Sunday, June 3, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "Job Descriptions" - famous people described by plays-on-words within common phrases
This puzzle was cute. Not scintillating or mind-blowing, but not bad. The theme answers are kind of ordinary. Hard to get excited by phrases like STOCK CHARACTER or COMPUTER ICON. But what this puzzle lacked in theme prowess, it more than made up for in unusual and vibrant non-theme fill. There are something like 10 answers I'd never heard of before - all of them Downs. Weird. O, wait, I'd never (I don't think) heard of TAP ROOT (21A: Parsnip, e.g.), and that one's an Across. Still this puzzle reads as if the constructor was leading with her Across clues, with the Downs coming later and involving odder letter combinations. Not complaining. The effect is enjoyable.
- 23A: Charles Schwab? (stock character)
- 31A: Annie Oakley? (shooting star)
- 50A: Leonardo da Vinci? (Master of Arts) - or, if you read it like I did, MASTER O' FARTS
- 64A: Sigmund Freud? (Wizard of Id) - my favorite theme answer
- 69A: Tiger Woods? (ace of clubs)
- 84A: Benjamin Franklin? (lightning bug) - my least favorite? "BUG?" I had ROD.
- 97A: Bill Gates? (computer icon)
- 114A: Babe Ruth? (ballpark figure)
Featured ... Six?:
14A: Sarcastic comment of sympathy ("Boo hoo") - I love this one. I think I say this a lot, especially when Yankees or their fans complain about anything. The other great colloquial phrase in the grid: GOLLY GEE (86D: "Leave it to Beaver" catchphrase).
25A: Service group (tea set)
Part of what I like about the puzzle is the way that phrases can be parsed different ways once you plunk them down in the grid. I was transferring the answers from paper to computer, and when I got here, I thought "What the hell does TEASE T mean?" [What no one dared to do on the set of "D.C. Cab"?]. Also wondered, at some point, what a MODELT was (46D: Classic flivver - still wondering what a "flivver" is). See also ICE DIN (119A: Stranded by winter weather, perhaps).
15D: Where hens sit (on eggs) - I love how the right clue can make pretty much any old phrase work in the grid. [Where hollandaise sauce might go] would work too. My favorite snippet of ordinary language - one made excellent by its cluing - in the grid is 64D: _____ the dinosaur (extinction) [way of]. I went from "????" to "wow, that's good" in very short order.
90D: Welsh cheese dish (rarebit) - I have a collection of a comic called "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" by pioneering comics artist Winsor McKay. The comic ran about a century ago, and the premise was that each strip would involve ordinary folks in increasingly surreal events, until the final panel revealed that the whole strip was a dream brought on by the dreamer's having eaten too much Welsh RAREBIT the night before. It's one of the most impressive achievements in comics art that I know of. McKay is somewhat better known as the creator of the strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland."
104D: Tchaikovsky's middle name (Ilich) - I'm strangely proud that an answer like this has become a gimme over time, not because it's in the crossword so much, but because I've actually been trying to understand and appreciate classical music over the past few years. I should put on some Tchaikovsky right now. Let's see... Symphony #4 in F Minor. Yes, we'll go with that. Wanted something in A MINOR, just so I could pick up the 1A clue (Key of Beethoven's "Für Elise"), but this symphony is all I have handy. If I'd had Tchaikovsky's violin concerto handy, I could have picked up ARCO too (even though it's clued to a violist - 108D: Bowed, to a violist). I guess there's plenty of ARCO action in a symphony.
45D: Legendary Gaelic poet (Ossian) - Shouldn't this read [Alleged legendary Gaelic poet]? The Ossian controversy was a very big deal in the 18th and 19th centuries, when people could still get exercised about literary matters not sponsored by Oprah. James Macpherson claimed to have translated a cycle of poems from ancient Gaelic by a poet named "Ossian," but the authenticity of the claim was doubted by many, including Samuel Johnson. Still, Macpherson's work was exceedingly popular, and influential on both literature (Scott) and music (Schubert).
The Great Unknown:
- 82A: Author/journalist Fallaci (Oriana) - OK, I very very vaguely know her, but not enough to get this answer without several crosses
- 13D: Overlapping fugue motifs (stretti) - first time I've ever seen the word
- 51D: Faux gold (ormolu) - I know I've seen the word before, but I could not have told you what it meant
- 53D: Agnostic (nescient) - having had some Latin, I guessed this word, but holy crap I have never seen it written down before. I inferred it from PRESCIENT (an actual word).
- 59D: Common muscle protein (myosin)
- 62D: Nutritionist Davis (Adelle)
- 65D: Japanese porcelain (imari)
- 73D: San _____, Argentina (Isidro) - inferred it from place name in CA (San Ysidro)
- 81D: Hungarian spa town (Eger) - ?? ... ?
- 85D: Tony-winning Verdon (Gwen)
Lastly, there is some nice pairing at the bottom of the puzzle. First, I like that ARIL (102A: Seed cover - old skool krosswordese) is followed immediately in the Across column by ARIEL (105A: Cartoon mermaid). Just add "E." And then there's the unintentional homophonic near-synonymity of DOTTIE (117A: Country singer West) and IDIOTIC (118A: Nutty) - also in successive Across clues. Nice.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld