Friday, January 19, 2007
Solving time: 22:20
Long story, but I have to keep this Seriously short today. I am blogging from campus, and I am using a crappy version of Safari, and none of my usual shortcuts work, and it all feels very last century, and I feel like something might break, or I might gently tap the wrong key and send my life's work for these past four months into some kind of black hole - or, better yet, into ... what's the name of that floating square in outer space where the Kryptonian felons are sent to spin for eternity at the beginning of Superman? Anyway, things feel precarious, so I'm keeping it short. I'll clearly have to download Firefox to this computer very, very soon. Not now.
Dentist appointment went well yesterday, by the way - thanks for asking. My hygienist took one look at Will Shortz's Greatest Hits and said "I hate crossword puzzles." Then we had a discussion about why that was. Then we had a discussion about her girlfriend who is moving in with this guy who is newly divorced and has three kids, and isn't that likely to end badly? (answer: yes). Then we had a discussion about her recent pregnancy, during which she was sick - not just morning sick, but constantly sick, all the time, couldn't keep anything down, nearly hospitalized sick. Then she put on latex gloves and had at my teeth. I love my hygienist because she's super sweet with my Very sensitive back upper molars and wisdom teeth (never removed) and she compliments my dental hygiene and smells vaguely like fresh strawberries.
Today's puzzle: man it was hard. I didn't quite go into freefall (i.e. staring at blank space with a feeling of helplessness), but I was very, very close. Many parts took some serious machete-hacking to get through. The whole thing felt very old-school Saturday, to me, and the only heartening thing about the experience was seeing how many very competent solvers this puzzle ate alive. My usual competition was scattered: some beat me, but many were way, way back. Given how hard this puzzle was, I can live with my visually icky 20+ minute time. Usually the Sun puzzle takes me longer than the NYT, but today I was nearly ten minutes faster on the Sun (which, by the way, you can get to via "Puzzle Pointers" link in my sidebar).
9A: Expedient (tactic)
Uh, is "Expedient" a noun or is TACTIC an adjective? I'm guessing the former, but either option is pretty gross. The first "C" in TACTIC was the last letter I filled in. No, wait, the last letter might have been the "B" in the Down cross 11D: Trinidadian, e.g. (Carib), which took me ForEver to see, first because of TACTIC (???) and second because of the "B" cross 26A: Whammy (blow). Yeah, it BLOWs alright. The only thing "Whammy" makes me think of is "Big bucks, no Whammies!" (oft-uttered phrase on the long-defunct game show "Press Your Luck"). Other stumpers up here in the NE included the dreaded AMARNA (16A: Modern site of an ancient Egyptian capital) and 9D: _____ particle (tau)). Man, as I look at this corner now, I'm surprised I got through it at all. Even the identifiable fill was clued oddly or puzzlingly, e.g. 10D: Switch letters (AM/FM) and 12D: The Barsetshire novels novelist (Trollope) and 30A: Spawn (ova). OVA is practically Pantheonic, but I always think of "Spawn" as something that has actually hatched, and, quite possibly, is evil. OVA is pretty anticlimactic fill. I had such high hopes for this quadrant, as I got 17A: Fictional character who says "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" (J Alfred Prufrock) right away (although, to be honest, the first thing that went into the grid was ALFRED J PRUFROCK. I think ALFRED E. NEUMAN interfered with the information processing).
3D: Longtime role for Danson (Malone)
The closest thing to a gimme I had in this puzzle - besides PRUFROCK. I watched a lot of "Cheers" in my time, and Sam Malone not only owned the bar where the show was set, he was also a former pitcher for the Red Sox (my favorite team until I instituted my Lame Team Outreach Program last year, which entailed my adopting the Tigers ... who promptly went to the World Series; I feel like I should adopt someone new this year - spread the Rex Magic around). Two great answers up here in the NW - 1A: Plot device in some science fiction (time warp) and 15A: Saint born in Newark, N.J. (Eva Marie) - didn't help (much) with some Ruthless Down crosses, including 1D: Music style that often includes an accordion (tejano) [which I predict many, many people will be Googling six weeks from now when this puzzle comes out in syndication], 2D: "Terrible" czar (Ivan IV) [oh, Ivan FOUR, I see...] and 4D: Generator output: Abbr. (EMF) [also the name of one of the more forgettable, and regrettable, "bands" of the early 90's]. Not sure what this clue / answer means: 22A: Discoveries in Al Hirschfeld drawings (Ninas), but if you don't know it straight off, let's just say that nothing is going to help you. If you could get NINAS by inference, you are a better solver than I by far. Had to change the last letter of TEJANO very, very late in the game - I had TEJANA (and was wondering aloud what AVEN could possibly mean (27A: Rack holder (oven)).
35A: Movie buff: Var. (cinéast)
38A: 1993 Peace co-Nobelist (De Klerk)
These are the Acrosses at the middle of the puzzle. Just brutal (especially considering I didn't have DEKLERK's "K"s for a good while, especially the first one, which crossed with someone I'd never head of, 29D: "Mame" director of stage and screen (Saks)). As for CINEAST - I could hear the collective groan of hundreds of solvers around the world as it finally dawned on them what the hell this answer was. Doesn't help that CINEAST intersects with two of the puzzles most arcane answers: 36D: First opera to premiere at London's Savoy Theatre, 1882 ("Iolanthe") [in case it's not clear, IOLANTHE starts with a capital "i" and not a lower CASE "L" (48A: Word with legal or lower (case)], and 28D: George of old vaudeville (Jessel). Come ON! Could your frame of reference get any Older??? Well, yes, it could: 42A: Homer's home (Hellas) (I wanted SPRINGFIELD), and 62A: One side of the Battle of Thermopylae (Persia) (I had SPARTA here, as I was probably supposed to - the intended trap; sadly, for me, I also had ATHENS here before I ever entertained the possibility of PERSIA). The upcoming movie 300 (an adaptation of Frank Miller's comic of the same name) is about this battle, specifically the 300 Spartans who block the advancing Persian army, ensuring the escape (and eventual triumph) of the outnumbered Greek forces and dealing heavy losses to the Persians, though all 300 knew their deaths were certain. Speaking of Persia, this puzzle also contains SHAHS (51D: Abbas I, II and III).
45D: Store, in a way (ensile)
This answer hurts my eyes. It looks like it needs more letters to make any sense (perhaps a "T-" or "PREH-"). Why isn't the word ENSILO!? "To store in a silo." Perfect. I actually think some of the fill down here in the southern hemisphere is pretty colorful, if difficult to see without a whole bunch of crosses: 40D: Like some consonant stops (plosive) - which, like ENSILE, appears to be missing letters - and 61A: Wagner opera setting (Valhalla), not to mention the highly unusual 63A: Drill command ("Eyes left!"), which must be military, unless it's something out of Drumline or the more recent Stomp the Yard.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld