Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: Latin phrases
Patrick Blindauer is perhaps the most ambitious puzzle constructor out there at the moment. Some of his recent puzzles for The Sun, for instance, have been masterpieces of ingenuity - one of them ended up recreating in the grid the layout of the 80's video game "Frogger" (I couldn't begin to explain how, but it worked). So, he's experimental and inventive, which I admire a lot. The one criticism I have (and it's not one he should really pay any mind) is that sometimes there's an element of "Trying Too Hard" (or "TTH," as I like to call the phenomenon in all its puzzle- and non-puzzle-related forms). In order to make an ambitious theme work, sometimes answers are forced and elegance lost. I felt this today, where the impressiveness of 6 long Latin phrases - each of which either intersects or runs directly parallel to another theme answer (actually, two answers do both) - is undermined by the fact that three of the phrases are quite ordinary, where the other three are Way outside the language. I think everyone knows these:
- 18A: *Solid ground (terra firma)
- 20A: *You should have the body (habeas corpus)
- 31D: *Without which not (sine qua non)
- 4D: *Behold the proof (ecce signum) - who says this, geometricians?
- 59A: *The die is cast (alea iacta est) - gamblers in Old Rome? This one was murder on me. Even with a couple years of Latin, I stared at that run of four vowels and got dizzy trying to parse the phrase.
- 62A: *Always the same (semper idem) - I want a bumper sticker for my car that says this.
I do like this puzzle - I'm a sucker for Latin, even when it befuddles me - but I'm struck (somewhat negatively) by how divergent the two above sets of theme phrases are in terms of their general familiarity. Oh, I left out one other Latin phrase in the dead center of the puzzle - one that seems to hover, curiously enough, between the two poles represented by the above sets of answers: 40A: *From the beginning (ab ovo) - AB OVO is not especially common in everyday speech, but it's quite common in crosswords (or at least reasonably so).
No time for a big write-up today. So ... Kwik Piks:
- 27A: Big pet food brand (Iams) - yuck ick ack. I don't normally jump when PETA says jump, but the more I read around about this company and animal testing, the less I like. I would like to take this occasion to plug "Dominion" by Matthew Scully. The best book that I've ever read about the importance of opposing animal cruelty. Oh, and Scully's a former Bush speechwriter and conservative Christian - in case you thought this issue broke only along political lines.
- 32A: Erica who wrote "Any Woman's Blues" (Jong) - When it comes to Ms. Jong, I know "Fear of Flying" and that is all I know.
- 39A: Schoenberg's "Moses und _____" (Aron) - I knew this had to be the German equivalent of "Aaron," but that made the first vowel a kind of guess for me. I know next to no German.
- 43A: "The Taming of the Shrew" setting (Padua) - saw this clue and instantly wrote in PARMA (!?). And it worked ... for a while.
- 67A: "Camelot" actor Franco (Nero) - No idea. This is better than yet another Roman emperor clue, I suppose.
- 3D: Nellie of opera (Melba) - Nellie MELBA is one unfortunate name.
- 25D: _____ Grove, N.J. (Penn's) - I'm sure this is well known to locals. I assure you that it is not well known to non-locals. Not this non-local, anyway.
- 32D: Black lacquer (Japan) - this just looks wrong. Even when I had it in the grid and it fit and everything, I thought "shouldn't one of the vowels be ... different ... somehow?" JAPON? Maybe the "lacquer" part was making me think French. Who knows? I had an error when I first submitted the puzzle, and I thought it was this word, but it was a stupid mistake at AB OVO (I had AB OVA - forgetting that AB takes the ABlative (hey, I never noticed that coincidence before) and not the objective case).
- 34D: Alertness aid (No-Doz) - flummoxed I was by this. Briefly. I forgot about this product. The Age of Red Bull is upon us (for the record, I've never taken NO-DOZ and never even tasted a Red Bull - not sure why I felt the need to say that, but there it is).
- 48D: Round dance official (cuer) - I was proud to get this off just the -ER, but it's one of those words I can't look at too long without its hurting my head. It looks like a typo. Possibly the shortest "Odd Job" in the book.
- 8D: He said "Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting" (Berra) - that one's for all the depressed Yankees fans. "The sun'll come out ..." Things look bleak, I know, but I think the Yankees will be back to destroying everyone in sight in about 1-3 years. Til then, I just pray that the Red Sox can get in a World Series or two, while the gettin' is good.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld