Saturday, December 29, 2007
Relative difficulty: Infernal
THEME: Greek ... me in misery ... or none
Today is the day you get to feel quite superior to me (unless you feel that way all the time, in which case it's just Saturday) - I tanked this puzzle like I haven't tanked one all year. I gaped in complete dumbfoundedness at this puzzle for what felt like hours. Two quadrants undone and patchily filled in. Today was the first time all year where I didn't finish unassisted. My crutch: I looked up the word "gasconade." This hurt in more ways than you know. After this, the puzzle fell astonishingly quickly. The most horrible part of the experience was figuring out that despite the puzzle's legitimate difficulty, I'd have solved it if I hadn't made one stupid, stupid error.
53A: Grant's position in presidential history (eighteenth)
I had NINETEENTH. I even sat there and counted up from sixteenth (Lincoln) to be sure that no other numbers fit there. Turns out what I was really doing was counting from 6 to 9, looking for four-letter numbers. If someone had told me that EIGHTEENTH and NINETEENTH had the same number of letters, I'd have said "no way," thought about it a second, and then realized "o yeah." This is the dumb dumb dumb stuff you can do to yourself when solving. The puzzle difficulty is one thing. The hole you dig yourself: quite another.
Other serious, horrible problem - I dropped COTERIE into the puzzle like a gimme. I had the CO- and the final E, none of the letters clashed horribly with MOPPET (which I'd also just triumphantly thrown down (39D: Rug rat)), so I was golden. Only I wasn't. COTERIE was wrong. Actual answer:
36D: Retinue (cortege)
Here are some other fun facts about my failure:
- There are at least three words in the clues that I couldn't define.
- I have a Ph.D. in English and couldn't have defined PERIPETEIA (48A: Unexpected turn of events, as in a literary work) to save my life.
- I noticed but managed to avoid an even worse slip-up than COTERIE. How about the trifecta of
- MISLABEL (for MISTITLE - 33D: Handle incorrectly?)
- WALL (for FORT - 41A: Siege site)
- POSTBELLUM (for EIGHTEENTH - 53A: Grant's position in presidential history)
There were any number of places where if I'd just seen something / thought of something / reconsidered something, the dominoes would have fallen. As it was, my wife looked over my shoulder at one point and gave me BOOTLEGGER (26D: One running for work?), which was sweet of her, and which she did in a very tentative way. The tutee becomes the tutor! I suppose it was bound to happen.
I'm not even bothering with the upper part of the puzzle, except to say that BUBBLE BATH (1A: Modesty preserver, in some films) is a Great answer, and I kicked OPERA SERIA's ass with only a crossing or two (15A: Old form of Italian musical drama). Oh, also, ESCORT (6D: Squire) was, strangely, the first thing I wrote in the grid.
Trouble starts ... here:
- 4D: Uniform armband (brassard) - well, bras is French for arm, but that's all the help I got. Latter part of this answer went unsolved for a while.
- 24A: McKinley's first vice president (Hobart) - had the -RT ... eventually got the H ... could think only of HUBERT.
- 28A: Cupule's contents (acorn) - clue word I didn't know #2 ("gasconade" being #1). Wanted ACORN so bad but wouldn't commit because ... an ACORN is the outside ... it's not in anything. Right? Wrong.
- 25D: Mob rule (ochlocracy) - I've had the non-word COCKBLOCKRACY in my head all night and morning. OCHLOCRACY is a word I've heard before ... maybe once, in like 1986, when we were learning all the dumb-ass -OCRACIES and -ARCHIES in History class.
- 40A: Margay cousins (ocelots) - clue word #3 I didn't know. To my immense credit, I got OCELOTS with very few crossings. They have one of my favorite animal names, and I've seen them in puzzles before.
- 37A: Rich mine or other source of great wealth (golconda) - I have nothing to say here. Just ... no. Nothing. I'll just say that the fact that this kinda sounds like GOLGOTHA is fitting.
- 42A: Mountain sheep (argali) - typing in the grid this morning, I was laughing out loud at the number of words that seemed to me to come from outer-space. This is one of them. I wanted only IBEXES here.
- 38D: Top-of-the-line (class A) - got it early, but it weirds me out because CLASS A ball is the lowest rung in baseball's minor leagues.
- 35D: Price-manipulating group (pool) - the 2007th definition of "pool," I assure you.
- 32D: Scolding wife: Var. (Xantippe) - OK, if I'd had EIGHTEENTH instead of NINETEENTH, I'd have remembered this sooner. I'd really have remembered it sooner if I'd known that XERES (32A: Spanish city that gave sherry its name) was an actual place. Xanthippe was the wife of Socrates who was conventionally portrayed as a total shrew.
- 44D: Name equivalent to Hans or Ivan (Sean) - wife wanted JOHN, but that "J" just wouldn't go. I wanted IAIN. Etc.
- 21D: Catawampus (awry) - I had no trouble here; I just wanted to type "Catawampus."
- 43D: Gasconade (brag)
- 51A: See-through sheets (plate glass) - I suppose.
- 41D: It may be blind (faith) - SO easy ... if I hadn't had NINETEENTH already firmly in place. Only word I could get to work here was FARCE.
- 27A: It has a smaller degree of loft than a mashie (four iron) - wanted BANGER, then wanted to know what British people were doing playing with their food.
- 34A: Rocket datum: Abbr. (alt) - wanted ANG. (for angle?). Also wanted ETHNOCRACY, though, so ...
- 52A: Banks of note (Tyra) - Oh, TYRA, my precious little gimme. Little did I know you would be the foundation for so much evil.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS - I would like to recommend the Newsday "Saturday Stumper" to people looking for a little trial by fire - a little training for your late-week NYT battles. If you go to either "Ephraim's Crossword Puzzle Pointers" or plain old "Puzzle Pointer's" (Will Johnston's) in my sidebar, you can access a world of decent-to-great free daily and weekly puzzles. Newsdays are quite easy all week long, until Saturday, when they are Not. Today's took me an eternity (20+), but after the NYT debacle, it was nice to get a hard puzzle under my belt once again. I highly recommend all the puzzles accessible from either of the aforementioned Puzzle Pointer pages. NYT and NY Sun are still the best puzzles out there, but the other featured puzzles are consistently entertaining and often as good as anything you'll find in the Big Two.