Thursday, August 16, 2007
Relative difficulty: Challenging
I got destroyed by this puzzle, especially in the top half. How? Here's how.
I've never heard of - NEVER heard of - CHARLOTTE AMALIE (14A: Caribbean cruise port of call). That's a long answer not to know. Kind of like T. BOONE PICKENS (see many weeks ago). Also didn't know one of the crosses, 9D: Title aunt in a 1979 best seller (Erma). Though almost all those Downs at the top look gettable now, I couldn't see a damn thing when they were blank. GTOS (4D: Classic cars with 389 engines) was the only thing close to a gimme. Working backward didn't help. Had the TEA in CHAI TEA (14D: Coffee alternative) without knowing what kind (went with ICED at first). Had the ONE in SHIN BONE (12D: It's guarded in a soccer game) and thought I was dealing with some kind of ZONE. And O My God I had -T-NDINGO before I parsed STANDING O correctly (1D: Star performer's reward). Early guesses included FANDANGO and MANDINGO, neither of which fit. A-PLUS (3D: 100, say) also looks nuts when you come at it from the wrong end. RHEAS (7D: Birds with a name from Greek myth) is hard to get without any crosses, and I had none (except the "S," which hardly counts). I tend to think of hotels as offering "roll-aways," not COTs (5D: Hotel room option) - it's not a field hospital, for god's sake. Loved the clue on SALAD (11D: Leaves alone, sometimes) ("How can that end in a 'D!?'").
And all this failure after being so proud of myself for nailing RICO (13D: "Copacabana" antagonist) and ZASU (19A: Early film actress Pitts). Less proud for nailing Van DAMME (37A: Van _____ of "Double Team" and "Double Impact"), though no less happy for the entertainment. It was finally getting TEARIEST (10D: Most affected by pathos) that allowed me to hack my way into the top and eventually work it all out. STEP TO THE REAR (12A: Bus line?) is fantastic and nicely colloquial, though it sort of brings to mind Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott... maybe that's just 'cause I watched a PBS special on the 60's last night.
Lived in California much of my life, never knew there was an EEL river in it (15D: Third-longest river of California). Only just recently commiserated with my wife about the nutso spelling of the UINTA Mountains (26A: Utah's _____ Mountains), and still, today, couldn't retrieve it. Knew it started U, some other vowel - but that's it. Had MAD AS for AS MAD (28A: Comparable to a wet hen). Thank god for MIX TAPE (43A: This-and-that recording for a friend or a party), which is the first answer I really could build something substantial off of.
Guessed HINDUS (16A: Diwali revelers) correctly, but had No Clue about MALAYALAM (29D: Language of India with a palindromic name); got the first three letters and was happy to be able to fill in the last three letters as a result. APPLETON (30D: Home of Lawrence University)? Whatever. Had DESK KIT for DESK SET (31D: Accessories for a secretary), then wondered how in the world a hula hoop could be a GYRATI - 52A: Hula-hoop, say (gyrate). Is HAYES Rutherford B. HAYES (49A: Profile on a 19¢ stamp)? ANDES seems to vague an answer to 18A: Home of the Cotopaxi volcano - it's a big mountain range! As someone who has written Many a Footnote in his day, it took me a surprisingly long time to get 21A: Abbr. after an author's name, maybe (ibid.).
Bottom half of the puzzle was far more tractable, though I had ANTEDATE for ANTECEDE (33D: Go ahead of), PLUSH for PILED (46D: Like 1-Across), CAGIER for WARIER (43D: Like someone who's been fooled before) - which caused me to entertain CALK ("shouldn't there be a 'U' in that?") for WALK (43A: Cement layer's work) - and my favorite mistake, RENO for OREM (45D: Self-styled "Family City U.S.A."). The gimme-ness of 55A: _____ diet, food plan emphasizing olive oil, fish, fruit, vegetables and red wine (Mediterranean) almost made up for the CHARLOTTE AMALIE fiasco up top. DESERT STORM (56A: Gulf war offensive) was a cake walk too. URIC ACID (50A: Major component of kidney stones) does not pass the breakfast table test for me, though neither does "Wickiup" - which wins the award for most made-up-sounding word in a clue this year: 44D: Wickiup, for one (hut). Thought it might have something to do with Wikipedia. No. All in all, it feels a little bit like I ATE DIRT (38D: Accepted bad treatment), but I have no business complaining too much about a wicked Friday when I whined so much about easy puzzles all week long. Touché, puzzle. You win this round. See you tomorrow.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld