Friday, August 24, 2007
Relative difficulty: Challenging
This puzzle was brutal, but in a beautiful way. So many of these clues were painfully elusive, but in ways that provided genuine, admiring "aha" moments. There were a couple parts that were just plain hard, bordering on unfair, but overall, this is a near ideal Saturday puzzle. I had to work for it, and it was worth it.
Thought I might tear through this one, as I solved the SE corner in about a minute. Had LENA for 57D: New Wave singer Lovich (Lene), and though it was wrong, it (along with ERNS - 58D: Shore scavengers) helped me get the long UTNE READER (60A: Magazine that hands out annual Independent Press Awards) and RAGGEDY ANN (65A: Little redhead). UTNE is often in the puzzle, but UTNE READER - first time I've seen it. Ditto ORONO, MAINE (13D: Northeastern city named for a Penobscot chief). ORONO is supercommon, but not with its state name attached. The most fabulous answer in the SE, however, was GOOGLY EYES (67A: Puppet glue-ons). So cool and imaginative and apt. Apt! Though there was one patently obscure answer in the SE - 62D: Vietnam's _____ Dinh Diem (Ngo) - the whole section fell lickety-split.
And then came the waiting game ("... oh, the Waiting Game sucks! Let's play Hungry, Hungry Hippos!") [sorry, gratuitous "Simpsons" reference]
I had some scattered answers, like UMA (33A: Player of June in "Henry & June") and NCR (7D: Money machine mfr.) and ECOL (3D: Green's concern: Abbr.) and SERA (66A: "Buona _____!"), but I couldn't get much traction. Finally I saw a nice juicy gimme in ELAYNE (20A: Comic Boosler) - remember her name and its spelling, because it's not uncommon in late-week puzzles; from there I half-guessed 11A: "...there are evils _____ to darken all his goodness": Shak. ("enow"), and ORONO, MAINE popped into view. The rest of the NE fell from there pretty quickly. Could tell from the clue that 14D: One concerned with the nose had to do with wine, but needed the "W" from ENOW to see that it was WINE TASTER. Absolutely love 12D: Response to "I had no idea" ("Now you know") - this was a clue that bugged hell out of me until I saw the answer. That's just ... good. Damn good. Couldn't sing the line about LASSES in "Deck the Halls" if I tried (21D: Some of those who "hail the new" in "Deck the Halls") and never ever heard of ELIAH (11D: Son of Elam whose name means "God the Lord") - though, to redeem myself biblically, I totally nailed HOSEA (49D: God commanded him to marry a harlot) off just the "A." O, I left out that the little Pantheonic EWER (47A: Prize cup, maybe), really really helped me solve the NW. Seriously, EWER. I MEAN IT (40A: No-nonsense cry). Hey look, there's EWER, and there's SEWER (22A: Place of refuse). Wasn't SEWER (as in, "one who sews") in yesterday's puzzle? No, that was Thursday's puzzle, and it was SEWERS.
More colloquial goodness in this puzzle:
- 25D: Cry "nyah, nyah!" (rub it in) - best variation on the [Schoolyard taunt] variety of clue that I've ever seen
- 1A: "That may be true, but ..." ("The thing is ...") - that's just bad-ass. I mean, unfair badassery. When idiomatic expressions like this show up, and they are clued in such a spot-on way - it gives me the kind of joy I can barely express.
The last part of the puzzle to fall, and the part wherein I had one incorrect square, was the SW. That's a good place to begin my list of the answers in today's rather large "WTF!" department. We have:
- 28D: Outlaw band member (Allan-a-Dale) - that's right, two dashes in his name! He was a wandering minstrel who joined up with Robin Hood's band of Merry Men, it seems. More often called one-L "Alan-a-Dale"; so this answer is super-obscure and a variant. Ouch. Cool that the "outlaw" here crosses the "rebel" E. LEE (64A: Part of a rebel name). However, it also cruelly intersects...
- 48A: Jazz pianist who played with Satchmo (Fatha) - O FATHA, who art thou? I had FOTHA and ALLAN O'DALE (the famous Irish ... outlaw) at first.
Other magical mystery answers include:
- 4D: Italian tenor _____ Schipa (Tito) - He's a Yugoslavian president, he's a Jackson, , he's a Latin American percussionist who once appeared on "The Simpsons," and he's an Italian tenor. Beware the many faces of TITO.
- 6D: Soap actress Kristen and others (Ilenes) - you must be joking. Who???
- 30D: Saki story whose title character is a hyena ("Esme")
And finally the king of all insane answers:
- 23D: Arrow of Light earner's program (Webelos) - Holy Moly. Just look at that word. It makes my head hurt. Is that the name of a cereal? I thought for sure it had something to do with computer programming, but it's something to do with Cub Scouts (which is what I wanted the answer to be here) - short for "We'll Be Loyal Scouts."
I would like to take the time now to bow before two of the cleverest pop culture clues and answers I've ever seen. Brutal, but brilliant:
- 34A: Title locale of five 1980s films: Abbr. (Elm St.) - had the "M" and "T" and could make Nothing out of it. The "Abbr." part just mystified the hell out of me. But as soon as I got the "S" from ESME, it became obvious. The "Nightmare on Elm St." series is iconic 80s horror goodness. Freddy Krueger is a horror movie legend. I would tell you about the time "The Simpsons" parodied the "NOES" series, but ... I'm trying to limit my "Simpsons" references to one a day.
- 41A: King's second ("Salem's Lot") - I'm a bit in awe of this one. Such devastating cluing. Is it a King in chess? Checkers? An actual, political king? Martin Luther King, Jr.? I considered all these. Never considered Stephen King. Wondered what kind of SLOT could be a "second," then parsed it correctly and marveled at the result.
Less great, but still fun, pop-culture-wise, were 45A: She had brief roles as Phyllis on "Rhoda" and Rhoda on "Dr. Kildare" (Cloris - as in Leachman), 16A: _____ Lemaris, early love of Superman (Lori) and 35D: Felix, e.g. (tom cat) - wasn't sure if "Felix" was going to refer to the Cat or the neat freak from "The Odd Couple." Had THE CAT in there for a while, which I love even though it didn't quite make sense given the clue. Ooh, and one more great, somewhat pop-culturish clue: 5D: Routine responses? (hahas) - as in, responses to comedy routines. Good stuff.
There was a clunker here and there in this puzzle, like RELOAN (19A: Advance further?) and SERUMS (31A: Shot putters' supplies?) - that last one is painful in that the clue is tortuous and the end result is a substandard plural. But those answers are a very small price to pay for the greatness that is this puzzle. Myles Callum - as a constructor, he's no SMALL TIMER (29D: Insignificant sort). This puzzle was A HOOT (26A: Tons of fun). Those who were prepared to bury The Times and declare the The Sun the new King of Puzzles (you know who you are) might want to rethink that stance, because the past two days have provided two of the very best themeless puzzles I've seen all year, in any publication.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS I love The Sun puzzles, and mean no disrespect. I actually think the "which is better?" argument is pointless - we should just count ourselves lucky that there are two such outstanding daily puzzles out there.