Saturday, February 2, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy
I wonder if Natan Last will become such a prolific and brutal puzzle constructor that vexed solvers all over the country begin to hope that each puzzle is his Last. [wow, that was horrible] The first time one of his puzzles appeared in the Times, I was in Mexico (I think). The next time was the Trigonometry puzzle a couple Sundays back, to which I was fairly indifferent. Today, a Saturday - and despite its over-easiness and its heavy reliance on 3- and 4-letter words, I really really liked it. I especially love the cascading long Downs in the middle. ON TOP OF THE WORLD (7D: Ecstatic) isn't the most exciting phrase in the world, but it's flanked by the vibrant LOST ONE'S COOL (6D: Snapped) on one side and JE NE SAIS QUOI (21D: Quality that's hard to express) on the other. This makes for a formidable triumvirate. BRING TO JUSTICE (20A: Convict) is also a nicely colloquial phrase, and VENTRILOQUISTS (46A: Seemingly silent types) makes me especially happy as it reminds me of one of the most absurd characters in the history of television, a character who is currently featured on the soap opera I may or may not watch / fast forward through once a week. The character is an apparently amiable but ultimately sociopathic VENTRILOQUIST, but when he's doing his act, the camera only ever shows the dummy (but don't call him a "dummy" because he's clearly possessed and will cut you), or if you do see the VENTRILOQUIST, you can totally see his lips move, which makes him the worst VENTRILOQUIST ever, and yet "kids" "love" his "act." The man talks to his dummy when he's alone. And somehow I'm still watching.
As I said, this puzzle was easy for a Saturday. Wasn't it? There are twelve 3-letter answers and twenty-two 4-letter answers, a huge amount of short fill for a Saturday (or so my brain tells me). Short doesn't necessarily mean easy, by any means, but on the whole I find it easier to guess short fill than medium- to long-sized fill. Started this one with the obvious TIS (37A: "_____ now the very witching time of night": Hamlet), our second Hamlet clue in as many days. This got me the "S" for USED (35D: Drew on), which got me the "U" in STU (33A: "Rugrats" dad) - which I didn't know, but final "U" in a three-letter name ... pretty much has to be STU. Guess Mr. Last didn't want to use Disco STU yet again (see his "Trigonometry" puzzle, where you had to divine the COS hidden inside Disco STU). STU gave me the initial "T" in TIRESIAS (34D: Prophet of Thebes, struck blind by Athena when he accidentally saw her bathing), which was a gimme for me, and I was off to the races. Didn't have to jump around at all. Got the long Downs from the bottom up, and the entire puzzle was accessible from there (another element of its easiness).
Lots of clues to get to. Let's start with the gimmes:
- 15A: Southern university whose campus is a botanical garden (Elon) - One of the most common universities in the world of crosswords, and about the most common university without a noteworthy Division I sports program. Appropriate, then, that it's on the opposite side of the grid from KSU (57A: The Wildcats of the Big 12 Conf.).
- 36A: Easter-related (Paschal) - I was helped by having the middle of the word done before I ever saw the clue, but I think I'd have gotten it anyway.
- 41A: Coup d'_____ (survey made with a glance) (oeil) - not sure I'm familiar with the expression, but the answer was very easy to infer. I mean, if you know the French word for "eye," which you should if you want to continue solving crosswords with any success.
- 42A: Part of a moonscape (mare) - learned from crosswords. Not exactly a gimme, but I got it with a cross or two. I believe this was a word I blogged about not knowing, back in the day.
- 45A: Like clayware (fired) - again, with about one cross, this became evident.
- 55A: Like haunted houses, compared to ordinary houses (eerier) - love the clue, but the answer was maybe a little too obvious.
- 1A: Hoelike cutting tool (adz) - if it's a [cutting tool] or a [wood-shaping tool], try ADZ (or ADZE) first.
- 9D: Smeltery input (ores) - again, obvious. Usually don't see this in the plural, but still not hard to figure out.
- 30D: Gymnastics move (roll) - had an "L" and kept thinking ROLL but then as often kept thinking "nah, too easy for a Saturday." Wrong.
- 47D: Oscar-winning French film director _____ Clement (René) - even if I didn't know this (which I did), I would have guessed it. Super-common French man's name with super-common letters in it. I probably would have started with RENE if I'd had to play the guessing game.
- 48D: Article in Hoy (unos) - semi-easy. You don't see UNOS much (except perhaps as a pizzeria chain), but it's easy enough to infer if you have even the most rudimentary knowledge of Spanish (and it doesn't get much more rudimentary than mine).
- 51D: Robert Morse Tony-winning role (Tru) - this play wins the OBIE for most appearances by a play in a crossword (billions). I like that TRU, STU, and KSU are in the puzzle together.
- 1A: "The County Chairman" playwright, 1903 (Ade) - I'm going to guess that Will changed this clue, and that it originally had to do with a refreshing summertime drink of some sort. I do not know this ADE person. Google tells me his name is George.
- 38A: Norm of "This Old House" (Abram) - nope, uh uh. All from crosses.
- 54A: Where the utricle is (ear) - Had the -AR before I ever saw the clue, so I "knew" it, but did not Know it. If you follow.
- 5D: Two-time figure-skating Olympic gold medalist Protopopov (Oleg) - no clue. None. I knew that OLEG was a name. That was enough.
- 26D: Father of Harmonia (Ares) - why was TIRESIAS a gimme while this was not? Grrr...
- 27D: Former Giant Robb _____ (Nen) - this is one of those answers that crept up out of nowhere to suggest itself, but I have next-to-no recollection of who this is. Watch enough ESPN, and names just stick in your head like bugs on a windshield on a cross-country trip.
- 45D: Amendment that prevents being subjected to double jeopardy (fifth) - married to a U.S. History teacher and I still don't know @#$# like this.
Now, for the smiley faces, and there are a surprising lot of them:
- 14A: Spinners, for short (DJs)
- 28A: Fifth qtrs. (OTs) - fun with abbreviations. I especially like DJS, as it creates a very tiny but very colorful far northwest section.
- 17A: Having the most pizazz (zippiest)
- 19A: Cap and bells wearer (jester) - "The ZIPPIEST JESTER" sounds like an amusing children's story.
- 31A: Italian mine (mio) - not the kind of "mine" where you find ORES? Aha ... good one.
- 32A: Has as a foundation (rests on) - I got distracted trying to substitute these for one another in a sentence.
- 44A: Tetris objectives (rows) - very, very nice.
- 50A: "She's gonna blow!" ("Run for it!") - if "she" is a volcano, OK.
- 52A: Ferris Bueller's girlfriend (Sloane) - so annoyed that this wasn't a gimme. All I could think of was "boy's name ... sounds like a boy's name."
- 2D: Neighbor of Somalia (Djibouti) - one of the top ten best country names on the planet. So happy to see it in a puzzle, finally.
- 3D: Brewed drink (espresso) - embarrassing how many letters I had before I got this. I could think only of tea and beer.
- 8D: Options for wings (Cajun) - "Buffalo" wouldn't fit, so ... CAJUN.
- 11D: A jiffy (no time) - I just like the inclusion of "a" in this clue, which is entirely necessary to make the answer truly parallel.
- 18D: British P.M. when the U.S. Constitution was signed (Pitt) - my ignorance hurts me sometimes. This was easy to get from crosses. All it makes me think of is the time Barney got in a bar fight at Moe's over who was the greatest P.M. of all time, Lord Palmerston or PITT the Elder.
- 22D: Event for a king and queen (prom) - my first frame of reference: chess.
- 33D: 1979 film with sequels II to VI ("Star Trek") - took me way Way too long. Had the ST and the K and still couldn't get it. Only movies with sequels I could think of were horror movies: "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on Elm St."
- 36D: Popular dish in an Asian cuisine (Pad Thai) - love it (as an answer and as a food)
- 42D: Protein-rich paste (miso) - and the Asian cuisine just keeps on coming.
- 39D: Zyzzyva, e.g. (beetle) - woo hoo! ZYZZYVA was an answer in the puzzle back in 2006, so I knew (vaguely) what I was dealing with. I was thinking WEEVIL - I was close.
- 44D: Certain softball pitch (riser) - And, as always, thank you, ESPN.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS Happy Birthday, Dad!