Saturday, September 8, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium
The shape of this grid is Awesome! It scared me, at first, but then I realized that having a lot of 4- and 15-letter answers was probably going to make the puzzle more solvable, not less. The long answers always look intimidating, but often you can crack them with just a handful of crosses, and thus really open up the puzzle. And with the 4-letter answers ... I mean, you gotta believe that a few of them are going to be quite gettable (as was the case here). I find the hardest puzzles to be those that have a lot of medium-length answers (5-7 letters) - something about that length can just be maddening; always seems like there are a million possible answers for clues. This may be why the NW (which is a 5x7 rectangle) was by far the hardest part of the puzzle for me, and the very last thing to fall.
First thing I entered in the grid was one of what turned out to be just two true gimmes: 32D: Longtime "All Things Considered" host Adams (Noah). This didn't help at all. But then I started to conjecture about the clue for the answer next to it: 31D: Cezanne's "Boy in _____ Vest" - figured there had to be an indefinite article in there ("A"), and what else could a vest be, in three letters, but RED. A RED Vest. Seemed OK, but it gave me a weird -DH- combination in the middle of 38A: Pros. But with a little patience, OLD HANDS came to me, and from there the entire middle of the puzzle went down reasonably quickly.
Getting 33D: Itself, in a Latin legal phrase (ipsa) gave me three consecutive letters in each of the 15-letter Across answers in the middle section of the puzzle. CREASE RESISTANT came to me first (37A: Like Dacron), and then all the short Downs got a Lot easier. Had OPEN for SEEN at first (34D: Not secret), but all other Down in that section were no problem. I especially liked 30D: Reverse movement, of a sort (purl), and, over in the eastern portion of the puzzle, 24D: Composition of some French chains (iles). I don't think I've ever actually seen a bottle (or can) of NEHI (23D: Cadbury Schweppes brand) - just know that it was Radar O'Reilly's drink of choice. Never heard of 26D: Editorial cartoonist Hulme (Etta), but then again I never saw that clue - convenient. I think I've heard of SERT (28D: Harvard Science Center architect Jose Luis _____), but only barely. I'd heard of him enough to put the "S" in once I had all the other letters. Turned my attention to the one long Down answer that runs through the heart of the puzzle - 18D: Spot from which you might see a bomb headed your way - and with -ONES- in place, I felt it had to be END ZONE .... something. Tried to think of parts of the END ZONE, until I realized that the clue just wanted the simple word SEAT. END ZONE SEAT. So you are seeing the "bomb" as a fan, not a player. Gotcha. The "Z" made obvious the very clever 21A: Marxist quality? (zaniness). And the middle of the puzzle was done.
But with the shape of the grid, all that work was very nearly landlocked - tiny three-letter strings extending up and down into nothingness were all I had to get me started on the other two-thirds of the puzzle. Great good fortune came when I looked at 39A: Football helmet features and got EARHOLES almost immediately - what the hell else starts with "E"? This was enough to get me a full four of the 5-letter Downs, including the delicious HALVA (42D: Flaky Turkish confection) and the Pantheonic OGEES (43D: Some moldings). Cutest clue in the SE was 41D: Move shoots, say (repot) [nice botanical echo of RESEEDED in the NW - more on that later]. Most educational clue: 40D: Things hypothesized by Democritus (atoms).
With the back end already in place, REAL ESTATE AGENT was easy (47A: One working for a flat fee?). 54A: Has an accommodating spirit took a little longer. Had the PLEASE part but the only phrase I could think of was AIMS TO PLEASE (not long enough). The key here was figuring out that TO was preceded by an adjective, not a verb ending in "S" - ZZ Top helped me out here. They're always coming to the rescue of some poor guy (see their many awesome videos). I own one ZZ Top album. That album is "TRES Hombres" (53D: "_____ Hombres" (ZZ Top record)). Like The Police, they are a trio, so if you are a constructor looking for a clue for TRIO, why not consider ZZ Top. Just a thought. Anyway, TRES gave me the "R" that finally made IS EAGER TO PLEASE come into view for 54A. Some good 4-letter stuff down here, including RISK (47D: Popular U.S. board game since 1959) and the Pantheonic actor ESAI Morales (48D: He played Bob in "La Bamba," 1987). To round off the bottom third of this puzzle, I want to give special recognition to the sizzling juxtaposition of SAO TOME (55A: Island just north of the Equator) over KINESIS (57A: Activity of an organism in response to light, e.g.). Really, really nice.
Now I was left with the big empty top of the puzzle. As with EARHOLES in the bottom half, I miraculously got RESEEDED (20A: Having new tournament rankings) off of juts one letter (and a paltry, common last letter, at that). Unlike with EARHOLES, however, RESEEDED did squat for me at first. I had an inkling about ESTAR (1D: Spanish 101 verb), but never having taken Spanish 101, I did not trust that inkling. All those other letters in RESEEDED did nothing for me. Terminal "E"s and "S"s tell you virtually nothing about an answer, so I was stuck with none of the NW Downs in place, even though I had already considered two answers that turned out to be right (ESTAR, and 2D: Wedding invitee (niece)). I thought I was dead in the water, but I got the tiniest bit of help in the NE, and it turned out to be enough to give me the momentum to finish the puzzle. Figured 8D: PBS station behind Charlie Rose had to begin with a "W," so I wrote that in. Then I got the completely humble, unremarkable answer that ended up being the tipping point: 11D: Square in a steam room (tile). Came to me instantly, and the "T" gave me W--T--- for 8A: Riddle ender, and somehow I knew the answer was WHAT AM I. Guessed 10D: "I'll raise the preparation of _____": Mark Antony ("a war"), which gave me the "W" in the fabulous 16A: Still oblivious (no wiser), and all the NE Downs went down from there. The Charlie Rose station: WNET. Other answer that was new to me up there: 9D: British general in the American Revolution (Howe).
And now the last stand - even with WALKER and what looked like INTERESTS in place as the tail ends of the 15-letter Acrosses up top, I was stuck. What kind of WALKER could be described as an "It"?? (17A: It has a fast, easy gait). And what kind of adjective could modify INTERESTS (19A: Things you enjoy doing). The NW just stared at me, empty and mocking. I even started to doubt RESEEDED. Then, as has happened many times in the past, I made headway because of a mistake. I was really frustrated at not being able to come up with 5D: Music symbol, but had a moment that felt like an epiphany when I thought of STAVE. I was not sure that this was a "symbol," but something about it felt right. The "V"! It was all I needed to get the ACTIVE part of ACTIVE INTERESTS. Never mind that STAVE was wrong wrong wrong, and the actual answer was BREVE. All I needed was that precious little "V." ACTIVE gave me the "C" that gave me the confidence to write in NIECE at 2D. It let me know that 3D: Wedding rentals were not TUXES but TENTS. Lying in bed, I read 1A: African city with famed botanical gardens out loud to my wife. I had -NT----. I somehow muttered the name ENTEBBE, and she said "what about ENTEBBE?" and I said "Well, yeah, that would be great, but it's not in Africa - it's in the Caribbean..." Pause. Wife: "No it's not. There was a rescue there ... it's in Africa." And then of course instantly I remembered Exactly where ENTEBBE is: Uganda. Idiot! Really annoyed also - half at myself, half at puzzle - for 15A: Yosemite setting (Sierras). I grew up in Fresno, CA, not too far from Yosemite, and I always knew that mountain range as the SIERRA-NEVADAS. In fact if you Google [Sierras] (go ahead, see for yourself), the first site that comes up is a Wiki site for the SIERRA NEVADA range. So I don't like SIERRAS as an answer at all. But whatever, this puzzle was very nearly done at that point, despite my not knowing two of the 5-letter names in the NW: 4D: _____ Davis, first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy (Ernie) and 7D: "Ah, Wilderness!" mother (Essie). I couldn't even tell you "Ah, Wilderness" author, let alone mother. Sheesh.
So, in the end, the WALKER that could be referred to as "It" was a horse: a TENNESSEE WALKER, which reminds me of the late great Johnny Cash and his song about the "TENNESSEE Stud."
The Tennessee stud was long and lean
The color of the sun, and his eyes were green
He had the nerve and he had the blood
There never was a horse like the Tennessee stud
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS Today, according to sitemeter, my average daily readership topped 5000 for the first time ever. Even though you people have never done a damned thing for me, materially, I am somehow grateful for your readership. I'm coming up on my one-year blogiversary (Sep. 25), and I'm genuinely shocked at how this blog has grown from a sad little outpost to a fairly thriving crossword solver's hub in such a relatively short period of time. So give yourselves a round of applause. Or, I don't know, send me a check, or a present ... like a cake or cookies or something. I like chocolate.
PPS Happy Birthday to my nephew Miles, who turns 6 today! He is a virtual mini-me, and my wife frequently says "Miles" in response to faces that I make when I'm happy, sad, excited, etc. Check us out! (from two years ago - in case you can't tell, he's in yellow, and I'm the gigantic dork):