Saturday, March 17, 2007
Solving time: long-ish
One of the hardest puzzles in recent memory. When I'd finished, I had four squares circled as possible mistakes. Irony: I had one mistake, and it was Not a square I'd circled. Ugh. Even Saturdays should not have to go to morbid obscurity for more than a couple answers, at most. This puzzle went there a Lot. A very Maleskan grid, with very little post-Carter administration fill. It may sound like I had no fun, but that's not true. The whole thing was a nice mixture of struggle and success - I'm just not used to finishing a puzzle with So Much grid uncertainty. So I'll start with the stealth square that did me in, and then work through other thorny bits, ending with what was freshest and coolest.
10D: Aviation entrepreneur Sir Freddie _____ (Laker)
18A: Olympic skating champion between Kristi and Tara (Oksana)
The latter was a near-gimme. I had the "A"s in place and I knew the answer. Sadly, I apparently did not know how to spell the answer. I was certain that OKSANA had an "X" in her name, and so I didn't blink at all at the spelling OXSANA. I just thought "Yes, the "S" is redundant, but ... it's foreign, so spelling / schmelling." As for Mr. LAKER, the clue itself basically screamed "HA ha, you do NOT know this." The very phrase "Sir Freddie" makes me laugh. I had LAXER for his last name. Since LAX is the airport code for L.A. Int's Airport, I had at least a very thin connection to aviation there.
49A: Packhorse or mule (sumpter)
40D: Strong Greek wine (retsina)
Flat-out cruelty. I mean, this is Saturday crotch-kicking at its purest. I am strangely not furious, mainly because they are both words in the dictionary, and they aren't clued badly. Plus I guessed that "T" at their intersection correctly, so how mad can I be? I did have "S" there for a good long while, because RESSINA sounded So Much More Reasonable. But SUMPSER ... I could not take that "word" seriously, so eventually I took the risk on RETSINA and it paid off. I always thought that when Certs breath mints advertised that their special ingredient was "RETSIN," they were just yanking my chain. Sounded completely made-up. But now I know that RETSIN is derived from a semi-obscure Greek wine. Live and learn. (It's actually spelled RETSYN, I guess, and its ingredients can be found here)
35A: One of four in mythology: Abbr. (syl.)
37D: French astronomer who wrote the seminal "Celestial Mechanics" (Laplace)
This intersection pretty much had to be an "L," but o my god what the hell??? I have a little experience with mythology, but as of right now, SYL = a mystery to me. SYLPHS? SYLVANS? OK, it just dawned on me that it's short for SYLLABLE (as in "the word 'mythology' has four syllables"), and I am going to Super-Challenge. First, go here, and see that that is not listed as an option for that abbreviation. I can see from various sites that it has some currency in linguistics. The one "L" seems wrong wrong wrong. Just grating and annoying, this clue. Way worse than SUMPTER / RETSINA, in that it's cheap. Oh, I almost forgot: Pierre-Simon LAPLACE. Uh, yeah. He's a French mathematician and astronomer. Andrew or maybe Byron can explain why I should care.
24A: Plays out (unreels)
The "R" made me uneasy. I am imagining reel-to-reel tape or film of some kind. I don't think I've ever seen this word or could use it in a sentence. The "R" was the part of Freddie LAXER's name that I thought I might have wrong. Turns out it was the "X."
OK, that's all the negative stuff I have to say about this puzzle. The good stuff:
47A: "Hair of the dog" alternative (aspirin) - the answer's kinda blah, but the clue rules
45A: Tolstoy's "Voyna i _____" (Mir) - I don't know Russian, but figured this had to be the Russian equivalent of "War and _____." If it weren't for the very famous Space Station, this clue would be totally unfair.
2D: Magazine of the National Space Society (Ad Astra) - I swear to you that, despite never having heard of it, I got this answer with just the "D" in place. Seriously, one of the most amazing, out-of-body, where-the-hell-did-that-come-from serendipitous moments in my history of solving. I hadn't even seen the companion clue 4D: Like 2-Down: Abbr. (Lat.) yet! The NW would have been a Lot harder, I think, were it not for this bit of good fortune. I was also substantially aided by my mother's bookshelf, which is the only reason that 15A: Masters of verse (Edgar Lee) was a gimme for me. I can still see that cheap paperback, for some reason. Of course, I never read it, but now I can almost feel as if I have. The NW actually has two sets of companion clues in the NW: the aforementioned Latin stuff, and then 17A: Bars on bases (canteens) paired with 19A: Operator of 17-Across, for short (USO). CANTEENS took me too long (I was playing episodes of "M*A*S*H" in my head over and over trying to see if any character would just say the damned word!), but USO helped me confirm my miraculous guess of AD ASTRA, for which I thank it. Lastly for the NW, I have never heard of, and like, the term RAILBIRD (1A: Racetrack habitué). If it's obscure, it should at least be inferrable or make sense, and this answer does. 28A: Sophia Loren/Paul Newman comedy, 1965 (Lady L) was a cheap shot - as far as I was concerned, that "L" could have been Any Letter - but the very gettable cross, 5D: Line delivered before lines are delivered ("break a leg") made everything OK.
The NE was mostly uneventful (except for the OXSANA / OKSANA debacle), but it is the home of my first correct answer - ALBUMS (9A: They have many cuts, typically - a nice clue). This made a lot of the Down crosses in the NE quite easy. In retrospect, I was surprised how long it took for me to get 16A: "The Night Listener" novelist (Maupin). If this guy had been clued as "Tales of the City" novelist, I would have made short work of him. The "Tales of the City" novels were super popular among many of my friends in college, back in "the day." Back when I used to actually read from time to time (now I just fake it).
50A: Seniors (golden-agers)
20A: An old secretary might sit in one (antique shop)
Like the rotational symmetry of this geriatric and faux-geriatric clue pairing!
Normally not exceedingly fond of the "?" clues, but this grid had some choice ones, including
- 42D: Potter's field (sorcery) - Harry Potter clues on back-to-back days. This isn't part of some promotional campaign for the upcoming release of the 7th and final book in the series, is it?
- 58A: Critic with an opposable thumb? (Roeper) - this guy's kind of a tool, but nice cluing anyway
- 32A: Result of running off? (xerox copy) - I was fortunate in that the first time I ever looked at this clue, I already had the two "X"s in place!
- 26D: One working on a canvas? (boxer)
- 57A: Roast ingredient? (one-liner) - the worst of them, and yet still pretty good
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld