Friday, January 25, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
Woo hoo, new Quarfoot! It feels as if it's been a while. In some ways, I wish that the puzzle author's name were hidden until I completed the puzzle - I really think it affects my mindset. If I see Bob Klahn, I can feel my insides clenching. Ditto Byron Walden (both Great constructors, just ... harrowing; I like them the way I imagine people like scary movies or roller coasters). Seeing Quarfoot's name automatically raises my expectations, such that I am perhaps no longer as blown away as I used to be by his puzzles because I've seen such amazing things in the past. That said, I still found this puzzle quite impressive. It had that peppy combination of contemporary and old-fashioned, with lots of colloquial expressions and unexpected letter combinations. I have more frowny faces on my annotated puzzle than I normally do for a Friday, but these are mainly clue quibbles, I think. Let's see.
Quarfoot almost always has a splashy 1A, and today is no exception. The Iraq War has largely been an international disaster, but it has been a boon for constructors of crosswords, who have found all kinds of exotica suddenly in-the-language and therefore permissible in the grid. I've seen AL JAZEERA and AL ZARQAWI in the past year, and today I get the less Scrabbly but no less unusual SADR CITY (1A: War-torn Baghdad suburb). Had the CITY part before I ever saw the clue, so it was easy. I started the puzzle at EL NIÑO (16A: Weather Channel topic) which gave me the "L" for ELM (10D: _____ bark beetle - a guess, but what else was it going to be?). That gave me the "M" for 18A: Key that doesn't include 58-Across (E major), which I absolutely did not know, but I knew enough to write an -OR at the end and then consult 58-Across, where I found 58A: It's almost a B, scorewise - I know enough about music to know that B is the equivalent of a C-flat, but "almost"? How can a note "almost" be another note? The only reasonable response here ended up being the right one: A SHARP. Very, very nice that A-SHARP and E MAJOR are symmetrical in the grid. I also like A SHARP over ITUNES (62A: Apple application), as it's a very familiar combination to me - A SHARP who listens to his ITUNES every day (even as I write this, in fact).
My biggest problem today was in the San Francisco area of the puzzle, where I got completely spooked by a mysterious city (!): 41A: Onetime Serbian capital (nis). NIS!? Yikes. Until I looked it up (after I finished the puzzle, duh), I thought "capital" meant "currency." But no, it's an actual place - birthplace of Constantine the Great, in fact. Who knew? (please don't tell me you did). Not having spent much time in Manhattan, I also got spooked by 37A: Part of Manhattan's Alphabet City (Avenue C), which sat right atop NIS. The Downs were not helping, especially 2D: It forbids religious tests for political office (Article VI) - ARTICLE was easy enough, but that Roman numeral could have been anything as far as I was concerned. Thankfully, I convinced myself that 1936 was not in fact too early to be part of MEL OTT's career (31A: 1936 N.L. leader in slugging percentage), and that whole section subsequently opened up. Love seeing OTT (crosswordese) given the full-name treatment, btw. I was horribly flummoxed by 24D: Word in some British place names (Upon) - I had the "U" and could barely think of any English word that could fit there, let alone one that would be appropriate to the clue. Of course in retrospect the answer seems obvious.
It was a good day to know your Spanish, which provided key answers in both the Iowa and the SoCal portions of the puzzle. Both OSOS (30D: Zoo de Madrid beasts) and OESTE (49D: Dirección sailed by Columbus) have a good deal of currency in the puzzle, so despite my not knowing much Spanish, I got these easily. It was also a good day to be an English professor who enjoys comics, as NAHUM Tate (50D: British poet Tate) and E.C. SEGAR (43D: Swee' Pea's creator) both decided to show up (again) today - SEGAR shows up quite a bit, actually, and NAHUM Tate has certainly been in the puzzle in the past year. He wrote the libretto to Purcell's "Dido & Aeneas" (late 17th c.), among other things.
Funky pop culture:
- 65A: Judge of films (Reinhold) - HA ha. Best known for a masturbation scene in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (great film - Sean Penn has never been better).
- 56D: 1982 film title role for Bruce Boxleitner (Tron) - double HA ha. Common answer, but never having seen the movie, I didn't know TRON was actually the name of some dude in the movie. I thought it was just a generally electronic-sounding name. I think Bruce Boxleitner was / is married to Melissa Gilbert. Oh, yeah, here we go. Rich.
That's a pretty light dose of pop culture, considering what one usually finds in a DQ puzzle. I guess you could throw in ITUNES (62A: Apple application) and TV TRAY (7D: It might hold a couch potato's potato), but those are pretty mainstream answers, neither one requiring that you be particularly movie- or pop music- or TV-loving. So what else does this puzzle have?:
- 17A: Fleet runner of myth (Atalanta) - total gimme if you know your Greek mythology. Speaking of Greek, when in doubt, guess some version of IONIA (today, IONIC - 6D: Corinthian alternative).
- 25A: Biblical miracle setting (Cana) - another gimme. First miracle site that comes to mind (for me).
- 26A: Powerful piece (queen) - Love this clue. Took me way too long to see the chessness of it.
- 27A: Boarding spot (slope) - hmmm. I don't follow. Is this where the earth SLOPEs toward the sea, so you can pull your boat up and, I don't know, let people on? [No - "boarding" = "snowboarding," and thus SLOPE = ski SLOPE; thanks to Rick for pointing that out]
- 33A: Brooklynese pronoun (dese) - awesome. When will we see DOSE and DEM?
- 44A: Drops in a theater (scrims) - my brain hurt trying to figure this out. Then I though of the word "backdrops," and I got it. I was looking for ... some kind of candy.
- 45A: Japanese model sold from 1970 to 2006 (Celica) - I had no idea this model was defunct. Now CELICA can join ALERO in the dead car hall of fame (though it will never be as common).
- 55A: Spotter's confirmation ("I see it") - ouch. This whole pairing feels very forced.
- 63A: Fancy haberdashery item (ascot tie) - Isn't this redundant? Are there ASCOT shoes? Hats? Cars?
- 3D: Versatile actors may play them (dual roles) - see, I find that truly versatile actors tend to avoid these roles. I guess Eddie Murphy and Peter Sellers and Mike Myers have had some success with dual roles (multiple roles, actually), but if you've ever watched soap operas, you know how painful the DUAL ROLE can be to watch. Oh, who am I kidding? None of you watch soaps. Nevermind.
- 12D: 11 1/2" soldier (G.I. Joe) - I have this strong feeling that DQ has used this answer before. Maybe I'm confusing DQ with Mike Nothnagel. It happens.
- 13D: Online memo (e-note) - e-no.
- 14D: Archaeologist David who found the lost Roman city of Kourion (Soren) - Kierkegaard too mainstream for you?
- 34D: Enter gently (slide into) - Breakfast test!
- 35D: Head of state known to his people as "Dear Leader" (Kim Jong Il) - His name is super-pretty in the grid.
- 52D: Track-and-field equipment (disci) - got this easily, but ick. I demand to know if discus throwers actually use this plural. What do I know? Maybe they do. I heard a guy on the radio yesterday refer to the CELLI in a Bach piece, and I know that's the "correct" plural, but it still hurt my ears.
- 55D: _____ dixit (ipse) - I was actually unsure about this "E," intersecting as it did the second "E" in DEMODE (64A: No longer in). Whoa, talk about pronunciation issues. This appears to be DÉMODÉ. As far as I'm concerned, this answer is missing a PECHE (only 80s/90s music fans will have any idea what I mean by that).
- 61D: School dept. (Ath.) - final frowny face. No big deal. I just find this a really weak abbreviation.
Overall, good stuff.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld