Saturday, June 2, 2007
Relative Difficulty: Yikes
A few minutes into this puzzle and all I had was COLTS (11D: Super Bowl XLI winners) and NOT (44A: "Judge _____, ..."). Then I made the mistake of looking at the puzzle author's name. I think at that point I sort of slumped over - and totally psyched myself out. If I had been a bit more thorough and diligent, I would have seen 21D: Many an 11-Down fan (Indianan) much earlier than I did, which would have given me good traction in the puzzle's middle. As it was, I stumbled around until, somehow, I got DRAGON FIRE (28D: It might singe a knight, in legend) off of just the "N" from NOT, and the SE quadrant fell (eventually) from there. Then I stalled again, even with the magnificent grid-spanning END / ON A HIGH NOTE in place (40A: With 41-Across, go out nicely). With a lot of patience, I finally managed to tame this thing, with just one square left in the "utterly unknown" category at the following crossing:
50A: Sour orange, in French cuisine (bigarade) - a true outer-space word
47D: Richard of "The 300 Spartans" (Egan)
They cross at the "G." I wrongly guessed "V" at first before getting the "G" on my second guess. It always feels like a real accomplishment to complete a Byron Walden puzzle, especially a Saturday. I end up feeling brutalized, but slightly happy as well. I have a few frowny-faces next to some of the clues / answers, but overall, an excellent high-difficulty puzzle.
7A: Deltiologist's purchase (postcard)
Now if "deltiologist" had been an answer in the grid, I would have lost it. Bad enough as a clue. "Deltiologist" is a comically high-falutin' name for "postcard collector." I briefly thought the word meant "one who studies river deltas," but then couldn't figure out what such a person would "purchase." This compound word forms part of a neat triumvirate in the NE, with POST and CARD sitting over LIMA and OHIO (16A: U.S. city whose name is pronounced differently from its foreign namesake), which in turn are sitting over ALAN and LADD (18A: "Two Years Before the Mast" star, 1946). So, the 3 8-letter answers break down into 6 4-letter words. I like that I randomly mentioned ALAN LADD in my blog not more than a couple days ago, and here he is, as if I conjured him up. Like magic. Or coincidence.
1A: Fix ... or damage (scrape)
Now this is horribly admirable, twisting the meaning of SCRAPE the way an assailant might twist a knife into his victim: "Noun ... or verb?!!" Sneaky. This took me a while to unearth. I tried for a while to think of some way that REPAIR could mean "damage." So sad.
2D: Coupling device? (civil union)
Yay! Perhaps my favorite answer in the grid. Not sure how I feel about "device," but I'll allow it, as the answer is so nice. That sort of rhymed. Anyway, I tend to think CIVIL UNIONs are a crock - I'm more of a gay marriage man, myself - but it's still nice to see some man -on- man action in the puzzle. Or woman -on- woman, if that's your thing. It's a very inclusive grid overall. See, for example, the apparently trans-gendered Prince INGA (32A: Prince in an L. Frank Baum "Oz" book).
41D: Gag rule, of a sort (omerta)
Super-hot answer, made somehow even more fabulous by being crossed with OMELET (45A: Western _____). What would you put in an OMERTA OMELET? What's the food equivalent of a mafia code of silence?
7D: Groundwork? (planting the seed)
This is my least favorite answer in the grid, which sucks because it's also the longest answer in the grid. I mean, the clue's cute, in its way, because it works on two levels - metaphorical and literal. But the phrase doesn't really hold up on its own very well. Somehow RUNNING THE TABLE or JUMPING THE SHARK or SHOOTING THE BREEZE all seem like self-contained phrases, where PLANTING THE SEED seems like it really needs context to come alive.
New To Me:
- 25D: "Farewell, _____," 1965 top 10 Joan Baez album ("Angelina") - has BRANGELINA been an answer yet? I forget.
- 39D: 1967 Peter Fonda film written by Jack Nicholson ("The Trip") - Is this a prequel to "Easy Rider?"
- 26A: "Hansel und Gretel" composer (Humperdinck) - The other Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921) [note: I intentionally left the umlaut off of the "A" in "Hänsel" because stupid Google will not find "Hänsel" if you search "Hansel" - a horrible search defect; most people (Americans, anyway) are way too lazy to bother with umlauts when they're Googling]
- 9D: European two-seater (smart car) - WTF!?!?!?!
- 1D: Marked difference (step change) - ditto
- 46D: Muscovite, for one (mica) - uh, ditto
- 10D: Pacific Coast evergreen (tan oak) - lived near the Pacific Coast for twenty-one years, never heard of it (though, to be fair, I'd never heard of most tree names)
Lots of nice pairings in this puzzle: FUR and ERMINE, TAN OAK and STATE TREES (30D: Candlenut and buckeye), and, best of all, the intersecting WAGER (35A: Something often laid at a window) and WIN IT ALL (35D: Sweep the competition).
It's the middle of the night, and so ... to bed.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld