Friday, January 12, 2007
Solving time: 39:54 (ugh, it's true)
THEME: time slipping away ... tumbleweeds rolling past ... (actually, none)
Let's take this in parts. First, well, you can see the completed grid there on the right. It's got its iffy spots, like any Saturday grid, but whatever. With the possible exception of AMENRA (3D: God worshiped in ancient Thebes), all of the answers are at least readily discernible as words or concepts in the language - though #$#@-ing GLACÉ (5D: Frosted) is from another language and stayed hidden Good and Long because you can't see an accent aigu on the grid, and I so badly wanted the answer to be [something] ICE. OK, where was I? Right, not an obscene grid when you see it all filled in. But, for whatever reason (there are many to choose from), I tripped on the NW, left it for the NE, which fell reasonably quickly, swept down the eastern seaboard to the SE, which fell very quickly, and then circled back westward and got totally held up. Went back to the NW, alligator-wrestled it into submission, and then went back to wide open SW. The Grand Canyon - a big hole in the SW that seemed destined to be there for eternity. Everything I threw into it just disappeared. And so I was in total free fall for god knows how long. LONG.
So I'm going to give you a little visual aide, to show you how badly one can get stuck when a wrong answer yields potentially (but not) correct results on the crosses. I'm going to show you the SW grid in two stages of fill (well, two more - you can see the final stage above) - the one with one wrong answer, and then the one with several wrong answers built off that initial wrong answer. The wrong answer in question is LAMP OIL, which I had as the fill for 47A: Kerosene. It's a great wrong answer, even though, technically, "Kerosene" and LAMP OIL are different oils - they are in the same damned family of oils (LAMP OIL being more refined, creating less soot on burning). But I digress - LAMP OIL seemed so right to me. And thus this initial fill for the SW:
So, the major problem for me here was that I could not, for the life of me, get 52A: Some chocolate. This physically hurt me, as I love chocolate something awful and think that I know a little about its chemical make-up and various tasty forms. My love for chocolate will be relevant to why I did not see the answer for a very long time. Anyway, I was thinking it was some French word like PASTILLES, only, you know, shorter, and relevant to chocolate somehow. Perhaps more painful than not knowing the chocolate answer, however, was not immediately getting 31D: Kansas State Athletes. They were a reasonably good football team a few years back and I could see their uniforms, their colors (purple and silver?), but unfortunately (this would be my key to solving it, eventually) I did not focus my mental attention, initially, on their helmets (home of a picture of their mascot!). Worse, WORSE, the "M" in LAMP OIL made me near-certain that whatever the K.S. athletes were, they were some kind of -MEN (see Syracuse Orangemen, U Mass Minutemen, etc.). So, if LAMP OIL was strike 1, hooking my cart to that -MEN ending was strike 2. Here come strikes 3, and, for good measure, 4. While toying around with possible French names that could go into the spaces for 50A: French rococo artist Watteau, the spurious name EVELINE floated into mind - I had considered and even written in ANTOINE (which is Correct), but rejected it because that "T" clashed with the "M" in LAMP OIL / [blank]-MEN. Nice. The genius, the sick, horrible genius of my entertaining EVELINE, is that it got me AV_ as the last three letters in 30D: Exclusive meeting (8 letters total). Sometimes you don't enough words, and sometimes, you know too many - here is what I ended up entering:
CONCLAVE turns out to be the greatest wrong answer I have ever had, because it is actually much better as an answer for the clue, [Exclusive meeting], than the actual answer, ONE-ON-ONE. You can have a ONE-ON-ONE in a cafe, for god's sake, how "Exclusive" is that? It's more basketball term than [Exclusive meeting]. CONCLAVE, however, is defined thusly:
1. a private or secret meeting.
2. an assembly or gathering, esp. one that has special authority, power, or influence: a conclave of political leaders.
3. the assembly or meeting of the cardinals for the election of a pope.
4. the body of cardinals; the College of Cardinals.
5. the place in which the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church meet in private for the election of a pope.
There is NO MORE "EXCLUSIVE" MEETING IN THE WORLD than the damned CONCLAVE to elect a pope. Remember when all the 24-hr. "news" networks staked out the building where it was taking place, waiting for the right-colored smoke to emerge ... what kind of spooky medieval bull@#$ is that, anyway? (No offense to my Catholic readers, [wink]) ANYWAY, CONCLAVE rules as an answer. RULES, I say. But very shortly after I put it in, those "C"s started to do this nails-on-a-chalkboard thing in my brain. Couldn't get any reasonable words to be their crosses, so, with great sadness, I had to abandon CONCLAVE, and then abandon the made-up name EVELINE, and eventually abandon LAMP OIL.
Somewhere along the line I started plugging letters, in alphabetical order, into the fourth place in the Chocolate answer (_ _ _ _ LES). It was only once I let that damned Kansas State answer end in "S" (not the "N" from erroneous "-MEN"), that I got an "S" in the third position of the chocolate answer, and then the "T" slid into the fourth position and the awful NESTLES (as a plural noun? Horrible) came into view, and I knew instantly that it was right. NESTLES = crap chocolate, btw.
Once the -MEN ending was done away with as a possibility for the Kansas State answer, I returned my mental focus to the damned helmets of their football team, which look like this:
And WILDCATS just leaped forth in all its feline glory. This gave me SODS for 42A: Landscaping supplies (which I had written in earlier and discarded because SODS (plural) as "supplies" (plural) seemed way too much of a stretch. I went to tools: HOES, then, strangely, HODS, which I believe are used only in bricklaying, which might, I suppose, be part of a landscaping project...). OK, so I got SODS and INC (____ 500, annual list of the fastest growing private companies), which like HODS was in fact my first guess. Thus, in an alternate universe, I focused my attention on these short words, went with my gut, and solved the SW lickety-split.
But back to reality - having my initial suspicions about these short answers confirmed was no consolation. Further - never heard of a COWBIRD (29A: It lays its eggs in others' nests); I had JAY- and RED- and CAT- and god knows what else in there. NEVER would have put COW in. ONIONS makes far more sense as a 34A: Spanish rice ingredient than PECANS (the only word my brain wanted to put there). As for RELAY (36A: Device that contains an electromagnet) ... muh. Whatever. I have no particular feelings about you. And I just this very second noticed that the stupid 32D: Squeezers clue = BOAS, which is perfectly apt, and yet I don't think I would have gotten it in a million years without the crosses. PS, 29D: Napoleon, e.g. was CORSICAN. I had had him as an EMPEROR, then he was ENISLED, an EXILEE, something about ELBA, then he was a pastry ...
OK, now that I've anatomized the SW so thoroughly, I don't really have much energy for the rest of the very difficult but mostly pleasing puzzle. I'll give the NW a little attention, as it was the second-hardest quadrant. Was, appropriately, blinded by a clue's apparent adjectivity, which caused me to take forever to see its actual verbality: 1A: Blind, in a way (tear gas). TEAR GAS as a verb is somewhat cruel. A.A. MILNE (15A: Children's author who was a regular contributor to Punch) was the very first thing I wrote into the grid, but ... I abandoned it when I couldn't get crosses to work! So many right answers abandoned in this puzzle, ugh. Thankfully, MILNE's cross-grid authorial counterpart, RUDYARD (18A: "Just So Stories" author's first name) held up, allowing my first real toe hold in the puzzle. But back to NW, I lost an absurd amount of time on one tiny word: for 19A: When there's no other option (if necessary), I could not see the IF, and so had AS. But this screwed up TAP-INS (1D: Putts that might be conceded), which I was sure was right (and it was, though my first thought was GIMMES). I let AS hang around far, far longer than I should have. I've already mentioned AMENRA and GLACE up here. Whatever. This quadrant got done.
Where's the joy!? OK, here's some: 14D: Elton John hit that begins "Guess there are times when we all need to share a little pain", which is a long, long (and fairly creative) way to go to get SAD SONGS. I'd have clued it as [Elton John hit with chorus line "Turn 'em on"], but maybe that's too easy. This song is not to be confused with the 1979 #1 song "Sad Eyes," which was in a puzzle a couple of months back and, if hits to this site are any indication, befuddled the hell out of much of the puzzle-solving populace. SAD SONGS helped me get ANDORRA (16A: Nation of 181 square miles), which I initially wanted to be MONACO or SAN MARINO neither of which fit. I misspelled RODAN (26A: 1956 cult film from overseas) as RODIN (you know, French sculptor ... The Thinker ...). It's a great answer, but one I know about only because of Michael Nesmith's "Elephant Parts" - a kind of sketch comedy special that the former Monkee and White-Out heir did in the early 80s that is probably the most formative piece of pop culture in my life in terms of developing whatever comedic sensibility and sense of the absurd that I have. He sings a sweet little song about RODAN - just one verse, actually - as we watch someone in a giant lizard-costume trample and absolutely destroy a very crude model of a city. The whole bit lasts maybe 30 seconds. But it's indelible for some reason, as are most of the segments in that show. Man, I gotta get it on DVD. Seriously, it's some kind of weird early 80's genius, and the best thing that could possibly have happened to me at age 12. I can still quote "Elephant Parts" to my dad and sister, with joyous results. Netflix it today!
Wanted TOWN MOUSE (28D: Aesop character with a country cousin) to be CITY MOUSE, but I just put in the MOUSE part and the rest took care of itself. Had no idea the 33D: National instruments of Guatemala were MARIMBAS. How are those different from MARACAS? Hang on ... oh, they are way, way different, in that they are like vibes, not hand-held at all. 46A: One that picks up the kids? (baby monitor) was very trickily worded, but the rest of the SE was so easy that it didn't take long to solve. MINIMAL ART is a synonym for MINIMALISM (as far as I can tell from Google) that I have not heard before, but which is very inferrable. 8D: Capacitance units (farads) is kind of hard, and I've had about enough physics clues for a while, thanks. Its neighbor INURE was quite hard to see because of (once again) deliberate part-of-speech confusion in the clue, 9D: Condition.
Lastly, here are a couple of grid pairs that I like and dislike, respectively. Let's call them the DO'S (21A: Recommendations) and DON'Ts of answer pairing.
DO: create synergy by juxtaposing words from the same verbal universe, e.g. ASSISTS (51A: Court stat) and SET SHOT (53A: Free throw, e.g.), basketball answers which sit one atop the other in the far SE.
DON'T: feature two words that are just one letter different from one another, especially when those words sound terribly silly when uttered one after the other, e.g. PUNY (35D: Insignificant) and PINY (27D: Like some air fresheners).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS if anyone can tell me why all text after a bulleted list in my entries goes to super-single-spacing, I would love to know. Stupid Blogger coaxed me into "updating" my template, and while navigation to individual entries is now much easier ... I've got this dumb spacing bug to work out. Nothing in HTML code indicates why spacing should be different for one part of the entry vs. the next. Little help! Blogger's "help" is Horrible. Guess that's what I get for using a "free" service. [note: I've figured out the problem - fixing it involves writing extra coding that I Really don't want to write, so...]
PPPPS I have now reverted to my good ole original template until Blogger fixes the line-spacing glitch.