Saturday, May 19, 2007
Relative difficulty: I'd rather not talk about it
THEME: If only (which is to say, no, none)
75% awesome, 25% flat out disaster - that is how I describe today's Saturday solving experience. No, scratch that. What's 35/225 ... 7/45? OK, now convert to percentages...
15.6% flat out disaster
Just to be precise.
I barely have the energy to write about this puzzle right now. I had to Google an answer, and still struggled, and then when I was all done, I had a wrong answer in a completely unexpected place. And all this after I had such amazing initial success.
My struggles aside, this wasn't one of my favorite Byron Walden puzzles (I consider him one of the greatest constructors alive ... or dead, I suppose. What do I know?). Not as much hotness, too much off-ness. That said, it's still better than your average puzzle, and there are some very winning clues and answers. Let's get down to specifics.
I understand that The Southwest is a wide open, arid place where very little grows. It's also home to the world's largest hole in the ground. Either image will do very nicely for my experience of this puzzle's southwest. It was blank - except for pitiful little ODESSA (47D: Birthplace of Yakov Smirnoff) - for what felt like a significant chunk of my life. In retrospect, I had a good chance to blow the southwest wide open - if only I'd stuck to my initial instincts and kept METED (50A: Parceled) in place. But I couldn't get a damn thing to run through METED, so I second-guessed it, which led me straight into the worst pit of quicksand I've been in since I started this blog. Here are the various clues of the southwest, and the various answers I tried to shove in there before I finally solved the puzzle:
38A: Acoustic instruments (jugs) - first, aren't all instruments, technically, "acoustic?" I had, let's see ... UKES and SAWS (I like that the actual answer is as hillbilly as SAWS)
46A: Grp. founded in part by the Y.M.C.A. (USO) - only one thing I wanted here: BSA. My refusal to let BSA die absolutely killed me.
55A: Lighter (barge) - a million years wouldn't have helped me with this one. Apparently a "lighter" is some kind of sea vessel. I wanted FLAME, and, at one particularly desperate moment, FORGE.
59A: Doesn't deviate from (obeys) - where to begin: STAYS, HOLDS, KEEPS, etc.
62A: Strikes abruptly (claps) - and again: SLAPS, SWATS, SPURS, etc.
40D: Lost the frivolity (got real) - oh, it's a very good answer, but not one that I could see at all. Even when I could imagine GOT in there, the only word that wanted to follow was DULL.
64A: Mississippi's _____ State University (Delta) - Googled it. Ugh. Ugh! Thankfully, when I saw the answer, I did not recognize it as a university I'd ever heard of (though DELTA ... I coulda worked that out from the @#$# state of Mississippi. It has a pretty famous river DELTA)
38D: Institutional investment (jumbo CD) - not a term I'm familiar with. The only word I wanted here was DEPOSIT (very lame, I know)
39D: Fit (useable) - when I got this answer, I wilted. So banal. I wanted IN SHAPE. Real bad.
51D: The Bible's Mizraim, today (Egypt) - this is the answer that makes me most sad, because ... the fact that I couldn't come up with a modern geographical place name, in the Middle East, five letters, starting with "E" - when it's The Most Obvious Answer to fit that category ... it hurts. Physically hurts.
So that's the southwest. My one ultimately incorrect letter in the puzzle came in an entirely different section, right around the Sorth Carolina section of the puzzle:
- 45D: Breathing trouble (dyspnea)
- 54A: Brief salutation (sirs)
This is the kind of crap that drives me crazy. Never heard of the breathing disorder, and since DYSEPNEA sounds much more like an actual word, and SIRE is just as good, if not better, as a "brief salutation," I had an "E" where the "S" should be. Harumph.
Thank god for:
23D: Soprano's repertoire (arias) - "I think you're lost, little clue. The Monday puzzle is thataway."
35A: Like the Supremes and the Go-Go's (all-female) - a gimme of sorts. The gist of the clue was easy enough to deduce, but the phrasing? Not very -in-the-language. "Girl" is far more pop-music standard language than "female," however much it may ruffle feminist feathers.
22A: Sitcom set in Houston (Reba) - I love that this answer is so common, and yet I can guarantee you that fewer than 1% of people who solve the Times puzzle watch this show, or have Ever watched it. Speaking of crap that Times readers know squat about, how about 52A: Christian pop singer Tornquist (Evie). Am I saying Times readers tend to be atheistic Northerners ... yes. Don't write me letter telling me otherwise. Trust that you are the exception that proves the rule and let it go.
41A: Band name heard in Morse code on its single "Secret Messages" (ELO) - way to dress up your crosswordese in fancy, informative clothing.
This is a very Eastern Bloc puzzle, with the Yakov Smirnoff clue (see above) and then
- 17A: Language of 47-Down (Ukrainian)
- 12D: Place to spend drams (Armenia) and
- 26A: Simeon the Great and his successors (tsars)
29D: Golden Slam winner of 1988 (Graf)
She was actually the very first answer I wanted, and I think "Golden Slam" refers to winning all the major tennis tournaments, just not in one calendar year [wrong: Golden Slam = all majors and Olympic Gold Medal in the same year - thanks for the clarification, Byron]. Still, "Golden Slam" sounds like something they serve at Denny's.
15A: With 16-Across, title time in a 1961 #1 hit by Gary U.S. Bonds ("Quarter to / Three")
44D: Eighth-century pope in office for 23 years (Adrian I) - oh great, a pope. What random name + Roman numeral will it be today!?
60A: Noted Joffrey Ballet dancer of the 1980s (Ron Reagan) - so awesome. How did I not know this?
37D: McCallister of "The Story of Seabiscuit," 1949 (Lon) - Chaney's better!
34D: Biggest part of a certain belt (Ceres) - as of now, I'm not sure what this means. I'm guessing it's astronomical, somehow... ah yes, CERES is the largest asteroid in the "Main Asteroid Belt"
My favorite clues and answers:
All the Downs in the NW are fabulous:
1D: WD-40 applications (squirts)
2D: It's one funny thing after another (yukfest) - alternative clue: [What Yakov Smirnoff is not]
3D: Classic chocolate treat (Mars bar) - got it off the "B" in REBA - god bless that cross-eyed hick diva
5D: Narc tail? (otic) - sososo much better than [Related to the ear]
9D: Debussy's "La Mer," e.g. (tone poem) - I do love the TONE POEMs, Debussy's in particular.
8D: Say something to which people reply "Duh!" (state the obvious) - not the most amazing grid-spanning answer I've ever seen, but the clue is imaginative.
And then there's ...
65A: Woman who flexes her muscles (Ms. Olympia) - "MS.," HA ha. You do Not want to call her "Miss," believe me.
18A: "Homey!" ("My man!") - how very ... street. Why do I want "Homey" to be spelled "Homie?" Aha, it's because of the "Simpsons" (as usual) - there was an episode called "Homie the Clown" (in which Homer goes to Clown College). "Homey the Clown" was a recurring character on "In Living Color."
33A: Terse identification ("Her!") - Perhaps the best way this innocuous-looking little pronoun has ever been clued. It's got all kinds of accusatorial drama built into it.
34A: Rank informality? (Cap'n) - Aye aye! Cereal box spelling!
28A: Foul smoke (stogy) - not STOGIE?
42A: Tabooed (forbad) - not FORBADE? (oh, and since when is TABOO verb?)
I'm done. Enjoy your day.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld