Friday, January 18, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
This was a very solid and enjoyable themeless puzzle. Next-to-no crap fill, and a lively mixture of new and old, pop culture and high culture, SCIENCE (8D: Journal with an annual "Breakthrough of the Year" award) and art. As you know, I'm quite partial to new-fangled fill - idiomatic expressions or people of recent fame whom we're not terribly used to seeing in the grid. When you do a Lot of puzzles, the new stuff is what keeps it fresh. Of course, there's a universe of long-standing names, places, terms, etc., that end up being "new" to me every day, so skewing your puzzle toward the contemporary is not the only way of keeping things fresh. I like the old mixed in with the new, and I like that the puzzle has become more catholic in its frame of reference in the past 15 years. If you are one of those folks for whom all forms of popular entertainment post-1960 are part of a dreaded and derided "pop culture," I don't know what to tell you: get with the times (or at least give up the condescending sneer), or get used to resenting the hell out of your puzzle for the rest of your life. Despite my grumbling when I don't know something, I actually love learning new things - this whole enterprise is largely dedicated to showcasing my Ignorance. I don't know why "pop culture"-haters can't see their ignorance as a challenge. Perhaps you feel as if your life will not be improved one shred by knowing the first name of the guy (Kiwi!) who hosts "The Amazing Race." And you are probably right. But I don't know how my life is improved at all by knowing who HAMAN (17A: Villain in the Book of Esther) is, or what NARD (29A: Ancient fragrance) is, but I'm grateful crosswords have taught me. I suppose one could argue that HAMAN and NARD have stood some test of time, whereas PHIL Keoghan (15D: "The Amazing Race" host Keoghan) is going to be No One in another decade or so. OK. Perhaps. But I want a puzzle that has some respect for the world as it is (which is to say, respect for people from all walks of life, all ages, all races, etc.) - a puzzle that is willing to take some risks on names and ideas that may not have much history, but have cachet now, and may have staying power in the future. This is all to say that I don't do puzzles in order to hide out from the World That's Gone To Hell. I have a certain fondness for that Hell. And I think a blanket condemnation of everything pop is as bad as Any kind of blanket condemnation. When are blanket condemnations ever good?
90+% of pop culture is crap, but so is 90+% of everything. The great thing about crosswords - the thing that makes them much the superior form of puzzle - is that every one is in essence a statement about what counts as knowledge. Every one posits a different idea of who "we" are, and what we should (and shouldn't) know. And so even the most conservative, dictionary-definition-oriented puzzles are making a statement about What Matters. This is inevitably a thorny, if not outright controversial, issue - hence this blog. You couldn't write a sudoku blog. Why? Because there's no Humanity to a sudoku puzzle. It's a diversion, but it doesn't address what defines us as a culture - thus, there's nothing to say. Crosswords are inherently partial, and while the symmetrical, gridded form suggests a certain rigidity, an objectively Right answer waiting to be uncovered, the truth is that at their cores, crossword puzzles are fundamentally subjective statements about what is important and what defines our shared humanity. This blog is a way of turning those statements into conversations. And God Bless the messiness that ensues.
- 10A: Soigné (chic) - my French fails me almost half the times that I need it. Why do I want "soigné" to mean "cared for?"
- 16A: Steely Dan hit of 1972 ("Do It Again") - one of several answers that took me, pleasantly, back to my 70's childhood. I remember listening to Steely Dan on the radio (though Bread or America or Carly Simon were more likely to be on the PHONOgraph - 15A: Stereo receiver button). The 70's also provided my introduction to the Divine MISS M (44A: "Divine" showbiz nickname - Bette Midler, from back in her bathhouse days ... not that I knew what a bathhouse was in the 70's). And I was a huge L.A. Dodgers fan in the 70's (it's how I learned to hate the Yankees), so I was delighted to see Ron "The Penguin" CEY in the puzzle today (28A: Six-time All-Star third baseman of the 1970s Dodgers). Ooh, I also played a little D&D in the late 70s, so ARMOR (23D: Hard-to-break plates) is oddly nostalgic for me as well.
