Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: FINISH STRONG (52A: Sprint to the tape ... and a hint to this puzzle's theme) - each theme answer begins with a word that can follow "STRONG" in a familiar phrase
Another puzzle where the theme remained mysterious to me until well after I had finished; this time, I even stopped to contemplate the theme mid-solve - I'd gotten the FINISH STRONG part, but I still couldn't figure it out. Thought the "FINISH" (or end) of each phrase might mean "STRONG" or have something to do with "STRONG." And if you look, you can see that there are many words in the theme answers that suggest strength and / or violence and / or professional wrestling: WRESTLER ... TIGHT SUITS ... HOLDs ... BOXing ... HIT. So I was at a loss for a bit, until I took FINISH STRONG very very literally, thinking "How would you "FINISH," as in "complete," "STRONG?"
- 20A: Smash (BOX office hit) - Strongbox
- 29A: Athlete seated at a table, maybe (ARM wrestler) - Strong-arm
- 35A: Advice to a Harley passenger ("HOLD on tight!") - Stronghold
- 42A: Fits perfectly (SUITS to a tee) - Strong suits
The theme could be tighter - STRONG is part of a compound word in every instance but that last one, where it's simply an adjective, SUITS didn't need to be plural - but those are really minor considerations. Overall, it's coherent, and the theme answers are admirably colorful. I especially like ARM WRESTLER, as it reminds me of that klassic Sylvester Stallone picture "Over the Top," where Sly plays a professional ARM WRESTLER ... to win the heart of his son? Somehow? I don't know, never saw it. I just know that its opening scene involves the steps of his son's "boarding school" - which was actually an academic building on my tiny southern California college campus. "Real Genius," "How I Got Into College," and at least one scene from "Beaches" were also filmed at my college. Glamorous!
There are some great words in the puzzle, both in the clues and in the fill. 39D: Onager (ass) came to me almost instantly - my first thought was EEL, but that's a "conger" - because it's been in the puzzle before (I think I had a picture) and it's an anagram of my fellow blogger's screen name. I love how anticlimactic the answer to 31A: Phone trigram (MNO) is, given the fancy-sounding clue. Never heard of the letter sets on phone buttons referred to as "trigrams," but it's accurate enough. I'm also a big fan of the word CYGNET (48D: Young swan). Generally I suck at differentiating flora and fauna beyond the grossest distinctions ("It's a bird ... a white bird ... I don't know ... it could fly ..."), but CYGNET, like "onager," has stuck in my head because of its strange beauty. A word I don't like: "dudgeon" - 37D: High dudgeon (ire).
There's cool old pop culture in the puzzle with Buster CRABBE (1D: Tarzan portrayer) sharing quarters with ALEXIS Carrington (3D: Joan's "Dynasty" role) - my sister and I used to watch "Dynasty" in syndication All The Time in the 80's. It came on in the afternoon, I think. I think it's where I got my taste for campy serial drama - perhaps serial fiction in general. I only just now realized that that might be an embarrassing thing to admit.
The answer that tripped me up the most in this grid was AERIALS (24A: Once-common skyline sights) - it just wouldn't come to me, even with the AER- beginning in place. I could have named twenty things about skylines before getting to AERIALS. Not sure I ever would have got there, in fact. But again, the answer seems accurate enough. Because I couldn't get that, and I couldn't get FRAIL at first, even with the FR- (21D: Hardly robust), I had to abandon the N and reboot in the "Central California" section of the puzzle (my parents live in Central California - it's a nice place to go) - thought of STRIKER (49A: Soccer forward) instantly and confirmed it with SKI (43D: Do moguls, say). And I finished the puzzle in continuous, unbroken, interconnected fashion from there.
Things I didn't know, or didn't know well:
- 5A: Letter-shaped fastener (U-bolt)
- 23A: Pipe type (briar) - is this different from "corn cob?" I never know how to spell BRIAR (puzzle has accepted both the "A" and "E" variants in the past)
- 27D: Good sign for an angel (SRO) - I know what SRO stands for, but I have no idea what "angel" has to do with anything...
- 41A: County near Tyrone (Derry) - is this Irish? Yes - way up North.
GENOA (4D: Salami variety) and FIONA (33A: "Shrek" princess) seem to complement each other, both because they share three letters and because FIONA looks like she enjoys a good GENOA salami now and again. And again.
And finally, the good stuff:
- 15A: "Socrate" composer (Satie) - I love love love his music. So calming and gorgeous. Recommend "Gymnopédies"
- 59A: Like any of seven Nolan Ryan games (no-hit) - like that he intersects ORIOLE (45D: A.L. East player), since he NO-HIT the ORIOLEs on June 1, 1975. Also like that a Nolan Ryan clue is so close to STRIKER, as Ryan is the all-time MLB strikeout leader with 5714.
- 8D: Going from A to B, say (linear) - I don't know why I like it ... I just do.
- 10D: Suffered from an allergy, maybe (felt itchy) - OK, this is very borderline, and yet I find I cannot resist a phrase with the word ITCHY in it. Perhaps that's because it reminds me of the beloved cat-mouse duo "Itchy and Scratchy" from "The Simpsons." Yes, that's it.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld