Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Relative difficulty: Easy (with a few obscure words)
THEME: New York, New York, New York - "NY" added to ends of three familiar phrases to create new, odd phrases, which are then clued
[updated 10:50 a.m.]
This has to be the least imaginative theme I've seen this year. The only reason this puzzle took me as long as it did (and it only took me about 6-7 minutes) was because I lost time imagining the theme was more complex than it was - and because a couple of the theme answer crosses are crazy, made-up looking words. The theme clues / answers are as follows:
20A: Coin thrown for good luck? (fountain penny)
38A: Result of sitting on a court bench too long? (basketball fanny)
51A: Bugged Bugs? (hot cross bunny)
For no good reason, I had FOUNTAIN PENNE for a while - I think that between the time I read the clue and filled in the answer, my mind had invented a whole new and much better theme involving pasta. The fact that the answer PASTA (57A: Edible shells) appears in the grid only confirmed the rightness of this theme in my mind. Yes, the puzzle was So Easy that I had worked my way all the way to the SW corner, with only a few bare patches left behind, before I'd even fully grasped what the alleged "theme" was. I spent many seconds wondering what kind of PASTA could be involved in BASKETBALL-ANN- (that last letter is blank because I couldn't remember how to spell SLYER (33D: Less straightforward); thought it might be SLIER). Finally got HOT CROSS BUNNY, then thought, "Well, this is stupid, BUNNY doesn't even rhyme with PENNE." That's when I reread the PENNE clue and realized that it asked for a coin, not pasta - so PENNY. Then I reread the BASKETBALL -ANN- clue, put the "Y" where it belonged, and easily got FANNY - that "F" is the first letter in the puzzle's most insane word, FICHU (40D: Woman's shoulder wrap). All that, and I was still well under 7 minutes. No real aha moment, no sense of accomplishment, nothing. And for this lame theme I had to endure some very unpretty non-theme fill, like:
12D: Taiwan Strait city (Amoy) - I'm sure I've seen this in some crossword somewhere, but as Asian cities go, this is super obscure. Speaking of Asia, we also have 34A: Kurds and Nepalis (Asians) and 36A: My _____, Vietnam (Lai).
42A: River to the Rhine (Aar) - I'm sorry, I know this is a real river and everything, but whenever I see it, I can't help but feel that the constructor just didn't try hard enough. It's like throwing in the towel, this answer. Only good thing: it sounds like the noise I make when I see it.
53A: Arctic bird (skua) - I have a feeling I've complained about this before. I'm sure it's a fine bird, and it's got a "K" in it, so it can't be all bad. Still, it reeks of desperation to me, especially when it stands out like a sore thumb against the heaps of banal fill (SAGE, NUNS, OKIE, OBESE, etc.)
43A: Feed for livestock (silage) - again, I'm sure this is very valid; I've seen it before. It's just an ugly word - or rather, it's obscure, and yet not interesting, so ... meh. If SILAGE got you something great, OK. But when SILAGE really gets you nothing but the "I" in FICHU (!?), then no. No. Actually, I blame the generally horrible BASKETBALL FANNY for the whole FICHU / SILAGE fiasco (as it will now be known). If you're going to give the grid over to a grid-traversing answer, it better be a good one, and BASKETBALL FANNY is pathetic. BASKETBALL FAN is barely a phrase. It's totally arbitrary, no more a phrase than any other fill-in-the-blank FAN would be.
And I'm not too fond of DOSING (46D: Plying with pills) or STAGER (35D: One putting on a show), either. And FLARE (30D: "Accident ahead" indicator) crossing AFIRE (29A: All lit up)? Is that supposed to be cute?
Even the subtheme didn't grab me, and normally I enjoy subthemes, especially when they are about classical literature, as this one is:
13D: Answer to the riddle of the Sphinx (man)
21D: Before Oedipus, who could answer the riddle of the Sphinx (no one)
The Riddle = What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?
6D: Dudley Do-Right's home (Canada) - I got the first three across clues, bam bam bam, and then proceeded to get nearly every Down cross off those three answers, including this one, the longest of them all. A most excellent way to clue Canada - much better than [Anne Murray's home] or [Bryan Adams's home].
25D: Storybook elephant (Babar) - ah, more cartoony goodness. Sahra has some BABAR prints on her wall. We bought her a book called something like "BABAR Goes to the Museum" and there's a fabulous big poster that goes with it where all these famous paintings are redone with elephants in place of people.
44A: Neurotic TV dog (Ren) - ah, still more cartoony goodness. Actually, I never liked "REN & Stimpy" - too gross-out, too bodily-function-oriented. But in the puzzle, I like REN just fine.
48D: Cousin of a mink (otter) - very cute animals. There is a viral video going around (extremely popular) of otters holding hands ... just floating there, on their backs, holding hands. It's so cute it's disgusting.
26D: Subject of Fowler's handbook (usage) - mmm, persnickety language stuff; very exciting stuff for this OED NERD - 23A: Work started by London's Philological Soc. and 24A: Geeky guy.
I had two misfills along the way, one good and one great. First, I had NECK for 55D: Mane site (nape), and had already built ACME off the "C" before I realized NECK was wrong - ACME ended up being 63A: Pinnacle (apex). Second, bigger mistake was entering BIANNUAL for BIENNIAL (8D: Like House elections) and never ever catching it, even though it left me with INRU for 18A: Concerning (In re:) and AFURE for AFIRE.
Wow, I finished my blog entry the night before the puzzle's publication date. Must not be that tired. I'm still abuzz over the performances on "American Idol" earlier tonight. It was, no joke, Bon Jovi night. Painful as that may sound, there was some decent singing to be heard. Tonight was the first time I voted all season long: for Lakisha (finally singing well again), Melinda (duh, she rules) and my new boyfriend, Blake, who totally dismantled and reassembled "You Give Love a Bad Name" and made it sound like something it has never been: a good song.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS I meant to comment on 48A: Scott Turow work set at Harvard ("One L") because its history in the grid is interesting ... to me. I feel like I used to see ONE L all the time. It was borderline Pantheon material. But I don't think I've seen it much, if at all, in the entire time I've been blogging about the NYT puzzle. Has its shelf life expired?
PPS The first time I saw TRIO (1A: Rock's Green Day, for one) clued via the band Green Day, I liked it. Today, I tolerated it. Next time ... who knows? What about Dixie Chicks? Stray Cats? Dolly Parton, Linda Rondstadt and Emmylou Harris had an album called "Trio" - see, even within the world of music, there are so many other ways to go. Mix it up!