- 18A: T formation participant (end) - a little blandness and vagueness there, though honestly, I'm not sure how you spice up END (and still pass the "breakfast table" test)
- 25A: Perishable fashion accessory (lei) - if you've got to have the boring LEI in your puzzle, "perishable" is an interesting, unexpected way to refer to it.
- 24A: Georgia _____ of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (Engel) - EL? LE? EL? Wanted BAXTER here at first, until I realized the clue wanted the actress's name, not the character's...
- 33A: Canadian equivalent of the Oscar (Genie) - no offense, but that's a Horrible name for an award. Tell me that it's at least pronounced as a French word, and not as a homonym of the name "JEANIE" (as in "I Dream of...").
- 34A: Filled treat (pierogi) - wrote in CANNOLI at first, mainly because I'd just had that word in a previous puzzle. One of the few places I went wrong today - I also wrote in SUGAR for SWEET at 48D: Honeybun.
- 37A: "Cooking with Astrology" author (Omarr) - I'm trying to find my Sydney OMARR paperback - it's Amazing. Its title is "My Bed Has Echoes" (!?) - here we go!
- 38A: "Moon Over Parador" star, 1988 (Dreyfuss) - first thing in the grid, though my first thoughts were RAUL JULIA and SONIA BRAGA (not sure how I could confuse "Moon Over Parador" with "Kiss of the Spider Woman," but there it is).
- 41A: You wouldn't sit for a spell in this (bee) - yep, those kids stand when they spell. Just like solvers stand when they solve the puzzles in the final round of the ACPT (those few who are good enough to make it to the stage).
- 49A: Classic mystical book by Khalil Gibran ("The Prophet") - gimme, as was the other definite-article-containing title, "THE MISER" (30A: Molière comedy).
- 52A: Brood : chicken :: parliament : _____ (owl) - new to me. Wanted FUNKADELIC.
- 55A: Gulf of Taranto's locale (Ionian Sea) - I got the IONIAN part of this simply by looking at the holes in the world and filling them with letters that resulted in a geographical term I'd heard of before. Such logic is half the battle in solving crosswords.
- 58A: Echo, e.g., in Greek myth (oread) - the return! We just saw this term, and here it is again, asserting its worthiness to be held in the same public esteem as your NAIADS and DRYADS.
- 60A: _____ Atomic Dustbin (English rock band) - I feel almost embarrassed to say that this was a gimme for me. Why do I know this??? I couldn't tell you a single song they ever recorded. I did Not learn this from crosswords. One of many useless bits of trivia clogging up my brain. Well, useless until today, that is.
- 5D: _____ Carinae (hypergian star) (Eta) - When in doubt, go with Greek letter. That's actually not a joke.
- 10D: Detective in "The Shanghai Cobra" (Chan) - it was MOTO or CHAN. Guessed wrong, then fixed it.
- 29D: "Ode to Broken Things" poet (Neruda) - I am familiar with the work of Pablo Neruda. My girlfriend (in the 90s) once bought me a book of his poems. She also once bought me Dante's Inferno. That should give you an idea of the emotional gamut of our relationship.
- 34D: Beta decay emission, sometimes (positron) - "Science!"
- 44D: TV star who said "Stop gabbin' and get me some oats!" (Mr. Ed) - Was MR. ED the "star," or the character's name, or both?
- 47D: Egypt's Mubarak (Hosni) - as I've likely said before, this was a longtime pet name I had for my cat. I would also call him ZUBIN MEHTA. Now it's more often "Wiley Wilerson," or just "My Boy." Bush was just in Egypt with HOSNI, so you should have known this even if you don't have a freaky relationship with your cat.
- 56D: With 57-Down, commercial entreaty (Act / Now!) - very very nice little pairing. Always appreciate when a constructor can do amusing things with the small entries.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
Today's other puzzles:
- LAT 7:24 (C) - Dan Naddor
- CS 3:50 (C) - Raymond Hamel
- NYS untimed (P) - Karen M. Tracey - RECOMMENDED (but Very pop culture-heavy, so, you know, be warned)
- Jonesin' 7:32 (P) - Matt Jones, "Cornering Ability"
- CHE 7:36 (C) - Jim Leeds, "Band Master" - RECOMMENDED
- WSJ untimed (C) - Norman Wizer, "Making Ends Meet"