Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: "THE LAST shall be first" (Matthew 20:16 passim) - familiar phrases that begin with THE LAST are clued without it, thus requiring you to put THE LAST first in order to find the familiar phrase.
I really liked this puzzle, but that is partly because I got the theme early and easily, and after that, the theme answers were all a cinch. One of the benefits of being trained as a medievalist: certain core biblical concepts just stick in your head, and "the last shall be first and the first last" is one of them. This puzzle is Loaded with crosswordese, which is kind of a downer, but there are enough nice moments for me to overlook the often generic fill.
- 17A: Guy ready to sing the national anthem? (man standing) - this phrase often appears in titles without the definite article, as in the Bruce Willis movie LAST Man Standing, but it's a common enough phrase in general parlance that the "the" version seems fine to me.
- 23A: Era ended by Vesuvius? (Days of Pompeii) - this one doesn't really have its meaning changed much. Why lop off "THE LAST" and then essentially bring the concept of finality back in the cluing?
- 36A: What shall be first ... or words that can precede 17-, 23-, 52- and 60-Across (the last) - seems as if, possibly, this clue should have "in the bible" or "according to the Gospels" or something added to it, even if that would make this puzzle (even) easier.
- 52A: Belonging to a Hudson Valley Tribe? (of the Mohicans)
- 60A: Museum exhibit? (picture show)
I'm going to try to spend some portion of my day today saying "BY GUM" (10D: "Dang!") and "MATEY" (5D: Brit's buddy) - in the same sentence, if at all possible.
Here are two actresses whose names you Must Remember. Right Now. Pay Attention (I'm mainly speaking to myself here, as every time I see their clues, all my brain can come up with are O's, A's, and random consonants):
- 14A: Massey of old movies (Ilona)
- 25D: Negri of silent films (Pola)
I love the symmetrical positioning of DOGGIE (13D: Little canine) and BOGIES (45D: Unidentified planes). I had a tiny bit of trouble with BOGIES because I misread the clue as [Unidentified places] and so when I ended up with BOGIES, after piecing it together from crosses, I thought "... is that supposed to be like 'boondocks?' Or 'the sticks?' [disgruntled murmuring sound]."
Love TOP UP (65A: Convertible driver's option), which nicely crosses SIT-UPS at the "P" (49D: Gym class exercises). Another clever intersection, though surely it's been done before: NAY (39A: Vote against) crossing YEA (41D: Vote for).
Here's your Crosswordese roll call:
ADO, NOG, ITALO, OAF, ATARI, BOSC, ETNA, ETO, TOTIE (69A: Funny Fields), LIMO, ELAN, ETA, EON, OPES, OTT, EROO, IOU, SWEE, ICER, STENOG (47D: Court worker, for short) - the last of which is possibly my least favorite abbreviation of all time. Hey, NOG ... and STENOG. Who knew that NOG was a female saint?
- 1A: "_____ Eat Cake" (1930s musical) ("Let 'Em") - loved this, as it is both colloquial and easily guessable.
- 29A: March (through) (troop) - I had TROMP. After I finished, I asked my wife what she thought the answer to the clue would be. She said TRAMP. I like both of our answers better than this one, though its validity is not in question.
- 54D: "For every Bird _____": Emily Dickinson ("a Nest") - a lovely partial. Like "LET 'EM" (above) I didn't know it straight off, but could guess it easily enough.
I am weirdly sad this morning, as last night was my final night teaching in prison. Our final reading, eerily: Dante's Inferno (entirely their choice). As with everything else we've read this term, they ate it up like it was their last meal (coincidentally, we talked about justice, the death penalty, and the popular conception of "the last meal"). Dante's hell is a place without hope. With no light. It's thus a powerful moment when Dante emerges with Virgil out of hell and sees, for the first time in a long time, stars (which is the last word of the poem). Which leads to another weird coincidence - After I'd said goodbye to the students and they had left, I then walked out of the old brick schoolhouse with our prison guard/escort and Charles, the bible reading-group leader who always teaches at the same time I do. We got to the bottom of the stairs, and the first thing Charles did was look up at the night sky and say: "Hey ... I can see stars."
Teaching in prison was the best teaching experience of my life, by a long shot. I don't know if I'll see any of those guys again. I hope they take care of themselves and stay out of trouble. If nothing else, they've got Strunk & White - the best weapon I had to offer.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS Here's Emily Cureton's Tuesday, 12/18 drawing: