65A (THEME): Some of Shakespeare's income? (SONnet profits), and 117A: Advice to Claudius, in "Hamlet"? ("Watch your stepSON"). Nailed the first one, tripped all over the second [resisting making a joke that links "tripping" with "Watch your step...." ... ah, the urge is gone]. This is perhaps because I taught all the sonnets this past term, and have not taught Hamlet since I was a TA at the University of Michigan in the Shakespeare course of renowned Beckett scholar Enoch Brater. Best Braterism: when he taught Midsummer Night's Dream, he for some reason persisted in calling Titania "TITIANA." At first, Shaun and I (both TA's) thought it was a one-time quirk, but then he kept doing it. We were like "Should we tell him? He's been teaching Shakespeare for 25 years! He must know he's butchering her name." We just kept quiet and tried to keep from getting the giggles every time he said it. Didn't help that the mispronounced TITIANA basically has "titty" in it. Oh, while we're on Shakespeare, why not also mention 35D: Adequate, old-style (enow), which Shakespeare surely used ... somewhere. Yes. Here we go. From Henry V IV.iii. Henry, refusing to wait for more men, says to Westmoreland:
They guy's like an inspirational quote machine.
If we are mark'd to die, we are ENOW
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
32A (THEME): Rev. Jesse on Sundays (JackSON-in-the-pulpit)
Took me forever, as the only "JACK-" phrases I could dredge up were JACK-IN-THE-BOX, JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, and JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES. Even after writing in the correct answer, I was a bit confused, as JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT is familiar but unidentifiable to me. Turns out, it's a plant, which you likely know. This is what one looks like:
STUFF I DIDN'T KNOW
52A: Town north of Anaheim (Brea)
There are a million towns north of Anaheim. Seattle is north of Anaheim, for god's sake. If it weren't for the tar pits, I might still be puzzling this out.
53D: Pharaoh, for one (red ant)
So many potential answers sprang to mind. This was not one of them. THEM!
81D: Barrel-shaped marine mammals (eared seals)
What lazy jackass named these poor guys? Worse - their ears aren't even that prominent. Surely a drunken Australian is to blame.
There are some interesting pairings here. FIASCO (68D: Flop) and SNAFU (12D: State of confusion), though not exactly synonyms, complement one another nicely, and, as I've already said about FIASCO, seem to comment upon my solving experience. Ditto the "Meager" twins: SCANTY (104D: Meager) and SPARSE (82D: Meager), which describe the number of bright ideas I had about fixing the "Nashville" section of the puzzle (see EOSC, above). We got not one, not two, but three encore appearances: MOOCH (86D: Sponge) and TELE (128A: TV part) were both in Friday's grid, and WOE IS I (117D: With 37-Down, popular book on grammar) was featured a very short time ago as well. We also got RAD, clued thusly: 13D: Far out. This clue / answer pairing cannot become (more) dated fast enough for me. No one has said RAD since 1992, and no one born after 1970 has ever said FAR OUT in anything but an ironic fashion. Andrew can help me with the mathematical language, but these two sets (people who say/said RAD, people who say/said FAR OUT) are almost, if not entirely, non-overlapping. Discrete (not discreet). Which Crete? DIS Crete! Sorry, the discrete/discreet homonyms amuse me no end now, for reasons which are too elaborate to go into.
Lastly, I'd like to say (H)OLLA! to Pantheon members ARIA (64D: "Di quella pira," e.g.) and ETNA (113D: 10,900-foot European peak) and Pantheon aspirants A DUE (20A: To be played in unison), AERIE (99D: High point), and ULNAE (87D: Long bones). Notice how the Pantheon members judiciously avoid mingling with the likes of SLATY and UKASES. Image is everything. Oh, and someone call the Crosswordese Retirement Home and tell them that Ms. CARA (95A: Oscar-winning Irene) has gotten out again.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld