Saturday, February 23, 2008
Relative difficulty: Challenging
Now this is a Saturday puzzle. No foolin' around. I got roughed up badly. Very badly. Took me longer than any puzzle has taken me all year. The worst part of all: despite hacking through many lethal clues and obscure answers, I ended up undone by my failure to see a number of very gettable answers, including one that, in retrospect, was embarrassingly obvious (especially given the crosses I had in place):
SACRILEGE (20D: Profanity)
By the end of the puzzle, with all four quadrants completed and just parts of the center left open, I had SA--I--GE. Later, when the puzzle was done, I would give my wife the clue and this letter combination and she would take less than twenty seconds to render SACRILEGE. So what happened. Well, first, I blame EWA (41A: _____ Beach, Hawaii), one of three geographical names in the puzzle that I have Never seen before in my life. That "E" would have made all the difference. My brain saw the final -GE in SACRILEGE and wanted only an "A" in that "E"'s slot - I imagined the word was a word of French derivation rhyming with, say, FROTTAGE or BADINAGE. Yes, good one. Then there was the horrific problem of having both of the 11-letter Acrosses be mysteries. Again, looking back, how did I not see them? I had the ROAD in ROAD WARRIOR (30A: Frequent business traveler) and still had no clue. None. I kept wanting the section word to end TION, not RIOR. ROAD ... CAPTION? Seriously, though it makes No sense, CAPTION would not leave my head. Then there was STALACTITES (39A: They hang from the roof). Or rather, there wasn't STALACTITES - a great answer that I wanted to be some kind of MEN or some kind of LINES. Lastly, SACRILEGE might have fallen earlier if I'd considered PAC at 28A: Candidate supporter, briefly. I did not. I could think only of POL, which seemed (and was) wrong.
Ironically, I started out the puzzle very strongly. Had the NW wrapped up inside a minute and dropped answers all the way down to the bottom of the puzzle shortly thereafter. CARGO PANTS (6D: Wear for rough outdoor activities) led to the great guess XES (40A: Indications of good bowling) led to the obvious- in- its- initial- X-ness XANADU (40D: Exotic estate). Then everything ground to a halt. This was my first great pause. There would be several more. A good measure of how hard the puzzle was for me: NARIS was a gimme (8D: Nostril). I mean, when you can nail some obscure Latinate @#$# like that right off the bat, shouldn't you be entitled to waltz through the damned puzzle? But no. Used REVE (21A: Vision de nuit) to pinch the NE closed from the opposite end. Best answer up there is NETFLIX - "best" in terms of the wicked way it is clued (8A: Service with a queue). NETFLIX provides us with yet another initial-X answer, XYLEM (14D: Botanical nutrient conductor), which I never ever would have gotten without the XY already firmly in place. In fact, I knew the word before I even looked at the clue.
Even the little pockets in the W and E were super-tough. Amazed that I fought through the W effectively, as ATTN (25A: Ltr. recipient pinpointer) was really hard to get my head around, and HTS (38A: Abbr. in some city names), little though it is, was a bear to uncover. Had the "S" and thought "oh, come on, this could be anything." As for the E ... well, that was the very last place to fall, due mainly to today's showcase clue: 33D: Cordage material (jute). It would really have helped if I'd known what "cordage" is. With no idea, and having only -U-E, I despaired, until I got 33A: Flow stopper (jam). And by "got" I mean I wrote in the obvious DAM. This gave me DU-E for [Cordage material], so I figured "cordage" must have something to do with the desert and I wrote in DUNE (which gave me the "N" that went Great with my something-LINES hypothesis for 39A: They hang from the roof). One final thing about the E - is MT ST Helens really written that way (35D: _____ Helens)? Officially? Dang. I had MONT there for a while, thinking maybe there as an Alp called MONT HELENS.
- 29A: First to be admitted?: Abbr. (Del.) - I nailed this, and once again, as with NARIS, I feel that the puzzle should have recognized my puzzling bad-assedness and just rolled over and surrendered. Oh, DELaware was the first state in the Union, in case that wasn't clear.
- 36A: One who didn't say no? (consenting adult) - There are many reasons to object to this clue, but at least one of them gets me into pretty blue territory for a Saturday morning, so I'll just say that I liked the answer.
- 1A: Lard source (fatback) - it is certainly one of my lard sources.
- 43A: Home to Al Jazeera (Qatar) - Nailed it. I mean, come on! Where is my victory laurel? I pwned the village of NARIS DEL QATAR and still took over 30 minutes to do this damned thing. Lo how the occasionally mighty have fallen. QATAR is one of four Islam-oriented answers today. See also AMEER (5D: Robed ruler: Var.), HAREM (24A: Part of some Muslim households), and .... this guy, one of today's two pillars of geographical obscurity:
- 24D: Afghan province or its capital (Herat) - would have had a better time solving this if the clue had been ["I'm supposed to meet _____ noon"]. Then there's:
- 31D: River formed by the junction of the Fulda and Werra (Weser) - These all read like geographical terms out of a Dr. Seuss book. As of now, I couldn't tell you where this abominable triumvirate of rivers is located. I'm gonna say ... somewhere in Europe. Germany? Yes! Northwestern Germany! And the smallish contingent of German NYT puzzle solvers did loudly rejoice. So, let's see, EWA, WESER, HERAT. Oh, then there's:
- 48A: _____-Ude (Russan city on the Trans-Siberian Railroad) (Ulan) - at least I've seen ULAN before, as part of the more common "ULAN Bator." Then there's one my wife knew, but which meant nothing to me:
- 23D: Atlanta commuting option (MARTA) - MARTA, my dear, I have never had occasion to ride you (!). Your name seems more appropriate to, say, someone's aunt than to a public transportation system.
- 54A: An ace is a good one (aviator) - this was a gimme ... when I thought it was PITCHER.
- 57A: County west of Dublin (Kildare) - sure, that's Irish, that'll work.
- 58A: Some oilseeds (sesames) - thought "oilseeds" was some technical botanical term I would never know, but it seems it just means a seed from which one gets oil.
- 13D: Donation declaration ("I gave") - Super weak. This is a declaration of Having Given. I'm just trying to imagine someone putting money in the Salvation Army bucket, turning to the bell ringer, and declaring "I GAVE." What are you, five? "I brush my own hair!"
- 46A: "Oh, right" ("I get it") - "I GAVE" "I GET IT!"
- 49D: Feelthy stuff (porn) - all kind of wrong. Horrible disgusting horrible clue. I'm routinely disturbed by the way the NYT clues and generally treats adult viewing material. There is an underlying prudishness that actually creeps me out Way more than a simple straightforward reference to PORN would. The only person who would say "FEELTHY" is a. Peter Lorre, or b. the guy hiding in your bushes watching you read this blog in your underwear right now - behind you!
- 29D: One who might pick up toys (dog catcher) - brutal. Had the DOG part and figured it must refer to someone who owns or trains or dogsits or something. No. The toy is the dog. Nice.
- 43D: Faultfinder's concern? (quake) - there will be a huge one on the south island of NZ some time in the near future. One of the perils of living in paradise.
- 44D: Gridder Harper (Alvin) - "Gridder" hurts my head. Does anyone outside crosswords say it any more?
- 45D: Heads-down view (tails) - another nice clue.
- 55D: Sea bream, in a sushi bar (tai) - last of the brutal exotic answers (I count five, six if you throw in MARTA). Apparently TAI is a "favored dish for celebratory occasions in Japan and a commonly invoked emblem of good fortune" (morikami.org). Fat lot of good it did me today.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS Here is last night's Chicago radio interview with 3-time crossword tourney champ Tyler Hinman and some other chick who blogs or something... [her name is "Orange" and she is not amused]
PPS Must give a shout-out to today's LAT puzzle (by Manny Nosowsky) ... I'm not even done yet, but the NW corner is such a masterwork that I had to come here and tell you about it. Now. See "The Country's Other Puzzles" in my sidebar for directions on how to get there. While you're at it, see also today's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" by Doug Peterson. A wicked good time. 15-letter answer Across the middle is a gimme ... but the 15-letter Down that it intersects!? Whoa. That took some work. Brilliant.