Friday, August 24, 2007
Relative difficulty: Easy
This is great puzzle, both in fill and in cluing. Could have been a Little more challenging, but other than that, there are very few flaws. It's weakest in its long Acrosses, strongest in its long Downs, and impressively lively and varied and inventive in the short answers.
Started at 1A: "It's all here" sloganeer, once (CBS), which I half thought was a gimme and half thought I was guessing. Maybe I was right on both counts. Anyway, I got it, and from there the NW fell instantly, with 1D: Continue effortlessly (coast) leading into 21A: The Pacific Ocean's only island kingdom (Tonga). TONGA always reminds me of the very first scene in the very first episode of "The Simpsons," where Springfield Elementary is putting on a Christmas pageant and in the "Santas of Many Lands" segment, Lisa plays "TOWANGA, Santa Claus of the South Seas," juggling torches and dancing while wearing a grass skirt and a tribal mask. Anyway, after TONGA, I got SATAN (3D: "Paradise Lost" character - see also his anagram SANTA - 46D: Stocking stuffer - in the SE corner) but blanked on 2D: Dog in Disney's "Cinderella" (Bruno). Had the "B" and "O" and thought BALTO (that's a movie about a wolf), then BALKO (which sounds like the name of the company involved in the Barry Bonds steroids scandal). The Acrosses in the NW fell next; ORATORIO (14A: "Elijah" or "The Creation") was easy - I think it was an answer in the Crossword Tournament's final puzzle - but the clues on the other two Acrosses made things a little trickier. 17A: Drop a few positions, maybe (automate) was tough, both because of the misdirection of the clue (I was thinking of dropping in the rankings, not axing jobs) and because there's not a direct relation between automating and firing - the latter may be the result of the former, but not necessarily. If you follow. Still, loved this challenge. Also loved 19A: Maker of Kiwi Teawi (Snapple), which is a very original and initially confusing way to clue this common beverage brand.
15D: Highest-grossing film of 1986 ("Top Gun") was the movie I saw on my very first date ever - a rather unromantic double date that was really more like "4 friends going to the movies," but when you've got no track record, no dating history, and you are attracted to one of those friends, and you sit next to her and smell her shampoo and try to make incidental contact without seeming aggressive or creepy ... believe me, it counts as a "date." Reading over that description, even I'm not surprised we never "went out" again. "Top Gun" was awesome, though, so some good came out of it.
As I've said, the long Acrosses were bland:
- 26A: They're staffed with doctors (universities) - perhaps this bores me because it's about me
- 30A: Bad time for a tropical vacation (rainy season) - nice enough phrase, but easy easy clue
- 38A: Country that won the most medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics (East Germany) - I feel like EAST GERMANY was just in the puzzle very recently. Again, this clue is pretty easy. A couple crosses should get you the answer, if it didn't come to you instantly.
- 40A: Reluctantly accepting (reconciled to) - pretty good, but nothing to write home about.
But the long Downs are another story:
- 4D: Ultraloyal employees (company men) - a great phrase, and one that conjures up a fabulous and brutal movie called "In the Company of Men," starring Aaron Eckhart of "Thank You for Smoking" ... fame? It's like a longer, extremely sadistic version of "The Office," minus the mockumentary conceit.
- 8D: Feeling no better (unconsoled) - also (with "The") the title of a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, one of the greatest writers on the planet.
- 11D: Is clueless (has no idea) - love phrases of three or more words.
- 27D: Soul singer who is also a coronated king of Ghana (Isaac Hayes) - awesome bit of trivia. I had the "I" and started to write in IKE TURNER. HAYES is best known, recently, for quitting "South Park" (HAYES was the voice of Chef) after the show ran an episode that mocked Scientology - it's a justly famous episode that features the star of "Top Gun" (coincidentally) in a closet (... [cough] ...) for an Extended period of time.
- 32D: One of the "10 Attic orators" (Isocrates) - I did not know this. Pieced it together from crosses. Sounds like the title of SOCRATES' autobiography. Other names I didn't know but guessed easily were CHERIE (55A: Mrs. Tony Blair), ELIAS (45D: 1981 Literature Nobelist Canetti), COLIN (20A: Mystery author Dexter), and ALEC (58A: _____ Ramsay ("The Black Stallion hero)). Had a hell of a time remembering ALBAN (48A: "Wozzeck" composer _____ Berg). Had ALLAN for a while
- 29D: Near the bottom of the drawers? (inartistic) - very very cute. "Drawers" = "ones who draw." Same trick is occasionally played when "flower" is used to clue a river.
UTAHAN (8A: Marie Osmond or Loretta Young) and MARSALA (35A: Wine used to make zabaglione) might have been harder to turn up if they hadn't both been in the puzzle in recent months. The only sticking point of the puzzle was the SW, where not knowing ISOCRATES meant having to hack away at a lot of Acrosses. Knew YURI (42A: First name in cosmonautics) but EDS (34A: I.T. firm founded by Ross Perot) was totally unknown (or forgotten). Also, had to wait on the last letter of 37A: Member of an extended familia (tio) because it could have been (and usually is) TIA. OILERS (41D: Team that won the first A.F.L. championship) might be hard for non-sports and very young people; they were a reasonably successful N.F.L. team when I was growing up (they eventually morphed into the Tennessee Titans). Another tricky, but very COOL (50D: "Fantastic!") sports clue in today's puzzle is 10D: Pass under the basket, maybe (assist) - I spent many seconds wondering why anyone would walk under a basket.
That's all for HOY (43A: Major U.S. Spanish language daily).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld