Friday, January 11, 2008
Relative difficulty: 98% Easy, 2% ????
Well, it was a good day for you if you're a mathematician who reads "Dilbert" with any regularity. Also a good day for you if you are an elite solver who does so many puzzles that certain names that are obscure to most of the world are gimmes for you. Bad day for everyone else. Let me rephrase that - it's mostly a Glorious day. Just avert your eyes from the Western portion of the puzzle, specifically the 3x4 section bounded by GODEL, BEAK, ASOK, and GMAN. I'm going to start with why this part of the puzzle is poorly executed, edited, and clued, then I'll move on to why the rest of the puzzle was totally @#$#-ing AWESOME (56A: "Outta sight!").
I have this weird feeling that these puzzles are test-solved by old pros, whose judgment cannot necessarily be trusted when it comes to sussing out solvability issues for the bulk of merely Good solvers who try their hands regularly at the late-week puzzles. I am normally one of those who praise the infusion of popular culture into the puzzle, but today I got to feel what it's like to be beaten down by a mystery answer I honestly don't think I should have to know. In fact, I don't want to know it. I'm almost hoping I forget it, so much do I resent it. Perhaps I could have tolerated ASOK (36A: Co-worker of Dilbert), if it was the one outré answer in an otherwise thorny but solvable portion of the puzzle. But unfortunately for me, there was a Perfect storm of Confusion over there, and I didn't stand a chance. ASOK is not an inferrable name. It's just not. Now GODEL (30A: Mathematician famous for his incompleteness theorems), to me, is equally mysterious, but at least it was inferrable as a name some person might actually possess. I *hate* that the "G" it GODEL could just as easily have been a "T" - you really really shouldn't cross a tough name with an answer where two letters fit equally well in the space (here it's G-MAN (30D: Fed) and not T-MAN); but some part of my brain knows that GODEL is name-like, where TODEL is not, so I fought through that.
What I couldn't, for the life of me, fight through was the "K" in the horrible ASOK (side note: I can't stand "Dilbert," so I'm angrier at this answer than I probably should be - the fact that "Dilbert" passes for funny is one sign of the Horrible demise of the comic strip form). But perhaps you're thinking "BEAK, Rex, BEAK; surely you could get BEAK? And then there's your "K" and the puzzle's over." Only ... no. Why? Because I am a genius and came up with a much much much better answer for 25D: Nut cracker, perhaps - an answer that made the Dilbert character into a name that almost looks like a name (a name that is, in fact, the name of at least one rapper). My answer to "Nut cracker, perhaps"? = > BEAN. Why? Well, here is definition 2 of "nut" from my massive and massively authoritative dictionary, which I have open before me:
Something resembling a nut in the difficulty it represents: as a. a problem to be solved - often used with to crack ...
The use of "nut" idiomatically in the clue seemed to me to merit an equally colloquial (and equally edible) answer: BEAN, as in "HEAD, SKULL, BRAIN" (def. 6b, but one that's very much in-the-language). So the "Dilbert" character was ASON, which is almost JASON and at any rate is a whole helluva lot more name-like than EWOK or whatever that actual answer was - I can't even look at it right now.
On to better things:
- 17A: GQ figure (male model) - first answer into the grid! Made myself laugh.
- 19A: Dried out (sere) - after many times going to this answer, only to have the real answer be ARID, my tendency to go for the lectio difficilior finally pays off.
- 22A: They act on impulses (synapses) - great cluing; had the "Y," so this was easy. Here's the thing about great misdirective cluing - it should be rough (perhaps rougher than this) but when you get the correct answer, there should be an "AHA," as if the answer had to be that and nothing else and why in the hell couldn't I see it all along. Thus, supremely misdirective cluing is a risky proposition.
- 24A: Like smooth-running engines (lubed) - first sign that the wheels were coming off in the West - I had TUNED, a very reasonable answer, which makes this a good trap (a good trap is one you have a reasonable chance of getting out of).
- 26A: Black birds (daws) - ornithology is not a strong suit, and I actually puzzled over the "W" for a bit.
- 33A: What you take when you do the right thing (moral high ground) - had HIGH and wondered how in the world I was supposed to get THE HIGH ROAD to stretch across fifteen squares. Love his answer, as well, as its shorter but equally lovely central cross, PARADIGM SHIFT (15D: Transition to a heliocentric model of the universe).
- 38A: Innovative chair designer (Eames) - household name in our house. I got my wife a subscription to "Dwell" for Xmas. It's like porn if you are at all into interior design or architecture. Really lovely (and smart).
- 41A: Backyard Jul. 4 event (bar-b-q) - I love the spelling here. This reminds me of Homer's BBBQ ("Lisa the Vegetarian"), where the first "B" stands for "BYOBB" ... and the third "B" in "BYOBB"? ... that's a typo.
- 46A: "Bummer" ("aw gee") - these don't seem quite synonymous, but I love this Beaver-esque exclamation. Goes well with OH WOW (55A: "Outta sight!").
- 50A: It follows Shevat (Adar) - I'm starting to get my Hebraic sea legs - this came easily.
- 53A: Historic capital of Scotland (Scone) - gimme gimme gimme. The Stone of Scone! Edward I ("Hammer of the Scots") stole it from Scotland in 1296. It was fitted into a wooden chair on which all subsequent British monarchs have been crowned. The stone's alleged history (biblical? Gaelic?) is fascinating.
- 3D: Ditsy waitress player on "Mad About You" (Lisa Kudrow) - gimme gimme gimme. Now, see, here, someone might not remember this role, but with a few crosses, that person could reasonably be expected to figure out LISA KUDROW - she was one of the stars of one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, after all. Unlike ASOK.
- 10D: "White Flag" singer, 2003 (Dido) - more gimmeness; I'm sure that classical literature aficionados around the country are shaking their heads, going "there's more than one DIDO now?" But again, all crosses are supremely gettable. So DIDO is not as obscene as ASOK.
- 8D: Name of 11 ancient kings (Ramses) - never saw the clue. Seems fair enough, if highly vague.
- 35D: Moon unit? (rear) - REAR as in ASS, in case you are wondering. I wanted the answer here to be ZAPPA.
- 45D: Practices zymurgy (brews) - there's a new word ("zymurgy," not BREWS)
- 46D: Toiletry brand introduced in 1977 (Atra) - four-letter toiletry product is always ATRA - except when it's not.
- 42A: Decision time (zero hour) - great, lively answer
- 47D: Nail-biter's cry (whew!) - I would have loved to have been able to exclaim WHEW when I finished this puzzle, but my BEAN / ASON error allowed me no such release. AW GEE. Oh well. Tomorrow's another day.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
Today's other puzzles:
- NYS untimed/challenging (P) - RECOMMENDED: Patrick Blindauer and Francis Heaney, "Squares Away" - asymmetrical (or is it?) and spicy
- LAT untimed/medium (P) - Jack McInturff
- CS untimed/easy (P) - RECOMMENDED: Lynn Lempel, "Spelling B's" - cute and breezy
- WSJ 25 min or so (C) - RECOMMENDED: Brendan Emmett Quigley, "This for That" - this one beat me up; a good challenge