Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Solving time: untimed, but pretty fast - probably 5 or so (on paper)
THEME: IRISH COUNTIES (49A: What the answers to the seven starred clues all are or contain)
I tore this puzzle up - every instinct I had was right, and I was guessing answers at times without even looking at the clue. The best example of this latter phenomenon was with TYRONE POWER (*31A: Ava Gardner's co-star in "The Sun Also Rises") - although I think I had the TYR- in place at that point, and possibly the -PO-, so really there wasn't much else it could be. His name was in my brain because it was an answer in a very recent puzzle, I think ... yes, the one where the theme was "Electricity" and all the theme answers ended in synonyms like JUICE or POWER. Anyhoo, this is all to say that I flew through the puzzle with almost no resistance (see 37A: Resistance unit (Ohm)). I also did this thing that I've heard some top solvers (maybe Trip Payne - why do I think that? Was that in Wordplay?) do, where I would read three consecutive Down clues in a row and then keep them in my head when my eyes went back to the grid - you know, to cut down on the time you spend darting your eyes back and forth from grid to clues. This worked like a charm for
34D: Buddy (pal)
35D: Bygone (old)
36D: Puns and such (wit)
Admittedly, the level of difficulty is not high there, but it was nice to experiment with a new solving technique and have it pay off right away.
The thorniest part of the puzzle for me was, strangely, if not ironically, the clue that revealed the theme. I had IRISH CO-, then COU-, then COUN-, and I swear to you that I had to do the Downs in that far SE corner before COUNTIES came to me. "What the hell is an IRISH COUNTESS?," I thought at one point. I am not a huge fan of Things Irish, despite having a good amount of Irish blood in me (I freckle and my skin is white, bordering on translucent). Generally, I think of most things Irish today as White People's Desperate Bid For Ethnicity. You can't be proud of being white (well, you can, in parts of Idaho and Alabama), but you can crow all day long about your Irishness, no matter how thinly it flows in your veins. I've spent a lot of time in Scotland and love it there, so if I'm going to align myself with any pasty group of England-bashers, it's going to be the Scottish. While it's true that Ireland gave us Guinness and early U2 (great), they also gave us the leprechaun and late U2 (horrible). In the end, any culture responsible for both "Riverdance" and "Celtic Women" has some explaining to do.
24A: *1960's Richard Chamberlain TV role (Doctor Kildare)
Richard Chamberlain graduated from my little college. Chirp chirp! PS, he is gay.
46A: Nursery rhyme opening ("Baa, baa...")
Wow, you often see BAA, but so rarely do you see BAA BAA. I had the two A's at the end of this answer and thought "ugh, wrong!" - then I read the clue, saw that I was right, and continued to slice my way through the grid.
14A: *Angler's float (cork)
This one took me Forever (relatively speaking). I think the last person to use a CORK as part of his fishing tackle was Opie.
44D: Erich Weiss, on stage (Houdini)
First, Erich who? Oh, wait, was Erich Weiss HOUDINI's real name? Because until this very second, I thought this clue was telling me that some actor named Erich Weiss played HOUDINI on Broadway. Yes, Weiss is HOUDINI's given name. O my god, HOUDINI grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, just like "Co'sin Larry" on "Perfect Strangers." What, no Mark Linn-Baker fans in the house? OK, your loss. Oh, wait, Larry didn't grow up there - his name was actually Larry Appleton. Nevermind. We hope you've enjoyed this brief foray into 80's sitcom arcana.
56A: Persian sprite (peri)
68A: Actress Garr of "Mr. Mom" (Teri)
I'll take the latter, thanks. And I'll add that too many -ERIs spoil the grid.
I'm always happy to see future Pantheon member OATER in the grid (52D: Western flick). Great word no one uses any more. Also like OAST (43D: Malt-drying kiln), another word you rarely see outside the grid. Will we ever see the end of [Schoolyard retort] as a clue? It was fresh to me, once, and I still like the idea of using stuff kids might shout at each other in the puzzle - but I feel like this clue, or a slight variation on it, shows up in the puzzle at least once a week. It can get you lots of letter combinations, e.g. AM NOT, ARE SO, ARE TOO, etc. Today it gets you AM SO (30D). I would like a moratorium on this playground-chatter-oriented cluing, but I'm not going to get one. BRIERS (47D: Prickly plants) is an icky-looking word - why doesn't it have an "A" instead of an unholy-looking "E"??? Lastly, if anyone asks you "What is the ugliest-looking abbreviation in the history of humankind?," you can confidently answer EXPWY (54D: Multilane rte.).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld