Friday, October 5, 2007
Relative difficulty: Challenging
Haven't hated a puzzle in a while, but I sure didn't not hate this one. Answers that are either blah or baffling or bizarre, clues that are too cute for their own good, question marks where they don't belong, and an overall leaden, austere, Maleska-on-a-bad-day feel. OK, that last assertion is not exactly true. Maleska on a bad day was absolutely punishing. But this was close. Thought I'd fly through this happily when I got 1D and 2D, and then SPRATS (32A: Famously fussy pair of diners) and LITES (24D: The Chi-_____ (1970s R & B group)) almost instantly. Alas. I did not fly, and I was not happy. One bright spot: Yankees got crushed last night, so my pain today is ever-so-slightly mitigated.
I have a personal aversion to using the same clue twice in the same puzzle. Seems lazy, not clever. And I especially hated today's nautical version of this technique, both because I know squat about sailing and because the answers were ugh-ish. DENSE FOG (1A: Navigation hazard) is certainly a phrase, but the DENSE part feels arbitrary. Could have been THICK. As for SHOAL (32D: Navigation hazard) ... I just don't like the word. Also don't like that it intersects another boring SAT word related to seafaring, DORIES (38A: Fishing boats).
Is a PEA SHELLER (27D: Seed-separating gizmo) even a real thing? Blech. Two of the crosses annoyed me too: 37A: In the style of: Suffix (-ese) - this is a language suffix to me - and 40A: _____ phenomenon (optical illusion) (phi) - no idea what the @#$! that means. While we're down in the SW, ILLER (46A: Not having as favorable a prognosis)? One rapper might be ILLER than another, but I completely challenge the idea that you would use that comparative adjective to refer to sick people. 56A: Bunny backer? (Hefner) is cute. But everything else down here is humdrum to bad. 58A: Risers meet them (treads) is a good example. "Risers," "treads"... these words are just fine, in their way, but they are not common or colorful and are generally part of a semi-specialized vocabulary, and when they pile up (DORIES, TREADS, STRUT, BRAD, EIRE, etc.), my eyes glaze over. Had STRIP for SPLIT (26A: Take off) and ELS for RRS (54D: Commuters' choices: Abbr.) down here.
Some of my problem was just ignorance. 17A: Married man who had long been a bachelor (Benedict) means absolutely nothing to me. I knew DEBS (1D: Five-time U.S. presidential candidate in the early 1900s) right off the bat, but the rest of the NW killed me. SCORELESS is a Terrible answer for 19A: Missing the point? It's not missing THE point, it's missing ANY POINTS! How many times do I have to groan audibly today!?
As for the people in the puzzle - they're OK. Loved Y.A. TITTLE (59A: QB who was the 1963 N.F.L. M.V.P.), who has one of the greatest names in sports history. KARZAI was pretty cool as well (42D: Post-Taliban Afghan president) - and it has a gorgeous and appropriate "Z"-cross: WAR ZONES (55A: Dangerous places for correspondents). The Kwote from KAFKA was especially awesome, in that it tapped into the feelings of soul-crushing despair I had as I was solving this puzzle (42A: He wrote "A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die"). Did HARTE actually tell stories about the Gold Rush, or was he just active during the Gold Rush (35A: Gold rush storyteller)? Haven't read him since high school, so I forget. Never heard of the song "Sadie, Sadie" (29A: When repeated, a "Funny Girl" song), but that may be because I like musicals about as much as I like seafaring. Hence my "...?" response to 47D: Mrs. Turnblad in "Hairspray" (Edna). I'll take OMAR SHARIF (12D: "Che!" title role player, 1969) any day of the week. He looks good in the grid.
- TENT for LENT (11D: Carnival follower)
- HEAD for LEAD (31A: Chief)
- AT IT for IN IT (50D: Competing)
- ANTHILLS for APIARIES (57A: Where workers gather) - that was good-cruel; could have used more of that
- FALLS for FAILS (6D: Goes under)
Speaking of "goes under," why is there a "?" on 20D: Put under? when the answer is SEDATED? That's pretty close to literal, isn't it. I mean, it's an idiomatic expression, but still ... doesn't seem to merit the "?" PREMIE (16A: Special delivery?) felt a little ... unbreakfast-table-ish. Maybe that's not fair. No, certainly that's not fair. But there it is. Never heard of the SPARROW (29D: U.S. air-to-air missile), and barely know OSS (22A: W.W. II agcy.), though it seems very familiar, like it's been in the puzzle many a time. Hate TAPA as a singular (49D: Spanish hors d'oeuvre). I know many of you don't like it when Rex Parker GETS CARRIED AWAY (8D: Overdoes it) trashing a puzzle, thus failing to BE A SPORT (36D: "C'mon, do me this favor") and just say pleasant things. But I've been pretty nice lately, and I think the bile just backed up and had to come out eventually (now that's unbreakfast-table-ish).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld