Thursday, December 21, 2006
Solving time: untimed
THEME: "BRING 'EM ON!" (57A) - letters "EM" are added to familiar names and phrases to create new, strange phrases, which are then clued, e.g. 48A: Idaho symbol? (tater totEM)
I really enjoyed this puzzle, which I solved at a leisurely pace in bed last night, while my wife worked on a puzzle beside me. We solve cryptics and British-style crosswords every week in The Listener (NZ), but my wife has never been inclined to try the NYT puzzle ... until now. I am so happy about this, and yet a year from now I am sure I will regret encouraging her, as she will surely be able to solve me under the table by then. I bought her a book of Shortz "easy" puzzles so she could practice. Unlike Many, Many of the Shortz collections, the one I got her actually tells you on what day of the week the puzzle originally appeared. That's critical information! Why isn't that info in all the collections? Saving on ink!? It is a lot of fun to see a very bright but untested solver run into common trick clues for the first time. Wife: "'Big name in chips'...?" Me, from across the room, not even knowing how many letters we're dealing with: "Intel." Wife: [groan]. Or this - Wife: "K.C. Royal, e.g." Me: "letters?" Her: "Four. A, blank..." Me: "AL'ER. Royals play in the American League, so they're AL'ERs. You see NL'ER a lot, too." Etc. Weird (and, at this point, according to my wife, stupid) conventions of cluing / solving that have zero to do with intelligence and everything to do with practice, practice, practice. To her enormous credit, my wife knew SKUA (in a Wednesday puzzle), which I had Never Heard Of. Wife does not know sports, but she damn sure knows her birds. We're complementary that way.
Today's puzzle was fairly easy for a Thursday, I think, but that may be because I wasn't trying to go fast, so things felt like they flowed along rather smoothly. Puzzle had very quadranty feel to it, with the NW being by far the easiest part of the puzzle, and the SE the hardest (which sucks, a bit, as that is where the Primary Theme Answer was). BRING 'EM ON is not really a phrase I've heard before, frankly - BRING IT ON, yes. LET ME AT 'EM, yes ... not sure where BRING 'EM ON comes from, though there are nearly half a million Google hits for ["bring em on"]. Wait. I take it back. Turns out I have heard this phrase, made infamous three years ago by this guy:But the puzzle author couldn't have had this guy in mind, as the clue reads "Fighter's dare...," and everyone knows this guy never fought a day in his life (bomber jacket notwithstanding).
The middle section of the puzzle was largely uneventful, though the central theme answer, 34A (THEME): Spruce up some fabric (EM-Boss Tweed) does mark the return of the corrupt 19th-century politico BOSS TWEED to the puzzle - learned about him a few weeks back and did not figure on seeing him again so soon. Anyway, let's just go around the horn, starting with the easy Pacific Northwest.
1A: Nobodies (zeros)
1D: Letter from London (zed)
Bam, bam. ZED confirmed rightness of ZEROS guess (wasn't sure .. thought maybe ZEROS was spelled thusly: ZEROES). After these two, I had the whole NW pacified in about 30 seconds time, including the theme cross 17A (THEME): Satan? (Demon king), though at that point I had no idea what could be theme-y about that answer. The NW is notable for a colorful cast of characters this morning, from CHE Guevara (6A: 1969 biopic starring Omar Sharif) to 26A: Luke's father in "Star Wars" (Anakin) to Jerome KERN (18D: "Ol' Man River" composer) - very proud to get this last one as I am Terrible at American Songbook stuff; see also 59D: Lyricist Washington who won two Oscars for songwriting (Ned). Cleverest clue up here in "Seattle": 4D: It's in the dumps (odor).
40D: Main idea (keynote)
Aaargh. The only time I ever ever ever heard the word KEYNOTE is when it is followed immediately by "speech" or "address," so I did not not not see this one for a while. Is KEYNOTE two words or one? THEME? PRINCIPLE? Unh! KEYNOTE. It's a solid, legitimate answer, but grrrr nonetheless. This whole SE was mildly prickly for me. I got 55D: "Buona _____" (sera) and its "R" cross 62A: Teed off (irate) and then ground to a halt. Had my only Wrong Fill of the day just a little further W of here when I entered PUB for 61A: The George and Dragon, e.g. (inn). Why? BECAUSE IT'S A PUB. Google [the george and dragon], first hit: pub. OK, it's a Seattle pub, but pub nonetheless. Here's a picture of the British pub, which may also, it's true, be an INN:
Took me forever to get 54D: Cry of joy (T.G.I.F.), mainly because nobody has cried that phrase joyfully since 1982, if ever. "Cry," really, "Cry?" More like "beleaguered mutterance of relief." "Mutterance" should be a word.
43D: One-dish meal (paella)
I'm super-proud of knowing this one instantly, with no crosses. Total gimme - hadn't even looked to see how many letters I was dealing with and I knew it. OK, so it's not that hard, but 6-letter gimmes are nice. I need this one bad, too, as it helped confirm my initial suspicion about 44D: Ultimately (At last), which gave me the "T" at 63A, which left me with _AT__, which helped me realize that the clue, 63A: Caesar's father, was not asking for a specific man but for the Latin Word For Father, Damn It! Oh, it's PATER, in case you didn't know. Other surprising clues down here: 56A: Taruotragus oryx (eland) - you really gotta know your African antelopes if you want to want to be a dominant puzzler, but do you have to know their formal Latin scientific classifications!? And who the heck is ELSIE Janis ... I mean, besides what the clue tells us: 60A: _____ Janis, old comic actress? Damn, I don't know who she is, but this photo is awesome:
16A: Old NBC courtroom drama (The D.A.)
10D: It has its ups and downs (The Dow)
My favorite part of the puzzle. I am a sucker for definite articles in the grid, and here we get two of 'em, and intersecting at the "H", no less. BRING EM ON! This NE quadrant also has the lively REV UP (19A: Race) and, even hotter, BODICE (21A: Tight-fitting woman's garment). EDUCED (12D: Brought out) is a bit clunky, and I never like to be reminded of my Least Favorite Thing about teaching - PAPERS (13D: Professor's workload). But my spirits were strangely REVIVEd (11D) by 9D: 1948 campaign name - after determining that HARRY and TRUMAN and DEWEY and whatever-Dewey's-first-name-was would not fit, I was happy to be reminded that there was another major figure in that race - the Ralph Nader of his day (a comparison I'm sure he would have loved): STROM Thurmond. He ran as a States' Rights Democrat, whatever that was. Better yet (or worse, from the standpoint of sanity): HE CARRIED FOUR STATES!!! Nader never did that. Thurmond didn't just win in those states: he CRUSHED his opponents by tens of thousands of votes. So, congratulations South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, on your seriously oddball presidential voting legacy.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld