SATURDAY, Jan. 6, 2007 - Robert H. Wolfe

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Solving time: untimed

THEME: me, wincing

As with yesterday's puzzle, very little fun here. This puzzle does have one of the best clue/answer pairings of all time (see below), but mostly the answers made me wince, cringe, and grimace. My pace felt very odd, like I'd be very stuck, and then I'd solve a whole chunk of the puzzle in one shotgun burst. Was the shotgun RECOILLESS (22A: Having very little kick)? Hmmm, not exactly. RECOILLESS was one of the wince-inducing words, though over 200K Google hits say it is, in fact, a word. It feels terribly made-up. Why not RECOIL-FREE, which is easier to say and doesn't sound like you're mispronouncing a foreign word? In general, I much prefer Saturday puzzles that are hard because of tricky cluing to Saturdays that are hard because they have over-relied on the darkest corners of the dictionary.

TOP FIVE WINCES:

  • 47A: Like a string bean (tall and slim) - A string bean cannot be TALL unless we are in some alternate fairy-land veggieverse, which we are not. I understand that the term "string bean" is used colloquially to refer to a TALL AND SLIM person, but this cluing is off. I mean, once I had the TALL- part, I could guess the rest (though I thought LEAN at first instead of SLIM), but still, wince, cringe, grimace.
  • 31D: Voiced bits of speech (sonants) - It's like a typo of "sonatas" - again, like RECOILLESS, it's hard to imagine anyone's using it without that person's interlocutor going "... what?" See also the very funny recent bit on "30 Rock" where an actress is starring in a movie called Rural Juror, which no one can pronounce without sounding ridiculous. Just comes out sounding like "RuhhJuhh." SONANTS sounds too much like "sonnets." It must be related to CON-SONANTS. Oh, I guess that's because consonants go "with" (CON) sonants, which are mostly vowel sounds ... although some consonant sounds are voiced: B is, P isn't. Essentially same lip/tongue movement, but B gets voiced. My piecemeal knowledge of linguistics is at an end.
  • 7D: Boils down (decocts) - Let me count the ways that this answer blows. No One Would Ever Say It. It appears to be reverse-engineered from CONCOCTS (an actual word with 10 times as many Google hits as DECOCT). Apparently, when you extract the flavor of something by boiling it, you DECOCT it. It's just an ugly, ugly word.
  • 43A: Relish (piccalilli) - What is it with long, long words I've never heard of that describe food that looks like vomit!? Yesterday I had to endure NESSELRODE, and today, this ridiculous-sounding condiment. A bit too close to PICKANINNY if you ask me. Wife Sandy says her "Gran" used to make it, a fact which does not abate my distaste for this word (and, in all probability, the "relish" itself - if the picture is any indication). I didn't have the first part of the word right until this morning. In fact, I had DECCALILLI. Like I'm supposed to know 43A: Tom Courtney's [who?] "Doctor Zhivago" role (Pasha). I was super-proud when I flat-out guessed SASHA and it turned out to be mostly right. I wish I had remembered Crossword Fiend's lesson a while back (I forget where she set it forth) about the differences between ELSA and ILSA and which was a lion and which was not. ILSA looks like the lion's name. I think it's the "IL" beginning, which reverses the beginning of LION. At any rate, the SW was not kind to me.
  • 53A: Chiselers (stone men) - I have tried many different Google searches to make this clue-answer pairing make sense. I have not heard of a sculptor of rock called a "stone man" (or "stoneman," for that matter). It may be in an unabridged dictionary somewhere (mine's in the mail!) but it's not in any of the on-line variety. STONE MEN are things that one chisels - they don't do the chiseling. If you Google ["stone men"] you get lots of stuff, but nothing about "chiselers," unless what they are "chiseling" is in fact STONE MEN - as in this 1953 Time magazine article about Polish sculptor Fritz Wotruba (now there's some hot fill). My favorite Stone Men are the ones who bailed out of their malfunctioning spaceship, landing on Easter Island, where they put themselves into a state of suspended animation while waiting for their captain to return with the repaired ship to rescue them.
  • Honorable Mention: 34A: Vernacular (demotic)
1A: Cranberry center (Cape Cod)

This answer was a humiliating disaster for me. My first thought was - for some reason - that the answer must be somewhere in Maine. So my brain never left Maine. Even when I was staring at CA__CO_, I was still trying to think of Maine cities besides Bangor, Augusta, Orono, and however you spell Kennebunkport. Then I got the "P" from PERSPIRED (3D: Didn't stay dry) and at that point I believe I literally said "D'OH!" out loud. Would have struck my forehead with my palm, but I was holding a sharp writing implement.

PROUDEST MOMENTS:

I was stuck very early in the puzzle. Started getting a toehold only by using the imagined final "S" on clues that looked like plurals, e.g. 6D: Some Siouans - I didn't know it right off the bat, but I figured it ended in "S," so put in the "S" and was able instantly to get the cross, 25A: Not spontaneous (studied). [Eventually got the 6D answer itself: OSAGES] But after I got 20D: Fair selection (ride) off the first "D" in STUDIED, I was pretty stuck and abandoned the midwest for the far southwest of the puzzle. Here's where I had great, lucky success. Again, with the terminal "S" trick, I got the first "S" in 54A: To-do list (tasks). Then, with just the terminal "K" in place, I immediately got the 10-letter 24D: One being counter-productive? (sales clerk), which I confirmed with the oddly but acceptably spelled 23A: Protection (egis), which crossed SALESCLERK at the first "S." The other correct and large leap of faith I was able to make in this puzzle was 50A: Five-time Art Ross Trophy winner (Esposito), which I got with just the "E" in place. O, and I got 29D: Result of a coup (new regime) with just the "IM" in place.

55A: Asses with dorsal stripes (onagers)

A factoid that resides in my brain for reasons unbeknownst to me. This answer reminds me simultaneously of LIGERS, TIGONS, and OKAPIS (my favorite X-Word animal). Here is a good view of the dorsal fin, I mean stripe, in question:


Google image search of [onager] gives back only two kinds of images: asses and catapults (which would make a great title for ... something):


Final notes: Got very very thrown by the -EU- in 33D: Investigator who finds someone's birth mother, say (re-uniter). Until the RE- prefix dawned on me, I was wondering what kind of hellish German word I was dealing with. I have seen the word MARTEN (17A: Valuable fur) before, but as of this second, I have no idea what that animal looks like. O MY GOD it's the Cutest Thing In The World - Why would you kill and wear it? You people are sick. Unless you are Inuit / freezing to death, you have no business wearing MARTEN. Had only one fit of wrong fill in the puzzle - STOCKS for STORES (15A: Inventories) - a mistake I made only because I could "smell the barn" (my friend Michelle's expression for when you are very near the end of your run, and so pick up the pace). Biggest nobody in the puzzle: 28A: Sir Frank _____, historian of Anglo-Saxon England (Stenton). How do I know he's a nobody? Because I was Trained as a Medievalist at a semi-major University and I've Never Heard of Him - OK, so Anglo-Saxon England isn't my personal specialty, but still, you'd think his name would have crossed my field of vision in my 8 years spent buried under all things medieval. My favorite word that sounds made-up but I don't care: DE-RAT (26A: Make more sanitary, in a way). Awesome understated clue! Like someone's going to cut meat on your kitchen counter and you say "wait, let me DE-RAT the counter first." Good idea!

Two weird architectural features of the puzzle.
  1. NEWTON SQUARE - the name I'm giving the 3x3 square in the Virginia region of the puzzle, whose sides are made up of only NEW and TON (2 of each). Look. You'll see what I mean.
  2. The other, less symmetrical but no less mesmerizing physical feature of the grid is the crazy diagonality that you can get going off of the last 4 letters in 1D: Was logically consistent (cohered). From the first "E" and "R" you can see diagonal runs of the same letter heading NE (4 E's, 4 R's) and off the final "E" and "D" you can see diagonal runs of the same letter heading SE (5 E's, 3 D's). I circled the diagonal runs, as if I were doing a Word Search. Oh, the whole "E" and "D" runs result in a 3-tiered stack of DE- words in the W part of the puzzle: DERAT, DELIS (30A: People often leave them with cuts - nice!), and DEMOTIC. If only DECOCTS had been down here, I might not have hated it ... as much.
Finally, I officially nominate the following for the cleverest clue of 2007:

32A: Toast, after "a" (goner)

I didn't get this until it was Right On Top of me (G__ER) - I had been thinking (as I was supposed to) that "toast" meant something you give at a wedding or special occasion, like "À votre santé!" or the like - and then the gist of the clue hit me, and I had that "wow" feeling you're SUPPOSED to have when a clue has had its way with you. It's like in tennis when someone hits a winner so spectacular that your awe for your opponent actually overcomes your sickness at dropping the point. Head-shaking disbelief. Good job. Game over.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. breaking news - there are many NEWTON SQUARES in America, including one in Reston, VA, origin (coincidentally?) of a great many hits to this website. Hmmm... I feel like there is something cryptic or coded that I'm supposed to understand about this NEWTON SQUARE, which, as I said, is in the VIRGINIA area of the puzzle ...

7 comments:

Anonymous 12:13 PM  

The Ass & Catapult.....sounds like an Aussie pub to me.

Orange 12:28 PM  

My sources tell me stonemen is indeed in the Random House Unabridged Dictionary.

NEWTON Square: You have uncovered the secret fig conspiracy.

Speaking of food, I beg you, no more food photos! My poor grandma died only a month ago and now you've sullied her memory by showing me what she and her Polish caregiver voluntarily ingested.

Oznor 3:43 PM  

An Ass with dorsal stripes is the person that wrote this puzzle. Mr. Onager, I presume...

Orange 4:37 PM  

An ass with dorsal stripes is someone who blames someone else for his own ignorance...

And I have to stand up to defend the honor of anyone called Mr. Onager, because it's an anagram of "orange."

Linda G 5:34 PM  

My husband's grandmother used to make piccalilli and it was delicious. It tasted much better than the picture would make it seem. Maybe nesselrode tastes good...but who wants to find out?

I didn't do much better with this one than I did the real-time puzzle. I can't wait until Monday so I can feel smart again.

P.S. Rex -- How can someone with a PhD in Medieval Literature NOT like and/or appreciate clues about old things?

Anonymous 5:56 PM  

i realize i am six weeks late, but this puzzle made me wince too. and it didn't help that i had 'recocts' in the upper quadrant, which is an actual word too.

Anonymous 4:41 PM  

A little full of yourself...don't ya think?

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