Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: Tic-Tac-Toe - three theme answers begin with "tic," "tac," and "toe" sounds, respectively. Fourth theme answer alludes to theme: 60A: "Piece of cake!" (and a hint to the starts of 17-Across and 11- and 27-Down) ("child's play"). The cherry on top: 3x3 grid at dead center of the puzzle contains nothing but X's and O's.
Yesterday's NY Sun puzzle (by Alan Arbesfeld) went into my Best Puzzles of 2007 folder under "Best Tuesdays," and now today's NYT puzzle goes into that same folder under "Best Wednesdays." There are flaws with today's puzzle (detailed below), but given the exceedingly high degree of difficulty and cleverness on display in this puzzle, I am more than willing to overlook them. The tic-tac-toe grid in the puzzle's middle turned a cute puzzle into a kind of masterpiece. My favorite part of the puzzle is that the "winning" column in the tic-tac-toe grid is 34D: Adults-only (XXX) - "And the winner is ... porn!"
- 17A: Thrill (tickle pink) - great phrase no matter how you clue it; first theme answer I got, and I figured I'd be dealing with some kind of color theme
- 11D: Part of a dash (tachometer) - a Great clue, as the first dashes that came to mind were "-" and a foot race
- 27D: Do what is expected (toe the line) - a nice, colloquial phrase; the only downside here is that TOE stands independently and is spelled just like it is in the game tic-tac-toe, where the other sounds ("tic" and "tac") are buried inside other words - this is, admittedly, a very minor quibble. [Oh, here's one more: two of the tic-tac-toe answers were rather arbitrary - 33D: Kiss and hugs, in a love letter (xoo), and, especially, 38A: Part of a coach's chalk-talk diagram (oxx). Clearly this arbitrariness didn't disturb me that much. Just something I noticed.]
14A: Bad time for Caesar (Ides) - yesterday was the "Ides of May." Completely coincidentally, I heard some sports analyst say that on one of those tired talking-head shows on ESPN that I sometimes watch when I'm bored. I have no idea why he said it.
20A: Close communication? (tête-à-tête) - why is there a question mark on the end of this clue? Anyway, this is a nice phrase that I don't recall seeing in the grid recently, if ever. As opposed to ACETATE (5D: Film overlay), which I think I saw just last week, and DYAD (22A: Couple), which I've seen several times before and should have seen this past weekend. Instead, I saw DUAD. Ugh.
28A: Heartless one? (Tin Man) - another throwback to this past weekend, when the actor who played the Tin Man, JACK HALEY, was in the grid. I like that this clue is followed immediately by 31A: Companion of 28-Across (Lion), even if the lack of the modifier "Cowardly" makes the parallelism a bit ... unparallel. If you follow.
37A: Seaport of New Guinea (Lae) - this puzzle's one concession to the God of Insane Arcana.
45A: Bernstein's "Trouble in _____" (Tahiti) - staying in the South Pacific for the moment ... I have never heard of this piece of music, but I guessed it with the final "-TI" in place. For another unusual terminal "-TI" word, see 21A: Emmy winner for "Chicago Hope" (Lahti).
59A: Athens's setting (Ohio) - grrr. If the Athens in question is not in Greece, I really want it to be in Georgia (one-time home of R.E.M. and the B-52's ... I think). Athens, OHIO, in the southeast quadrant of the state, is the home of OHIO University.
10D: Huffington who wrote "Fanatics & Fools" (Arianna) - she is a famous political commentator now. I think she used to be married to some closeted Republican in California who ran for Senate. I also think that I know someone who gave money to ARIANNA's own run for office (I forget which) and then wanted his money back when she dropped out rather early.
26D: Rope with a slipknot (riata) - if I haven't mentioned it before, or even if I have, I will tell you now that I have RIATA / LIANA confusion. Like crazy. The confusion can also extend to the simple word LASSO. RIATA and LIANA are words I know only from doing crosswords, and both describe kinds of ropes. It's just that a RIATA is a rope you'd use to catch a steer in a rodeo, where a LIANA is a rope that Tarzan would use to swing from tree to tree (i.e. a jungle vine).
43D: June 14 (Flag Day)
Nice, terse clue. To show you how embarrassingly unpatriotic I am (at least where honoring the flag is concerned), I will tell you that what FLAG DAY reminds me of most strongly is not Old Glory, but a 1985 pop song by the British band The Housemartins - the band whose music most heavily dominated my early college years.
Enjoy the rest of your Wednesday.
Signed, Rex Parker King of CrossWorld