Saturday, October 20, 2007
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
It had been a while since I timed myself on a Saturday, so I was somewhat surprised to find that, despite feeling like I wasn't moving particularly fast, I finished in the 12-minute range. The puzzle had many words I did not know, and yet it didn't feel hard. Yesterday's puzzle actually gave me more trouble - or, rather, I had a "free fall" experience yesterday (you know, where you're stuck in a corner and nothing is happening) and I didn't today. The grid structure today was pretty open, with two ways into all quadrants, so I never felt trapped or closed in. Psychologically, that makes a big difference. To me, anyway.
First two answers into the grid were BIKINI and STILTON. Then I hit HINTON, a gimme (14A: "The Outsiders" author). "Three in a row, right off the top!" I thought. But HINTON was the only right answer of the bunch. BIKINI was really SPEEDO (1A: Small suit) and STILTON was something called SAPSAGO (7A: Cheese with a greenish tint). I've eaten some pretty exotic cheeses in my time, but I've never even heard of this one. Reminds me of the killer cheese from Byron Walden's 2006 Tournament Puzzle #5 ... what was that cheese? It was in the upper-right corner ... I know that that cheese ate some very good solvers alive. Anyway, it was Italian-sounding and unknown to most of the free world. Perhaps SAPSAGO is more common. As always, it's possible that I'm just plain ignorant on this one.
I'm noticing now that the puzzle has only four 3-letter answers - narrow parts in the NW and SE - and they are all easy. Or 3/4 easy - I had to get ALI (24A: "Infidel" author Ayaan Hirsi _____) from Crosses. The others were as follows:
- 20A: "Mr. _____," 1983 comedy ("Mom") - starring Michael Keaton and my longtime celebrity crush, Teri Garr
- 44A: _____-Hulk (Marvel Comics character) - OK, maybe this is only a gimme for someone who haunts comic book stores (from time to time). But it seems pretty inferrable. Also got help from another comics character today: ARLO (30A: "_____ and Janis" (comic strip)).
- 41A: Application file extension (exe) - more of a Tuesday or Wednesday clue
When short answers are relative easy, transitioning from section to section in a puzzle become easy. Again, the more modes of entrance and egress, the more confident I am in any particular section.
I love that every long Down answer is a very familiar two-word phrase:
- 5D: National chain of everything-costs-the-same stores (Dollar Tree) - had DOLLAR TIME for a few seconds
- 6D: Eloise of Kay Thompson books, e.g. (only child) - very, very vivid childhood memories of this little girl who lived in The Plaza. Sahra went through a brief period of enjoying Eloise, but for the most part she went straight from Olivia to Harry Potter, with a brief stop at The Magic Treehouse. At least that's what it feels like from my perspective.
- 10D: Figure seen in a store window (sale price) - true enough; not as lively as the other Downs
- 26D: Typically green tube (garden hose) - I like this simple phrase. I actually paused and nearly closed my eyes to think of all the tubes I could think of that are green. GARDEN HOSE was the second image that came to mind - right after a piece of pesto-covered rotini.
- 29D: Often -unanswered missive (fan letter) - I have had fan letters go unanswered, it's true. But I've also gotten responses. Lynda Barry wrote me a nice reply once. And James Kochalka (author of the magnificent pigs-in-space comic "Pinky & Stinky") replied to a fan letter from my daughter with a funny Holiday card - and he even drew a picture of Pinky (or maybe it's Stinky) on the envelope. So he rules. Buy his books.
- 28D: Gaffe at a social gathering, in modern lingo (party foul) - I can't stand this phrase in real life, yet I like it here. Come to think of it, I haven't heard this phrase in real life in a long time. Feels very 80's - early 90's. Maybe because those were my heaviest partying years.
The SW corner was an unpleasant place to be, with HATRED (32A: It's "heavier freight for the shipper than it is for the consignee": Augustus Thomas) directly over IRATE (39A: Ready to explode). Sitting on top of TCBY (42A: Big seller of smoothies) those answers make up the worst frozen yogurt toppings ever. Then there's ODIOUSLY just a few floors down (49A: In a despicable way). Yesterday ODIE, today ODIOUSLY. I wonder if they're related. But there were lots of smile-inducing answers to offset the SW's negativity, including TRIPLANE (17A: Aircraft for the Red Baron), which reminds me of Snoopy, MOLL (31D: Tough's partner), which reminds me of many of my campy vintage paperback covers, and ENCOMIA (3D: Laudations), which is just a word I love. So much better than the ugh-ful "laudations." Ooh, PINHOLE (2D: Camera obscura feature) is good too.
There were a handful of odd or unpleasant clues today:
- 15A: Band seen at parties (streamer) - you have to torture "band" to make it say STREAMER. I'm talking cigarette burns, water-boarding, the works. And even then, I'm not sure you can trust the information.
- 47A: It's cleared for a debriefing (throat) - slightly cute, but objectionable nonetheless. First, not necessarily. Second, it's cleared for Lots of Things. I was briefly worried that this clue was going to have something to do with removing one's briefs.
- 1D: Troupe leader (showman) - ???
- 53A: Future hunters (eaglets) - true enough, but ... well, they are pretty cute, so I'll let them go.
Guessed ESTHER (52A: Book before Job) correctly. Liked AMATEUR (11D: Pan American Games participant) because the clue wants you to think the answer is a country. Speaking of countries, I could only half-retrieve LESOTHO (36D: Country of two million surrounded by a single other country). SOWETO kept blocking its path to the front of my brain. Never heard of MARC (31A: Linguist Okrand who created the Klingon language). Could not retrieve VEBLEN (43A: Economist who wrote "The Theory of the Leisure Class") until I had nearly all the crosses - which isn't much of a retrieval. My Ph.D. in English couldn't help me (much) with two different poetry answers: ROSSETTI (19A: "The Blessed Damozel" poet) and RONDELET (35A: Poem whose first, third and seventh lines are identical). Never heard of the Goshen raceway, but its length was easy to infer: HALF MILE (45A: Goshen raceway's length). Lastly, my favorite answer in the puzzle, and a gimme, was O'REILLY (13D: Author of the 2006 best seller "Culture Warrior") - but only because the cover of that book makes me laugh out loud every time I see it.
He's off to war ... in recreational boating gear!
Godspeed, Culture Warrior!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld