Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "HERBS" (39A: Things hidden in 17-, 23-, 49- and 57-Across)
I normally really like Peter Collins puzzles, but this one fell PREY (68A: Zebras, to lions) to the Tuesday Curse (I wrote earlier about how Tuesdays puzzles seem to go awry far more often than puzzles from other days of the week - Tuesdays are also always my lowest-traffic days. Connection?). The basic conceit of this puzzle is fine. Hide the HERBS. Got it. ("O @#$#, it's the cops - Hide the HERB!") But the phrases used to do the hiding are flat and / or do not have much linguistic life as self-standing phrases. I'M IN TROUBLE (23A: "Uh-oh") is the best of them all, but PARKED ILLEGALLY (17A: In front of a hydrant, say) just looks like two words randomly pulled out of a sentence. Ditto LENGTHY MEETINGS (57A: Business sessions that drag). And PRESS AGENTS (49A: Publicists) could not be duller if it tried. So many "Wheel of Fortune" letters.
The bigger problem in this puzzle, though, is not just that the crosswordese is Everywhere - it's that it All Starts with E. I mean, look at the north! E. LEE (14A: Gen. Robt. _____), ELL (7D: Pipe joint), and EEL (8D: Epitome of slipperiness)?! Three answers using just two letters? Amazing. Throw in EEK! (4D: "Horrors!") and ESL (12D: Course for a recent emigre: Abbr.) and, as you can see, it's a E-for-all up there. Total mess. Let's look at how many other E-words there are:
- 19D: The Oscars of magazine publishing (Ellies) - @#$#$@#$#@#$!!!! WTF! OK, I'm annoyed first because I've never heard of this, and second because I had to endure ELL ... and then ELL-IES? That's like having to endure the REY (13D: King in un palacio) and LE ROI (3D: "Vive _____!") in the same puzzle (which, as you can see, also happened).
- 33A: Atlanta university (Emory) - common
- 33D: Maker of introductions (emcee) - very common
- 45A: Umberto who wrote "The Name of the Rose" (Eco) - exceedingly common
- 48A: Aurora's Greek counterpart (Eos) - reasonably common
- 28D: Board members, for short (execs) - common
- 40D: Lake _____, outlet of the Maumee River (Erie) - beyond exceedingly common
- 58D: TV's Longoria (Eva) - common; saw it yesterday, in fact
- 64A: Israel's Abba (Eban) - very common
- 18D: Contestant's mail-in (entry) - possibly the most interesting of the non-ELLIES E-words ... which is sad.
If I left one out - who cares? Then there's OREOS (35D: Snacks dipped in milk), and IMP (62D: Little troublemaker) and SRO (20A: Notice for late ticket-buyers, maybe), and on and on. I'm also growing a bit weary of SATYR (66A: Mythological reveler). Then there was the iffy cluing at 15A: "Look both ways before crossing," e.g. (rule) - it's a command, a recommendation, but a RULE? Is it written down somewhere? Will you be penalized for not doing it? Then there's the puzzle's negativity, with grating / depressing answers all bunched up together. The BOSSY (44A: Dictatorial) / CHORE (37D: Dusting or taking out the garbage) / HOCK (41A: Pawn) / DRESCHER (36A: Fran of "The Nanny") nexus is particularly repulsive. Then there's the fact that I now have the horrid neo-sea chantey "IRIS" (46A: 1998 song by the Goo Goo Dolls that was #1 for 18 weeks) stuck in my head. Another example of how the 90's were a cultural wasteland. Again, let's not go back. As a non sequitur, allow me to remind you that today is Super Tuesday.
What I liked:
- TIGRE (52D: Un gato grande) crossing PREY. Hot.
- BOL (11D: Ex-hoopster Manute _____). I always felt vaguely sorry for this guy. He was something like 7'7" and weight about a buck twenty. He and Spud Webb (5'7") were in the league at the same time, if I recall. Tweedle Tall and Tweedle Short.
- Like the consecutive "Father" clues: BEGET (44D: Father) and PARENT (47D: Father, e.g.). Both wife and I had PARSON at first for that second clue.
- OGEE (5A: Decorative molding) - it's Quintessential Crosswordese, but I can't help but love it.
- III (56A: Only Super Bowl won by the New York Jets) - mentioned it in yesterday's post, and bam, here it is today. It's like I'm magic. Or something.
- PEPSI (1D: "Taste that beats the others cold" sloganeer, once) - I don't really like PEPSI; I just like the word "sloganeer"
Had two initial errors along the way: ERS for ORS (30A: They might be near I.C.U.'s) and ANGOLA (wouldn't stretch) then ALGERIA (right country, wrong word) for ALGIERS (9D: Home of the Casbah). Clearly ANGOLA was just my solver's instinct over-riding reason ("in Africa, starts with "A," more than four letters, ANGOLA!"). Two words I found somewhat hard to get (besides the freakish ELLIES) were OVULE (63A: Seed-to-be) and especially TIPSTER (43D: Racetrack tout), which feels like a word from another era, which may be why I love it.
If you live in a Super Tuesday state, happy voting. Everyone else ... just happy.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS Got a message from my mom this morning that my grandma had an answer in one of her crosswords that she didn't understand. None of her dictionaries had the word ATOZ in them. Could I explain? Yes ... yes I could. Parsing! So happy to be able to help the woman who inspired my love of crosswords in the first place.
PPS Got an irked (perhaps even IRED) comment on a very old puzzle from a woman scolding me for suggesting that Cleveland's Chief Wahoo is any way a racist symbol. I then traced this woman back to her own website, where I found out that not only is she a rabid Indians fan / Red Sox hater - she has Chief Wahoo tattooed on her ankle in an ankle bracelet that also has her children's names on it!!! No wonder she got angry. Sorry, lady. I retract my earlier comment. Your children's names are not linked to a racist caricature of a native American for the rest of your life. And the Indians did not get humiliated in the ALCS. And Manny Ramirez is not Awesome. Peace be with you. Yes we can!