SATURDAY, Apr. 28, 2007 - Sherry O. Blackard

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy to Medium

THEME: nope

There are many surprising aspects to this puzzle.

Returning Obscurities

15A: Cosmetics dye: Var. (eosine)
41D: Russia's Rostov, e.g. (oblast)

OBLAST was in the puzzle just last week - I know because I blogged it after it came from outer space to wreak havoc on my world. O-BLAST will be the first superpower I give my as yet uncreated superhero avatar. EOSINE ... I know I've seen it recently. It was in the NE of some puzzle, and I had to guess at the "S." I was prepared for both of these jerks. It's always nice not to get bitten twice.

Pantheonic Words Aplenty

Since when is this much crosswordese allowed admission to the Saturday puzzle? I'd expect maybe one little word - something that couldn't quite be avoided, clued in an insane way so as to hide its commonness, like a zit under concealing powder. But here, we're not talking one zit - we're talking a full-on breakout, and all the genius cluing in the world couldn't hide it if it tried. First there are successive Pantheon members of the Highest Order:
  • 23A: Louvre Pyramid designer (Pei) - the very first entry I ever wrote, way back on September 25, included a write-up of this guy and his Louvriciousness. He is A-List Pantheon material (though I currently have him as C-List ... that will have to change).
  • 24A: First name in courtroom drama (Erle) - little harder to see than PEI, but one of the few proper nouns that is actually more Pantheonic than Pei. Possibly the most Pantheonic proper noun (and yet ... he is not in the Pantheon! Massive oversight. That will have to change).
In addition to these two chums, there is the near-Pantheon TYPE-A (37A: Far from laid-back), the surprisingly widespread ESTERS (44D: Lactates, e.g.) and then, with ESTERS, two more lackluster entries in the SE that you could have filled in in their entireties with only the gimme letters from "Wheel of Fortune" (R, L, S, T, N and E): 56A: Secondary (lesser) and 58A: Joins (enters). Ugh, I just noticed that TYPE-A intersects STEREOTYPE (8D: Cast in a certain role) at the "P" - ugly.

General Lack of Scrabbliness

Just look at how many sizeable answers are overwhelmingly "WOF" (new word for a word that can be completely deciphered from the aforementioned "Wheel of Fortune" letters):
  • 7A: Gauged (assessed)
  • 14D: Something a loser may skip (dessert) - that "loser" bit is a bush-league attempt at a fake-out
  • 6D: Catfish Row in "Porgy and Bess," e.g. (tenement) - really like the clue, though
  • 35D: Feeler (tentacle) - also a virtual gimme
  • 28D: Victorious soldier in May 1775 (Ethan Allen) - super-easy to guess with just the first couple letters in place, but goes nicely with the other Revolutionary-era clue in the puzzle (and also one of the randomest partials ever), 7D: "What _____ of the face is here!": Thomas Paine, "Common Sense" ("a slap")
Now I realize that RLSTNE are perfectly good letters, and I'm not suggesting in any way that they are to be especially avoided. But, when they take over the grid like kudzu ... especially on a Saturday ... well, I think you have a problem.

A 13-Letter Gimme

Today's IDENTITY THEFT (32A: Wallet loser's concern) is possibly the longest straight-up gimme I've ever encountered. It must surely be the very first phrase that pops into most folk's minds upon reading the clue, and it fits, and it's the most crucial answer in terms of giving you access to all parts of the puzzle. I love the phrase here, but it needed to be clued at a higher level of difficulty.

The Rest

I enjoyed the intersection of 34D: Sommer of "The Prize" (Elke) and 45A: Three-time speed skating gold medalist Karin (Enke) because, together, their names sound like the title of a comic strip about a couple of precocious and possibly super-powered children who fight evil-doers somewhere in Germany. TRIVET (1A: Table saver) is a nice, semi-unusual word I haven't seen in the grid lately, if ever. Sadistic constructors who want to use TRIVET in the future might think of cluing it via Nicholas TRIVET, a prolific and important (though now barely known) scholar and chronicle-writer of early 14th-century England. DPS (21A: Twin killings, in baseball: Abbr.) was a gimme (short for "double plays"), and the first thing I entered in the grid. Don't know if the Red Sox turned any DPS in their demolition of the Yankees last night. I'll have to check. INUIT (29A: Language from which "kayak" comes) was yet another gimme in this puzzle, bringing the total now up to something like half a dozen! 54A: Lévi-Strauss of France (Claude) - yet another gimme, especially for those who have gone to graduate school in the humanities or social sciences since 1980.

For all my grousing about the puzzle, it does have some admirable features. First, I learned a new word in ISOGON (3D: Rectangle or square) - so much prettier than yesterday's math-related ADDENDS. I may have seen TABLAS (48A: They may accompany sitars) before, but if so, I forgot it, and had to make an educated guess as to that second "A" - where TABLAS crossed the unknown (to me) Harry LAUDER (43D: Knighted Scottish singer Harry). I figured LAUDER was more likely than LEUDER or LOUDER, etc. Thanks to ESTEE LAUDER for establishing name precedent. Don't even know who Little Nell is, let alone that her last name is TRENT (31A: Last name of Dickens's Little Nell), but this clue is better than [Council of _____]. I would also have accepted [QB Green].

Two great female figures of pop culture make appearances today in ROWENA Ravenclaw (2D: Miss Ravenclaw, who co-founded Hogwarts School) and EVE ARDEN (55A: Player of Principal McGee in "Grease"). We have just begun reading the Harry Potter books to our 6-year-old at bedtime and she is intrigued, if somewhat worried that things will get excessively scary at any second. And long-time readers of the blog will know my affection for all things "Grease" (the 1978 movie, that is), mostly having to do with my life-long crush on Good Sandy (not the leathered tart at the end of the movie). 50D: Early copter (giro) looks odd - that "I" really wants to be a "Y." My favorite word in the puzzle just may be DICKERED (33D: Did some horse trading) - there's something pleasingly old-fashioned about it. Lastly, there are two very cute "?" clues: 42D: Top of a closet? (blouse) and 32D: Cry after falling hard? ("I'm in love!"). I'll leave you on that ecstatic note. Enjoy this spring Saturday, even if it's gloomy and rainy like it is here.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

15 comments:

Orange 11:19 AM  

Hey, don't tar I.M. PEI with the crosswordese brush! He's still active in architecture and he's got some world-famous buildings to his credit. He's more prominent outside of crosswords than ERLE, for sure,

Wendy 11:36 AM  

I'm impressed, Rex, if you are reading Harry Potter out loud to Sahra - over what period of time will you have to keep your larynxes lubricated to utter all multi-thousand pages? But it's a noble endeavor and Rowling's writing is very read-out-loud-able. I am beyond excited - yet deeply apprehensive - over the publication of the final book in July (which I already have on pre-order). I think the end of this series is going to have cataclysmic emotional effects globally. Even so, I couldn't remember Ms. Ravenclaw's first name and had to turn to a wikipedia page devoted entirely to Hogwarts founders to get it. ROWENA remained my only entry in the NW for most of the puzzle solve. It's an uncommon name; the only other one I can think of is that chick in Mr. Holland's Opus who was his "muse" ( I use that term loosely since she was really more a teenage temptress wrapped in a cloak of muse-iness).

EVE ARDEN was interesting to me, because if you had asked me yesterday who played Principal McGee in Grease, I couldn't have told you, but faced with the same question in the puzzle, and having filled in no other crosses, I knew that was the right answer. I think the brain functions differently when solving than in other circumstances.

Overall, I wasn't terribly enamored of this puzzle, though. Just not a lot of smiles or laughs to be had out of it.

Ultra Vi 12:02 PM  

No smiles or laughs? I smiled and laughed at SMILE, I'M IN LOVE, and RED ROSES. Also at EGGPLANT, which immediately gave me all the acrosses in the NE. And TABLAS and OBLAST for being recently referenced and therefore, easy.

My Swiftest Saturday Solve ever, telling me that the challenge level was a bit off. I can sometimes spend an entire day on the Saturday puzzle...well, between other activities, of course.

I had to google for one answer: ROWENA Ravenclaw. No offense to Harry Potter fans, but I only ever made it halfway through Book I. I am now enjoying rereading Raymond Carver short stories, thanks to Rex's invitation in yesterday's blog.

Linda G 1:03 PM  

Ultra Vi, we smiled at the same answers. And I'm with you on Harry Potter, although I didn't make it as far as you did.

I remember reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love in Eng 112, but I recall that I didn't especially care for it. I'll pull out my textbook and read it again. Maybe six years will have changed my perception.

Rex, we frequently pick out the same answers for comments. Like minds...

Clever kudzu comparison.

mmpo 1:22 PM  

Elke & Enke, the Jensen twins, teenage detectives come into the kitchen and say, "Hey, Mom, we're awoken! What's for breakfast?"
I had a big, fat book of Raymon Carver short stories when I lived in France and books in English were precious. I lent it to a friend, he gave it to his brother as an emergency gift, then replaced it with the much less complete "Short Cuts" collection that came out in the interim. When I pointed out that this was not the same book, he insisted that it was. Grrr.
Ultra Vi, I just commented on the March 17th puzzle (still making up for my six-week lag) that I want to sit by you at next year's tournament because I think we have similar solving speeds...however, today's puzzle was not a breeze for me. Possibly in part because it was the second puzzle of the day.
I also liked...
...DICKERING. I first had FINAGLING, which I also liked, but DICKERING suits the clue to a tee--or is that to a T? I guess it depends on how many squares you have to fill.
...I'M IN LOVE. Thought of I'M IN PAIN, I'M WINDED, I'M IN A DITCH, I'M IN A DAZE, I'M UNCONSCIOUS (I said I thought of it; I didn't say I gave it serious consideration).
...and EGGPLANT. Just the other day, I was just telling a friend how to make ratatouille.

Wendy 1:42 PM  

There's no law that says everyone must like Harry Potter. I just happen to have been introduced to it at a time in my life when it meant the world to me, by a person who knew that it would.

rock rabbit 2:56 PM  

Rex, your reference to The Weed That Ate the South made me chuckle. The only good thing about kudzu is the purple flowers that smell like grape koolaid. Well, I've heard its good for a hangover (kudzu, not koolaid) but have never tried it.

The answer SMILE was made more fun by the rhyming clue "pleasure measure".

I really hate acronym-fill (and I am a francophile), so I think a better clue for CLE might be something like "key to The City of Light".

rock rabbit 3:00 PM  

oops, I misspoke -- I guess CLE is not an acronymn but an abbr. (still dislike it)

Ultra Vi 11:45 PM  

Hmm...it must be strange living in both the past and the present. I mean, reading posts and comments from 6 weeks ago while simultaneously reading current ones.

Yes, it's not too early to begin thinking about ACPT 2008! There's a hotel discount if you register early enough, so everyone should commit now! I intend to...um, er...soon.

jae 6:34 PM  

Did not like this puzzle much. NE and SW were very easy for me but NW and SE were really hard. For NW I had to google ROWENA and dictionary EOSINE and guess at ANONYM and ISOGON. Unlike many of you I had not previously encountered OBLAST, TABLAS, CLAUDE Levi-Strauss, Harry LAUDER, or lactates as ESTERS, which made for a lot of educated/lucky guessing in SE. Half the puzzle took about 15 minutes, the other half took much longer!

jae 9:04 PM  

Yes Rex, you provided a link to OBLAST in a Sunday puzzle blog a week or so ago. Unfortunately for me that was five weeks ago. Also, OBLAST was part of a clue not an answer. These are not excuses, I should have paid more attention!

Todd 7:05 AM  

I don't know how you rate this Easy to Medium. After less than 10 words I got stuck completely, and hours later having made no progress I figured I'd need a couple slots filled in to help me along. But when I got a couple answers from your webpage, I could see they were so bizarre and obscure, that no leap could ever be made from the 'clue' to the actual word.

It turned out that half of my 'solves' were wrong anyway, and the ones that were right were by no means a throwaway.

You called IDENTITY THEFT a 'straight-up gimme', but that was one of the few I got right, and it was NOT what first pops into mind. The first thing that pops into mind, upon losing ones wallet: Where did I leave it? Can I get back to it before someone else finds it? Is there a lost/found or a customer service desk at that location? Secondarily: What are the physical contents? Which credit card companies must I call? My first pick was CREDITCARDUSE which for a long time was the only thing I could think of having the correct number of letters.

You thought that 'Top of a closet' was a cute was of suggesting BLOUSE? Cute! Really, cute?! Are you high?!?! A blouse has NOTHING to do with the top of a closet, I'd have better chance guessing the correct six-letter word with NO clue list than to have such deliberate misleading.

For future reference, a CLUE is when the suspect leaves a fingerprint behind, but a FRAMEUP is when the suspect leaves someone else's fingerpring behind. Thus, if the so-called CLUE points AWAY from the answer, it's merely a lie. ('Top of a woman' would have been hard to guess, but not deliberately misleading.)

Now really, what MIGHT you find at the top of a closet (in six letters)... Spider? Cobweb? Hanger? It so happens that the latter also fits with WORSHIP, which ironically would be the CORRECT answer to something like 'Praise to the heavens'.

But ennoble is something short of deification, for which 'praise to the skies' may have been appropriate... Difficult, nay, very difficult to guess, but at least it would not have been misleading as it was. But instead she wrote 'Praise to the heavens'. Is Sherry Blackard high too? And why didn't you notice, or bother to call her on this cr@p?

If I played the lottery, the odds are against me but at least it's an honest game where I have at least 1 chance in 35 million of winning. But a rigged game like this crossword puzzle, it's literally impossible for anyone to actually finish the thing without consulting some outside reference material. Where's the fun in a game if you literally have ZERO chance of winning?

BTW, who's the blonde? You put a picture in the article which is intriguing; she's wearing a 'doo which appears to share a birth-year with The White Album, and that background is unique shade of green... I call it 'Nixon green' because it also went out in shame, the same year he did. Yet no caption for this mysterious photo.

Todd

Rex Parker 7:28 AM  

Todd-

It's "easy to medium" ... for a Saturday.

Pic is of ELKE Sommer (her name is right next to the picture, but not a caption, you're right).

RP

rhonda from kansas 10:19 AM  

Rhonda, here from the past.

I was stumped by "Oblast/Tablas/Esters". I guess I missed the recent puzzle that contained these. I have now read the Wikipedia entries on all three and expect that I won't get fooled again, as they say.

Thank you, Rex, for your good work on this blog. Following it seems to be improving my crossword abilities and knowledge.

CreditScientist 2:10 AM  

I as well as Rhonda, use this great blog and Wikipedia for guessing puzzles... that's my favourite fun with my grandparents whom I visit weekly.
Regarding oblast: couldn't guess it without your prompt.

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