Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: UFO - three theme answers are things one might mistake for a UFO (all clued [What you really saw?]), while the fourth answer is 52A: What you thought you saw (flying saucer)
No idea if this is a debut puzzle from these folks, but if so, it's a decent first effort. The non-theme fill is tepid and clunky (to mix metaphors) in several parts, but the general thematic conception is sound, and clever. I'm beginning to think that the main thing that separates the very best constructors from the merely good ones is the way they handle peripheral fill - that is, the stuff that is Not the puzzle's centerpiece or showcase. Not the theme answers, not the flashy answers, but the stuff that fills the gaps between them. Your short fill. Your innocuous-looking little corners. It's gotta be Very tough to make those areas of the puzzle interesting. I'm not faulting this particular puzzle in this regard - it seems about average in the quality of its non-theme fill. I'm simply suggesting that the difference between good and great might have something to do with overall, stem-to-stern polish. If real craftsmanship goes very deep, I tend to appreciate the puzzle more. Sometimes a knockout theme or concept can compensate for weak or rudimentary non-theme fill, but not usually.
OK, that said, let's look at this puzzle.
- 20A: What you really saw? (meteor shower)
- 28A: What you really saw? (weather balloon)
- 46A: What you really saw? (cloud formation)
- 52A: What you thought you saw (flying saucer)
Sound thematic fill - No real laughs here, though. The [What you really saw?] answers are all so ... banal, which I realize is sort of the point, but I would have loved to imagine someone confused by something slightly more outrageous or ridiculous, like, I don't know, FLOCK OF GEESE or FLYING SQUIRREL or something (I know, you can't use FLYING twice ... I'm just saying ...).
As I've said, most of the rest of the puzzle is fairly ordinary, though there are some high- and lowlights. I'll mix them together here:
- 32A: First secretary of homeland security (Ridge) - a lowlight for me, as I totally forgot this guy's name (until I got the back end of it - then it came quickly). This guy used to be governor of Pennsylvania.
- 34A: Quito's land: Abbr. (Ecua.) - I find answers like this painful. ECUA is such desperate fill - a rotten abbreviation - but you can see why it's here. There's not a lot you can do about it without Completely remaking the eastern part of the grid.
- 36A: Z's (shuteye) - this stymied me for a bit because I Could Not parse S-UTEY-. I mean, look at that. I though for sure that I had an error.
- 50A: "Super!" ("Terrif!") - nobody says this, so stop putting it in my puzzles (to its credit, however, it's not half as bad as "MARVY!," which I saw in one of my puzzle books yesterday).
- 58A: Tiny hairs (cilia) - nice answer. The word disturbs me a bit, because it's so close to being a palindrome, but it's not. It's like an itch I can't scratch. I wanted to write SETAE here because I do Far too many crosswords.
- 68A: Circus barker (seal) - the SEALs need to get a union rep to wage a PR war against their current undignified puzzle image as a bunch of captive barking idiots.
- 4D: "Hello" sticker (name tag) - like it. I've worn one of these before - only slightly more dignified than a barking seal.
- 8D: Challenge to Congress (veto) - political answers in a political season make me happy. This one goes nicely with one of its crosses: 18A: Boot from office (oust).
- 21D: Hall's singing partner (Oates) - as I do each time OATES appears in my puzzle, I have gone to my iTunes and cued up a Hall & OATES song. Today, "Kiss on My List," my very very favorite song when I was 11. 6 years away from kissing anyone.
- 25D: With 13-Down Pa. range (Pocono / Mts.) - the answer (POCONO) that I blame for ECUA (above).
- 28D: Part of a nun's habit (wimple) - this word makes me laugh.
- 30D: Judge of sex and violence in films (rater) - Odd Job, so ugh, but at least there aren't more like it...
- 37D: Peeved and showing it (huffy) - This answer had the "H" I needed to parse SHUTEYE. HUFFY was also a (cheaper) model of bicycle - or at least it was when I was 11 (today's subtheme, for me: 1981)
- 58D: It may have a medallion (cab) - wanted VEAL. I actually had to look up what this meant when I was done. Being a non-urbanite, I was not familiar with the concept of a "medallion" as a permit to drive a CAB.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld