Thursday, February 21, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "Mixed Nuts" - 55A: Party snack (and a hint to this puzzle's circled letters) => circled letters in theme answers form anagrams of different types of nuts
This puzzle was reasonably easy, except for the center, which was dead hard for me. At one point, the 3x3 square whose north side is formed by the 31, 32, and 33 squares was complete empty, and I could not think of how to get in. The theme itself was cute, if obvious: I figured it out in the first 30 seconds or so, as soon as I got SAUCE PANS. The one theme answer that threw me for a loop was FILTER BASKET, first because I could not think of what word could follow FILTER in a familiar phrase, and second because I could not tell you what a FILBERT is to save my life. That's like some mythical nut I've heard of but never seen, the nut equivalent of a ROC or PHOENIX. Apparently they are very similar to the common hazel nut. That's what Wikipedia tells me, at any rate. ALMOND and CASHEWS were much easier to see in their anagrams. FILBERT sounds too much like DILBERT for my taste (tomorrow is the 6-week anniversary of the Dilbert/ASOK puzzle I loved so much - can't wait to see how people solving the puzzle in syndication respond; my guess is they probably love their daily "Dilbert" even more than you same-day folk, which means I could be in trouble).
- 16A: Farberware set (sauCEPANs) => PECANS
- 22A: Coffee maker component (FILTER Basket) => FILBERT - so unknown was this nut to me that I actually had to "cheat" and check Crossword Fiend's blog to see what the anagram of FILTERB was supposed to be. Something about the fact that you just have to switch two letters to get your anagram is bothering me. Seems not a proper anagram. Not enough anagramminess.
- 44A: Longtime ABC newsman (SaM DONALdson) => ALMOND
- 36A: Bothers (CHEWS At) => CASHEW - since when is CHEWS AT a phrase that anyone says? Something might GNAW or EAT AT you, but CHEW AT. I guess if you are a corpse and the vultures are "bothering" you, then yes, this works.
Staying with CHEWSAT for the moment: what the hell is going on in the middle of my puzzle? CHEWSAT anchors a nexus of words / phrases here that are all tough-to-befuddling. Let's start with this jerk AHERNE (31D: 1939 Academy Award nominee), which was the name that finally, finally broke the center open for me. His name came to me out of the blue, from puzzles gone by. I'm quite sure I've blogged about not knowing him before. I mean, the clue didn't even give a movie title?! Not that it would have mattered, but still ... little help? Right next to AHERNE is the weirdest answer I've seen in a while. First, I don't understand the clue: 32D: Political hostess Perle. What is a "political hostess?" Is that a euphemism for "call girl?" Sounds like someone hired to attend a political fund-raiser and keep the donors "happy." Then there's the answer: MESTA. MESTA? That's not a name, that's a cracker. MESTA? Wow. OK. Had to struggle to get the front end of AMNION (31A: Embryonic membrane). Now that I think of it, I think this center area went down in this order: RESTED (39A: Post-vacation, say), AMNION, AHERNE, NWT (33D: Yukon neighbor: Abbr.), then CHEWS AT, with that "E" being the last letter I needed in MESTA. MESTA. I need to repurpose this name. Sounds like something you shout when you shout during a game, like GIN or SORRY or YAHTZEE!
Your other answers of note:
- 5A: Some exam practice (PSAT) - the PSAT is an exam! I had PREP here.
- 15A: "Hard Cash" author Charles (Reade) - this is also the name of some Victorian writer dude I had never heard of until I started doing crosswords. Congratulations on finding an even more obscure READE (oh, no, you're right, he's famous, I'm sure. My bad)
- 35A: HBO's "Da _____ G Show" ("Ali") - gimme! This answer can be wicked when it's not just ALI but the full ALIG. ALIG looks nuts in the grid. Nuts!
- 40A: Home tool maker (Skil) - almost as befuddling as MESTA to me. I checked and rechecked the crosses just to be sure. I guess that second "L" was just too costly to print on all their products.
- 49A: Sony subsidiary (Aiwa) - this was what I call a no-looker, in that I had AIW- and wrote in the "A" without looking at the clue. Admittedly, the level of difficulty there was low.
- 53A: It's often turned upside down when not in use (canoe) - this, I like.
- 2D: Off-white shade (opal) - so badly wanted trust ECRU.
- 7D: Owner of The History Channel (A and E) - I need a word for this type of entry; you know, AANDE, AANDW, CANDW, RANDR ... the stuff I inevitably get mail about, from people claiming never to have heard of such a word...
- 11D: Words with a familiar ring? ("I do") - how is the ring "familiar?" Presumably, the bride/groom has not had the ring for very long, and is putting it on for the first time at the moment "I do" is uttered.
- 12D: "S" on a French shaker (sel) - that's salt. Add SEL to your "French words you must know to be able to solve crosswords easily."
- 17D: "_____ Coming" (1969 Three Dog Night hit) - This was one of the first clues I saw and it made me happier than you could possibly imagine.
- 26D: Susan who wrote the best seller "Compromising Positions" (Isaacs) - along with READE and [choke] MESTA, another name I did not know.
- 27D: Sighter of the Pacific, Sept. 25, 1513 (Balboa) - and, presumably, any number of Native Americans and Asians.
- 31D: Yen or yuan (Asian money) - this is a self-standing phrase now?
- 47D: Singer of the anthem "Sang till Norden" (Swede) - Every day when I check my site traffic at Google Analytics, I like to play a little game called "Battle for Scandinavia," wherein I see which Scandinavian country generated the most traffic for me that day. Usually the battle is between Denmark and Norway. I don't think Finland has ever won, despite the fact that everyone there speaks perfect English and could probably do the NYT puzzle at least as competently as your average American. Yesterday's winner in the Battle for Scandinavia? DENMARK! Six visitors, to Norway's four. Two apiece for Sweden and Finland.
- 53D: Red letters? (CIN) - really great clue that mystified me for too long. CIN = Cincinnati Reds (baseball team).
- 56D: _____-turn (No U) - few things look more feeble in the grid than NOU.
OINK! (59A: Cry at Old MacDonald's)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld