Sunday, January 14, 2007
Solving time: 22:57
THEME: "Sounds of Old" - all theme answers are familiar phrases, which originally contained "OLD" but which have had the "OLD" part respelled as a homonym, creating strange phrases which are then reclued, e.g. 37D: Rang true? (tolled it like it is)
Average Sunday for me. Maybe slightly above average - certainly way faster than last week's debacle. My nemesis at the Times applet beat me, though, and has beaten me two days in a row, after I flattened him/her the vast majority of the time over the past two weeks. I'm trying to get that competitive spirit going for Stamford in two months (my competitive spirit, for better or worse, needs very little coaxing to show itself). The theme itself was kind of blah, but much of the non-theme fill was fun and spicy (and tricky). I started out very, very slowly, with hardly anything coming together in the northern climes of the puzzle, and so - for the first time that I can remember, I worked my way through the puzzle diagonally, moving on a nearly perfectly straight NE-to-SW line, so that the whole center region of the puzzle was the first part I substantively finished. I think I really picked up (speed-wise and mood-wise, when I hit the dead center of the puzzle and discovered my newly-beloved DOGLEGS, which has shown up recently and, in conjunction with yesterday's DOGSBODY, caused of lot of DOG-word musing over the past few days by me and other readers (thanks, btw, to the etymology hounds out there, especially the one who provided the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K." reference for DOGSBODY: "I wanna be anarchy! / No dogsbody!" Hot.
1A: Eponymous physicist (Tesla)
I wrote in FERMI. That was the wrong foot on which I got off. I thought for sure that FERMI was some kind of eponym, and he's very crossword-friendly, and he fit, so voila. Shmoila. I got the next Across, 6A: Mary Kay rival (Avon), but the crosses would not come. 10A is clued in reference to another clue so I skipped it. Then hit the NW corner where finally things started coming together. 15D: First name in horror (Lon) was a gimme, as was 17D: Small topper (beanie). They gave me crosses to get 14A: Corroborator, maybe (alibi), and then the rest of the NW came together, only even with the entire first part of the 15-letter 16D (THEME) Comment about suddenly thinner mares? filled in, I had NO idea what the clue was going for. I would solve this later, only after FOURTEEN of the squares were filled in: initially had I KNOW THE-D FOALED - which made no sense. Changed KNOW to KNEW (stupid Bambi! - 31A: "Bambi" character (Ena) - not Ona), and then saw the verb tense / contraction the answer wanted. I KNEW THEY'D FOALED. The "Y" came from 57A: "Funny Girl" composer (Styne), which made me reflect on my as-yet terrible dearth of knowledge about popular composers of the 20th century.
77A (THEME): Played tenpins in officers' uniforms (Bowled as brass)
Took me forever, as I was unfamiliar with the phrase (or thought I was). Had BOWLED ADDRESS for a while and wondered what the hell that meant. My life would have been easier had I known 70D: "Serpico author" (Maas), which would have given me the "A" in BRASS. A whole series of words coming off of this theme answer gave me trouble. SICK CALL (80D: Line of soldiers needing medical attention) isn't really a word I know (and my dad was a doctor in the Army!), and I thought I knew my ankhs, having seen so many stupid ankh tattoos on people (especially women, for some reason) in the 90s, but I somehow neglected the LOOP aspect (116A: Ankh feature). LOOP crosses SICK CALL at the second "L" - and this whole Louisiana region of the puzzle was screwed up (for me) by a tiny, tiny, harmless-seeming answer: 108A: Familiar sigh (Ah, me), which I understandably, and far more in-the-language-ly, had as OH MY. This caused me to take an Eternity to see 97D: Clean up, in a way (bleep!), which sat for many precious seconds as BLYED in my grid, the "D" coming from the stupid "Ankh" clue, which I had not as LOOP but as ROOD (as in "Dream of the ROOD," as in an old-fashioned word for cross, which is essentially what an ankh is ... right?). And so, for a while, nothing happened. BLEEP is a great answer, by the way, however much it tripped me up. It is great in part because if my solving experience had been on TV /radio, the FCC would have had to BLEEP a lot of my language at precisely the moment I was entering that answer.
I finished the puzzle in the NW - where I had my oh-so-inauspicious start. How bad was my second stab at the NW. Consider this: here are the clues for 1D, 2D, and 3D, followed not by their correct answers, but by the answers that I entered off the top of my head (all wrong):
1D: Chuck (hurl)
2D: Parrot (copy)
3D: SeaWorld performer (Orca)
These words do not like to be near each other, I assure you. I don't think the NW would ever have come together if I hadn't finally gotten the last (which was actually, on paper, the first) of the theme answers: 27A: Like shoes made in St. Louis and finished in New Orleans? (soled down the river) - an excellent clue that I only just now gave my full attention. So HURL became TOSS and COPY became ECHO and ORCA became SEAL, bam bam bam. Hit "Done" at that point and found out I'd left a square unfilled - the poor little "A" at the 65D: Kazakhstan's _____ Sea (Aral) / 71A: Certain finish (matte) crossing.
- 23A: Hat with a plume (shako) - this is one of those tall, ridiculous, impractical European military hats. What's the etymology on THIS one? Hang on ... Oh I don't wanna run downstairs and get my barely adequate dictionary. Here's a picture instead:
- 8D: Pearl Buck heroine (Olan) - ugh, Pearl Buck, my most hated of Bucks. She must have a novel on the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list, which means I'll have read at least one thing of hers by the end of the year. Nope, nothing by her on there. Guess I'll have to continue to piece together my knowledge of her solely through solving crosswords.
- 60D: "Blame it on the Bossa Nova" singer, 1963 (Gormé) - yep, officially way before my time, but I've at least heard her name before.
- 68A: Moon of Uranus (Ariel) - This is a Sylvia Plath book to me - that, or the sprite or whatever he is in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Or, oh yeah, the little mermaid in The Little Mermaid. RE: Uranus, I won't comment on the fact - I'll just point out - that this grid has ASS, HOLE, and ANNAL (26A: One year's record) in it.
- 9D: Elementary particle (neutrino) - I put this here because I got it with just the "N" in place, but I'd be lying if I suggested I could tell you anything even semi-substantive about a NEUTRINO. I'd heard of it, it fit, there it is.
Lastly, congratulations to Harvey ESTES, not only for writing a very entertaining puzzle, but for managing to work his name into the grid - subtle (30D: Opera singer Simon _____). It is a measure of his (no doubt) considerable humility and self-deprecating nature that he made his name cross with both 44A: "Gr-r-ross!" ("Yecch!") and 46A: Got a facial piercing (holed one's nose).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld