SATURDAY, Jun. 30, 2007 - Byron Walden

Friday, June 29, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Hard

THEME: none

There's nothing like a Byron Walden puzzle. It's not just that his puzzles are uniformly good - it's that they have a very particular flavor: an unmistakable personality, identifiable at a glance, like the work of any great artist. Almost every Byron puzzle I've ever solved manages to be A. hard as hell (often right on the edge of doable), B. astonishingly daring and inventive, and C. fair. Now his tournament puzzle from 2006 is infamous and many boo-hooed that it was so hard that it was unfun. And I wasn't in the tournament then, so under tournament conditions, I might have wanted his head on a platter too. But when I solved the puzzle in question, in the privacy of my own home, I really liked it. Took me forever, and I had two wrong squares, but given the horror stories, I counted myself successful. This is all to say that anyone can make a hard puzzle (just cross two patently obscure names, and voilĂ ), but to make one that really tests good solvers and has the added bonus of being legitimately entertaining - that's something. I mean, Really Something. Today's puzzle is not his greatest creation, but it's deeply impressive nonetheless; and if I have a few complaints (and I do), they don't come close to diminishing my appreciation for the artfulness of the puzzle as a whole.

I'll start with the weak parts: the entire SW corner is really sub-Byron (with the exception of 52A: It can keep ballfields dry (alcohol ban), which I loved). I mean, REAL ESTATE (55A: Lots to offer - good clue, btw) over TELEPHONES (57A: Bank holdings?) ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. The Downs don't help much. LEELEE (41D: Sobieski of "Joan of Arc") might have been interesting if I'd never seen it in the puzzle before (I have). Had trouble getting into this corner because of the unknown-to-me IL POSTO (40A: 1961 film also known as "The Job"), but once I got in: Easy (not a word you see associated with Byron puzzles very often).

The SW is a big weak spot - but it is the Only weak spot, and the entire upper half of the puzzle is so hot that I can forgive the SW and then some. I should say that after about 5-10 minutes of trying to solve this thing, I had the saddest, sparsest grid (resembling what my scalp will surely look like in another, oh, 3 years or so). INSIDE INFO (16A: Dirt) and AMARILLO (2D: Title city in a 1983 George Strait hit) were the only 6+-letter answers I had filled in, and they were crossed by only a few meager, fossilic answers like ALER (23A: D-Ray, e.g. - good ol' ALER, first answer into the grid), OMOO (15A: Novel that ends "By noon, the island had gone down in the horizon; and all before us was the wide Pacific"), and EDEN (9D: The river Pison flowed from it). I'm embarrassed to say how long it took me to get MOE'S (4D: TV tavern). That's like an opera singer failing to get ARIA. It's a "Simpsons" clue, for god's sake, and an easy one at that.

In the end, there were two key answers that gave me serious momentum. First, GUTTERBALL (18A: Alley oops - tremendous clue), which I got only when I allowed myself to consider that 7D: Polaris or Procyon might be [single letter]-STAR (in this case, F-STAR), even though I'd never heard of such a thing. F-STAR gave me the "T" that gave me GUTTERBALL, which gave me two ten-letter answers, one on top of the other - and I was on my way. The other, unexpected hero of the grid was CLARET (30A: Shade of red), which wouldn't come and wouldn't come and then just appeared to me like a revelation. It put the "R" in BRO (26D: Good bud - I had the much lamer PAL) and the first "T" in GIGGLE TEST (5D: Check for credibility, in modern lingo - which is not part of any modern lingo I've been known to use, or hear, or read). So sometimes innocuous-seeming answers can prove to be crucial moments in the solving experience.

The "W" provided by LOCAL LAW (3D: Ordinance) gave me the little nudge I needed to get the marquee answer in today's puzzle, SOW ONE'S WILD OATS (32A: Be profligate, in a way). The bottom half of the puzzle was a cinch after that, even with Obscure and Obscurer (aka AMU DARYA - 35D: Aral Sea feeder - and D'ABO - 51D: Actress Maryam) lurking in the SE corner.

Love UGLY SCENES (28D: Melees) in the grid, but the clue is too tepid and vague. Every time I look at the grid I keep wondering to myself "What the hell is a U-PLATE?" But of course it's UP LATE (44D: Burning the midnight oil), which is what I am, and so, The End.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the 10-year-old in me just wants to add: TITI (8D: Furry tree-dweller of the Amazon)


DONALD 8:38 AM  

For the 10-year-old who would like to save the endangered titi:

Norrin2 9:39 AM  

58 Across took me forever to get. I didn't know Maryam d'Abo or any Aral Sea feeders, and I couldn't believe we were going to get OATY and WILD OATS in the same puzzle.

Karen 9:48 AM  

Lots of sticking points and traps. In the SE with all those hard clues, I tried to wedge in FBI for the dept of justice, amd RSVP for the invite. And DARK someone rereading his Harry Potter?

Harleypeyton 10:28 AM  

Fun puzzle, a slog, but not too difficult. One complaint. 'Squelch' is a verb, 'kibosh' is usually a noun, as in 'put the kibosh' on something. Other than that?


Chris 10:41 AM  

I had Google test filled in for the longest time, and wouldn't erase it because I liked it so damn much.

Anonymous 10:49 AM  

I think that the theme of this difficult puzzle could be Booze. Byob, alchohol ban , DUI, neat bourbon,grain, claret and even sow ones' wild oats.
Anybody agree?

Anonymous 10:49 AM  

I think that the theme of this difficult puzzle could be Booze. Byob, alchohol ban , DUI, neat bourbon,grain, claret and even sow ones' wild oats.
Anybody agree?

Wendy 10:55 AM  

What's that painting, Rex? Nice.

This was an odd mix of the mundane (not in a good way) and groovy. My favorite curve balls were DUI and OOO. Liked the cluing for TATER TOT, ASHY and PALM.

Interesting factoid about Maryam D'ABO; I always thought she was the sister or mother or something of Olivia D'ABO, who played Karen Arnold on The Wonder Years. They are the spitting image of each other. But they're cousins. Maryam's father was in the old 60s band Manfred Mann (Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Mighty Quinn, et al), which I didn't know either.

Favorite LEELEE Sobieski flicks - A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries and My First Mister. Rent them!

Was glad to see DARK ARTS in the lead-up to the publication of the last Harry Potter.

I agree that GIGGLE TEST, lingo-wise, failed the credibility test for modernity. ;) Litmus test is what I was going for.

Anonymous 12:17 PM  

Can someone please explain why D-Ray is aler? (Death ray?) Thank you.

Rex Parker 12:26 PM  

D-Ray is short for Devil Ray. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays (see logo, pictured) play in baseball's American League (AL). Hence, a D-Ray is an AL-ER (a D-Back, on the other hand, is an NL'ER).


wade 12:28 PM  

D-Ray is short for Devil Ray, I assume. I think there's a team by that name. (Tampa Bay?)

I'm with everybody on GIGGLETEST. I had GOOGLETEST, too, then changed to WIGGLETEST, which kept from getting the final clue: GIFTEDKIDS. I was trying to make it something like whizkids.

Why is Alley Oops (plural) a clue for gutterball (singular)?

julie 12:28 PM  

The D-Rays are the Tampa bay Devil Rays baseball team.

Anonymous 12:34 PM  

Oops! is a comment and not a plural and refers to a mistake. ... And a Gutterball is a mistake made in a bowling alley.
Therefore ,Alley Oops!

wade 12:40 PM  

I though an alley oop was to basketball what a hail mary is to football: a last second shot with nothing to lose. Guess I was wrong. So how do you use the term in a sentence? Can you say, "He rolled an alley oops" in the same way you can say "He rolled a gutterball?" Are they the same part of speech?

wade 12:43 PM  

I think I've figured out my question. A gutterball is an "oops" in a bowling alley--hence, alley oops is a gutterball. D'oh!

But am I wrong that there's a shot in basketball called an alley oop?

Rex Parker 12:50 PM  

First, "oops" just means "mistake" - so it's an "alley mistake," a mistake made in an alley: GUTTERBALL.

Second, an alley oop in basketball is not at all like a Hail Mary in football. It's a play where one player throws the ball up near the rim to a teammate who jumps up, catches the ball mid-air, and dunks it.

campesite 12:52 PM  

I threw down almost instinctively the lame RSVP for the much better BYOB. Tough but fun and fair puzzle. I do like the multiple word answers Walden manages to include (GIFTED KIDS, INSIDE INFO, ALCOHOL BAN and of course the long across answer, just to name a few). Gutterball was my favorite answer of the day.

blue stater 1:58 PM  

I'm glad somebody else caught 11D, "Squelch," KIBOSH first. Another of these close-but-no-cigar clue-answer pairs that occasionally afflict the puzzles as the week wears on. That was the only flaw I found, though, in an otherwise good Saturday workout, the first Walden I've gotten without artificial stimulants in many a moon.

rock rabbit 2:20 PM  

Anon, I like your clever observation of the booze mini-theme. Good one!

Orange 2:27 PM  

Blue stater, I know you're not a fan of my dictionary-based rebuttals—but this one's more a rebuttal of harleypeyton (nothing personal, harleypeyton!) than of you. My jumbo unabridged dictionary includes several noun definitions of squelch, including "an act of squelching or suppressing, as by a crushing retort or argument." Sounds like a squelch would really put the kibosh on something!

The cigar is intact.

And I want to know what artificial stimulants blue stater's been using for Byron's puzzles. Is Prof. Walden spurring a drug epidemic?

judgesully 3:42 PM  

Nice puzzle, in that it didn't rankle me when I didn't know the answer. One needed to really try a variety of very different answers before hitting on the correct one. I guess that's a tribute to the cluing. My favorite, which I stared at for an eternity was 44A-Numbered 31 down- coupled with 31D-44 Across Abbr.

Linda G 3:53 PM  

If coffee counts as an artificial stimulant, I've never done a NYT puzzle without one. My guess is that bluestater was referring to Google.

Wendy, in the future, please refrain from using old and 60s in such close proximity ; )

I also kept seeing U-PLATE as I scanned the puzzle. The other day it was ATEUP, a foreign word pronounced A-TOOP.

Anonymous 4:00 PM  

Thanks for the help on ALER -- I follow baseball a bit but wouldn't have gotten that in a gazillion years.

Anonymous 4:56 PM  

Thanks Rock Rabbit. AT least one person is on my wavelength.

Jim 5:04 PM  

Congratulations to all.

Ever notice that if oats are sown, then they're not wild?

Anonymous 5:13 PM  

One of the ironies of modern bowling is that scores are much higher today, but gutter balls are far more common than they used to be. The modern reactive resin ball is thrown out toward the gutter and occasionally does not grab hold of the dry lane condition near the gutter. I think it was Del Ballard who had the ultimate TV embarrassment of throwing 11 strikes in a row and then throwing a gutter ball on his effort to bowl a perfect game. By the way, as I had drummed in my head as a junior bowler, the establishment is the alley and the surface you bowl on is a lane.

Steve M

Anonymous 5:22 PM  

I just realized it wasn't to bowl a perfect game. Ballard needed two strikes and seven pins to win the tournament. He got the two strikes and then threw the gutter ball. If you go into You Tube and put in Del Ballard gutter ball, you can see it.

Steve M

Wendy 7:25 PM  


Understood. ;)

Michael 9:18 PM  

I also took forever to get MOES (shameful for a Simpsons fanatic), and shoulda gotten ALER, being a Yankees fan who loves Tampa Bay for being the doormat of our division and for guaranteeing NY wins. Alley oops really threw me off, 'cause I got the BALL part of it, and I thought it was a basketball term -- when someone taps your missed shot into the hoop.

Another great analysis. I love coming here after I work the puzzle. I'll be back tomorrow after I work the Sunday one.

blue stater 11:35 AM  

Sorry, Orange: "squelch" = "put the kibosh on." "Squelch" doesn't = "kibosh." Your own example shows that. Some critiques of the puzzles are valid, you see.

My artificial stimulants are, in order, Google, Wikipedia, and if all else fails, coming here to find out the answer.

Fergus 7:02 PM  

Confession: used the Atlas for AMU DARYA and for Prince OLAV, though they weren't mountains in my Rand McNally. I feel only slightly sullied from this 'stimulant' but if I have to stoop to Google I feel cheapened for the rest of the day

Good to see the A's trash the Yanks two games in a row!

Anonymous 12:25 PM  

6WL :::::

I've made the mistake several times with "alley", i.e. failing to make the bowling connection.

I had SEW (one's wild oats) which screwed up Amarillo. Just dumb.

Is it allowed to have Amarillo in the NW?

Wendy, re. Manfred Mann -- Yes, Mike D'abo was the singer on "Mighty Quinn". He replaced John Paul Jones (no relation to Maryam) who sang "Do Wah Diddy Diddy".

Re. GIGGLETEST. When I worked in the corporate world, we used the term "snicker test". Never head of the giggle variety.

Anonymous 3:04 PM  

This puzzle just reached the Vancouver Sun Aug 11.
I found it very challenging, and ended up googling a lot.
Auctioneer fit well in the sw corner alas(not knowing leelee or pascal)never heard of giggle test didn't think of google test,wanted to dig up proof,enjoyed it

rudiger 1:58 AM  

A rousing challenge for which no Googling was necessary, as some answers fell into place nicely, but it seems to me any puzzle could be brought to Saturday-level by using the type of tricky cluing exhibited here.

Still, concur that SQUELCH is not a fair clue for KIBOSH & would add that LOLA IN "DAMN YANKEES" is weak (unfair?) cluing for ALTO. To me, AMUDARYA is quite obscure, but I got it by default as a result of getting the crossers fairly easily.

I need an explanation for OOO (Line struck through by a winner). My 1st impulse was ACE, which proved wrong quickly enough, but I still don't get it.

Rex Parker 7:18 AM  

tic tac toe


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