Monday, January 22, 2007
Solving time: 4:31
THEME: Road Signs - six theme answers are phrases commonly found on road signs, e.g. 17A: Road sign #1 (Lane Closed), and all of them are tied together by 72A: Whom you might see in your rearview mirror if you ignore the above signs (cop) [WHOM! Hurray for grammar!]
Always good to get in under five minutes on a Monday. It's been a while. This puzzle was easier than most themed puzzles because once you figured out that the theme answers were indeed just phrases on road signs, with no particular logic or wordplay or trickiness involved, you could fill them in pretty quickly with very few crosses. How many such phrases are there? (I did have NO PASSING for NO PARKING, but only for about 8 seconds). There are a few odd-looking or otherwise remarkable entries on the grid, but the puzzle was not MADE WORSE (10D: Degraded) by them, and I never, not once, felt compelled to GNASH (27D: Grind, as teeth) my teeth. Speaking of "Grind," Andrew just sent me a link to the trailer for the upcoming double-feature Grindhouse, featuring sexploitation films by both Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. I'm a little afraid, and a little excited to see this/these. Not for the very squeamish or the sense-of-humor-free.
Before I have at the puzzle, a brief thank-you to "painquale" (whoever you are) for the nice plug - and generally thoughtful writing about solving crosswords - at MetaFilter.com yesterday. I am most grateful for the kind words (and the link - free advertising!).
1A: Poppycock (rot)
A case where the clue is far, far more dated than the answer, which is itself dated. When was the last time anyone used "Poppycock" in anything but an intentionally ironic or prehistoric fashion? Here's something interesting, followed by something gross: WorldWideWords (fascinating if painfully thorough site on words and their origins) tells me that the word is actually American in origin (though it sounds British to most ears) and that it comes from "the Dutch word pappekak for soft faeces." I like the way the British spell FAECES, as the "A" somehow allows me to pretend that I am dealing merely with a typo of FACES.
13A: Daredevil Knievel (Evel)
Ever since I finalized the Pantheon list for this year (see sidebar), I have been reminded almost every day of the long list of worthy candidates who were excluded or (in the case of Mr. EVEL) not even duly considered. Remarkably useful letter combination that NO one else can get you. You can't reclue EVEL. You go through Knievel or you don't get there. Other worthy, excluded candidates here include ELENA (20A: Actress Verdugo of "Marcus Welby, M.D.) - I love the implicit notion that mentioning "Marcus Welby" somehow demystifies things for me - LAMA (16A: Himalayan priest), ELENA's cousin LENA (14D: Horne of "The Lady and Her Music") and EROSE (52D: Jagged, as a leaf's edge), the last of which is not terribly common; but when it does crawl out into the light, it does so almost exclusively in the context of crossword grids.
Despite a pretty high frequency of ordinary-to-downright-tired fill, this grid still manages to sparkle in places. Robert E. Lee is a crossword stalwart, but I always like seeing him in the grid as RELEE (1D: Gen. in the confederacy), because the RE- looks like a prefix, making the whole entry look like some kind of bygone nautical term. It's rare to find a word or expression I've never heard of in a Monday puzzle, but I will admit to having never heard of OLD SOD (8D: Fatherland, affectionately) before today. Sounds like something you'd call a senior citizen, non-affectionately. Would have preferred [Annoy the hell out of urban pedestrians in the 1970s] as a clue for PANTOMIME (33D: Show silently), but this clue has a certain terseness that I admire. DRYADS (54A: Wood nymphs, in myth) is always nice fill - would have been nicer if I had gotten it right away instead of entering NAIADS, which are sea nymphs, you idiot. I'm wondering why "in myth" is appended to "Wood nymphs"... where else am I going to find wood nymphs? Yosemite? and would those wood nymphs go by a different name? RANGY (12D: Slender and long-limbed) is giving me weird vibes this morning. Took a while to come to me last night (when I solved this puzzle) and now it barely looks like a word, for some reason - it looks like TANGY, but does not rhyme with TANGY. Seems wrong. Lastly, since I'm starting teaching again tomorrow, and one of the courses I am teaching is entitled "Comics," I will close by mentioning that "The GOON" (36D: Thug) is a very entertaining horror/comedy comic - a now much-abused genre that is not easy to do well. Eric Powell's art is spectacular, and the title character looks like a cross between a Depression-era strike-breaker and Frankenstein's monster - the best of both worlds. See you tomorrow.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld