Friday, June 1, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium-Hard
THEME: too many 3-letter words (or, none)
There are 16 3-letter answers in this puzzle. Is that normal? I mean, for a Friday? I'm sure that no one else found this remarkable, but ... I like my Friday and Saturday grids wide open, with a minimum of short fill. I got a bit bogged down by being unable to confirm very short crosses very effectively. For instance, I had ----OFF for 24D: Change course (veer off), and wanted VEER, but, though I immediately thought VHS (24A: Recording standard) for the V-cross and EMI (29A: Decca rival) for the first E-cross, for some reason I was hesitant to pull the trigger. Felt iffy. Also had trouble with 3-letter abbreviations, like DET (46A: Lead seeker: Abbr. - short for "detective") and IRS (42A: Form letters?) and especially REL (49A: Bill of Rights subj.), which I only just now figured out is short for RELigion. So I was just ... slower than I might have been. This isn't really a complaint about the puzzle - more of an attempt to process my relative slowness today. I also want to beg Will not to pull the "repeated clue phrasing" thing more than once per puzzle. The clues make the puzzle fun - I want as many clever clues as possible. I do NOT want to see [Marine menace] and [Hooded menaces], then [Floods] and [Flooded], and then [Subject of some sightings] and [Subject of some sightings].* These aren't even particularly good clues. Mix it up!
*[answers, in order: PIRATE and ASPS, SPATES and OVERRAN, ELVIS PRESLEY and UFOS]
Inquiring minds want to know? Who is Katy Swalwell? Is she training at the foot of the master themeless constructor, or is she some kind of DQ handler, keeping him from getting too out-of-control with his pop-culture answers? Or something else?
1A: White-bearded, red-capped patriarch (Papa Smurf)
I love this for So many reasons. First, it is becoming a hallmark of the DQ puzzle to have a fabulous, long pop culture answer at 1A. Off the top of my head, I can recall both JON STEWART and STEPHEN COLBERT being 1A answers in recent DQ puzzles. Now add PAPA SMURF. The best part about this clue is that I could Not shake the image of SANTA CLAUS out of my head. The answer remained hidden til almost the very end because my first efforts in the NW were all horribly futile - I had ASPS and AMPS and that's about it. So PAPA SMURF had to wait - a great way to end the puzzle, as it made me feel my struggle had somehow been worth it.
36D: Cactuslike tree of the Southwest (ocotillo)
Nope, even typed out, on its own, outside the grid, it still doesn't look like a word. Words I know that end in -ILLO: tomatillo, armadillo, peccadillo, brillo ... then things get hazy. OCOTILLO looks more like a musical term than a plant. This is the one answer in the grid today that truly stumped me. A year ago, I would have included APIA (53D: Capital where tala are spent), but frequent crossword exposure has taken care of that bit of ignorance.
57A: Wally Schirra commanded it in 1968 (Apollo VII)
I guess you had to be there, and if the year is 1968, then I wasn't there. Literally. I did not exist. This whole area of the puzzle was a bit of a train wreck. I had SENHORS instead of SIGNORS for 40D: Modena misters, but then crossed it out when the "H" became untenable. For 52A: Doctor's orders (scans), I wrote in SCRIP, and then, off of that "R," I wrote in RIGA where APIA was supposed to go. All this took a while to fix - the very phrase EASY TO SEE (62A: Plain), which runs right through this section of the puzzle, seems like it was designed to taunt. Anyway, re: APOLLO VII, I eventually got APOLLO and then waited to see what Roman numeral would take up those final three spaces. One other problem here in the SE: My wife and I realized this morning that we aren't entirely sure what TIRE IRONS (60A: Car-jacking aids) are, or how "car-jacking" is being used in this clue. As far as I know, you "jack" the car with ... a jack. Or are you "car-jacking" as in stealing the car by force, threatening the driver with ... a TIRE IRON? When I asked my wife if TIRE IRON was the instrument used to remove the lug nuts (which, going by the picture, it appears to be), she scoffed: "No, that's ... some kind of wrench." [Correction: picture is of a lug wrench. Here is a link to an actual "tire iron," which has a chisel at one end and a socket wrench on the other]
10A: G.I.'s sod (U.S. of A.) - fantastic answer. Colloquial in the best way. At first I was thinking USAFB, but a "G.I." doesn't call an Air Force Base home - then the phrase just leapt out at me. I love that "sod" has come back to taunt me after I recently claimed that no one who wasn't British and / or pretentious would refer to his home country as "sod." This answer sort of proves my point. We Americans don't @#$# around with metaphor. We know our country by three letters. At Olympic events, we can often be heard chanting them. This is part of our annoying charm.
6D: The Elite Eight are associated with it (March Madness)
The most depressing moment of my solving experience was Finally getting this answer. I've watched the NCAA basketball tournament, or parts of it, every year of my life since I was a teenager, so I threw out Every Answer I could think of, and none of them would fit. Let's see, what did I consider?: BASKETBALL, COLLEGE HOOPS, TOURNAMENT, SWEET SIXTEEN, FINAL FOUR, NCAA TOURNEY. Ugh ugh ugh. And I can't be mad because the answer is perfectly appropriate. MARCH MADNESS is indeed the colloquial / commercial term for the annual tournament. Best part about this answer: it intersects RUPP ARENA (17A: Lexington Center centerpiece - where many an "Elite Eight" game has been played) and FSU (47A: Seminoles' sch.) - don't know how many times they've been to the "Elite Eight," but they lost the championship game to UCLA in 1972, so they must have been there at least once.
Last thoughts: I've barely heard of ACER (22A: Toshiba competitor), which must be the most obscure electronics brand ever to grace the grid. I was surprised by the cluing of FRAT BOY (9D: One who's made a pledge), as I have always found that term to be at least mildly derisive. You make a "pledge" to become a "brother," as I understand it. People who object to your sense of entitlement and your demeaning treatment of women will call you FRAT BOY. Finally, I thought 1D: Marine menace was PIRANA (sp!?!?). Actual answer: PIRATE.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld