Monday, January 21, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: WIN / LOSE / DRAW - three theme answers start with WIN, LOSE, and DRAW, respectively.
An easy, breezy puzzle. Pretty bare-bones, as themes go. Not much to say about it. It's a bit ho-hum. Ms. Michaels' puzzles usually have a bit more zing to them. I do like that the puzzle makes me think of "Win, Lose, or Draw," the 80s Pictionary-type game show hosted by Bert Convy, where contestants teamed up with "celebrities." The set was designed to look like somebody's living room. What's weird to me is that these words together - WIN, LOSE, DRAW - conjure no other image, no other context, besides a besweatered Bert Convy handing Magic Markers to the likes of . Check out this clip, featuring crossword denizen ELAYNE Boosler and a parade of bad sweaters and haircuts. What I like about this puzzle is that I can imagine the theme is "Word Games" - "Win, Lose, or Draw" is one, JUMBLE (10D: Popular newspaper puzzle subtitled "That Scrambled Word Game") is another, and then, within a theme answer, there's also Scrabble ... (see 61A). Can I just say, about the JUMBLE, that despite its ... banality? cheesiness? ... I find it irresistible. And not always easy. I've been stumped by the JUMBLE before. There. I said it.
- 17A: Triumph, but just barely (win by a nose) - I started writing in BEAT BY A NOSE, got halfway through the answer and realized it wouldn't fit. Messy.
- 38A: Fall off a beam (lose one's balance)
- 61A: Momentarily forget (or get lucky in Scrabble?) (draw a blank) - I believe Ms. Michaels is a Scrabble player. So, probably, are many of you. Not my cup of tea (mmm, tea ... must finish this write-up quickly so I can get downstairs and have mine).
There are a couple of Olde Timey actors in the puzzle today: Ed AMES (21A: Actor Ed of "Daniel Boone"), whom I learned about from crosswords, and LEW Ayres (63D: Actor Ayres), whom I also learned about from crosswords ... and then promptly forgot. His career stretched from "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930) to guest appearances on "The A-Team," "L.A. Law," and "Highway to Heaven." The only LEW I know is LEW Archer, detective in the bulk of Ross Macdonald's novels (I feel as if I made that very same comment the last time I saw LEW Ayres). LEW and AMES were the only parts of the puzzle that seemed at all loop-throwing. All other odd bits of knowledge are flat-out common in crosswords, e.g. ST. LO (28D: Capital of Manche, France) or OCALA (52D: City between Gainesville and Orlando) or AARE (41D: Swiss river). Other old school answers include ARTE (25D: Comic Johnson), EKED (64A: Barely earned, with "out"), and OTT (42A: Baseballer Mel), among others. If you don't want your puzzle to feel like it's sucking the life out of the room, I have two suggestions. One: keep crosswordese to a minimum (today's puzzle is not a great offender on this count - just average); and two: use words like EBBING (22A: Declining in power) and WANED (6D: Declined in power) sparingly. They tend to have a soporific effect. Takes the punch right out of your puzzle.
- 67A: M&M's that were removed from 1976 to 1987 out of a health concern for a coloring dye (reds) - a long, long, weird way to go for REDS ... but I'm not complaining. This clue actually livened things up a bit.
- 1D: Home turf? (lawn) - I had TOWN. Ugh. Maybe this was because the "L" cross, LEWD, was so hard for me to come up with (1A: Lascivious). OGLE and LEER were jockeying for position in the forefront of my brain and wouldn't let LEWD through.
- 31D: "The Star Spangled Banner" land (U.S.A.) - that's an odd clue. Made me think OF THE FREE. Did you know that Francis Scott Key (a very distant relative of F. Scott Fitzgerald) wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" while in temporary custody of a British warship off the coast of Baltimore during the War of 1812? It's true. I think. At least that's what my Intellectual Devotional: American History Edition told me last night. It's a fun, if fairly traditional, overview of U.S. History from early colonization to the present day, organized a bit like a calendar, with a new event, person, or concept each day. If all you're after is "cocktail party" (or in my case "crossword puzzle") knowledge, it's a great way to spend five minutes every night before bedtime.
- 11D: Online commerce (e-tail) - this word, like the majority of e-words, must die.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld