Thursday, November 22, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "X" - grid featured big black "X" in the center, which is (I believe) the clue for both 16A and 56A. Also, there are four unchecked letters in the middle of the grid - all "X"s
Holy unchecked letters! I've never seen a single unchecked letter in an NYT puzzle in the entire 14 months I've been writing about the puzzle ["unchecked" means a letter does not belong to both an Across and a Down answer, but only to one or the other]. I liked this puzzle, but was confused by the theme clues - both of which are the same:
- 16A: [See diagram]
- 56A: [See diagram]
I could not figure out what "diagram" meant. Even now, I'm only guessing that it's the grid, and that the clue for the theme answers is the "X" formed by the 17 squares at the heart of the puzzle. After I got ADULT FILM RATING (Happy Thanksgiving!) for 16A, I thought the clue was supposed to be "XXX" - which confused me, as it appeared there would be way more than 3 "X"s at the heart of this puzzle. It all worked out in the end, and I got my name in the puzzle (32A: T. _____), so I've got no real complaints.
In addition to REX, three other words contributed to the "X" orgy at the heart of the puzzle:
- 17D: 44-Across character, with "the" (Lorax) - Got this as soon as I knew it had to end in "X", before I ever looked at 44A: Children's doctor? (Seuss)
- 33A: Marks (out) (xes) - kinda weak. There are a number of these (preposition inside parentheses) clues today, including 9D: Withdraw (from) (wean) [ick] and 24D: Light (into) (rip) [better]
- 38D: Tree tissue (xylem) - vocab!
I started out very slow on this puzzle, as none of the early clues were specific enough to be obvious to me. Took me a while to get words like AWARDS (1A: Crosses and such) and REWASH (7A: Rid of persistent dinginess, say). First word I got in the puzzle was INERTIA (14A: Sluggishness), but only because I lucked out with a wrong answer (CEDE for WEAN) that just happened to produce the correct cross (here, an "E"). Had CROUTON (duh) for 13A: Crunchy salad ingredient, but when the "W" in AWL (3D: Poking tool) made that impossible, I had no idea what could take CROUTON's place - took ForEver for me to see SNOWPEA.
Had to guess at the "L" in LEONORA (35D: "Fidelio" protagonist - no opera buff, I) because I've Never heard of ALDINE (34A: _____ Press, classic Venetian printer that introduced italics). In other Italian news, I also didn't get ANDANTE right away (1D: Medium tempo), though to my credit, once I had a bunch of the letters, I could fill in the gaps. The ANDANTE slowness added to my aforementioned NW troubles. I am still slightly gnashing my teeth at 13D: Like blue-chip stocks (safest) - I know it's a valid clue, but something in me does not like to see a superlative that is not clued as such. [Most like blue-chip stocks]? I don't know. [Bristle]
- 18A: Word with ceiling or football (fan) - a Fantastic clue. Honestly. I mean that. That was not just an occasion to pun on the word "FAN." You know how I feel about puns.
- 20A: N.Y.C. commuter option (MTA) - Manhattan Transit Authority? No: Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
- 24A: Wisconsin senator Feingold (Russ) - of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act.
- 28A: "The Da Vinci Code" albino (Silas) - this guy keeps coming back. He's bucking for the Pantheon (which I will have to update in the New Year)
- 31A: Beast that bugles (wapiti) - can't picture it. Whoa, you know what's weird? I was just watching (in horror) an ESPN show on killing stuff the other day, and the stuff they were killing that day was ELK, and so I had a whole conversation about ELK with my Kiwi wife, who mentioned that NZ did indeed have ELK - they are called WAPITI (I didn't dream this conversation, did I, honey?)
- 39A: Half of a 1991 film title duo (Thelma) - and Louise - a cultural phenomenon in its time, which included an early role for Brad Pitt
- 52A: Hill creator (ant) - First thought: Mike Judge (creator of Hank, Peggy, and Bobby Hill)
- 53A: Thumb's end (silent b) - This kind of clue is no longer tricky.
- 55A: Feeling in a cathedral, maybe (awe) - this is coincidental. I just taught "Church Going" by Philip Larkin in prison this past Tuesday (thanks, Sarah B.). It's all about feeling (or wanting to feel) awe in church. My class had a great, long discussion about church and religion and the relationship of physical space to God and community. Here is the (fabulous) poem, in its entirety:
Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.
Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.
Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?
Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,
A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,
Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
- 45A: _____ Lawrence Orchestra (British big band since the 1960s) (Syd) - No way. If it's a musical SYD you want, why not go with BARRETT or STRAW (my favorite "SYD")?
- 60A: Superlatively Halloweenlike (eeriest) - I just like the clue. Here, the superlative gets its due.
- 62A: Small harpsichord (spinet) - Just strangely proud that I got this word with very few crosses.
- 4D: Sch. papers (rpts.) - I've never asked anyone to write a "report," so this abbreviation just didn't occur to me. For a while. And then it did.
- 8D: Corporation in 2001 headlines (Enron) - wow, 2001 well and truly sucked (except for the fact that that's the year I started dating my current wife... :) Actually, we started dating on Sep. 17, 2001. Auspicious!
- 10D: "All nature is but _____": Pope ("art") - I read this as "All is nature but _____" but it didn't matter - still got it instantly.
- 11D: Bright lights, at times (stimuli) - "Bright lights" made me think of "Big City" and only "Big City" - needed many crosses to get this one.
- 34D: B flat, enharmonically (A sharp) - got this immediately, despite never having seen "enharmonically" before
- 42D: Who said "I believe in censorship. After all I made a fortune out of it" (Mae West) - this is So Weird. I've never seen a clue phrased as a genuine question. This MUST be a typo - "Who" should be "She," right?
- 54D: Adriatic port (Bari) - ????
- 58D: Architect Maya (Lin) - she of the Vietnam War Memorial ... I think. Yes.
PS - In a very odd coincidence, the latest entry at my vintage paperback blog picks up the X / Cross theme of this puzzle - it's a John D. MacDonald book called The Crossroads (which my fingers want to type only thusly: CrossRoads)