THURSDAY, Jan. 4, 2007 - Alan Olschwang

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Solving time: Under Protest

THEME: Punctuation - Rebus (or so I thought) puzzle where punctuation symbols stand in for letters in theme answers and their crosses, e.g. 49A: President (,nder-in-chief - that is [COMMA]nder-in-chief)

Oh, applet. Applet, applet, applet. If it's a rebus, then symbols go where letters normally would. So why, when I put all the right symbols in the right places, would you Not Accept My Grid!? I know, I'm a novice at the applet, and I should have known the rule (is it a rule?) that you just put in the First Letter of whatever symbol or idea or multi-letter entry is supposed to go there. I figured this out very very late. My official time is something over 20 minutes, which is ridiculous. I'm guessing it was closer, much closer, to 10, but I'll never know, as I didn't look at the time when I first pressed "DONE" and I had hidden the clock anyway. So ugh x infinity. Plus one. But seriously, for this puzzle of all puzzles, why not just accept the . and , and : and - ?

I will wait til tomorrow to blog this, as my frustration is too fresh for me to see the puzzle clearly. It has many fine features, and my big big problems were in the N and especially NW, where 14A: Puncture (hole) eluded me til the Very Last Second (or what would have been the Very Last Second if the applet had behaved properly). I had BORE, both because I did not know 3D: Asia's Trans _____ Mountains (Alai) (I had URAL at first), and because I could not see 1D: Tool holder (shed) for the life of me and thought maybe an S-BED was something... that's my favorite preposterous supposition in a good long while. Both the SHED and the HOLE clues are pretty tricky, the former because "holder" somehow suggests a belt or some other implement actually keeping the tools in place or elevated, and the latter because "puncture" immediately suggests verb, not noun (though upon reflection, yes, "puncture" can indeed be a noun). So when the applet rejected my first come-on, I thought my NW corner was still f-ed up. The whole SHED-HOLE struggle had me doubting myself. But after many, many diligent scans of the Entire Grid, I decided no, the grid is right ... there is a technical problem. When I saw that you cannot put more than 4 letters in a single square, I thought "well, COMMA has five letters, so that will never work," and so I remained stumped until I finally read the fine print about the first letter of a symbol being adequate. Even when I changed all the symbols to letters, I was very very dubious that this would have any effect. And yet ... tada!

43D: Pork _____ (loin)
51D: Show eager anticipation (drool)

These words really should not be anywhere near each other, especially with NUDE (21D: Botticelli subject) and CRAVE (52D: Hunger for) so nearby. It's all too disturbing. ABRADES (42D: Rubs) isn't helping.

48A: Having I-strain? (selfish)
9D: Small bag (carry-on)

These words both want to be other words. Every time I look at this grid I keep seeing SHELLFISH - the word sits underneath PAELLA for god's sake (44A: Spanish entree) - and CRAYON. Likewise, REINA (19A: Isabel, for one) looks like its missing a "T" and SHIRR - well that word just looks wrong in any context.

63A: Singular, to Caesar (rara)

Ooh, I don't like this. "Singular" seems to imply, if not outright declare, ONE-ness, where RARA means "rare." I understand that somehow, colloquially, "singular" means exceptional and not necessarily unique, but still, I was looking for some form of one, like UNA or something.

20A: Condescend (deign)
32A: Poured (rained)
19A: Isabel, for one (reina)
58D: Skates (rays)
66A: Uncommon trick taker (trey)

When the REINA would not DEIGN to help her subjects, God sent a plague: it RAINED RAYS for TREY days.

9D: Small bag (carry-on)

Hmmm. "Small" compared to what? A CARRY-ON is huge compared to a toiletries bag (which, incidentally, I no longer CARRY ON airplanes, as officials are sure to confiscate it for its dangerous shampoos and unguents). I really wish this answer had been clued ["_____ My Wayward Son"].

15A: "The Last of the Mohicans" woman (Cora)
68A: _____ Gwyn, mistress of Charles II (Nell)

These two answers were blind spots for me, but gimmes for Polly (my new name for my wife - I've been instructed by Andrew not to refer to her as "Wife" anymore, as it sounds misogynist, bigoted [I wrote "bigtoed" just now, ha ha], and hateful to him. Done and done, sir). This is the second CORA this week that I haven't known. Makes me wish for the return to the puzzle of Irene CARA. My knowledge of Fenimore Cooper's work begins and ends with Twain's evisceration thereof - one of the greatest pieces of humor / literary criticism ever written, especially if you have ever been forced to endure a Cooper novel. NELL Gwyn was somewhere in the back of my mind, as I have a friend / colleague who is deliriously and orgasmically in love with all things Charles II. Seriously. He came [!] dressed as Charles II to a Halloween party last year (I, on the other hand, put on my Batwoman T-shirt, then spent the rest of the night saying "... no, BatWOMAN ... she's a lesbian now, you know...").

25A (THEME): Sprint (hundred yard -)
13D (THEME): Haphazardly (slap -)

SLAP [DASH] gave me the theme in one epiphanic moment early in the solving experience. Or, rather, it clued me into the rebusness. I thought [DASH]es would be everywhere, but then [COMMA]NDER-IN-CHIEF forced a reconsideration of that assumption. The theme answer it somehow took me longest to get was 40A: Without a regular schedule (a[period]ically), first because it's a word you hardly ever hear, and second because in puzzle-rush mode, I was not paying attention to precisely where rebuses should go. The Down cross, 29D: Week or month at the office, usually (pay [period]), was not helping, as I had only the PA- (the "Y" being as yet invisible because SYM (37A: Kind of orch.) is not an abbrev. with which I was familiar, though yes I can see that it stands for "SYMphony"). Where was I? O, the themes. The [colon] was also tricky at first - even after I had figured out 33A: Haiti, once (French [colon]y)), I couldn't get 35D: Wearers of eagle insignias ([colon]els) for way too long. Wanted COLONIALS or COLONISTS. Damn Your Unphonetic Spelling, COLONELS!

Enjoyed seeing 59A: Sci-fi figure ('droid) in the grid. Like the way DIOR (31A: Classic Paris couture house) is sitting in a very neatly centered way right atop the FRENCH in FRENCH [COLON]Y. Somewhere I.M. PEI and Mr. and Mrs. ROPER (from TV's "Three's Company" as well as the short-lived spin-off "The Ropers") are feeling slighted that they were passed up as cluing options in this puzzle (see 44D: Canadian prov. and 22A: Rodeo performer - the latter of which I had initially answered with CLOWN, which, coincidentally, was what I felt like when I kept getting rejected by the applet ... and the commentary has come full circle).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


xwd_fiend 9:20 AM  

S-BED: IN the UK at least, a "Z-BED" is a folding bed for guests. That plus "S-Bend" makes S-BED a very understandable slip.

Rex Parker 9:31 AM  

Thank you for the well-meaning if far-fetched attempt at consolation, xwd_fiend. It's appreciated. :)


Orange 9:50 AM  

See, that's the thing about Thursday—not only are there often gimmicks to contend with, but the cluing shoots up in difficulty and one has to start questioning the first interpretation of a clue, like [Puncture].

Where does the reina in Spain mainly fall? And shouldn't she wear more sensible shoes if she's falling in the plain?

Thanks for the Kansas reference. It is incumbent upon me to point out their album-title wordplay: the Leftoverture mash-up and Point of Know Return. Here's a picture of the band in their current incarnation.

Polly want a cracker?

I thought CLOWN was a gimme, too. Alas, 'twas not.

Rex Parker 9:55 AM  

One word re: that Kansas photo:



Frustrated crossworders 10:44 AM  

Dear Rex Parker,

You are an arrogant jerk. We hate you.

But without your crossword blog, we would have no idea what to do.

Rex Parker 11:06 AM  

Uh ... thanks?

Peace be with you.


shaun 12:13 PM  

Re: "Wife." I am reminded that many years ago, in your single-man days, you also balked at my usage of "husband" in a similar vein. Still, I kinda like it.

Also, I am a little sad not to be mentioned in conjunction with Nell Gwyn -- I once had a cake with a picture of Charles II on it, Dammit! And did you know that there is a Nell Gwyn china pattern? File that away for your colleague next Christmas.

Polly 12:32 PM  

As long as I can be Polly Plummer. She was kind of cool. Not Polly the Parrot. If I was a bird I'd want to be the owl Rex and I saw in the woods yesterday. We think it was one of these:

My novice white-belt solver status meant that I gave up on the puzzle early and went to sleep. This morning I was too tired to care, or to be polite about it. I'm still working on conquering the Mon, Tue, and Weds puzzles in my book. But I'll get to Thursday eventually. Because I am on a quest to be the best ... puzzler.

Rex Parker 12:42 PM  

OK, our owl was Not sitting atop a dead rodent. It was, however, supercool and just spitting distance away. Polly Parker scared it with a high-pitched hooting sound that was strangely not a bird call but an attempt, I finally realized, to get my attention. The owl looked at us like "what the ...!?" and then moved a little further away to another branch nearby. Then it spied the dog, looked at the dog suspiciously, from many neck-craning-angles, and then decided "I'm outta here" and flew awesomely, silently away. We also saw a white-tailed deer yesterday, spied only because the dog went ahead on the path and flushed it. Moral: best time for woods excursion = 1 hr before sundown. Wildlife aplenty. Oh, and if you want wildlife to stay visible for more than 2 seconds, leave dog at home.


Polly 12:53 PM  

Who the heck is Polly Parker? I'm Polly Plummer. Google "Polly Parker" and your first hit is a real estate broker in Boca Raton. And since I know how you like to use Google as a measure of worth, I'm not flattered. I'd rather be called "wife." Come to think of it, I'm actually related to a real estate agent in Boca Raton.

Rex Parker 12:56 PM  

Isn't it enough that you kept your name in real life? Can't I imagine that you took my imaginary name in my imaginary world that I created?

Fine, Polly Plummer it is. Do not expect to find your last name mentioned often in CrossWorld.


Chris 2:54 PM  

In 8th grade I chose Last of the Mohicans to write a book report on. I thought it would be as awesome as the movie was. Not so. There's a reason why the movie doesn't stick too closely to the book.

Howard B 7:41 PM  

The first time I tried out the Times applet on a rebus puzzle, I had the same experience as you, although I may have vented a bit on Crossword Fiend about it at the time (Retroactively sorry about that, Orange!). On the applet I think the first-letter trick is the way to go; it probably is an older applet that hasn't been coded to deal with special characters and strings in the way AcrossLite handles them.

Alternatively (and rather clumsily) in the Times applet, if the rebus is a two- to four-letter string, you can enter them by pressing the plus (+) key 1 to 3 times before entering the string (one for each extra letter). So if the rebus phrase was 'REX', you could type ++REX to register all three letters. The puzzle will accept these when appropriate. It may look a little cleaner, but that's about the only benefit.
(AcrossLite allows strings of longer lengths by starting with the Insert key, by the way).

This posting was brought to you by the letters 'comma' and 'dash'.

martin 5:40 PM  

The theme opened up for me at the PAY PERIOD/APERIODICALLY crossing. I generally find the gimmicky rebus puzzles annoying on weekdays but acceptable on Sundays. Go figure. I also had trouble with the far north, after EMAIL instead of ERROR and RIDER instead of ROPER.

Nadja 3:34 PM  

I found your blog by googling for a particularly hard clue.

I'm curious about these themes, I haven't been puzzling long, and I don't understand how anyone would ever just guess that they can put punctuation in the puzzle! When you do the puzzles online do they say the theme? I do mine on paper in the Oakland Tribune (so I'm way behind you) and the theme is never stated, therefore I spent a lot of time cursing at this puzzle before turning to your blog for help.

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