Thursday, January 24, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: "HIT THE" Jackpot (63A: Words missing from the answers to the eight starred clues)
Either the puzzles have been uncharacteristically easy this week, or all that Friday NY Sun puzzle training is really beginning to pay off. I did this puzzle lazily this morning, over cereal, tea, and MSNBC's "Morning Joe" (which I am finding sickly addictive this campaign season). I ran into only a few places where I hesitated even for a moment, and those places ended up being very minor stumbling blocks. I had PIÑATA (13A: *Party game) as my first theme answer, and I thought "That's an odd answer to the clue ... there's a "game" called "PIÑATA?" ... well, OK." Then I had CAMPAIGN all filled out before I ever even saw the clue, 19A: *Vie for votes, and I thought "CAMPAIGN ... that's the answer right there ... what other verb phrase is there?" Then, from crosses, CAMPAIGN TRAIL became the clear answer, and instantly I got the theme: HIT THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL, HIT THE PIÑATA, Ta Da! Off to the races. The puzzle was a cinch from there on, with all the other theme answers being Remarkably easy to get - very familiar phrases one and all:
- CAMPAIGN TRAIL
- 15A: *1961 chart-topper for Ray Charles ("Road, Jack") - before I got the theme, I had "JACK," and since Ray Charles had a hit with "BlackJACK," I was a little confused. Switching iTunes to Ray Charles ... now.
I sat there with two tens
I thought I'd have some fun
The dealer hit 16 with a 5
Just enough to make 21
Hey hey hey yeah yeah
How unlucky can one man be?
Well, every quarter I get
Yeah blackjack takes it away from me.
- 37A: *Get off to a quick start (ground running)
- 55A: *Get it exactly (nail on the head)
- 62A: *Shoot perfectly (bull's eye)
- 31D: *Fail (skids)
- 28D: *React to gunfire, maybe (floor)
I'm going to call a pop culture foul on the puzzle today. I rarely do this, as you know, because I [heart] clues about movies and TV and pop music and the internets. Today, however, there is an arbitrarily arcane and unnecessary trivial TV focus. I mean, getting to CBS via "Dukes of Hazzard" is one thing (59D: "The Dukes of Hazzard" network) - that's the kind of dated TV reference you can get away with in a puzzle. Once. But to throw in completely unnecessary references to two more defunct shows that many solvers will never have watched in the first place. That's a bit much. How badly do you have to love Steve Austin to use 9D: California hometown of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman as your clue for OJAI? And how much must you hate your readers that you would include an abbreviation of a fictional governmental agency, from a T.V. show that was never a big hit and isn't even on the air anymore. Surely there is some other way to get APO than 49A: Fictional C.I.A unit on "Alias".
Today is a good day to beef up your crossword-solving arsenal. AYN (23A: Rand who asked "Who is John Galt?") and OCHS (9A: Phil who sang "Draft Dodger Rag") are going to come up over and over and over, and answers like OTC (over-the-counter - 6A: Not Rx), JAGR (42A: Hockey great Jaromir), and ORAN (6D: Algerian port in "The Plague"), while less common, show up enough to be worth filing away for future reference.
- 35A: "Mother of all rivers" (Mekong) - good one; haven't seen this river in a long time. MEKONG is the name of a local Vietnamese restaurant where I have had both delicious and borderline inedible food.
- 41A: Hair net (snood) - OK, "slacks" and "snell" have a rival for Worst Word in the Language.
- 43A: Swell place? (sea) - took me Way longer than it should have (i.e. multiple seconds). I had the -EA and the only word I could think of was PEA! "PEAS make a POD swell ... but ..." Speaking of POD: 54A: Escape _____.
- 59A: Vein locale (coal mine) - another one that took way too long. I kept waiting for ORE to appear somewhere in the answer, so I had the right kind of vein, at least.
- 61A: Classic Studebaker whose name means "forward" in Italian (Avanti) - I just had this answer in another puzzle. Feels as if I've seen it a number of times. Yet another "learned it from crosswords" answer.
- 11D: Stomach acid, to a chemist (HCL) - HDL ... LDL ... nope, don't know this.
- 20D: 10 Benjamin Franklins (grand) - this clue wants to be street but isn't. I don't think I've ever heard anyone add the "Franklins" part. These bills are usually just "Benjamins" (and even that phrase feels a bit dated by now). Plus, the better answer here, if we want to stay appropriately colloquial, is ONE G.
- 39D: Inappropriate (unapt) - wow this word sucks. I'm sure I've complained about it before. First of all, I want INAPT, not UN- (that is, when I "want" this word at all, which is never). I had the UN- and wrote in UNFIT (a much better answer, IMOO).
- 43D: Mrs. Woody Allen (Soon-Yi) - no matter how much I love his films (and I love "Manhattan" something awful), and no matter how strongly I believe that people have been overly harsh on him of late, I can't see SOON-YI's name without feeling a little icky.
- 53D: Walter who wrote "The Hustler" and "The Color of Money" (Tevis) - ???? Complete mystery to me. Thankfully, I never saw the clue.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld