Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: Use your bean - first words in four theme answers are all things to be solved...
Why was there no meta-puzzleness in today's puzzle? I'm solving a PUZZLE. The word PUZZLE appears in one of the answers. Surely there was opportunity here for some sort of clever self-referentiality. Instead, I was merely forced to retrieve the title of a movie that is almost certainly best forgotten by all of humanity. No, not "PROBLEM CHILD" (or, dear god, "PROBLEM CHILD 2"). I meant "MYSTERY, ALASKA." [please see the opening line of the Wikipedia entry on "PROBLEM CHILD 2," though, for the best use of quotation marks I've yet seen in a Wikipedia entry]. I solved this puzzle from the bottom up, getting my first real toe-hold somewhere around the "I'M A Believer" (46A: The Monkees' "_____ Believer") / MANILA (47D: 1975 "Thrilla" city) intersection. After seeing the clues for the 3rd and 4th theme answers, I thought the theme had something to do with National Security (actual national security, not the movie, thank god), so I felt a bit lost. I had also heard of neither the 3rd or 4th theme answers - had to get their second halves from crosses. There were also several non-theme answers I didn't know at all. And yet my time was still reasonable, I think (not sure what it was - I've been doing the puzzles on paper while lying in bed, not timing myself).
- 20A: 1999 Russell Crowe movie ("Mystery, Alaska")
- 32A: Parent's handful (problem child)
- 41A: Nickname for the National Security Agency (Puzzle Palace)
- 55A: W.W. II encryption device (Enigma Machine)
There's a nice baseball sub-theme running through the puzzle, anchored by Johnny MIZE (33D: Baseball's Johnny, known as the Big Cat), and filled out by "I GOT IT" (27A: Fielder's cry) and ROSTER (26A: Scorecard listing). MIZE - specifically his nickname, "the Big Cat" - was one of the first memorable moments in my blogging career in the fall of 2006. I think he was in the puzzle during my very first week of operation. I specifically sought him out when I went to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this summer on my way back from seeing a couple Red Sox games. OK, maybe I didn't seek him out, but I certainly noticed him there. "Big Cat" is a fantastic nickname. It's one I would have loved. That, or "the Lone Wolf" (which I just typod as "Love Wolf," HA ha). Much better than my actual nickame: "the Lethargic Ocelot."
Two big corporate names in the puzzle today in EBAY (4D: 24/7 auction site) and SAM'S Club (35A: _____ Club (retail chain)) - feels like EBAY sightings have gone way down in the past few months, which is odd given its earlier surge into puzzle prominence. Maybe we're just in a lull. I like that VEXED (61A: In a pique) is in the puzzle, given the theme, though overall, as I say, the puzzle wasn't terribly vexing. There were, however, a number of unusual entries, I thought:
- 17A: Rid of vermin (derat) - not That unusual; I've seen it before, such that it was actually the first thing I wrote in in the NW. And yet I still have trouble accepting it as a word. You could at least spice up the clue, give it a "Pied Piper" twist, something...
- 18A: French chalk mineral (talc) - Is this a French spelling? Is this mineral particularly abundant in France? Not sure what's so Gallic about this entry.
- 25A: N.R.C. forerunner (A.E.C.) - random letters of the alphabet, as far as I'm concerned. Google me!: ah, Atomic Energy Commission ... or any of these guys.
- 66A: Dispatch boat (aviso) - so so so proud of myself for getting this off the "V" - this word was completely unknown to me until I stumbled on it a few times in crosswords. I wrote it in very tentatively fearing I was misremembering or misspelling it. But no. Woo hoo.
- 2D: Suffix with cannon (ade) - "-ball Run?" I don't know what a "cannonade" is. Is it like Gatorade only ... more explosive? Wow, it's got many uses: transitive verb, intransitive verb, noun... from answers.com:
v., -ad·ed, -ad·ing, -ades. v.tr.
To assault with heavy artillery fire.v.intr.
To deliver heavy artillery fire.n.
- An extended, usually heavy discharge of artillery.
- A harsh verbal or physical attack
- 6D: San Diego State player (Aztec) - growing up in California and following Fresno State sports, however half-heartedly, helped a lot here.
- 9D: Last king of the united Sweden and Norway (Oscar II) - all non-Scandinavians who knew this, raise your hands. Impressive. You are clearly all geniuses. I, on the other hand, did not even know there was an Oscar I ("The Grouch?").
- 23D: Domino features (pips) - had a very stupid error here because I'd written in BAR for 23A: Something to shoot for (you know ... "set the BAR high" ... come on!) and when I looked at the resulting BIPS in the down, I thought "... sure, why not, sounds right." Wrong. PAR and PIPS, of course.
- 24D: Red Fort city (Agra) - I know AGRA for the Taj Mahal and that's it. "Red Fort" sounds suspiciously Old West to me.
- 30D: "Die Frau _____ Schatten" (Strauss opera) ("Ohne") - all apologies to Germans and opera fans, but after "Frau" it's all gibberish to me. I had to cross my fingers that my crosses were right here. I love Strauss, but know only his orchestral work.
- 34D: Mustachioed Surrealist (Dali) - "Mustachioed" is officially one of the 10 Greatest Words in the English Language, so I must pay homage Every time I see it. Another great man who has been called "mustachioed" by the puzzle in recent years: Don Ameche.
- 43D: Fraternity founded in 1847 at New York University (Zeta Psi) - why not just say [Two Greek letters]? I'm never going to remember this.
- 45D: Stork's bundle (arrival) - the puzzle is aware that babies don't actually come from storks, right? I mean ... right? The word ARRIVAL here seems OK, but it's a bit of a stretch. It's as if we can't bring ourselves to refer to the physicality / carnality of birth in any way. People who don't know American (English?) idiom are bound to be utterly and completely baffled by this. The copulation, the birth, and even the baby itself are mysteriously missing from the whole equation.
- 58D: Campbell of "Three to Tango" (Neve) - first thing in the grid. I can build a solution off of crap pop culture like Nobody's Business.
The second comes from reader "Andrew," who sent me this picture from summery Australia, where my first name is combined with the last name of my favorite TV family in a gigantic, building-sized ad for some kind of haberdashery. Eerily, the silhouette looks Just like me:
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
Today's other puzzles:
- LAT (C) 8:10 - Bonnie L. Gentry (LIFO + unknown illustrator = killed me; pizzeria clue was pretty forced)
- CS (C) 3:23 - Sarah Keller, "Sound Bites" - 3:20 remains my glass ceiling (floor?)
- NYS (C) 11-ish - Tony Orbach, "Shot to the Body" - expecting good things from the Sun, I completely overthought the theme. Disaster.