Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Solving time: 8:42 (it's true)
THEME: "Bitter End" - theme answers end with word that can be described as "bitter," e.g. 3D: *Person with whom one will always fight (sworn enemy)
First, my sucky time. I have no good excuse. The grid seemed fair (though the theme has issues, see below). I was slow out of the gate (in the N and NW), and then locked up somewhere around the southern Nevada region of the puzzle and limped my way to the end. Most of my problem was mental. Usually I never even notice the ticking clock right over the grid, but this time I became Very conscious of it, to the extent that next time I am clearly going to have to put tape or something on the screen to block it.
Now, the theme. It's not very strong, for a number of reasons. Some of the "bitter" things are bitter by nature (LEMON), other by way of their use in an idiomatic expression (TRUTH). The TRUTH in 28D: *It's no baloney (plain truth) did not come to me for a while and was a big reason for my super-slow SW corner. Wanted something like PLAIN WORDS or PLAIN SPEECH (despite the fact that Google says PLAIN TRUTH is the far more common expression). But I digress. This whole puzzle seems propped on the cute idea of literalizing the phrase BITTER END (64A: R? ... or a hint to the answers of the five starred clues). But it's too cute for my blood. Or not cute enough. If all the theme words could have been preceded by BITTER in a phrase, I might have gone for it, but do you say BITTER LEMON? Oh, I'm told it's a soft drink of some kind? OK. Hmm. Yeah, still not thrilled. It's fine, I suppose. I think the fact that the theme entries themselves are kind of blah is making me not as excited or impressed as I might be. Plus I'm really not liking SWORN ENEMY, since it's so very close to the thematic reading BITTER ENEMY. Maybe that's it - there's not enough pop in the twist. Inserting BITTER before the final word in theme answers doesn't really do much. The answers just lie there. Mere curiosities. I will say that I loved 17A: *Absolutely (stone cold), though I had always thought of STONE COLD as an adjectival phrase, e.g. "She was a stone cold fox!" A quick Google search of "stone cold," however, yields a site titled "Stone Cold Pimpin'," so clearly it has adverbial uses as well. My mistake.
Congratulations to my namesake, Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, for not sucking last night on Monday Night Football. It's true that your play was mostly just OK, and the Special Teams really won that game for you, but still, you did not humiliate yourself, as you had for the previous 4 or so games, and so you shut your critics up, for the moment. I am a Seahawks fan, but if they lose in the playoffs, as I know they will, I will be rooting for you, Rex-y, based solely on your name and on no particular love for the Bears or the city of Chicago (no offense, guys).
20A: Hurler (thrower)
5D: Corset tightener (lacer)
56D: Abacus user (adder)
It's time for another segment of Odd Jobs, wherein we examine all the weird nouns that have been unnaturally forced into existence by the addition of an -ER ending to a verb. "Hurler" and THROWER are both OK, since you hear them enough in baseball talk, but THROWER's intersection of LACER, at the "E" no less, forces me to call an excessive -ERage penalty. It's like hand-checking your opponent in basketball - do it a little, no one's going to care; do it a lot, you're going to get a whistle. Here the foul is flagrant, as we have intersecting "-ER" answers, a foul additionally compounded by the astonishingly weak LACER. What the hell is that? Was there a position in noble households called LACER, whose sole job was to tighten her mistress's corset? Maybe LACER is some arcane name for the part of the corset ... with the laces? Anyway, whether the problem is awkwardness or antiquity, this answer reeks. Lastly, the answer to 56D should have been NO ONE. Or, the clue should have been "Snake."
63A: Song from Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera" (Eri Tu)
35D: 63-Across, e.g. (aria)
Yet another night at the opera (please see yesterday's entry, All About Aida, and the news links I added regarding yesterday's second performance of Aida at La Scala and the onstage meltdown of the male lead - Verdi, verdi embarrassing). Another reason my SW was so slow was because I somehow convinced myself that I "don't know opera," forgetting that, when you have ERI TU in your arsenal, sometimes you don't have to know opera. Is it five letters? Perfect. Shove ERI TU in there and move on. In the SW, I had 57A: San Francisco and environs (Bay Area) - helped that I was born there - and I had one Down cross, 58D: Johnson of "Laugh-In" (Arte), but nothing else was coming quickly. Had A-ONE for 57D: Primo (best) (A-ONE is clearly the superior answer here, BEST being too absolute - I mean just Try substituting BEST for PRIMO in a sentence, without using the definite article "The" before BEST ... that's right, doesn't work; whereas A-ONE slides into the PRIMO slot quite nicely). Had YIKE for YIPE despite the fact that YIKE is meaningless. Couldn't figure out what "Mar. honoree" could be abbreviated to five letters (A: ST PAT). Compounded my confusion with stifling self-awareness (tick, tick, tick) and so lost some minutes.
14A: Grp. bargaining with GM (UAW)
70A: Shadings (tones)
Here are two more instances where I entered wrong answers. I lived in Michigan for eight years and yet still couldn't come up with UAW, preferring AFL and then CIO. Ugh. Had TINTS for TONES. Didn't help that they have three letters in common - also doesn't help my ego that TONES is the better answer. I was thinking "shading" as in "blocking the sun," thus TINTS, like you'd get on your car windows. Yeah, I know, it's still wrong.
55D: Lotte of film (Lenya)
I'm sure this is an old-time crossword gimme, and I'm equally sure I've seen it before. And yet ... nothing. In the past 10 days or so I have learned of the existence of two LOTTEs, a Lehmann and a LENYA. Lehmann, a 20th century soprano, has a 19th century counterpart named LILLI. I'm just saying this stuff out loud in the desperate hope that it will all somehow stick. Another answer I didn't know: 65D: Nigerian native (Ibo).
Wrote HOORAY for HOORAH (22D); misread the clue for 6D: Ethically indifferent (amoral) as "ethically different," which yielded nothing, obviously; am deeply suspicious of / repulsed by the 44A: Sorts (ilks) - that word Really doesn't want to be pluralized; and still don't know what the "P" and "L" are in 34D: P. & L. preparers (CPAS). If the puzzle was a bit of a pain, the experience was alleviated somewhat by the entertaining presence of super-critic Roger EBERT (67A - again with the Chicago-based answers), Popeye's girlfriend Olive OYL (26A), and the voice of Bugs Bunny, MEL Blanc (7D).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld