Saturday, February 2, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "Just Follow Directions" - theme answers are phrases that feature directional words (up, down, right, or left) - the directional words do not appear in the grid, but instead indicate the direction in which the following word in the phrase will go
I tore this puzzle up. My best Sunday time ever. Ever. As of right now, if I had done the puzzle online, I'd be #3 on the speed leader board. That's how fast I was. I did a little dance when I was done. That's how fast. Unreal. Hot knife meets butter. Etc. And yet I couldn't bring myself to rate this puzzle "Easy" because I'm not sure it was. When I look at it objectively, it looks Medium. Maybe Easy-Medium. I don't know and I don't much care because: 11:30!!!
But enough about my speed, let's talk about this puzzle, which I (mostly) loved. I was most impressed not by the theme, which is indeed clever, but by the longish non-theme fill and assorted shorter answers that made me smile. Despite a preponderance of common crossword fill (on which, more below), the grid in general felt very fresh. Something about the shape of the grid made it feel very intricate, almost maze-like. Lots of pathways, lots of nooks and crannies.
I floundered around for the first little bit when I started the puzzle. "Switch to Down clues, you idiot," I said to myself. The first one I looked at was the crosswordesey gimme ULAN (11D: _____ Bator) and I sped off from there, nailing every single one of those Downs, in order, in the NE (except @#$#ing SODA ASH - 13D: Na2CO3 - that took some hacking). Winced at ELEONORA (20A: Autobiographical short story by Edgar Allan Poe) 'cause it looked so wrong, but left it (good move, Rex; no, seriously, I wasn't being sarcastic - good move). Moved in a southwesterly direction toward the puzzle center, then zagged back to the SE. Then moved along the southern coast til I got to the far W, then zigged back toward the center, where I hit my only major roadblock. Had to leap into the center and then come back through the roadblock from the other side. Then moved up the west coast, spread out over the north and northwest, and then leapt all the way back to the eastern seaboard for my Last Stand, where I did battle, à la the X-MEN (50A: Magneto's adversaries, in comic books) with the dreaded CARRIE GREMLIN (61A: _____ Bradshaw, "Sex and the City" role and 68A: Imp). Scary indeed, but I emerged victorious. Stabbed the beast to death with my trusty SNEE (44D: Old dirk - the crossworder's weapon of choice. EPEEs are too blunt.). No need for an S.O.S. (86A: Titanic message) The end.
- 11A: Pineapple desserts (upside [down] cakes) - first theme answer I got, and I got it quickly. So clear was the theme that I doubt I spent more than two seconds pondering any single theme answers. They were all instantaneously gettable to me. Such a weird, weird feeling...
- 34D: Bad dancer's handicap (two [left] feet)
- 54D: Quite wrong (out in [left] field)
- 83A: Popular song from Broadways "The Wiz" ("Ease on [Down] the Road") - I remember seeing this movie at the Tower Theater in downtown Fresno, possibly on a school trip, when it first came out in 1978. It starred Diana Ross and a pre-insane Michael Jackson.
- 113A: Seinfeld, for one (stand [up] comic)
- 109A: Establishing a business (setting [up] shop)
- 29A: Accelerated (picked [up] speed)
- 35D: "Enough!" (all [right] already)
- 41D: Reactionary (extreme [right] wing)
There were parallel toughies down here, with MALAWI (91D: Lake _____, third-largest lake in Africa) running right alongside NISAN (98D: Month before Iyar - read this as [Month before lyar] until just now) running right alongside SATIE (99D: "Socrate" composer) running right alongside ERST (100D: First, in Frankfurt). That SATIE clue appeared very recently, so no problem there, but the other ones I had to fight for a bit. Trouble with German, not only with ERST, but with the nearby OHM (90A: Eponymous German electrophysicist). Educated guess. MALAWI and MALI (66D: French Sudan, today) in the same puzzle today ... flashy.
Thorny Area 2: Southern Nevada / Northern Arizona
This is where the wheels did indeed come off. I hit AUK (87A: Arctic diver), my favorite crossword bird after ERN(E), and was so happy until ... I saw that "K" sat in the final space of 72D: Slams, which seemed impossible. How does a plural end in "K?" So I erased it. Tried to get through there by going at 77D: Jupiter or Mars, but nothing was coming. So I came at this little node from the other end, eventually discovering that [Slams] was FLAK (wow, ouch) and [Jupiter or Mars] was DEUS - that's just Latin for "god." Seems a stretch to expect a solver to get "Latin" from the clue, but those gods' names are indeed spelled as they would be in Latin, so ... all's fair, I S'POSE (92D: Imagine, informally).
Thorny Area 3: Calgary
Something about that bank of answers in the far north just seems audacious. The alliterative intersection of DEAD ON (5A: Totally accurate) and DESPISE (8D: Execrate), the assonant parallel pairing of ERNEST (19A: One of wine's Gallo brothers) and ERES TU (22A: 1974 Mocedades hit), and then, the coup de grace: the startling, one-leg-longer-than-the-other monstrosity that is the OSTOSIS (9D: Bone formation) and NTUPLE (10D: Mathematical sequence of unknown length) pairing. NTUPLE!!!!? Wow. It's ... like seeing some very, very rare kind of animal species. "Be very quiet or you'll frighten the NTUPLE. Like certain cicadas, he appears only once every twelve years."
- "ERES TU" - see also the Verdi aria "ERI TU"
- X-MEN - most common superhero name in the puzzle
- 102A: Sitcom title role for Brandy Norwood (Moesha) - like the ALERO, "MOESHA" is no longer a product yet continues to haunt the grid.
- 28A: "Biography" network (A and E) - beware the [letter] AND [letter] answers. They will hurt your head if you aren't expecting them.
- 32A: Canonized mlle. (ste.)
- 53A: Spread in a spread (oleo) - I love that I guessed OLEO immediately, then began to erase in favor of MAYO, then thought, "no, let OLEO ride and see what happens."
- 7D: Hydrocarbon suffix (-ane) - when it comes to science words, I go by feel. This felt right.
- 20D: Israeli P.M. Olmert (Ehud) - man, that name doesn't even anagram into something pretty.
- 31D: Subatomic particle that is a nuclear binder (pion) - look out also for MUON and MESON; learned the lot of them from the xwords.
- 89D: Turkish pooh-bahs (pashas) - not common, but common enough. This word is beloved by crossword blogger Orange, who enjoys imagining herself as a Pasha of Crosswords.
- 94D: Prince Valiant's wife (Aleta) - his son is named ARN.
And the rest!
- 1A: Artist's digs, maybe (loft) - had LUFT because, as I always, I misspelled OLMEC (2D: Ancient Mexican people).
- 18A: "_____, gorgeous!" (Fanny Brice's comment to herself when looking in the mirror) ("Hello") - I had so many funny answers here, but none of them fit, so I had to move on. Took me 'til nearly the very end to figure this answer out.
- 21A: Marisa of "What Women Want" (Tomei) - breakfast test! (as in, "What Women Want" makes me want to barf, so it does not pass the breakfast test).
- 26A: Cork shooter (pop gun) - do these even exist anymore? Seems like they'd have been outlawed for de-eyeing children.
- 35A: Blue Devils' and Tigers' org. (ACC) - why did I write SEC here? Ah, LSU Tigers. I see now.
- 45A: Elton's johns (loos) - er, gross.
- 48A: Stereotypical reaction to Elvis (swoon) - I'm pretty sure this was an actual reaction to Elvis, many times.
- 59A: Classic Toyota sports cars (Supras) - can we put "Classic" inside ironic quotation marks, please? Oh, I just did. Awesome. SUPRAS reminds me of the 80s something awful ...
- 72A: Fronded plant (fern) - ... whereas the FERN screams 70s.
- 73A: Fictional submariner (Nemo) - my man. One of my all-time favorite fictional characters. Nothing like an underwater supergenius bent on mysterious vengeance.104A: What a man and woman become in marriage (one flesh) - hmmm. In some variations, yes, but it still sounds creepy. This answer took me several stabs.
- 106A: Two-wheeled covered carriage (hansom) - Before I started doing crosswords, there was only one word for "carriage." That word: carriage.
- 110A: Hero of Bellini's "I Puritani" (Arturo) - well, it's a name I've heard of, so perfect.
- 42D: Flower also called a naked lady (amaryllis) - ouch, spelling. This looks awkward, not at all like the "naked lady" I was picturing in my head.
- 64D: Disco term meaning "galore" (a-go-go) - this term has a "meaning" now? Good for it.
- 69D: "_____ Angel," 1933 film ("I'm no") - I feel like this was remade as a bad movie starring one of the Penns ... aha, "We're No Angels" (1989). Probably not a remake, but sure sounds like one.
- 83D: Subject of the book "Last Flight" (Earhart) - had the -HART, so ... not that hard.
- 84D: Setting for "Driving Miss Daisy" (Atlanta) - interesting city. It's also been clued as [Bailiwick of TV's Matlock].
- 102D: Relig. title (msgr.) - Wow, "monsignor." You don't see that every day.
Enjoy the Super Bowl - or avoiding it.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld