Sunday, February 17, 2008
Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: "Political Leaders" - 10 starred answers all begin with SCRAMBLED / PRESIDENT (19A: With 105-Across, what the answer to each starred clue starts with)
You know a puzzle is tough when you feel like you tanked it, your time is a good 30%-50% higher than your recent Sunday averages, and you still end up with a time that would have you on the Top Ten leader board for much of the night. In the end, I enjoyed this puzzle, because it was wicked and entertaining, but while I was doing it, there were times when I felt like a drowning man gasping for air and reaching out desperately for anything, any three-letter answer, that might keep me afloat. The theme is ingenious and took me way too long to get. I had SCRAMBLED within the first minute, but by the time I got into the SE, where PRESIDENT lies, I had run out of steam. I was in flailing mode. It was only when frustration forced me to read the theme clue and really look hard at the starred answers I had that the theme leaped out at me: the SAYHE at the beginning of SAY HEY KID (a great, great theme answer, btw) just anagrammed itself right into HAYES, I wrote in PRESIDENT at 105A, and the tide begin to turn. But even so, I still had to fight my way to the finish line (which, by the way, was somewhere near ARUBA - 39D: Tourist mecca near Venezuela).
21A: *Again (ONE MORe time) => MONROE
23A: *Baseball's Willie Mays, with "the" (SAY HEy Kid) => HAYES
24A: *Fiancé (HUSBand-to-be) => BUSH (not sure which one)
53A: *Metal used for swords (DAMAScus steel) => ADAMS - the first theme answer to give me real trouble. Main problem: never heard of DAMASCUS STEEL before. Luckily, I had heard of DAMASCUS. Note: my beloved Laura Linney stars as Abigail Adams in the HBO biopic of John ADAMS. Linney's co-star, while not as hot to me, is a very fine actor: Paul Giamatti. I know him from such comic-book-inspired movies as "American Splendor."
58A: *Symbol of rejoicing for someone's long-awaited return (FATTed calf) => TAFT - I had no idea this is what a FATTED CALF meant, so I'm just as surprised as you are that I got this almost immediately, with just a few crosses in place.
61A: *Brownish-orange (TERRA Cotta) => CARTER - this was hard to get for me, as TERRA COTTA is more a material than a color, in my mind.
68A: *Kind of ratio (PRICE-Earnings) => PIERCE - familiar only from chatter on various investment-oriented ads I've heard on TV.
100A: *Decelerating (SLOWINg down) => WILSON
102A: *Composer's due (ROYALTies) => TAYLOR - this answer was so hard to get, in part because my brain would not register "due" as anything but Italian for "two"
104A: *Whatever happens (RAIN OR SHine) => HARRISON - it just took me way too long to figure out which president was buried in there.
The toughest parts:
Let's start in the NE, where I first stumbled badly, even after having the long theme answers in place. There were three consecutive Downs that I found baffling:
- 13D: Ball handler? (Arnaz) - handler! What is she, a ferret? [from reader M.S. - Lucille Ball's "Vitameatavegamin" bit ... it's So Good]
- 14D: "Not I!" hearer (red hen) - is this from "Chicken Little"? "Hearer," ugh.
- 15D: Titular Verdi role (Attila) - I had No idea and refused to enter it for a little while even though it was the Only name that could possibly go there. The Hun?
Then there was the fact that those Downs all crossed TAHITI, which was clued bizarrely (28A: Home of Faa'a International Airport) and BEZEL, which thank god I've seen in puzzles before (31A: Watch-crystal holder).
Then there was the entire mountain west, south of DAMASCUS and north of UPC CODE (75A: Supermarket lines?). I idiotically put an "S" at the end of 85A: With 20-Down airshow activities in anticipation of a plural that never came - or came, rather, at 20D, not 85A - FLY / BYS. Thus DELANCEY (53D: Manhattan street) remained hidden for a long time. Also hidden, for reasons of my never having heard of it ever, was HAIR CELL (56D: Sensory receptor in the ear). Even after I had H--- CELL, I was lost. Took me an embarrassingly long time to retrieve the name of EMILIA (65A: Lady-in-waiting in "Othello"), about whom I wrote a paper in college, but once I got her, and FATTED CALF, I finally had what I needed to finish the puzzle.
Lastly, as far as major rough spots go, is the SE, where I was Locked Out for a long time due to the fact that I didn't know either of the gateway answers:
- 80D: Muse of music (Euterpe) - perhaps the ugliest name in all mythology - also something you might say to a student at the University of Maryland (although technically I think you pronounce that final "e")
- 76D: "Death in the Afternoon" figures (matadors) - no idea. None. Just none. Took So Long to get.
Without these two answers, I couldn't get the two long Acrosses down there, and the shortish Downs were being very recalcitrant, so, disaster. I somehow suspected that 94D: Capital of East Flanders ended in -ENT, so that helped (it's GHENT). I have never ever heard of COIGN (91A: _____ of vantage (good position for viewing)), but recognize it as the French word for "corner." Still puzzling over what (the hell) FORTS means as the answer to 109A: Magazine holders. Is this "magazine" in the sense of ammo? Must be.
And the rest!
- 1A: Words "beautifully marked in currants" in "Alice in Wonderland" ("Eat me") - deceptively easy way to start the puzzle...
- 13A: Destination in Genesis 8 (Ararat) - I believe I wrote in GILEAD, which means I was exactly 23 chapters off.
- 26A: Football Hall-of-famer Ernie (Nevers) - that is one weird last name.
- 30A: Jury pool (venire) - first evidence that this puzzle was going to try to take my scalp.
- 44A: Brawl motivator (ire) - such an anticlimactic answer for such a promising clue.
- 45A: Crunch's title (Cap'n) - not CAPT. as some of you will have guessed - causing you to wonder, perhaps aloud, what (the hell) REINED IT mean - it's REINED IN (7D: Exercised power over).
- 46A: Rod holders (retinae) - gotta look out for that Latin plural.
- 67A: West coast wine city (Ukiah) - blow to the stomach. UKIAH should be the name of some kind of sucker punch. I lived in CALIF (91D: Home of 67-Across: Abbr.) and never heard of this place.
- 74A: New York's _____-Fontanne Theater (Lunt) - no clue. Had both LUND and LUNE for a bit.
- 76A: "We Need a Little Christmas" singer (Mame) - no clue. Just ... none.
- 78A: Alma mater for Neil Armstrong and Pat Nixon: Abbr. (USC) - insert random university here.
- 80A: Gutter locale (eaves) - I wrote in ALLEY. So that was a problem ...
- 81A: Thomas Mann's "Der _____ in Venedig" ("Tod") - got this only because I own many recordings of Strauss's "TOD und Verklärung")
- 86A: Jim who wrote "Ball Four" (Bouton) - kept writing it in and erasing it, writing it in and erasing it; recall that this is the EUTERPE / MATADORS section of the puzzle, where all hell had broken loose. Or not broken loose, to be precise.
- 1D: Mississippi quartet (esses) - two weird things. First, I finished this puzzle, and then later in the day, just before bed, solved another puzzle with this exact clue / answer pairing. Second, 1D is precisely the place where I wanted QUARTET yesterday (for that clue about "The View" that ended up being GABFEST).
- 4D: "Real Time" moderator (Maher) - used to hate "Politically Incorrect" because if I really wanted to hear uninformed jackasses go on and on about politics, I'd watch cable news. But after the demise of that show, Maher began to grow on me, and I now kinda like him.
- 6D: Variety of leather (elk) - poor majestic ELK, reduced to clothing.
- 8D: All the parts of a column except the bottom (addends) - had ADDENDA for a bit (?).
- 22D: Author of the Oprah's Book Club selection "We Were the Mulvaneys" (Oates) - as in Joyce Carol. We read her "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" in my Honors class last term. It's a confusing, freaky, and oddly (unintentionally) funny story. Some of the things the main BADDIE (32A: Villain) says made my prisoner students laugh til they cried. Not that the story isn't also chilling.
- 41D: Passing remark? ('scuse me) - is that how you write that? This one hurt. It's clever, but it hurt, almost as bad as 'TISN'T (62D: Denier's reply).
- 46D: Schumacher of auto racing (Ralf) - !?!?! Willie? Is it Willie? Because I know exactly one Schumacher, and his name is Willie. What's that? Willie is a jockey, not an auto racer? OK. And he spells his name "Shoemaker?" Ah. I see.
- 48A: Violinist Mischa (Auer) - oh my. Do you see what I'm saying about this puzzle trying to take my scalp?! [I'm told this is an error - Mischa AUER is an actor; his grandfather, Leopold, was the famous violinist]
- 61D: Dog of old comics (Tige) - Buster Brown's dog. Didn't realize this until I'd gotten the entire answer from crosses.
- 83D: Creator of "Hagar the Horrible" (Browne) - now this comic dog I know: SNERT. Sadly, this comic creator, I forgot.
- 69D: Impair through inactivity (rust) - this one took a while to puzzle out. "Impair" is a transitive verb, but RUST ... is not.
- 89D: _____ Fleming, central character in "The Red Badge of Courage" (Henry) - haven't read it in 25 years. No dice.
- 99D: Braggadocio (gas) - I had EGO. Yet another reason why the SE was the 9th ring hell.
Good day to you all.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld