Saturday, February 17, 2007
Solving time: don't know ... 30?
This puzzle was fairly difficult. Not as much scintillating fill as I'd like to see in a Saturday, and a heavier-than-normal load of made-up-sounding or otherwise barely usable words. Still, it was a reasonably pleasant experience, wherein I heroically recovered from a dreadful, long-lasting mistake on the Very First clue (1A: Facility with many schools) - which I believe HAD to be designed as a trap, given what happened to me. See below.
There is a subtle feminism to this puzzle, with the two long symmetrical Downs containing WOMAN and SISTER:
4D: Miss in a derby? (horsewoman)
26D: Sharer of both parents (full sister)
So SMARTEN UP (54A: Decorate), and be careful whom you call MANNISH (39A: Unfeminine).
1A: Facility with many schools (fish farm)
8D: Pronoun for Pliny (mea)
Up in the "Seattle" region of the grid, I fell into an appropriately (for "Seattle") fishy trap. I was so proud to suss out the meaning of "schools" quite quickly (i.e. I knew the clue was going for a fish-related answer), and the best candidate for an answer in this case was, of course, AQUARIUM. I would not have entered AQUARIUM into the grid, however, if MEA, as a Down cross, had not confirmed the final M. That made AQUARIUM solid. AQUARIUM was anchored (staying nautical with my themery ... nice, huh?) further, into a near intractable position, when it turned out that the "I" gave me a very plausible IDOLIZE for the Down cross 6D: Not merely like - didn't help that the actual correct answer, ADULATE, shares three letters with IDOLIZE, but that's neither here nor there. This is all to say that "Seattle" was recalcitrant and ended up being the very last section of the puzzle to go down. Long crosses up there involved a clue/answer mixed metaphor - 13A: Way over the line (in too deep) - and a word that only a sexologist or the most pompously repulsive lothario would ever use: 16A: Further stirring (rearousal). While I'm up here (in "Seattle"), I have a question about clues with parentheses in them, e.g. 7D: Chafes (at). Now, it was my understanding that the parenthetical part would need to be added to the end of the answer to make sense. Here's an example from Thursday's puzzle - 65A: Scratched (out) => EKED. You EKE out an existence. Thus I do Not understand the use of the parenthetical in the Chafes (at) clue, because the answers is RESENTS, and nobody "RESENTS at" something. If you "chafe at" something, you RESENT it. So why not just remove the parentheses?
Here is my long list of answers that made me wince or say 'ouch' or some such equivalent unpleasant reaction:
19A: Toys, for tots (amusers) - a very cleverly worded clue, but it's deceptively over-restricted: presumably toys are AMUSERS for whoever is playing with them. This clue suggests that adults, or even older children, would be something other than AMUSEd by toys. Bemused? Who knows? I don't like that the "tots" part of the clue is there just for the catchy clue, and not for any inherent reason.
36A: Soft, transversely ribbed fabric (faille) - OK, the only reason this one made me wince was that I had never, ever heard of it and it sounded totally made-up. "Transversely ribbed ... for her pleasure?"
48A: Daring adventurer (swasher) - SWASHbuckler, yes (I think that was a word involved in yesterday's puzzle). But just SWASHER? Too close to SWISHER, not close enough to SWASHBUCKLER.
56A: Sullies (asperses) - You cast ASPERSions. You do not ASPERSE! Or, rather, you should not. I do not deny that ASPERSES is a word. Hey, is this word related to ASPS? ASPERSE should mean "to distribute asps."
10D: Like some poisoning (arsenical) - this was inferrable, but again, ouch. "That poisoning was ARSENICAL." I can't hear anyone going that :) "That was ARSENIC poisoning." Yes. I like words that could actually come out of someone's mouth. No problem with a word if it's the only word that will do, or a particularly apt word, but adjectiving for adjectiving's sake? Grumble.
11D: Go back (retrocede) - "I left my scarf in the house." "Well, you better RETROCEDE and get it!" See, the thing about scientists is that they can make any damn crazy damn entity out of various Latin parts they have lying around, and then call it a word. Is my hairline RETROCEDING? (Answer: sadly, yes, slowly but surely)
26D: Sharer of both parents (full sister) - this is a fine answer; but the whole half- / full- / step- differentiation can get on my nerves a little, in that those prefixes carry value judgments that I don't like. I never use the phrase FULL SISTER in relation to my sister. I have, however, used the phrase REAL SISTER, which, maybe, is worse.
40A: _____ of Court (Inns) - My semi-canonical English Literature education taught me this phrase somewhere along the line
46A: Supplement (codicil) - my big coup of the day. I was elated with this word came to me seemingly out of the blue, with just the final -IL in place. One of those times when you make a big guess with a fancy word and you just know that it's right. (However, cf. AQUARIUM, above)
GLUM seems entirely too anticlimactic an answer to 30A: Saturnine. Eeyore is GLUM. I guess GLUM is an entirely appropriate synonym, but Saturnine makes me think of Saturn (surprisingly), either the planet or the god, so somehow I expect something bigger than merely GLUM. There were two answers (aside from a few already mentioned) that I flat-out didn't know:
21A: Mine shaft borer (trepan)
47D: Jazz singer Anderson (Ivie)
The latter wanted to be EVIE so bad that I was reconsidering my spelling of CODICIL. TREPAN is an anagram of PARENT. And PRE-TAN. And PANTER. And such and such. Ooh, and ENTRAP. That's enough anagramming. I liked that crossword stalwart ESAI (Morales) is here in a very disguised clue, 34D: Tony's player on "NYPD Blue" - very cruel to have the clue refer to a period of the show's run when no one was watching it any more. I spent many minutes trying to remember what Jimmy Smits's name was. Something about the intersection of MINCES (33D: Lessens the force of) and MANNISH (39A: Unfeminine) seems very, very right. I love the misdirection on 43A: Medical school course (ethics) - expect anatomy, get philosophy. Unlike yesterday's olde tyme film obscurities, today's 44D: "Charlie _____ Secret" (1935) (Chan's) is an answer I can really get behind. Detective fiction with an Orientalist slant (!!)? Bring it on! Not sure how to SEGUE (45D: "On a similar note," e.g.) to my final observation. So I won't bother. I'll just say it: I was very disappointed when 18A: Jude, e.g. turned out to be EPISTLE. I really, really wanted it to be OBSCURE.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld