SUNDAY, Jan. 7, 2007 - Ashish Vengsarkar

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Solving time: long story

THEME: "Spellcheck" - not sure how the title applies, but circled squares in theme entries hold letters that are to be pronounced As Letters in correct solution, e.g. 23A: "Absolutely, ambassador" ("Yes, your X-L-N-C")

This was a solving experience that really, really humbled (if not humiliated) me. I soared through the puzzle pretty well - no record time, but I'd say I had the grid filled around the early 20-minute mark. Lots of words I didn't know and names I'd never heard of, but it was done. "Done!" .... "Your grid is incorrectly filled." Hmmm, OK. Check. Check check check. Now I had several candidates for wrongness, and two that presented themselves rather forcefully. Here are the clue answers I had in place in each case:

Case 1:

60D: Carriage (landau)

crossed at the second "A" with

77A: Cuneiform discovery site (Amarna)

Never heard of either of them, and you gotta hate when that happens. So alarms went off and I started plugging in alternative vowels at the crossing. No effect. So I left the most plausible vowel, the original "A," and headed elsewhere. Turns out that a LANDAU is indeed a horse-drawn "carriage" of some sort (see pic) and that AMARNA is a site on the eastern banks of the Nile between Cairo to the north and Luxor to the south. There is a major excavation site there - best evidence of city planning in the ancient Egyptian world (14c. BCE). To learn more, why not try this site? It features a "clickable mummy"!

Case 2:

41D: Tiny time unit: Abbr. (i-sec)

crossed at the "E" by

53A (THEME): Award-winning TV host (L-N-D Generes)

So you're wondering, "Gee [because that's how the voice in your head speaks], why were you concerned about the 'E' crossing and not the 'I'? Didn't you wonder what the "I" in I-SEC stood for? At least SEC has the virtue of being short for a word you know ... what is up with the 'I'?" Well, you are right to ask these things. But the "E" went through Ms. Degeneres's name at a point where it seemed other vowels (namely "I") might be a candidate, whereas the "I" in I-SEC, well that was (in my brain at the time) Rock Solid, as the cross was the indisputable (again, in my brain ... at the time) 39A (THEME): Like some unpopular leaders (buried in F-E-G). So now you're wondering, "But gee, Rex, isn't the phrase actually...?" Oh shut up. Yes, smartypants, you're right. The phrase is actually BURNED IN [EFFIGY] (though Google gives me several pity hits for "buried"). But man that BURIED was like an immovable object. Didn't know what an I-SEC was, but had no problem accepting it - after all, there are always lots of things I don't know in a Sunday puzzle (see Landau, etc., above). Plus, I had had A SEC there earlier, so I had already changed it once. But after combing over the whole puzzle several times, I finally, finally, went back to the one answer that I could not confirm: I-SEC. And then the "I" morphed into an "N." NSEC, or N-SEC, for "nano-second." And BURNED IN [EFFIGY]. It's just a sick feeling being done and stuck and not sure how to get unstuck. Here's a lesson: don't panic. Patience. And stick with the answers that Just Feel Wrong - after you've scanned the puzzle for obvious errors, that is.

This theme was pretty cool - answers were easy to get (uh, BURNED IN F-E-G aside). My very favorite was the dead center answer, which was ALL circled letters: 70A (THEME): Advantageousness (X-P-D-N-C). Did you know there are 16 letters in "Advantageousness?" That's a damn long word.

I am beginning to get my puzzle sea legs, as many answers, once obscure or unknown to me, are starting to come around again. 66D: "I've _____ Strings" (Pinocchio song) [got no] is obvious to animated movie fans, maybe, and is entirely inferrable, I suppose, but it was nice to just Get this after not knowing it last year. Same goes for 54D: ____ Circus (where St. Peter was crucified) [Nero's]. Had to have 109A: Some Wall St. deals (LBO's) explained to me in an earlier commentary, but this time got it straight off. Leveraged Buyouts. Right on! Don't ask me to define it.

Besides my complete melt-down at the end, there wasn't much drama in this solving experience, so I'll just focus on very clever clues and stuff I didn't know. First ...

The Stuff I Didn't Know
(in addition to stuff I've already mentioned)

57D: Fictional knight named for a bird of prey (Sparhawk)

What is it with medieval-esque clues that I Don't Know? Thanks a lot, University of Michigan! Why didn't you teach me what SPARHAWK was? Oh, perhaps because they didn't waste my time teaching me Crap Fantasy Novels (no offense to readers thereof). For someone who used to play Dungeons & Dragons (from ages 10-13 or so) and who became a medievalist later in life, you'd be surprised how much fantasy lit turns my stomach. My wife enjoys some of it. Is Anne McCaffrey fantasy lit? Anyway, SPARHAWK is a character created by fantasy writer David Eddings. You may read about him here.

75A: St.-Tropez's Place des _____ (Lices)

Though I am told that LICES means "jousting ground" (like "lists"?), I still think a re-naming is in order. Otherwise people might suspect that the place was infested with LICES (you know, from all the MICES).

107D: Paraguay and others (rios)

Shouldn't this clue read [Paraguay y otros] or something perhaps in correct Spanish? This is what I would call a very, very arbitrary clue, as, theoretically, ANY river is a RIO if it's being looked at or discussed by a Spanish guy.

87A: Main international airport of Japan (Narita)

Named after Pat Narita, from the Karate Kid movies (shh, I know it's really "Morita"). I could have used my own Mr. Miagi, my own puzzle sensei here, as this was an answer I know I've had before and I still couldn't get it. In fact, one of my desperate acts, when I was flailing around trying to figure out where the grid was wrong, was to change the "T" in this word to "D" (desperately hoping that maybe the puzzle was going for the spelling DAO as opposed to TAO at the cross). No luck.

33D: Oysters _____ season (R IN)

Uh .. what? O crap, apparently there is some "adage" that says you should eat oysters only in months with "R"s in them!?!?! I do not eat oysters, or live anywhere they are served on a regular basis, i.e. near the ocean. I would almost prefer that this answer have been clued [thousandth of a yen], as it was more than six weeks ago - resulting in hundreds of hits to my blog from desperate solvers.

9D: Shaker leader (Ann Lee)
45A: Computer pioneer Lovelace and others (Adas)

These are pretty damned obscure. "Mother" ANN LEE (1736-84) joined the Shakers (offshoot of the Quakers: "what should we call ourselves?" "Hmmm, what rhymes with 'Quakers'? ... I know!") and persuaded much of her family to emigrate with her (from England, duh) to the Shaker colony in present-day Watervliet, NY. She composed wordless hymns (?) that came to her in visions (awesome), which became an accepted Shaker method of hymn composition, if the random website I just read is to be believed. Never heard of this Lovelace guy ... holy crap it's a woman! "Founder of scientific computing!?!?" "Daughter of romantic poet Lord Byron?!" Is this a hoax? Why do I not know this person? Only Lovelace I know: Linda Lovelace.

95D: Talk on and on, Down Under (yabber)

I need a confirmation on this ... DA? You're the official Aussie of US Crossword-dom. I need a ruling. How is it different from YAMMER (or JABBER), and if not at all different, why in the world would you (yes, you, DA) change it? The closest thing we have to YABBER in the U.S. is "Yabba dabba doo!" Oh, and while you're at it, DA, please confirm the validity of the following: 123A: Nickname for Tasmania (Apple Isle). Again, the only frame of reference we have here in the U.S. comes from cartoons:

Very Clever Clues

119D: Not abroad (pas)

Had the P-- and started to get very angry until I got the "S" and then French 101 kicked in. PAS does in fact mean "not."

90D: Two bags of groceries, say (armload)

Love it. Took me a long time to get it (didn't help that it crossed f-ing NARITA - see above). It's a weird word, but it strikes me as perfectly apt, and perhaps used most often in precisely this context, i.e. hauling groceries (although the bags in question, in this clue, would be paper bags, not the now more common plastic ones, which would result in HANDFULS, as they have handles). You could have clued this by reference to a baby ... or fire wood.

71A: Fair fare (corn dog)

Ooh, I love it and hate it in equal measure and nominate it for Best Misdirective Clue of 2007. You've got potential double-meaning on both of the words in the clues. Is "fair" a noun or adjective? (here, actually, a noun used adjectivally) I thought for sure that "fair" meant "reasonable" and "fare" was what you pay to travel on public transportation. And let me tell you, when you're thinking that way, and staring at, let's see ... CO---OG, your first instinct is "???" and your second is "man, something's wrong." The fact that the answer is of the everyday, lowbrow variety make me very happy, as usual.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 2:47 PM  

What a relief-- no food that looks like you've already eaten it.

A puzzle for those who can't spell, which includes LAZ-Boy and CORNDOG-- can't beat that, although I may need to whatch out for an OBCT PROBLEM.

If earlier in the week we had the 50's here we have 1970: Dad sitting in his LAZ-BOY, the REDS win the pennant, Mom is listening to the most recent news about how our SEATO allies are faring against HANOI, as it fights against the residue of Western DOMINION, and Jr. reads Huxley for his English class, thinking SOMA sounds pretty trippy.

Thanks for explaining PAS (my French sucks) and the somewhat disturbing picture of Morita massaging his protégé

- Stu

Rex Parker 3:13 PM  

Somewhat disturbing?

Andrew 3:15 PM  

Why no image of Jabberjaw?

xwords4ever 5:34 PM  

Who colors some of the square? Why?

Donald 5:51 PM  

I count solving time to the last corrected square.

Howard B 8:54 PM  

Ada Lovelace was indeed a real person (outside of the crossword), one of the founders of modern mechanical computing - she even worked on designing some early mechanical computing machines with Charles Babbage (the details of which I'm unsure of beyond that, although I'm sure a good Googling might shed some more light on this).

There is also a programming language named ADA in her honor, which is frequently used by the U.S. government for mission-critical defense systems, aviation and other scary life-and-death-type applications which require a very low (or zero) failure rate.

She's a bit less obscure than many of the names that frequently haunt these puzzles, so as I'm a bit of a 'computer guy', it's my honor-bound duty to mention this stuff.

Anonymous 10:58 PM  

wait a minute, or wait a Nanosecond then i can be burNed in feg. whats 65 down do, re, mi? i've got cde. what the heck is cde?

Anonymous 12:01 AM  

oops do, re, mi as in the musical scale. i was thinking do-re-mi, slang term for money. pretty sad commentary on my minds train of thought.

Anonymous 4:41 PM  

we get the answer 2 weeks late here in Halifax, so I only yesterday saw oysters "rin" season. There's lots I don't know about, but this one wasn't reasonable. 'months with an ___ them' would have been fair.

Anonymous 1:31 PM  

91 Across: EEE (not CCC)

Rex Parker 1:35 PM  

I have no idea what the EEE comment is all about. The grid reads EEE at 91A. Not CCC. What's at issue?


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