Monday, January 14, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: Good signs - theme answers are generally uplifting or otherwise positive phrases one might see on various types of signs
I think there is a play on words here with "sign" referring to the literal, physical, tangible sign, as well as the fact that that sign indicates (i.e. is a "sign" of) something good (positive) is ahead. So a literal and metaphorical meaning of "sign." I mean, would you really say that a box of candy has a "sign" on it? No. If none of the preceding made any sense to you, forgive me. It's early yet. I just think the phrasing on the clues is interesting / odd. The theme never cohered for me while I was solving - and I'm not sure that it had to. In the end, the clues were all pretty literal. I do have to say, though, that PRIZE INSIDE is a "good sign" on a Cracker Jacks box, specifically, not a "candy box" generally. Having the generic "candy box" in the clue seems awfully disingenuous. Are there prizes inside other boxes of "candy?"
- 17A: Good sign on a highway ("End Road Work")
- 11D: Good sign on a car trunk ("Just Married") - Good for whom?
- 25D: Good sign on a lawn ("Free Kittens") - this one threw me completely. "Good sign on a lawn?" Uh ... "Vote Obama?" "Your kids won't be poisoned by pesticides if they play here?" "Freshly awned?"
- 60A: Good sign on a candy box ("Prize Inside")
- 26D: Good sign at a motel ("Vacancy") - "Under New Management?" "Hourly Rates?" "Free Ice?"
This is a solid Monday puzzle overall, with little of the tedious, common fill that tends to annoy me when it piles up in early-week puzzles. Just look at the NW corner - nothing startling, but UMASS (1A: Bay State sch.) over TENTH (14A: Sophomore's grade) crossed by STRATA (4D: Layers) and SHOVED (5D: Acted rudely while line, perhaps) could be much duller. PLUMS (6A: Juicy fruits) over HOSEA (15A: Old Testament prophet) is nicely contrasting, as is ... well I don't know what ASSENT (12D: Concurrence) / WEENIE (13D: Ineffectual one, slangily) is, exactly, but it's unusual, at any rate. There are a lot of these 6+-letter pairs throughout the puzzle. My favorite is PLUNKS BESSIE (51D: Sets (down) + 52D: Nickname for Elizabeth), as I imagine some 40's-era woman baseball player getting nailed by a high and inside pitch, perhaps thrown by an ornery pitcher named ZOE. "Oh my goodness, ZOE PLUNKED BESSIE. Get the SLEDGE (55A: Heavy hammer), we're rushing the field, ladies." Those were some tough broads.
My geological eras are ... well, they're non-existent, except for JURASSIC, so TRIASSIC (47A: Arizona's Petrified Forest dates from this period), while it rang a bell, did not come to me readily. I hardly ever use a rasp, so ABRADE (29A: Use a rasp on) was tough to conjure as well. WEENIE just seemed ... off, clue-wise. I only just learned who ZOE Caldwell (62D: Actress Caldwell) is, and I still didn't get this except off of crosses. So there were some speed bumps along the way in this one. My favorite moment of the puzzle - which I'm guessing was a speed bump for Someone out there - was SATRAP (49D: Despotic ruler), which I just got through telling you all is one of my favorite words in the English language. It's fun to say, and so exotic. And here it is, in a Monday puzzle. Wonderful.
- 21A: Like the season before Easter (Lenten) - a common 6-letter crossword word. It's shorter cousin LENT is of course far more common. I like the word "Lenten" as it seems edible to me - it somehow evokes "leavened" bread and "lentils" at the same time. Can you tell I did not grow up Catholic?
- 40A: Catnip and fennel (herbs) - arbitrary, but exact, clue-wise. Weird to mix your cat herbs and your people herbs, though. Do cats like fennel?
- 1D: Western tribe (Ute) - ha ha, not OTO! UTE is also short for a "Sports UTILITY Vehicle."
- 10D: Hot Japanese drink (sake)
- 45D: Dish often served with 10-Down (sushi) - mmm ... if we weren't trying to get through January spending only $400 total on food, I would Love to go out for SUSHI and SAKE tonight. Fuji-San! Seriously, if you live in the Confluence, NY area, they're great.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
Today's other puzzles:
- LAT 4:31 (C) - Doug Peterson - had GROSS and SPIN where they didn't belong; cost me.
- CS 3:26 (C) - Thomas Schier, "Clean Slate"
- NYS 3:42 (C) - Mark Feldman, "Pushing the Envelope" - no idea who 17A is; didn't matter.
- Newsday 3:45 (C) - Sally R. Stein, "What's Up"
[drawing by Emily Cureton]