Thursday, December 6, 2007
Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: ON AGAIN OFF AGAIN (38A: Sporadic) - this is the second of three theme answers; first theme answer has ON repeated, third one has OFF repeated
Just got back from driving Sahra to school, and the semi-icy streets prompted a very involved conversation between me and Sahra about 4-wheel drive and traction. On my way home, I was thinking about how important traction is for solving puzzles, as well. Today's puzzle in particular provided a vivid example of how good traction can make you speed along, while loss of traction can cause you to skid right off the road. I absolutely tore up the top part of this puzzle, but then coming around some turns on the way to the middle and bottom, I lost all traction - I couldn't build (quickly) off the answers I had, and I had to [insert automotive metaphor here - put chains on ... put it in 4-wheel drive ... get out and push] in order to get started again. I still ended up with a very respectable time, just over 7, but I mourn the sub-6 minute time I could have had had I not lost traction.
- ON COMET, ON CUPID (20A: Cry from Santa) - I Love This Answer
- ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN (38A)
- OFF OFF BROADWAY (52A: Some theater) - Another great answer
I want to praise this theme for its elegant simplicity. Nothing fancy, no pyrotechnics, just fresh, pitch-perfect phrases linked by a basic - but actually very thoughtful - theme. Lovely.
Where the wheels came off:
The West - had IMPALA coming down (18D: Classic Chevy offering), got ALOHA going across (24A: You can hear it coming and going), and then ... stalled. The West is always tricky because you have to slide into that section sideways, from the back end of Across answers. Well, you don't have to, but if your habit is to build off the answers you've already got, then that's what ends up happening. The two Downs at the far West totally stumped me at first, and for good reason:
- 24D: Pipe tobacco has it (aroma) - this is a phenomenally cheap clue, and feels like a desperate attempt to make a very easy puzzle slightly harder. It's like someone put a speed bump on a freeway. Not cool. Plus, shouldn't the clue read [Pipe tobacco has one] - or does "one" imply an indefinite article before AROMA, as in AN AROMA? Whatever. The clue is so profoundly arbitrary that I hate "it." You know what else has AROMA? French toast, as well as billions of other things. Come on.
- 25D: "What Is to Be Done?" pamphleteer, 1901 (Lenin) - Oh how I wanted John LOCKE to have been alive in 1901. The fact that this title was not in Russian was my main problem.
Then there was 41A: Wire measures (mils), which I just didn't know. And then there was REVOLT (34A: Renounce allegiance) - to me, REVOLT involves physical action, where "renouncing" is simply a verbal (or maybe written) act. So though REVOLT is an easy word, I couldn't see it for a while. I thus had to hack at the West from many sides before it fell. The other problem area for me was the far far SE, specifically the last two Downs:
- 57D: MCI and others (anni)
- 58D: One off 57-Down, in English (year)
That "MCI" business is cheap trickery. I mean, it's fine, it's acceptable - but having the very next Down depend on getting that answer ... seemed a little rough. Actually, I think the pairing is rather clever, but because the rest of the puzzle was So Easy, this pairing, and the AROMA clue (above) stood out like horrible desperate measures as opposed to integral parts of a challenging puzzle. I actually find the AROMA clue far more objectionable than the ANNI / YEAR pairing. I had to guess at ANNA (63A: _____ Wintour, real-life editor on whom "The Devil Wears Prada" is based) and WONT did not come easily (56D: Custom), nor did STIR (66A: Hubbub). Everything else about this puzzle was pretty easy going.
- 5A: Certain aerophone (oboe) - never heard of "aerophone" - again, desperate cluing to hide a cheap, common answer.
- 45A: Bordeaux variety (Medoc) - now I've seen this before, but even though I had the "DO" combo in there, my brain could come up with nothing. It was after I stalled here, after stalling in the West, that I had to completely reboot and start solving in wide-open spaces in order to regain ... Traction!
- 32D: "I Still See _____" ("Paint Your Wagon" song) ("Elisa") - ack. No way. All from crosses. My only knowledge of "Paint Your Wagon" comes from a "Simpsons" parody: "Gonna paint our wagon / Gonna paint it fine / Gonna use oil-based paint / 'Cause the wood is pine ... Ponderoooooosa Pine!"
- 59D: Govt. org. with a flower in its logo (EPA) - Had FIRES for EMITS at first (59A: Discharges), so thought this might be FHA or FDA.
- 9A: Circle (orbit) - I had AMBIT (?!)
- 33D: Ecclesiastical council (synod) - I had SÉNAT (??!!) (sometimes when I'm going really fast I fail to read the clues properly)
- 4D: Nevada city (Elko) - I had ELAM (an ancient civilization and an NFL kicker, but not a Nevada city), which is surprising considering I've been to, and had amazing adventures in, ELKO.
Other, more lovely things:
- 1A: Exorcism, e.g. (rite) - My favorite RITE! (Stop the presses - I have a new favorite RITE - the "Strange RITE of nudity" allegedly contained in this paperback)
- 14A: Like some histories (oral) - more easy gimmeness, which allowed me to chew up the NW and its environs very quickly.
- 2D: It's about 200 miles south of Georgia (Iran) - had the "IR," so easy, but a good example of another attempt at cluing chicanery. Georgia the US state or Georgia the former SSR? Bush League, but occasionally still effective.
- 8D: Austrian painter Schiele (Egon) - known for sinewy (and often slightly creepy) erotic paintings and drawings.
- 13D: Literary monogram (TSE) - the most famous of the "literary monograms" - had occasion to talk about him yesterday in class, so he was fresh on my mind (Eliot, that is, in case the identity behind the monogram wasn't clear to you).
- 27D: University of Arkansas team, informally (Hogs) - Love the idea of having such a manifestly ugly team name
- 29D: Disco-era suffix (a-go-go) - I would have thought this pre-disco, but whatever. It was easy, and enjoyable.
- 39D: Nancy Drew's guy (Ned) - I love the will they-won't they tension between these two. Saucy.
- 40D: Personification (avatar) - just a word that I love.
- 52D: Title poet in a 1957 biopic (Omar) - poet in 4 letters = OMAR. Maybe OVID, but not in a 1957 biopic.
- 54D: Modern writing (blog) - indeed
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld