Thursday, November 8, 2007
Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: "Heart of STONE" (53A: Unfeeling nature ... or a literal hint to 19-, 31- and 38-Across) - each theme answer has the letter string "STONE" in it, stretched across two words
I think of "Heart" as meaning "Dead Center," and none of these "STONE"s is centered in its theme answer. That's about the only criticism I have of this very inventive, enjoyable (if overly easy) Wednesday puzzle. Paula Gamache is a total pro, and she never sacrifices the quality of the overall fill for the sake of the theme. There's lots of colorful fill all over the puzzle, including an Irish subtheme that had me wondering how many "Mc" names I was going to be seeing in the puzzle (see the NE section of the puzzle in particular). I started out badly - ran through the first nine Across clues and got exactly two correct: SPAR (1A: Quarrel (with)) and POEM (14A: "Jabberwocky," for one). Had DIRT for INFO (5A: Contents of a scoop) and BEAU for AMIE (17A: Billet-doux writer). Also had ZILCH for ONION (18A: "Skunk egg"), which shows me conflating the noun phrase "goose egg" and the verb "skunk," v.t. "To defeat overwhelmingly, especially by keeping from scoring." Had the ridiculously grammatical MAY I for the far more plausible CAN I (13A: Child's plea). But I recovered from this northerly disaster to torch the rest of the puzzle and end up with a time in the mid-6s, which is pretty good for me.
- 19A: Internal-combustion device (piSTON Engine)
- 31A: "American Psycho" author (Bret EaSTON Ellis) - this came out when I was in college and was a source of Major Controversy, with many feminist critics dismissing it as the literary equivalent of a snuff film, rather than seeing it as the satire of American consumerism that it is (or at least tries to be). It is, in fact, a horrifically sexually violent book. The recent movie version (starring the phenomenal Christian Bale) was directed by a woman.
- 38A: Loser in a staring contest (firST ONE to blink) - one of my most favorite theme answers of all time. Inventive and original.
This is one of the Frenchier puzzles in recent memory. Check out the panoply of Frenchness:
OO LA LA (30A: "Très sexy!")
PARIS (2D: Setting for "La Traviata")
ICI (10D: Here, abroad)
REINE (32D: Marie Antoinette, par exemple)
My favorite non-theme answers in the puzzle included RIOT ACT (4D: It's read to the unruly) and OLD FOGY (42D: One who's late to adopt the latest), though I would have spelled FOGY differently, I think. FOGIE? Rhymes with STOGIE, so shouldn't it be spelled that way? Or did I misspell that too? I also like PETE because of how it's clued: 64A: Best of the early Beatles, and ANNEAL (45A: Temper, as metal) because ... well, just because it's vaguely sciencey and yet I knew it - dragged it from some SAT part of my brain. RAVEN (56A: Lustrous black) also pleases me - they are fascinating birds. See Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich - a book that reminds me of my wife before she was my wife: perhaps the first book of mine she took and read. Ended up giving it as a gift to her bird-watching mother. Best clue of the day goes to 57D: Sturdy feller? (axe). Lord knows I generally hate puns as much as the next sane person, but this one made me laugh.
Puzzled by the clue at 44D: Beach maximizer (low tide) - implies some kind of will on the part of the tide to make the beach big. TOFU is eaten by far more people than just vegans, and vegans have other protein sources (54D: Vegan's protein source). Does anyone not living in Early Modern England say that something is 62A: Not worth _____ (a fig)?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld