Thursday, January 10, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" - those are the first words of four theme answers, respectively; 15-letter central Across describes the theme: 37A: Theme of this puzzle, as hinted at by 17-, 23-, 45- and 59-Across (John Le Carré book)
On a Sticky Note on my computer desktop, I have a bunch of puzzle ideas - I've been toying with the idea of constructing for a little while now, and it may happen one day, though this endeavor (which you're currently reading) takes up so much of my free time that I don't know how I'll ever do it. At any rate, as I was doing today's puzzle, at some point it dawned on me that I was doing one of MY puzzles - I've had a TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY concept just languishing there on the little yellow note ("TINKER ... TOYS? TINKER ... BELL? ... SPY ... KIDS?"). Now I'm fairly certain that Liz Gorski is not in the habit of hacking into people's personal computers and stealing their ideas, so this is just an odd coincidence that must happen All The Time to constructors. For all I know, this theme has been done before, somewhere in the universe. Ms. Gorski certainly executed the theme far better than I ever could (at this stage in my non-existent puzzle-writing career), so you (and John Le Carré) should feel grateful that I didn't execute this puzzle theme first.
- 17A: Constructing things (Tinker Toys)
- 23A: Custom (tailor-made)
- 45A: 1962 #1 hit by the Shirelles ("Soldier Boy")
- 59A: Means of remote monitoring (spy camera)
This puzzle was made Thursday-hard (perhaps Thursday+-hard) by some odd fill and bizarre cluing throughout the grid - none of which I minded too much, but much of which felt amped up in order to compensate (I'm guessing) for the ease with which one could get the theme and thus fill in huge chunks of the puzzle. Take the NW corner for instance. Holy moses I had some trouble up there. First of all, TRINE (14A: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)!? Me: "Why won't TRINITY fit!?! Is this an "ITY" rebus? What ... would that even mean?" TRINE crosses LINA (3D: Director Wertmuller), whom I always confuse with LENI Riefenstahl. You can see why. Then there were the clues for ATLAS (1A: Country store?) and NOAH'S ARK (20A: Couples cruise vessel?), which stymied me for a little bit (especially the former). Even TRIO (2D: String _____) was clued in a difficult way (the difficulty in this case coming from ambiguity). If I hadn't gotten TINKER TOYS off the back end of the answer, I don't know what I'd have done with the NW.
There appear to be a lot of foreign words in the puzzle - stacked French in the far NE with D'ARC (10A: Jeanne _____) over EGAL (16A: Even, to Yves), both of which cross the Greek AGORA (11D: Outdoor market). Then there are a lot of foreign places and English words of exotic derivation:
- 7D: Edible mushroom (enoki) - learn it, know it, love it; today, it saved my life
- 25A: Some flames (beaus)
- 31A: Annoyance, in British slang (aggro) - I thought this was a skateboarding term; oh, I see there is a definition meaning "daring and skillful, as in a sport such as surfing." That must be the definition I know. I remember seeing it in the caption of a photo (20+ years ago) of a skateboarding kid in my high school yearbook and thinking "WTF? Is that made up? That sounds made up."
- 25D: Californian's vacation destination, maybe (Baja)
- 27D: Turkish title (Agha)
- 42A: Citizen of Shiraz (Irani)
- 45D: It was split into two parts by the 1899 Treaty of Berlin (Samoa)
- 57D: City near Padua (Este) - also a Spanish direction
- 62A: "... saw Elba" ("ere I") - "Able was I ere I saw Elba"; you need to know this palindrome - like ENOKI, it's all over the place in Puzzle World
- LIKED: The crossing of BRA (39D: Burlesque show wear - I had BOA at first) and NAKED (44A: Stripped)
- DIDN'T KNOW: EROS (30A: Piccadilly Circus statue) - I've seen this before, but I always expect this answer to be some naval war hero ... it's kind of brutal how TDK and SANYO totall shout down the statue (see photo)
- THANKFUL FOR: ECRU (43A: Hosiery hue) - I had guessed, blindly, SCOUR for 32D: Rub, rub, rub, and ECRU confirmed that I guessed correctly - middle of the puzzle went down quickly
- LIKED: OP-ED PAGE (52A: It's made up of columns) - I always like to see crosswordese get retooled, redeployed, facelifted, etc. OP-ED is super common. The full OP-ED PAGE, rare.
- DIDN'T KNOW: 66A: With 46-Down, Ohio State's _____ Memorial Stadium (Jesse / Owens) - hey, I have an idea: in the Comments section today, why don't we have some more back-and-forth about the relative merits of (The) Ohio State football?! Yes, I'm joking.
- HORRIBLE NAME OF THE DAY: LAR (33D: Choreographer Lubovitch) - poor LAR grew up in such poverty that his parents couldn't even afford the final "S" to make his name complete and respectable
- LEAST FAVORITE FOOTNOTE ABBREVIATION: OP. CIT. (49D: Footnote abbr.)
- MARGINAL ACTOR OF THE DAY: ARIS (55A: Actress Meyers and others) - of all the ARIS in the world, why keep going back to this one? She was one of the daughters on "Kate & Allie," but more recently she's been doing voice-over work for Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (that's a video game, oldsters). So ... when does she stop being viable puzzle fare? She's a no-brainer to long-time crossworders, but she's No One to people under 30. No offense meant to her: I'm sure she's very nice. Freaked me out to see that she is My Age, to the year (though she has my sister's birthday ... weird).
- MARGINAL ACTOR OF THE DAY, RUNNER-UP: IONE (35D: Actress Skye) - this one I can forgive, as there are not a lot of other places to go for IONE, and IONE SKYE is just a great name. Two Scottish islands (actually, the island is IONA, but that's pretty close)! She was John Cusack's love interest in "Say Anything." However, with the exception of a reference in a Beastie Boys' song, IONE, like ARI, has not been heard of since the late 80s.
A final observation, having little-to-nothing to do with puzzles. I am sitting on the couch this morning, eating cereal, drinking green tea, watching SportsCenter, and doing the puzzle (all at once), when my 7-year-old daughter comes downstairs and plunks herself down on the couch next to me. She is carrying a largish illustrated dictionary, which she has had in her room forever but as far as I know has never looked at. She opens it and starts thumbing through it like it's a regular book. Her first comment: "There sure are a lot of B's in here." I tell her what a dictionary is for. She says "uh huh, I know," but proceeds to start reading it like a regular book anyway, starting with AARDVARK. She's reading aloud, and at some point we have a conversation about how to read the pronunciation guides (Me: "that's called a schwa, the line over a vowel makes it long, which means you say its name" etc.). By the time she gets to ABORIGINE, we have to go to school, so she dog-ears the dictionary (so she won't lose her place?) and then I tell her we can play a dictionary game tonight, where I give her a word and she has to find it and then read what it means. I tell her that she knows a lot of words, but there are lots she doesn't know yet, and dictionaries can help her learn. She wants an example of a word she doesn't know. I think about it, then say, "I don't know ... arid." Her response: "Arid, an arid desert, a dry desert." Looking at my puzzled and slightly astonished face, she starts laughing proudly and hysterically.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
Today's other puzzles:
- Newsday 3:31 (C), Doug Peterson
- NYS long time, utter failure (P), Themeless Thursday, Patrick Berry - 37D and 46A I just didn't know; this meant 37A and 39D never came into view, ugh.
- LAT untimed (P), Gary Steinmehl (contains great yoga clue)
- CS untimed (P), Patrick Jordan, "Miss-Named" - I just saw a version of this theme recently. And who the @#$# is 47A? Oh dear god I just looked it up. Wow.
- Jonesin' 6:36 (P) - RECOMMENDED: Matt Jones, "The Worst of 2007" - insanely contemporary, and a lot of fun
[drawing by Emily Cureton]