Friday, October 12, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
Well of course I loved this puzzle, but why wouldn't I? Mike always seems to give me what I like in his themeless puzzles. It's almost as if he reads this website and knows my taste in puzzles. So many compound answers. Such a great mix of highbrow and lowbrow culture. Oh, and throwing in my alma mater doesn't hurt - 49A: College in Claremont, Calif. (Pomona). This puzzle shows why Mike is one of my four favorite constructors working today - and I'm not just saying that because he's an avowed fan of my site. Not entirely, anyway.
Still, this puzzle was tough for me, and I felt remarkably ignorant at many times during my solving. For instance, why have I never seen the word "abscissa" before - 24D: Abscissa (x coordinate). I had the "X" from X-FILES (24A: TV series whose finale was titled "The Truth," with "The"), and was nearly pulling my hair out (what's left of it) in frustration at not having any clue about a long answer that starts with an "X"! In fact, all the long answers gave me fits - except ON THE DOCKET (37A: Scheduled), which was a snap. SCOUT'S HONOR (28A: Swear words?) is a great answer, but because I was missing that "C," I had something like S-OUT-----R for a while, and that meant nothing to me. Worst of all, though was CRIME SCENES (8D: Where many prints may be found) - I wrote in FRAME STORES at one point and it felt pretty good; you can see how many letters the right and wrong answers have in common. So there was much flailing, especially in and around the northeast. I got some lucky breaks, like when my fondness for ergonomically designed kitchen supplies gave me OXO (38D: Big name in ergonomic utensils), which gave the the high value "X," which made PIXIES a cinch (I know a little girl who writes a blog about pixies, so this one made me smile). This helped open up the bottom of the puzzle. Then my Van Halen knowledge gave me A NET (22A: Van Halen's "Live Without _____"), which gave me the "A" that allowed me to make the shockingly correct guess of NCAA and then ACC for 10D: Org. since 1910 and 9D: 10-Down div., respectively. Consecutive "C"s provided by those two answers gave me RC COLA (16A: "Great taste since 1905" sloganeer), which helped a lot with the NW.
Along with NCAA and ACC, there were a lot of linked answers in this puzzle, perhaps more than I have ever seen in a themeless puzzle. RC COLA ended up being linked with SODA POP (35D: 16-Across, e.g.). Then there was the crazily linked STORM (30A: One can be tracked) and CAR ALARM (14A: It might go off during a 30-Across). Lastly (I think), there was the pair of dog clues:
19A: _____ dog (coney)
52D: _____dog (sly)
Let's get to my ignorance, because that's always fun. There were a raft of answers I didn't know, or could not get easily from the clues. Let's start with the most embarrassing ones:
18A: He died soon after escaping from Crete (Icarus)
29D: "Odyssey" high point (Ossa)
Not only do I routinely teach Homer and other ancient Greek writings, I am, in fact, currently teaching "The Odyssey." Like, today. Tonight, actually. In prison. And yet I got so flustered by the "Odyssey" clue that I began thinking that the answer was going to have something to do with a Honda minivan, not the voyages of Odysseus. As for ICARUS, I feel less bad about that one, and still ... I should have known. Interesting coincidence: the second-to-last street I have to turn onto before I get to prison = Crete.
Other tough stuff:
- 32A: Recurring character who dies in the novel "Curtain" (Poirot) - until this very second, I was wondering how an Agatha Christie character ended up in a Hitchcock movie ... but that was "Torn Curtain." Again, I really should read the clues. (Speaking of POIROT, check this out.)
- 56A: Butterfly feature (eye spot) - not sure what this is? A wing marking? Got so confused I nearly decided that the clue was referring to swimming.
- 36A: Unesco World Heritage Site on the Arabian Peninsula (Sana'a) - this place! I learn it, I forget it, I learn it, I forget it. If I hadn't seen it before, I'd have thought that it looks horribly wrong.
- 30D: "Star Wars" order (Sith) - god this is great. Despite my antipathy for the "new" "Star Wars" movies, I love this clue. The use of "order" is brutally unclear.
- 32D: Fruit found among needles (pine cone) - "Fruit," aargh. I imagine something sweet and juicy, and I get ... squirrel food. Or do squirrels even eat pine cone seeds?
- 34D: Battle of Put-in-Bay setting (Lake Erie) - no clue. Had the "KEE" part and thought I was dealing with some place in Asia for some reason.
- 36D: General who prevailed over Carthage (Scipio) - hard! I know this guy from a lesser-known Chaucer poem, but ... I went to grad school for that stuff. How did you guys know this?
- 40D: Shade deeper than heliotrope (indigo) - guess [_____ Girls] is just too obvious by now. Never heard of the color "heliotrope."
- 50D: "Tutte _____ cor vi sento" (Mozart aria) (nel) - I know that NEL is a word in Italian meaning "in the." It is the first word of Dante's "Divine Comedy." That is nearly all I know about Italian.
Frowny faces go out to very few answers. Not a big fan of the plural EASTERS (13D: Occasions for baskets). That may have been the only answer that rubbed me the wrong way. There was some tepid stuff, but not much of it. On the other hand, smiley faces go out to I BEFORE E (17A: Rule broken in leisure?), TREE FORT (7D: Kids' hideaway), and SKUAS (44D: Flying predators of cold seas) - the SKUA is the official backup mascot of this website. He steps in whenever the ERNE is unable to fulfill his duties.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld