Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Solving time: 9-something (on paper)
THEME: OSCAR (26D) WILDE (32D) quotation: "Work is the ruin of (17A) the (40A) drinking classes (61A)."
This will brief, as there is not a lot to like in this puzzle. I am not a fan of quotation puzzles in general, and this quotation - I don't really get it. I'm an English Ph.D., and I'm just sort of shrugging at it. I guess it means that work sucks if you like to party. Of all the OSCAR WILDE quips out there, this one is surely among the lamest. I do like the puzzle construction here, with OSCAR running down the far west coast and WILDE symmetrically positioned on the east. But, now that I think of it, I do not, at all, like the way that THE (40A) is made to anchor the quotation, and the whole grid, with its central position. I like definite articles in answers when they are part of a phrase, but THE cannot handle this kind of puzzle pressure on its own. As far as non-theme entries go, most of it is yawn-inducing, and some of it just unlikeable. Standout fill includes 26A: Shaped like a plum tomato (oblong) - I had trouble with this one, but ended up admiring it in the end - and, especially, 46A: Plan for peace, in modern lingo (road map) - very current, very in-the-language, fabulous.
15A: Blue matter (smut) - I'm seeing SMUT a lot lately (in the puzzle, I mean!). Would have liked "material" here instead of "matter," but I see what you're going for: playing off of phrases like "gray matter" and "reading matter." I briefly thought that the answer had something to do with IBM ("Big Blue"), but after a cross or two, the answer was obvious.
11D: "Is so!" retort ("Ain't!") - uh ... I challenge. This is the worst of the "schoolyard retort" brand of answers that I've ever seen. Surely, even in the heart of Hickville, USA, the imagined child in question would say "No it ain't!" I have a hard time imagining even the most mentally-challenged southerner just shouting "Ain't!" all on its own.
1D: Toddler's cry when thirsty ("Wawa!")
29D: With 2-Down, toddler's game (peek- / a-boo)
First, toddlers do not deserve to have fully three grid answers given over to them. Second, PEEK and ABOO are in insane spatial relationship to each other. If you're going to split a phrase like this, make the relationship between the two parts interesting / pleasing. Third, 1D and 2D make the NW corner read WAWA / ABOO. Too many nonsense phrases too close together. I kind of like WAWA as an answer, though when I was a child, I (or was it my sister) used to ask for WADEER (accent on the second syllable). I think I have that right. My mom will let me know.
29A: Relief measure of Elizabethan times (Poor Law)
I do not like, and I don't know why. Maybe I wanted it to have a more spectacular, interesting, and possibly Olde Tyme name. POOR LAW just lies there. Dead behind the eyes. It's not even very descriptive.
38A: Cramped space (cubby)
CUBBIES are where first-graders keep their hats and mittens and assorted detritus from the school day. I know this because I witness said first-graders and their CUBBIES every week. "Cramped" is an awfully weird adjective to describe a CUBBY. I know that CUBBY means a small room, technically, but something about "cramped" just seems wrong. What are you trying to fit in there, for god's sake?
48A: Andy of TV's "Andy's Gang" (Devine)
Means absolutely nothing to me. The only DIVINE I know spelled his name with the "I" and was a major cult movie figure for his standout roles in many John Waters' films. Whoa, "Andy's Gang" was a kids' show that ran throughout the late 50's, and featured ... well, I'll let imdb tell you:
"A TV Show where Andy, with a studio audience full of loud screaming kids, would show movies. At the opening of the show he had a puppet friend called "Froggy". To get the frog to appear Andy and the audience would have to scream "Plunk your Magic Twanger, Froggy". There would then be a big puff of smoke and the frog would appear."
That has got to be the best / worst / most insane and potentially innuendo-laden catchphrase ever featured in a children's show. Another phrase I must learn to work into conversation. I believe I will ritualistically utter the phrase just before I start each of the tournament puzzles this weekend.
34A: Bill killer (vetoer)
43A: Slow-pot (cooker)
The first falls under the much reviled category of Odd Jobs, where -ER ending is added to a word, resulting in a noun that is technically legal but nowhere in the language. See also "I'm the Decider" and "I'm a Uniter, not a Divider." Sadly, the person who uttered those phrases is also, in fact, a VETOER. I'm surprised he has not publicly declared himself such. These weak -ER words are made worse by their close, symmetrical relationship to one another, hugging the heart of the puzzle, the aforementioned THE. VETOER THE COOKER! Yeah, that's a hell of a creamy middle, that is.
67A: Cries of regret (ays)
Am I supposed to take that seriously? This makes me think of Bumblebee Man wailing "Ay ay ay, la policia!" The definition I came across says that AY is "Used before me to express distress or regret." So ... it's really HALF a cry of regret.
4D: Nunavut native (eskimo)
19D: Pianist José (Iturbi)
Well, if nothing else, today I learned where Nunavut is.
As for pianist ITURBI, that's a great name. I half knew it, in that I had written in ITURRO and then ITURBA before FINAL (41A: Event before vacation, maybe) put that final "I" in there. That was actually where I finished the puzzle: at the FINAL / FRET (41D: Feature of some necks) intersection. It was hard because not knowing José's name, I had --NAL for FINAL (and despite giving FINALS every year, I couldn't see it), and not knowing DEVINE's name (above), I had -R-T for FRET, and the only "necks" I could picture were human. Sadly, WATTLE was too long to fit.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld