Friday, February 29, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
Happy first day of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and, coincidentally, weirdest-looking date of the year. February 29. It looks fictional, that date. Surreal, almost.
OK, I'm dashing these off today, as we are headed for the Greyhound station (only the best for me and my wife) pretty soon to catch a bus to Port Authority in Manhattan. From there, we'll take the subway to Brooklyn, where we will check in to the hotel and then immediately head out for kwality time with our friend Kathy. Then back to the hotel for shmoozing and games aplenty. I can only hope that this year's opening festivities are as entertaining last year's. They will inevitably be less Norwegian, but I'm sure they'll make up for that somehow.
Today's puzzle is gorgeous. Tough but doable, with a couple truly tricky parts. The fill is vibrant and bouncy and eye-catching throughout. In short, it's an average Patrick Berry effort. That'll teach him to set the bar so damned high.
Where did I start? Good question. I'll give you a guess. Just look over the grid ... now, if you've been reading me for a while, you know there is one answer that stands out above all others. If this puzzle were a film, playing at the Rex Parker theater, which clue would be on the marquee? There is only one answer: "ICE, ICE, BABY" (52A: 1990 #1 rap hit that starts "Yo, V.I.P. let's kick it"). The puzzle could have been solid crosswordese from that point on, I wouldn't have cared. That one answer gave me a smile that lasted the whole way through. Everything that was wrong with pop music when I was in college - that's what "ICE, ICE, BABY" is. Talented people (mostly black) making rap records for nearly a decade, and this becomes the first rap song to make #1 (some people count Blondie's "Rapture," but I don't - that song has a rap in it, but it's not a rap song). The controversy over Vanilla Ice's looping of the sample from the Queen/David Bowie song "Under Pressure" now appears silly - sampling is a standard production technique, and many artists since Vanilla Ice have abused pre-existing songs far worse than he did. Still, from the lyrics, to the attitude, to the look ... "ICE, ICE, BABY" was custom made for a 1990 Time Capsule - one that could have been opened five years later and already appeared ancient. This was the same year that brought you Milli Vanilli, who beat out Indigo Girls for Best New Artist and then had to return their Grammy when it became clear they weren't the ones singing on their album. I told you my college years sucked for music. When are you going to start believing me?
Back to the puzzle:
Thorny patch 1: North Dakota
The "LP" in ALPHA TESTS (17A: In-house debugging) was the last bit of this puzzle I filled in. It was a total guess, but one that I knew instantly was right. The two Downs meant Nothing to me: for SAL (5D: _____ volatile) I originally had EAU, and for KIPS (6D: Goes to bed, in Britspeak), I had nothing. Never heard the expression. Makes me AGGRO (which I hear is also "Britspeak").
Thorny patch 2: Oregon
Was very proud of self when, off the final "HER," I nailed IN A DITHER ... [cough] ... come on, it's a good answer! Of course, I eventually had to convince myself that DOTTER and IPHELIA were words (a tall order). So IN A DITHER became IN A DOTHER became IN A BOTHER became IN A POTHER (1D: Agitated). Is that "Britspeak?" Clever clue at 18A: Person at the wheel? (Potter) and hard-to-attribute quotation at 21A: "Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind" speaker (Ophelia), kept this are from coming together as quickly as I could have liked. I like POTTER a lot, but only because it's what my daughter says to me every night right before bedtime, only she says it in the interrogative (with a question mark on the end), and in a British accent, because she's essentially asking me if I'd like to come read Harry POTTER to her now.
The REST (13D: Others)
- 1A: Product once advertised with the catchphrase "There's no step 3!" (iMac) - Mac's ads have always been genius. Evil genius. Marvels of simplicity. Spare, direct, perfect. They're a cult, kinda like the one led by this Obama guy I keep hearing about.
- 15A: One abandoned at the altar? (maiden name) - so excited at this gimme that I f-d it up and started writing in MARRIED NAME.
- 24A: Region bordering Mount Olympus (Thessaly) - got it off the "-LY" - but I should know this stuff; all that teaching of Homer and Virgil oughta pay off somehow.
- 34A: "Caribbean Blue" singer (Enya) - good clue, in that the last place I would look for ENYA is in the Caribbean.
- 30A: Edward who created the Gashlycrumb Tinies (Gorey) - gimme. Someone even posted a link to an animated video of said Tinies on this site a little while back.
- 35A: Candle holders (cakes) - hmmm. OMG, I just got this answer this instant. Damn. Birthday candles. Got it. Man, I have got to shake the cobwebs loose.
- 37A: "Notorious" setting (Rio) - Me: "Nazis ... South America ... three letters ... RIO!"
- 38A: Dispel a curse? (bleep) - fantastic clue. I had BLESS for a while.
- 40A: Unit of radioactivity (Curie) - I had FARAD ... is that ... something?
- 46A: #1 Beatles hit with the only known vocal contribution by Linda McCartney ("Let It Be") - I had "GET BACK." Whoops.
- 54A: Mystical indicator (omen) - odd phrasing on this one, but pretty transparent.
- 56A: Ball boy? (beau) - I had no idea there were BEAUs of the ball as well as BELLES.
- 3D: Final Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor comedy ("Another You") - needed most of the crosses to get this. Not ... memorable.
- 8D: Flowers named for their scent (tea roses) - I had no idea that's where their name came from. Then again, I couldn't pick a TEA ROSE out of a floral line-up if my life depended on it.
- 10D: "The Great God Brown" playwright (O'Neill) - I've got a few playwright names in my pocket, but I know little about them, so I just get a few crosses and wait to see what comes into view.
- 4D: Neapolitan noblewoman (Contessa) - also the name of an anchor on MSNBC, I think (yes, CONTESSA Brewer). Oh dear god she's five years younger than I am. Shouldn't you have to be at least 40 before you "anchor" anything. Come on!
- 36D: Home for the Ojibwa and Cree (Manitoba) - little shout-out to our North of the Border friends (big puzzlers, those Canadians, especially in the Vancouver area, for whatever reason).
- 38D: Split right before your eyes? (bifocal) - yes, very nice "?" clue.
- 39D: Go for a party, say (vote) - saw through this pesky clue almost instantly.
- 41D: Wisconsin city that's home to S.C. Johnson & Son (Racine) - you could have just stopped after "Wisconsin city" - I'll get some crosses, some familiar place name will come into view, the end.
- 49D: Pullers of the chariot of Artemis (deer) - Turns out Artemis and Santa have something in common.
I'm off. Talk to you soon - possibly live from Brooklyn. We're bringing the laptop and the digital camera, so you never know ...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of Crossworld