Friday, May 25, 2007
Relative difficulty: Hard
Least enjoyable Nothnagel puzzle ever. Pains me to say that, as I am a very big Nothnagel fan, but something about this puzzle was off. The metaphor of grinding gears, or slogging through mud, comes to mind. First problem was the fill, which did not sizzle, but sort of ... lay there. Second problem was the cluing, which seemed unimaginative.
World's Worst Board Meeting
When your longest answers are stale phrases you might hear in any meeting of boring, besuited people in any wood-paneled or cubicle-divided room in America, then your puzzle has problems. Both FISCAL QUARTER and BEGS THE QUESTION are utterly forgettable. Their best attribute is that they intersect at the "Q" - fancy. Consider how much tepid business- (or potentially business-) speak is in this grid. I would make a little short story out of it, but the thought of doing that just makes me tired. . . alright, I changed my mind:
"Corporate Leadership: A Play in One Scene"
"Phil, what's on the AGENDA (28A: Part of convention planning) for today's meeting?"
"Well, our investment strategies plan is DUE BY (31D: Expected before) the end of the next FISCAL QUARTER (33A: Subject of a financial report), so let's start there."
"Yes, that is important. Our last plan received a MERE (25A: Simple) A MINUS (2D: It's less than perfect) from the Board, and we want only GRADE A'S (13D: Good eggs)."
"You know, sir, it would be EASY (47A: Skill level option) to EDIT (6D: Mark up) last quarter's plan .... perhaps if we include Bill's idea about the PYRITE (52A: Source of sulfuric acid) mine in WALES (5D: Its flag has a large red dragon)..."
"... and don't forget to mention the NEW ORDER (12D: Government reorganization) of MEAT (25D: Chuck, say) from QUITO (53A: World's second highest capital)..."
"Those ideas suck. No wonder this company has AILED (30A: Hurt) these past couple of years .... profits continue to EBB (41A: Shrink)... we need an investment TSAR (15D: Plot target of the Decembrists)! We don't have NINE LIVES (55A: Feline gift), you know?"
"Well, sir, we do, IN A SENSE (11D: Not fully). I mean..."
"LORD (42A: Prayer opener), do you ever stop bullshitting?"
"That's just not fair, sir."
"Oh shut up, Phil. The only good idea you've ever had was upgrading the office from AOL (50A: Part of AIM) dial-up to a cable MODEM (37A: Kind of port) system so that we could receive CALLS (24D: Secretaries often hold them) and work on-line at the same time. And what was that? 7 years ago? Yet you get paid how much? Too much, if you ask me. Driving around in your SAAB (20A: "Born from jets" sloganeer), with your purebred FOXHOUND (33D: One followed on horseback) and pet MACAQUE (37D: Monkey with cheek pouches), listening to Alannah MYLES (49D: "Black Velvet" singer Alannah _____) ..."
"I don't have to sit here and listen to this."
"You don't like what I'm saying - SUE ME (38A: Snide challenge)."
[Phil leaves in a disgruntled rage]
"Remind me to fire that creepy LONER (16A: One not mingling much) - never liked him. In fact, I'm thinking of bringing in a team of AXEMEN (39A: Guitarists, slangily) to fire all of you ridiculous HIRELINGS (17A: Flunkies) unless you start pulling your weight. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, so get comfortable - we're going to be here a while. In fact ... ROZ (10D: "Shoe" waitress), run out to Starbucks and BRING (9A: Sell for) me back some CHAI (46A: Starbucks option). Any of you folks want anything? Frank?"
"No thanks, sir. I'M ON A DIET (14A: Words that often follow sweet offers?)."
I'm sure that I could have worked the absolutely unheard of DIESES (45D: Double daggers, in printing) into that dialogue if I could have figured out what the hell it means (looked it up, still mystified). Also never heard of NOB (56D: Cribbage jack) - like bridge, cribbage is game I've never played - from a bygone era, as far as I'm concerned. And why in the world would you refer to MY LAI (49A: Hamlet in 1969 headlines) as a "Hamlet?" I do get 100K+ hits when Googling [My Lai hamlet], but about seven times more for [My Lai village]. HAMLET seems painfully and aggressively English - although the "Unofficial Dictionary for Marines" (!?!?) does specifically define HAMLET thusly: (Vietnam) A village of less than 100 residents.
My main problem with the puzzle, difficulty-wise, was a deep, deep pit of my own making that it took me an eternity to crawl out of. A perfect storm of three wrong answers kept the NE completely blocked for at least as long as it took me to solve the entire rest of the puzzle. After I got LONER, I saw 9A: Sell for and wanted FETCH, but that did not sit well on top of LONER. And yet, for a while, I couldn't decide which to keep and which to ditch. Worse, 9D: Mass looked like this: -L-B; and, perhaps because FETCH had given me an "F" in 9D's first position, I thought FLAB would be a perfectly good answer. Then decided no, impossible, the answer must be ... SLAB. So SLAB was road block one. Road blocks two and three were on the other side of the NE quadrant: 22A: One's native land and 25A: Simple. I had SHE and MEAN. The answers are SOD and MERE. Thought one of them might be wrong. Never dawned on me (not for a long while, anyway) that they might BOTH be wrong. I object like crazy to SOD. I have never referred to my "native land" as, simply, SOD. "Today, I leave Cancun and return to my SOD." No. Not "one's" native land. Try, "one pretentious Englishman's native land."
Answers I liked included:
1A: Actor with an L.A.P.D. auditorium named after him (Jack Webb) - Took me a while to get it. Couldn't get EASTWOOD out of my head, even thought I knew Dirty Harry was on the S.F.P.D. "Dragnet" is the classic L.A. crime show, and though it's a good 20 years before my time, I should have gotten this answer more quickly.
58A: Way of turning (to one side) - it's a bit forced, but playful in a way I kinda like.
18A: Vienna State Opera music director starting in 2002 (Ozawa) - great name. Was kicking myself when I finally changed SLAB to BLOB and got the initial "O" here, which finally allowed me to see OZAWA. I'm no classical music specialist, but I know enough to know that Seiji OZAWA is super-famous.
43D: Title pig of Ian Falconer kids' books (Olivia) - total gimme. Fabulous books. Reminds me very much of reading to my daughter at bedtime (we're deep into Harry Potter now, which I love, but I sorta miss the sweet simplicity of OLIVIA).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld