Saturday, September 1, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
This puzzle is insane. Beautifully insane. It's got high culture and low culture and lingerie and obscure name collisions and at least a half dozen terms I've Never Heard Of. It was also more fun than most puzzles I've done all year.
The first fun thing about the puzzle for me was that I started in the dead center and exploded outward. The center is a strange but (it turns out) useful place to start. The first Shakespeare play I ever read in its entirety was "The Tempest" (thank you, Mr. Berglund), so it's fitting that the first answer I got in the grid was 23D: Like Shakespeare's Prospero, e.g. (exiled). I claim that I am the only person to solve this puzzle whose first entry was EXILED. You'll let me know if I'm wrong. I confirmed the "X" at 28A: _____ Britannica, where I wrote in LEX. Turns out that the answer was PAX, but that hardly matters now.
Speaking of Shakespeare, I've never heard of 52A: Shakespearean scholar Edmond (Malone). He was part of a three-name pile-up in the SE that nearly derailed me. I love "Popeye," and yet can Never remember Segar's first name - 49D: Cartoonist Segar (Elzie). The fact that I didn't know 53D: Grammy-winning merengue singer Tanon (Olga) bothers me not at all.
Managed to retrieve some obscure TV knowledge, remembering almost instantly that the guy who played Truman in a TV movie over 10 years ago was Gary SINISE (29D: 1996 Golden Globe winner for "Truman"), and remembering further (and more happily) that besides "Golllly!," Gomer Pyle's other common expletive was SHAZAM! (45D: Gomer Pyle expletive). I believe he also said SARG a lot (50D: Pioneering puppeteer), though that might technically be written out SARGE.
The centerpiece of the puzzle is a gorgeous, Scrabbly 15-letter name, JACQUELINE DU PRE (36A: Cellist who debuted at London's Wigmore Hall at age 16), which I got very early on, though I misspelled it as DE PRE, which cost me later. Because of that misspelling, and the fact that I had ARNE where ORNE was supposed to go (16A: Basse-Normandie deparment), I couldn't see the fancy COTE D'AZUR (10D: Fashionable resort area) to save my life. CATE DATER? Something-WATER? Very frustrating, but entirely my own fault. Not sure why I so confidently wrote in ARNE. Rhymes with MARNE, which was a WWII battle site ... right? Nope, WWI. Anyway, MARNE exists, which is my point. Moving on.
The SW corner may be my favorite corner of all time, with a pair of parallel 10-letter words that Ms. Tracey must have been Very Proud of:
- 26D: Salt halter ("Avast, Matey!")
- 27D: It'll knock you out after you knock it back (Mickey Finn)
People are probably familiar with the phrase "to slip someone a Mickey," but you rarely hear the FINN part. Other long answers I enjoyed in this puzzle included:
- 14A: Music maker "played" by the wind (Eolian harp) - I know this term from studying Coleridge almost 20 years ago, but the exact context has long since slipped my mind...
- 57A: Expensive choice for a commuter (gas guzzler) - great in-the-language phrase with a fantastic double-Z
- 17A: Stereotypical nerd (Poindexter) - the first answer that came into my head. I mean, instantly. I couldn't believe it when I tentatively confirmed the "X" with THX (6D: Appreciation abbreviation -I'd had LOL ... HA ha), and then solidly confirmed the whole word by confirming the "I" with ALIT (3D: Set down). POINDEXTER will always live in my head in the voice of Homer Simpson, who loves to make fun of nerds.
Now the stuff I did not know
- 1D: Tio _____ (sherry brand) (Pepe) - pretty sure I've seen this before, but it's not the kind of answer that's apt to stick.
- 21D: Indian lute (sarod) - I can barely look at that word. It's not even close to a word I recognize.
- 35A: Airline purchased by T.W.A. in 1986 (Ozark) - seems like a joke, but apparently not. Had the "K" from 30D: Variety listings (skeds), and knew then that I was never going to get this airline without All the crosses.
- 44A: It lands at Landvetter (SAS) - I sort of know this. It's a Swedish airline? Oh, Scandinavian Airways. OK.
- 47A: Ancient Greek sculptor famous for his athletes in bronze (Myron) - nerdiest ancient Greek name ever
- 48D: Where the Fulda flows (Hesse) - don't know Fulda or HESSE, so I get twice as much ignorance for my money. HESSE is an author to me (and others, presumably).
- 58D: Fed. property overseer (GSA) - let's see ... Government ... Settlement Authority? Not even close: General Services Administration.
I didn't realize that HE/SHE counted as a single pronoun (48A: Inclusive pronoun) - I'm sure language purists around the country are spitting out their morning coffee over that one. Loved the clue on REED (41A: Fen bender), though at first I was looking for some kind of snake. A couple of clues seem off. I'm guessing 2D: Crazy is being used as a noun, since the answer is LOON. Weird. Also weird to my ears is 9D: Smart (spruce) - looks like an adjective cluing a verb. BAD RAP (5D: Wrongful slammer sentence, say) compliments MICKEY FINN nicely - lingo of the criminal underground makes me happy. I didn't know NESCAFE (15D: Instant success?) even existed anymore. Feels like it's from another era (an era before I drank coffee and thus realized that NESCAFE is unbearable). Lastly, I've stared at many an ad for TREO (8D: Palm smartphone), but that didn't keep me from writing in TREA - which set up my favorite wrong answer of the day: 20A: Fluffy, perhaps became HAIRY PET, instead of the correct (though far less colorful) HOUSE PET.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld