Saturday, September 15, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
I'm torn between panning this puzzle for lots of way-out-of-the-language phrases that are frequently awkward or deliberately obscure ... and liking this puzzle for almost the same reasons. This was a tough puzzle, one with a very old-fashioned feel, so haters of pop culture should eat it up - Only four clues from the post-1980 film world, for instance, but one of those was about an early 20th-century historical figure (11D: Sports champ depicted in "Cinderella Man," 2005 - MAX BAER), two have appeared repeatedly in recent crosswords (9D: Richard Gere title role of 2000 - DR. T and 21A: Eric of "Lucky You" - BANA), and one was just plain easy (13D: Davis of "Cutthroat Island" - GEENA). On the other hand, there are many phrases and words that sound like they were last heard in a 1940s musical:
- 56A: Carried by currents, in a way (ocean borne)
- 58A: Serenity (heart's ease)
- 47A: Hansom cab accessory (lap robe)
- 32D: Bridle parts (nose bands)
- 33D: Piercing glance (gimlet eye)
Those last three are out of the devastating SE corner, where I spent a good five minutes. I'm telling you, there's a whole story embedded in those words: "Having given her rival the GIMLET EYE, Susan hitched up her LAP ROBE and set off for the pier, her team of horses chafing against their NOSEBANDS in the cold morning air. By noon, she would be OCEAN BORNE, off to seek her HEART'S EASE in the ancestral lands of her father..." Or something like that. Seriously, none of those phrases belong anywhere near the 21st century.
And yet I liked this puzzle precisely because it was tough and old-fashioned (the same reason I loved my high school English teacher, the same reason I took Chaucer in college...). It gave me a great feeling of accomplishment - like I'd solved a puzzle from another, tougher era. And, if the times at the NYT applet are to be believed, I did this puzzle in a more-than-respectable time, even with those lost five minutes in the SE. So while this puzzle was not exciting, in that it was not pitched to my sweet spot, I have a respect for it. Even a fondness.
15A: Liner's locale (lash) was the gimme that got me the "L" that was All I Needed to get (guess) CLEOPATRA (1D: Shakespearean character who introduced the phrase "salad days"), so I was off and running quickly. Had that NW corner done in no time, though Miss Marple was a bit intransigent. I had SHE at 4D: 1959 #1 Frankie Avalon hit, which gave me CLES for 1A: Interest of Miss Marple. Only after I rethought the Frankie Avalon clue (going through every three-letter word I could think of) did I hit on WHY, which gave me the "W" I needed to reveal the very British CLEW at 1A.
Not sure what part of my brain was hanging on to both TESTA (29A: Seed's exterior) and RAO (34A: 1990 Indian P.M.), but I guessed both of them before I had any reason to be sure of myself.
Didn't know 37A: Setting of Camus's "The Fall" but since it was long and started AMS-, it wasn't that hard to figure out (Amsterdam). Also didn't know:
- 30D: "Pink Shoe Laces" singer Stevens (Dodie)
- 44A: Notoriety (reclame) - this still looks preposterous to me
- 28A: Paris fashion house since 1956 (Chloe) - like TESTA and RAO, this came into my head seemingly out of the blue, and ended up being right
- 43D: Temporary property holder (bailee)
- 20D: Fitch who co-founded Abercrombie & Fitch (Ezra) - easy enough once I had the "Z" from PRETZEL (22A: Contortionist's inspiration?)
Loved seeing the great director ERROL Morris (6D: Documentarian Morris) - not least because he was a gimme - and ARON (7D: Elvis follower - another gimme) and ALDA (25D: Tony winner for "Guys and Dolls," 1951) and CHAIM (24D: Novelist Potok), whom I normally wouldn't care to see, but my wife and I were just having a conversation last night about how the crap they make kids read these days is the same crap they made me read 30 years ago. "The Chosen" was an example, along with "Flowers for Algernon," "A Separate Peace," etc. So CHAIM's appearance in the puzzle was timely, for me.
Winced at TOLL BAR (38D: It's raised after a payment is collected), mainly because that thing never looks like a "bar" to me - more like a plank. All the long two-word answers in the NE left me cold, even HEAT DAMAGE (5A: Blow-drying problem). 16A: Slipping frequencies seems a fairly tortured clue for ERROR RATES, and FRONT AXLES (18A: Steering component components) ... well, it's fine. AXLE is crosswordese, but in this long phrase, it's a bit more interesting perhaps. Gets you an "X." The corresponding phrases in the SW were better, especially CURB APPEAL (51A: Factor in a home's market value) - even though I've seen it in the puzzle (or a puzzle) before. Oh, and speaking of cool words I've seen in the puzzle before, I've taken a shine to BOATEL (43A: Marina accommodations). Something about its pathetically unimaginative hybridity makes me want adopt it. I do not, on the other hand, want to adopt ENA (39D: Disney doe), who, for all her old-skool crossword fame, never come to me when I need her. Other three-letter problems were MBE (55D: Honourary title: Abbr. - wanted OBE) and 10D: Basso Berberian (Ara) (!?). Liked the clue for PBS (53D: "Be more..." sloganeer) - or maybe I just like the word "sloganeer."
My favorite answers were probably DEAD WRONG (30A: Off by a mile) - great, colloquial, in-the-language phrase; and CARAWAY (24A: Aquavit flavor), which is a nasty flavor but looks really good in the grid.
I'm off to IHOP.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS I almost forgot - I want to give a shout-out to sportswriter (and occasional commenter on this website) Nunyo Demasio, who gave me a shout-out in a recent interview he did for a sports website. Check it out. Thanks for the good word, Nunyo.
PPS Congrats and Good Luck to fellow blogger Tom the Dog, who will (it seems, possibly) be a contestant on "Merv Griffin's Crosswords" - he tapes this Tuesday. Read his account of the audition process here.