Saturday, February 24, 2007
Solving time: 21 min. and change
[updated 1:25 pm]
Blogger is acting up for the first time in a good long time today, so who knows what this entry will look like. Every time I try to do a shortcut (for BOLD, for instance), the shortcut (in this case, Ctl-B) won't work - today, Ctl-B is giving me a backspace?! My keyboard feels sticky and non-responsive in general. Not sticky like syrup-sticky - like the keys are stickING ... you know what I mean. Ugh.
So this puzzle is gorgeous. A perfect combination of Smooth and Complex. You really, really can tell the difference between a piece of cruciverbial artistry and a run-of-the-mill puzzle; there is nothing (or very, very little) that feels clunky or forced about this puzzle. You can tell that a lot of care has gone into every detail, every intersection and juxtaposition. I shouldn't have gushed about the puzzle at the NYT Forum, because now I'm starting too feel like I'm repeating myself - at any rate, this is a near perfect late-week puzzle: challenging, cleverly clued, with varied and lively fill, and yet with absolutely nothing (with maybe one exception) that isn't at least a reasonably familiar word, concept, phrase, or name.
I'll start with my one "!?!?!?" moment, which provides a good example of a common solver pitfall: proper parsing.
10A: In line with (as per)
The "S" in this answer was the very last square I filled in, and I did so only tentatively: what the hell does ASPER mean? Presumably an ASPER is someone who hunts asps (for a living?). I tried to pronounce it different ways - I tried to plug it into sentences wherein one might use the phrase [In line with] ... nothing. I don't know how long it took for the word to finally break in two along the proper fault, but it finally did, prompting an out-loud groan that nearly woke my wife. Technically, I had finished this puzzle in under 20, but I refused to look at the clock until I understood what made ASPER right. Thankfully, all of the crosses were Rock Solid - the "S" came from 11D: Cable option (SHO), and I can tell you that no other letter in the alphabet can go in that "S" spot to provide a sensible answer. Believe me, I tried.
17A: "The Prisoner of Zenda" setting (Ruritania)
The second reference to this book in the past week or so! I feel like the universe (or Byron Walden) is telling me to read it. I do own a copy - a very early Bantam paperback, with cover art by classic illustrator / artist Edgard Cirlin. It looks like this:
Seriously, it's a bit absurd that I own so many books and yet have read only about 2% of them. My house is full of books never read. For an English Ph.D., I am astonishingly under-read. I watch TV and do puzzles. O, and I read comics, but even there, it's a struggle. They pile up if I don't read them, so I'm compelled to read them, but ... well you can see that I've somehow lost the art of reading for pleasure joy, if I ever knew said art at all.
19A: Those, in San José (esos)
34A: Subject of the 2006 documentary "Toots" (Shor)
4D: "Family Guy" mom (Lois)
21D: Big _____ (Sur)
32D: A.C.C. school (UNC)
43D: "Baby _____ You" (1962 hit) ("It's")
Gimme all of these! An unusual number of gimmes for a Saturday, but I'm not complaining. SHOR would Not have been a gimme for me even three months ago, but this is the third time this year (at least) that I have seen TOOTS or SHOR clued in relation to this restaurateur. I've even blogged about him before - again, the blogging pays off (see also OBE - 53D: U.K. honor [shouldn't that be "honour"?] - which I also know Only from crosswords / blogging). LOIS is Hot. I mean that metaphorically as well as literally.
20A: "_____ say it is good to fall": Whitman, "Song of Myself" ("I also...")
A good example of a quotation you are not likely to know at sight, but that you can get from piecing together the crosses. Speaking of my not being well read ... never read Whitman! I bought "Leaves of Grass" as an anonymous Xmas gift for some needy local school / boys' home (they specifically requested it, among other things), and that is likely as close as I'll come to reading it in my lifetime. Life's too short, and I haven't even read Dostoevsky yet. Whitman doesn't really have a shot. In other poetry news, BYRON (3D: Originator of the phrase "truth is stranger than fiction") is just downriver from the Whitman quotation. I do love when constructors work their own names into puzzles. Which reminds me: I have not seen REX in a puzzle in a while - TREX does Not count!
22A: _____ for peace (Sue)
Why did this take me so long to get!?!?! I was thinking it was some plural noun, like RNS or PAS. "SUE for peace" seems a very dated, if not exceedingly old phrase - something one would do to a lord or count or king or something. SUE is also the name of my aunt (the third Alcorn sister, along with my mom and my ever-generous aunt Nancy)
Just got an emergency call - wife left her White Belt here, and she is testing in 39 minutes, so I have to rush it out to her, NOW.
Well that took longer than I'd anticipated. I decided to get lunch on the way home from dropping of Sandy's white belt and then I ate lunch in front of the TV while watching DVD commentaries of episodes of "The Office," Season 2. And now here I am. My wife and daughter both passed their tests and are now yellow and orange belts, respectively.
49A: Lesser star designation in a constellation (eta)
A very mean way to clue this answer. I still have no idea what "lesser star designation" means. ETA is a letter of the Greek alphabet and an abbrev. for Estimated Time of Arrival. But today's Saturday, so like AURIGA many Saturdays ago, I have random constellation clues to deal with. Fair enough. So if you're counting at home, the highest-ranking items in the "Things I really don't know" category are Constellations, European rivers, and the career of Sidney Poitier. Oh, and Biblical and/or Hebraic and/or Ancient Near Eastern things, e.g. 25D: Ancient rival of Assyria (Elam). I also did not know the related, more modern 27D: Last king of Egypt (Farouk), but, to my credit, I did have it as FARRAD, which is almost close.
50A: Query to the Lord in Matthew (Is it I?)
43D: "Baby _____ You" ("It's")
I do love this intersection. I just like the idea of the Lord answering Matthew's query with a deep, soulful, Barry White-esque, "Baby, it's you." Someone at the NYT Forum mentioned the gloriousness of this intersection earlier today, but I had this observation cued up and ready to go before I ever read the Forum, just for the record. And that person certainly did not name-drop Barry White. Still, I really really have to try harder not to read other people's writing on the puzzle before I'm done! Throws off my commentating mojo.
7D: As a 16-year-old actor, youngest nonroyal with an individual portrait in Britain's National Portrait Gallery (Daniel Radcliffe)
At the Forum (again) I claimed that I had no idea who this was. Turns out, he is Harry Potter, and since I've seen at least one of those movies, I guess I did have some idea of who DANIEL RADCLIFFE is, but I'd forgotten. I did not realize that the "16-year-old actor" part of the clue meant that the actor was, today, like, right now, 16 years old. I thought it meant that the portrait had been done when he was 16. How strenuously did I try to make DANIEL DAY LEWIS fit? Very. "Is there an 'E' on the end of 'DAY'... maybe?"
28D: Seat, quickly (ush)
The most made-up sounding entry in the whole lot. I had the "S" only for a while, and kept thinking, ".... no ... no it can't be ..." And I was right, it wasn't ASS. I guess that USH is the verb describing what USHers do.
45D: It has a certain ring to it (atoll)
What is it with words that have something to do with "rings" that also share multiple letters with AREOLA!? Yesterday it was ARENAS, now this. ARENAS, for the record, can / should be clued in relation to the NBA, one of whose greatest current players is named Gilbert ARENAS. He wears the #0, which I think is hot. Not LOIS hot, but hot.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld