Friday, July 20, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium
I thought overall this was a great puzzle. Tough, but doable, with lots of interesting fill. But the whole thing is marred, for me, by the very first clue in the puzzle.
1A: Faux pa? (stepfather)
I had SPERM DONOR. Why? Well, it was closest thing I could think of to "faux" where fathers are concerned. "Faux" implies not only fake, but cheap. A cheap fake. A knockoff. An imitation. Not as good. Less than. Ersatz. As a STEPFATHER myself, let me just say that this clue is officially invited to bite me. It's phenomenally insulting. Why not make the answer ADOPTER, or GOD - I mean, since you've already gone to the trouble of demeaning non-sperm-related paternal relationships, why not go all the way? I can barely bring myself to refer to Sahra as my "stepdaughter" because it feels like I'm qualifying something - it feels like I'm diminishing my love for her, actually. It's accurate enough, but the qualifier "step" ... almost feels like a betrayal when I say it. It's fine that she refers to me as her "stepdad" - she has a perfectly good biological father, so she needs to distinguish. But I don't. Anyway, if I'm a "faux pa," then she's a "faux daughter," and just try telling me that to my face. I am almost as committed to non-violence as a Quaker, and yet I would seriously kick your ass.
Whew. I feel better. On to the good stuff.
Crossing AMORIST (12D: Love lover) and EROTICIST (22A: Purveyor of hot stuff - HA ha) - genius. I wish the clue [Purveyor of "Hot Stuff"] had also been in the puzzle, with the answer DONNA SUMMER.
I got started on this puzzle with 16A: Not yours, in Tours (à moi) - thank you H.S. French. This got me nothing. The weirdest gimme of all time - and the one that confirmed that the awkward TEAMERS (7D: Special-_____ (football players used only in specific situations)) was in fact correct - was 8D: French novelist d'Urfe (Honoré). I am going out on a limb and saying that I am the only person among all 4000 of us reading this blog today who has not only heard of but actually written about this guy. Actual, published, I-got-paid-to-do-it writing. Finally some of my super-obscure knowledge pays crossword dividends. Seeing this answer here was a little like the time I took a break from my weekend-long Ph.D. exams (40 pages of writing in 3 days) on medieval Scottish literature only to walk into a movie theater and see a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Mel Gibson as the Scottish hero I had just been writing about, not two hours earlier. My dusty corner of the library turned Hollywood blockbuster before my eyes. Surreal. I was so delirious from exam anxiety that I thought I might be seeing things.
TEAMERS and HONORE confirmed the sad correctness of STEPFATHER at 1A, which made the rest of the NW pretty easy. I didn't know that PEENS were 4D: Tool parts for bending and shaping. I thought they were just the parts of hammers that you struck with. TITLING was a bit forced for 2D: Calling. Ditto, though to a lesser extent, ENTENTE for 3D: Dove's desire. SNAP PEA (1D: Stir-fry vegetable) is, in fact, snappy.
ORIENTATED (56A: Became adjusted) is a really ugly word with apparently superfluous letters. What's the difference between ORIENTED and ORIENTATED? The only SUMAC (48D: Cashew family member) I know is Yma SUMAC. Are there really edible, cashew-like things called SUMACS? SEA EAR (25D: Abalone) is also new to me. IRENIC (44D: Peaceful) is not new, but highly unusual. I had EDENIC until RIO DE La Plata at 43A made that impossible.
You could make a really odd dinner menu out of this puzzle: open with MANICOTTI (11D: Italian for sleeves") and SNAP PEAS, close with TAPIOCA (36D: Dessert Calvin doesn't like in "Calvin and Hobbes") and HOHOS (47D: Snack cake brand since 1967).
Both OPERA MUSIC (50A: Libretto accompaniment) and HAND CAMERA (54A: Little shooter) feel really weird. Neither the OPERA nor the HAND appears to really want to be there. It's as if they're being coerced into making an appearance just to make the grid work, not because they make for a perfect, in-the-language phrase.
- 53A: French painter of Napoleonic scenes (Gros)
- 30A: "Moesha" actress Wilson and others (Yvettes) - this gets my vote for most hilariously arcane pop culture clue of the year
Best clue / answer: 38A: Something often looked for on a rainy day (taxi cab). RAINBOW would have fit, but "rainy" in the clue seemed to preclude that answer. Thankfully, I had the "X" from today's mountaineering clue (seems like there's at least one a week), 23D: Scaling aid (ice axe), so I was in good shape to get TAXI CAB.
This is not at all a Scrabbly puzzle, but given the amazing feat of 4-stacking 10 letter answers in both the NW and SE, I'm willing to let it slide. Yesterday's puzzle had enough Scrabbly letters for one weekend.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld