Friday, February 1, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
Struggled with this puzzle this morning as I lay on the couch with cereal and tea near at hand. Then I realized that Tim Russert was droning on and on in the background, totally harshing my puzzle vibe, so I turned off MSNBC and the puzzle fell reasonably quickly thereafter. I began with a pair of pop culture gimmes right in the heart of the puzzle: ERINS (25D: Actress Gray and others) and ELISE (25A: Actress Kimberly of "Close to Home"). ERIN was in the 1987 Patrick Swayze epic "Dirty Dancing." [ERROR - Jennifer GrEy was in "Dirty Dancing"; ERIN Gray was, as a helpful reader pointed out, on TV's "Silver Spoons" with Ricky Schroder - wish that had been in the clue] Kimberly ELISE is a successful movie and TV actress whose last name is a dream come true for constructors. Here's a Saturday-level ELISE clue for constructors to consider: the Lotus ELISE, a roadster from the English Lotus car company. The first one was produced in the mid-90's. It's like the 90s incarnate, this thing. Ridiculous and bulbous and fake-space-agey. Scary. Let's not go back to the 90s, shall we?
I solved this puzzle from the middle to the SW, and then came up short despite having the first three letters of all the major Across answers down there. Very frustrating (Russert was sent packing shortly after this moment). Had to regroup in the NW, then washed over the NE before getting stopped again somewhere around PASTY (23D: British meat pie), which I had right, but which created a line I could not get west of. So then I went down to good ole JED (37A: Prez's first name on "The West Wing") and worked my way back across the south from east to west, before finally conquering the pesky rebels in the Indiana portion of the grid. Said rebels were led by RAT ON (26A: Give away), which I couldn't get despite having -ATON (!?), and RENT-A (26D: _____-crowd (attendance booster)), which is from outer space. Is this a concept from politics? From sports? I have no idea. RENT-A-Cop, yes, RENT-A-Crowd, no. Oh, wait, there was a third rebellious answer in this section: GENTLES (32A: Domesticates). Are these nouns!?!?! Is "GENTLES" supposed to be a verb!? Ugh. It hurts.
There was much odd / off cluing in this puzzle, some of it making for a bracing a challenge, and some of it just making me groan. 8A: Ape wrestlers (grapple) hurt me so bad. It's a huge groaner, but I Should Have Known Better than to fall for the old noun-to-verb switcheroo. Me, on getting GRAPPLE: "What is a GRAPPLE, and how does it wrestle apes?" So sad. Why the insanely specific clue for ERE (24A: "A little _____ the mightiest Julius fell": Shak.)? No matter - I like when the puzzle seems custom-designed for me. As you know, I just began teaching Julius Caesar this week [Whoops - quotation is from Hamlet, not Julius Caesar; as my correcting reader said, "no wonder it didn't ring a bell"]. Not that I recall this line off the top of my head. TERMS is such a basic word that I was a bit miffed to have to go through 35A: Polynomial components to get it. Seems arbitrary, but what clue for TERMS wouldn't be? Then there's this new PEI guy (11D: Linguist Mario). As with yesterday's ADELE, I wish puzzles wouldn't force a common answer to have a new meaning. Maybe I don't mean that. Why not mix it up? But this has an "Anyone-But-I.M." desperation feel to it.
- 15A: Be negative about (pour cold water on) - an excellent phrase, which it took me a good while to uncover. Long phrases with basic words can be hard to parse. Plus the clue was vague, so getting to the answer took some effort.
- 17A: Hobbes in "Calvin and Hobbes" (imaginary friend) - I was annoyed that this wasn't a gimme. TALKING TIGER? No. I couldn't think of a phrase that fit. Of course IMAGINARY FRIEND is perfect. Sometimes brain no work.
- 46A: They're not easily overturned (outrigger canoes) - had the OUT and went "???" Now that I have the answer (totally guessed the RIGGER part after getting either end), I can visualize these things. They have those floaty parts that run parallel to the canoe itself, like a runner on a sled ... sort of. Here's a pic:
- 49A: Stereotypically smarmy sorts (used car salesmen) - like IMAGINARY FRIEND, this was an answer I should have come up with much more quickly. Had the USE- and couldn't do anything with it. Briefly though the answer might start "U.S. E..." But no.
Here's some other stuff that gave me trouble:
- 20A: Body part above la bouche (nez) - total gimme ... except I spelled it NEE.
- 34A: With 44-Down Cajun dish with giblets (dirty / rice) - I saw the word "giblets" (another candidate for Top Ten Ugliest Words) and blanked out, as if in self-preservation, so I would not be forced to contemplate "giblets" for even a second.
- 50A: Without much wind (tersely) - the most embarrassing stumper of the day. I was even trying to think of forms of TERSE and still couldn't get this, however impossible that sounds. I never thought "adverb" - only "adjective." So I was stuck even when the answer was practically punching me in the face.
- 32D: Prepare for a shower, maybe (gift wrap) - clever cluing. Too clever. I want to smack this clue. It beat me. I was trying to decide between bathroom shower and rain shower.
- 37D: Basso Hines (Jerome) - mystery guest #1
- 45D: Longtime columnist who coined the term "beatnik" (Caen) - mystery guest #2. You realize that "TERM" is in the puzzle, right? Is that one of those words that's allowed to be in both clues and grid at the same time?
- 28A: Tahini base (sesame) - one of a handful of gimmes that helped me out today. We have an unopened jar in our cupboard that we have done nothing with for months.
- 36A: Subject of some conspiracy theories (Hoffa) - needed the HOF- before I got it. Me: "UFOS? Moon landing? Vince Foster? etc."
- 8D: Fred of "The Munsters" (Gwynne) - I knew this at one point in my life, but forgot it. It came back to me once I had the -YNNE. My brother-in-law's mom is named GWEN, as is a horrible character on a soap I may or may not watch, so that spot of my brain is occupied.
- 44A: Playboy's plea (renew!) - gimme. Entered it with no crosses. The puzzle loves to play around with RENEW by playing off of magazine titles in ways that misdirect you.
- 10D: Brand in a bathroom (Atra) - the Official Razor of the NYT Crossword Puzzle.
- 51A: Tickled the most? (pinkest) - cute
- 27D: Make like Pac-Man (chomp) - double cute. My sister used to kick ass at Ms. Pac-Man. I was always a Donkey Kong man (boy), myself.
We're ICED IN up here - all schools closed. So we'll try to subsist on the meager rations in our larder, which contains primarily hot chocolate and garbanzo beans right now. Yum.
Stay warm and safe.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld