Thursday, December 14, 2006
Solving time: unknown
THEME: "FSH" (69A) - WHAT DOES ONE CALL (17A) A FISH WITH NO EYES (28A)? FOR THE ANSWER SEE (46A) SIXTY-NINE ACROSS (60A). . .
This puzzle has 4 X's. As for the theme - it's not really my style. I especially don't like puzzle fill that is essentially directions, although I have to say, working the instructions for solving the riddle into the grid itself stands out as a remarkable and impressive constructing feat. The little SE corner, site of the "riddle's" answer, was the very last thing to fall - in fact, I was very frustrated, staring at it for a good long while before I changed an answer I'd been sure of and the whole corner fell into place. I've learned good, humbling lessons lately about my own solving certainty. When you've exhausted all other options, change what you "know" to be right.
Here, the answer to the riddle was the obvious FSH. I say obvious because it was the first thing to cross my mind when I saw the whole riddle laid out ... and Yet! Yet! I was "certain" that 58D: A lot of Eurasia, once: Abbr. (SSRS) was USSR, which put an "R" in the second position of the riddle answer (69A), which made me think, "well, good, at least the answer's not as obvious as FSH." Crossing obscurities in this SE corner did Not help me: 56A: Wagner heroine _____ of Brabant (Elsa) runs into 59D: Writer Sholem (Asch) at the "A"- as I'd heard of neither of them, and neither of their names is particularly common, I was in trouble. Didn't help that ELSA had an erroneous "U" in it for a while. Actually, the way I finally got this corner was to rethink 66A: Penciled-in eyebrow, e.g. (arc) from scratch, without the (again, erroneous) "S" in the middle position. Seemed like a clue I should get. Tested ARC, then saw the possibility of SSRS rather than USSR, and ta da.
20A: Diva _____ Te Kanawa (Kiri)
21A: Tic-tac-toe loser (XOO)
22A: Line on which y=0 (X axis)
A very great complete horizontal line of the grid. 3 of the 4 X's, plus the K. Nice. Feels like the puzzle is returning to opera with a vengeance lately, but that may just be coincidence. Crosswords have always loved opera (much to my opera-ignorant chagrin). "Opera" used to be the definitive Rex-Doesn't-Know-It category in any trivia game, esp Jeopardy. I'd see "Opera" and think "well I'm dead." "What is ... the fat lady sings?" KIRI Te Kanawa is a Kiwi, so I have a spousal obligation to mention her. "Tic-tac-toe loser" is pretty much crutch fill, but when you put it in this se-X-y context, it seems quite permissible. X-AXIS returns ... right? We just had this answer in plural (X-AXES) - wait, those might have been Y-AXES. Don't remember. Yes, Y-AXES. I remember someone's comment, somewhere, that he didn't know what a YAX was. Awesome.
23A: Start of Massachusetts' motto (Ense)
This is a new Latin word to me. Means "by the sword," apparently, as Massachusetts's motto reads thusly: "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem" - (By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty) [not my translation]. Massachusetts remains the hardest state to spell, by far. No matter what you type, it looks wrong.
29D: Page in an account book (folio)
Muffed this one and ruined the "Oregon" portion of the grid for a while. Off of the "L" from 38A: Lena of "Polish Wedding" (Olin), I entered SALES. Two other initially wrong entries in this region held me up. Had TIES TO instead of TIES IN at 18D: Connects, and TEE instead of LIE at 42A: Golfer's concern. Then there was the entry that I flat out didn't know: 28D: _____ von Baeyer, 1905 Chemistry Nobelist (Adolf). Even with the Pantheon-tastic ICIER (30D: More treacherous in the winter) slicing right through this region, it took me some time to work out.
2D: Like some educ. publishing (El-Hi)
9D: Poetic contraction (e'en)
33D: Ed Sullivan, e.g. (emcee)
51D: Attention-getter (psst!)
Speaking of Pantheon-tastic, here we see last-minute bids to get on the ballot from some very worthy entries. Add the aforementioned SSRS and ICIER, and you can really see the density of crosswordese. Yet nothing seems particularly egregious. EL-HI is my least favorite of the bunch, for no particular reason.
3D: Shakespeare's "very foolish fond old man" (Lear)
6D: Anna's lover in "Anna Karenina" (Alexei)
Mmmm, two of the greatest works of literature ever written (no hyperbole). Anna Karenina is probably my favorite novel of all time ... and Still ALEXEI was not a gimme. I was like "Oh, I can see him, he's young and hot ... dammit!" ALEXEI was quite a SMOOTHIE (8D: Glib romancer), back when that word meant a smooth-talker and not, as it does now, a yogurt-and-juice drink. LEAR, like Anna, loses his mind a bit and spirals downward into a kind of madness. I'm trying to reverse the depressing turn this entry has taken, but it's hard to end on an up note when one of the characters you're writing about ends up alone after the death of his beloved daughter, and the other throws herself under a train.
49A: Dugout shelter (abri)
Wow. Really really didn't know this. Sounds like some rare crosswordese that long-time solvers have some familiarity with, but short-time solvers (which I still consider myself) will just stare at blankly. But I think that's the last of the truly troubling fill (beyond what I already mentioned). All the crosses were easy to confirm, so no harm done. I am almost certain to forget this word, ABRI, possibly by the time I finish writing this entry.
55D: Swenson of "Benson" (Inga)
Yes. Yes, this answer I like. I haven't seen or even thought about Inga Swenson, aka Gretchen Kraus, the stern housekeeper in the Governor's mansion on TV's "Benson," for about 20 years, I think. Ever since "Benson" went off the air. This show should be in syndication more. It was a staple of my 80's childhood, in that weird period when the sitcom was kind of dead: "M*A*S*H" and "Happy Days" were aging, "MTM" and "Rhoda" and other great 70s shows were gone, and Cosby hadn't come along and resuscitated the genre yet. Very innocuous stuff, "Benson," but fun. Now that I look at it, "Benson" is basically the primary precursor to Michael J. Fox's 1990s sitcom hit "Spin City," only replace the governor with a mayor and replace Robert Guillaume with Michael J. Fox and then replace the Governor's mansion with city hall. Robert Guillaume is beloved to me for two reasons. First, his work on "Sports Night," which I loved despite its high degree of mockability. Second, he cut a record or two in his youth, one of which I own (a gift from Andrew). Where is a picture... Oh Yeah, here we go. This rules!
Great packaging! You gotta love the little inset of Guillaume as Benson inside the "O" in "BOB" - "BOB," HA ha. Guess that hip moniker, like Bob's music career, didn't really take.