Sunday, April 29, 2007
Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: "Circle of Friends" - each theme answer is the beginning of its own clue, which relates to itself AND to the next theme clue, creating a theme answer "circle," of sorts
[updated 4:15 pm]
My brain sputtered at the beginning of this puzzle, with my first pass through the top of the grid yielding virtually nothing until I got to the far NE and 22A: Something that might be tucked under the chin, where I tentatively entered VIOLA (which was correct, thank god). From there, I meandered in a southwesterly direction, and I got well into the "Colorado" part of the grid before I even began to process what the hell the theme was all about. My main problem was that I was not reading the clues correctly - took me a while to figure out the ellipsis that begins each theme clue means that the ANSWER to the clue is supposed to precede (or stand in for) the ellipsis. So in a way, every answer has two clues, its own and the theme clue that succeeds it. Having two clues sounds like it would make things easier, and once I cottoned on to the theme, it did.
The "Circle of Friends" looks like this:
- 23A: ... and 25-Across have "canine" surnames (Mark Spitz) - I had only ever heard of a "Finnish Spitz," but apparently SPITZ refers to a whole class of awfully cute dogs.
- 25A: ... and 41-Across sang with their siblings (June Pointer) - highly aware of the POINTER Sisters - they wanted a man with a slow hand, as well as one who would jump for their love - but I don't think I knew any of their given names before today.
- 41A: ... and 52-Across are Mormons (Donny Osmond) - this one could have been MARIE - curse their matching 5-letteredness.
- 52A: ... and 69-Across have affiliations with "Jeopardy!" (Ken Jennings) - OK, this was the first theme answer I had in the grid, one I put in more based on the crosses than on my fully comprehending the gist of the clue. It was only when theme clues I'd looked at early began to seem to fit other answers that the whole "Circle" theme opened up. I was like "wait ... KEN JENNINGS is Mormon too ... wait ... what?" I'm telling you, something just wasn't clicking at first.
- 69A: ... and 80-Across have mythological creatures as surnames (Merv Griffin)
- 80A: ... and 99-Across starred in musicals and share their first names with a classic sitcom couple (Ethel Merman)
- 99A: ... and 101-Across are known for their fancy footwork (Fred Astaire)
- 101A: ... and 23-Across and Olympic gold medalists (Carl Lewis)
And with "gold medalists" we're back to MARK SPITZ.
Today's puzzle was above-average in terms of difficulty, but also well above-average in terms of entertainment value and cleverness. One of my favorite Sundays of the year (which is saying a lot, considering how much trouble it gave me early on). Lots of lively, fresh clues from lots of differently realms of knowledge, including pop culture clues that spanned much of the past century. Also, lots and lots of K's and J's. I'll tell you what I didn't know, then what I liked, and then I'll be done.
What I Didn't Know (or didn't know well, anyway)
19A: 1998 Andrea Bocelli operatic album (aria) - ooh this was frustrating - the most basic crossword fill hidden under this over-hyped Barnes & Noble Pavarotti. Yeah, I know he's blind, I don't care. Not a fan. He was on "American Idol" once though, to his ... credit?
32A: Poet with a seemingly self-contradictory name (Noyes) - superior clue. This is a "poet" I know only from crosswords, which is to say, this is a poet I don't "know" at all.
33A: Bundle of nerves (rete) - see 32A, only substitute "anatomical term" for "poet"
37A: Healing aid patented in 1872 (Vaseline) - news to me!
64A: News exec Roger (Ailes) - "News" to me!
11D: Cheryl of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (Hines) - don't watch it, so ???
52D: Singer/actress Akers (Karen) - again, who?
65A: Glockenspiels' kin (celestas) - Bartok wrote "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta," and that is all I know about CELESTAS. I never even thought to inquire what the hell kind of instrument a CELESTA was.
36D: Elizabeth Taylor's pet charity, for short (AMFAR) - an acronym the significance of which I have completely forgotten - ah, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. "Pet" is a bit belittling here...
89A: France's Oscar (César) - OK, I knew this, but if I hadn't had any crosses I never would have remembered it.
90A: "The Most Happy Fella" song ("Big D") - for "Dallas." I've been burned by BIGD before, because as you can see, it looks nuts in the grid (what ends in "-GD?"). I considered BIGD but didn't like it because I was certain that that "B" was a "T" - what else could 90D: Baffin Bay sights be but TERNS? (turns out, it could be, and is, BERGS). This meant I also had Xena's horse's name wrong (imagine that!?) - 105A: Xena's horse = ARGO (not ARNO, which is a river in Italy). BIG D had three fairly challenging crosses:
- 81D: Close-fitting garment (maillot) - I know this only from the French phrase "MAILLOT de bain" - a swimsuit.
- 82D: Georgia of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (Engel) - remember her face well, but not her name.
- 83D: Erythrocyte (red cell)
57A: The King of Pop, in headlines (Jacko)
57D: Half of Brangelina (Jolie)
Contemporary tabloid answers that intersect at the "J"! Brilliant.
37D: Mission _____, Calif. (Viejo) - yes, if you are going to have a partial, make it a good one. This answer looks Awesome in the grid. Five letters with a J and a V? Sign me up.
58A: 1980s-'90s N.B.A. star Danny (Ainge) - annoying little jerk, but played on the Celtics when they won it all in '86, so I will always have fondness for him.
91A: Bailiwick of TV's Matlock (Atlanta) - God I love this clue in so many ways, from the word "bailiwick" to the hilarity of "Matlock" (most beloved show of everyone at the Springfield Retirement Community on "The Simpsons") to the banality of the answer, ATLANTA, which could have been clued a billion different ways less interesting than this one.
89D: Cicada sound (chirr) - that "sound" sounds so made-up (I wanted WHIRR), but I like it.
71D: Round all around (spherical) - SPHERICAL HAM! (only about three people are going to get that, but whatever ... SPHERICAL is a beautiful-looking word)
10D: Rogaine alternative (toupée) - I was looking for another medicine or topical ointment or something, but no - good old-fashioned rug. Nice.
66D: Leader of the Mel-Tones (Tormé) - Slightly better than cluing him as "The Velvet Fog," which is itself a very good clue.
96D: Bob of the P.G.A. (Tway) - with that crazy name, he should be in the grid a Lot more.
61A: He reached his peak in 1806 (Pike) - just a great clue. "The Most Accessible Mountain in Colorado."
45A: Compass point suffix (-ern). An ERN is an ERN is an ERN, and by any other name would still be this site's official mascot and still say "CAW!"
I'll clean this up later. Off to breakfast with friends.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
Just a couple late thoughts...
92D: Think way back? (trow) - This one is rough, in a good way. Sometimes I like it rough. You really gotta know your Early Modern English to pick up on this one.
51D: "The Female Eunuch" author (Greer) - a gimme for me, but only because I saw the title probably every day of my life on the spine of the book on my mom's bookshelf. Never read it.
Alright, that's it. I'm spent from watching the Yankees / Sox game. I get more and more nervous as the game comes to a close, even when we are in very good shape. ESPECIALLY, when we are in very good shape. Thankfully, this one ended well. Still, I'm tired. Good day.