Friday, September 14, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
In retrospect, this is a mighty admirable puzzle, but I assure you that there were times while I was solving it when I would not have been inclined to say many nice things. This is because of some thorny patches (not to be confused with SOUL PATCHes - 61A: Frank Zappa or Dizzy Gillespie feature - which was one of the puzzle's more awesome entries). The NE was by far the most ruthless part of the puzzle for me, with a full four entries that ranged from barely known to utterly unknown. I had all those 7-letter Downs in the NE and still couldn't do a damn thing with those last ten squares - mocking 2x5 blankness. OK, I got the front of ASSAY easily enough (18A: This is a test), but for some reason, the others wouldn't budge
- --ROL didn't look like it could be any word I knew. I apparently forgot about ENROL (24A: Register)
- --POR really wanted to be STUPOR or TORPOR, but ... not enough room. SOPORific is one of my favorite words, so I don't know why it took me so long to come up with SOPOR (10A: Lethargy). O wait, now I remember - it's 'cause I've never seen SOPOR standing alone before.
- --ARO is a little cigar that most of you probably got right away, but not me. I gotta start smoking more (16A: Light smoke - CLARO)
- -TTA was just pure mystery. Eventually LOTTA (21A: Old-time actress Crabtree) was about the only woman's name I could get to make sense there, though the (cruel) intersection with another mystery actress, OLSON (11D: Actress Nancy of "Sunset Boulevard"), meant that my last solving act was deciding between OLSEN/LETTA and OLSON/LOTTA. I guessed right.
This is a puzzle where I was saved by knowing my three-letter crosswordese. If you are a constant solver of puzzles, then today was a day where you were probably actually grateful for familiar faces like RAJ (44A: Indian viceroy's authority), ARI (28A: Uris hero), ENO (25A: Brian known for 33-Across music [33A = AMBIENT]), and MR. T (20A: Muscleman with a 1980s cartoon series) - O, who am I kidding, I'm always grateful for MR. T. He was the first answer in the grid for me. As usual. MR. T got me DIMMER (7D: Certain switch) and ENO got me the lovely FOR TWO (3D: Like a romantic dinner), which meant that despite some fierce resistance from VERKLEMPT (17A: Choked up - I wanted EMOTIONAL) and the brutal, vile-sounding GAVAGE (1D: Forced feeding, as with a tube), the NW fell fairly quickly. Colorful entries up there include OBERON (2D: Moon or Uranus named for a Shakespearean character) and the four-word (!) GO FOR A DIP (1A: What you might do at the beach) - which pairs nicely, by the way, with another longish answer in the SW - 33D: Swimming, surfboarding, etc. (aquatics). Nice clue on GOWN (22A: Subject of interest in the question "Who are you wearing?"), and I had no idea what the "Gramercy Five" were; sounded like a gang or other group of criminals, so was surprised to see ARTIE Shaw involved in something so untoward (19A: Shaw who led the Gramercy Five). Turns out it's just the name of his jazz combo.
In addition to the pairing of ENO with AMBIENT and GO FOR A DIP with AQUATICS, I really really enjoyed the stacking of entries that begin with the improbable letter combination TS-. TSUNAMIS (30A: Waves with long wavelengths?) over T.S. ELIOT (37A: "Ash Wednesday" writer)! That's ambitious. While we're talking about improbable letter combinations, let's talk about LAO TZU (43D: "The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao" philosopher), who, despite his deep wisdom, is beginning to annoy me with his varying English incarnations. First he's LAO TSE, now he's LAO TZU. Is it wrong to expect greater stability from the founder of Taoism? Perhaps.
Taking daughter to school again. More later.
And I'm back.
I'll conclude with the remainder of the stuff I didn't know or sort of knew but struggled with:
- 26A: John who succeeded Pierre Trudeau as Canadian P.M. (Turner)
- 59A: Oslo Accords concern (Gaza Strip) - man, that looks good in the grid, especially over SOUL PATCH - "Barber, give me a GAZA STRIP SOUL PATCH." I wonder what that would look like.
- 23D: Fundamental energy units (quanta) - had the "Q" off of the (beautiful) Q.E. II (23A: Modern-day monarch, for short) and wrote in QUARKS - this caused all kinds of problems, including an -XOK- run in the middle of a word that was supposed to be QUIXOTIC (38A: Starry-eyed), which is one of my very favorite words but one I had trouble getting here because I associated "starry-eyed" with being "star-struck," not with being "foolishly optimistic." Where was I? Oh, QUANTA. Never heard of it. Plural of QUANTUM, and "QUANTUM physics" is something I have heard of. I have also heard of QANTAS Airlines.
- 35D: Whitewall, maybe (bias tire) - it's been many months since I first learned the term BIAS TIRE right here on the pages (screen) of the NYT puzzle. Thankfully, I didn't even see this clue until 7/8 of BIAS TIRE had already been filled in, or I'd have blanked on it all over again.
- 39D: Largest of the ABC islands (Curacao) - today I learned that the ABC islands are Aruba, Bonaire, and CURACAO, and that they lie just off the coast of Venezuela. CURACAO, according to Wikipedia, "belongs to the Netherlands Antilles, a self-governing part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands." Official languages = English, Dutch, and Papiamentu, the last of which would make a delightfully brutal puzzle answer.
- 45D: Not accented (atonic) - hmmm. Musical, I guess. Meaning lost on me. What does "tone" have to do with "accent?" (if you're actually going to answer that, please do so in Comments, thanks)
- 57D: Sonny's partner in "Dog Day Afternoon" (Sal) - never saw it. Got it solely from crosses. I know this movie has the "ATTICA" chant in it. That is all I know.
- 42A: Spell checker? (amulet) - Great clue / answer. Since I had QUARKS for QUANTA, I had this answer starting with an "S" for a while instead of the "A" - very annoying. S--LET??? Trust me, Nothing wants to go in there.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld