Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "SOUP to NUTS" - puzzle contains a WORD ladder, starting with SOUP in the NW and ending with NUTS in the SE; theme is encapsulated by a central 15-letter Across answer: 38A: From 1- to 67-Across (The Whole Shebang)
This is a lovely, lively puzzle - 6 rungs to the WORD ladder, plus two different theme-indicating entries: WORD and THE WHOLE SHEBANG. I was very, very lucky to have worked this puzzle down the western seaboard. I got WORD (62A: Kind of ladder exemplified by the answers to the seven starred clues) before I had any part of the WORD ladder besides SOUP, and I then immediately jumped from to the starred clues, picking them off easily until I hit CUTS (56A: Salon styles), which for some reason mystified me. Had the clue, obviously, and knew that the answer was just one letter different from COTS, and still couldn't figure out what to do. Weird. Hardly mattered, though, because I got 38A almost immediately thereafter, guessing that the word after THE WHOLE had to be SHEBANG (as ENCHILADA would not fit). "From SOUP to ..." that answer had to be NUTS, so I wrote in NUTS in the SE and worked the word ladder backwards, thereby cornering the elusive CUTS.
- 1A: *Salad partner (soup) - first thing in the grid, very easy
- 16A: *Takeover (coup)
- 21A: *Pen (coop)
- 25A: *Cote calls (coos)
- 48A: *Sleep lab purchases (cots) - what a weird clue...
- 56A: *Salon styles (cuts)
- 67A: *Fanatics (nuts)
I feel as if I've seen the SOUP to NUTS word ladder before in some other puzzle from my misty puzzle past. The two non-ladder theme answers take this puzzle from merely clever to ingenious.
School is delayed today, so I need to write quickly. Much as I love writing this blog, I'd rather hang out with my daughter.
Checking my wife's puzzle this morning, I noticed that her three difficulty spots were the ones I'd anticipated solvers would encounter: vindication! I would have rated this puzzle EASY but for the three thorny parts, which aren't Terribly thorny, just treacherous enough to derail an otherwise smooth solve.
Thorny part the first: Far North
Had the -CES or would not have known that PISCES was the "last sign" (5D: Last sign). Even with the PIS in place, I still had trouble making PANSY (5A: Velvety bloomer) and especially ILENE (15A: Graff of stage and screen) appear. I got ILENE confused with ILONA Massey (a mistake only a crossword solver could make), and the 7, 8, and 9D run was harrowing for me, as 8D and 9D wouldn't come, and I just guessed at 9D: It's issued by the Nippon Ginko (yen). Had to guess educatedly at 7D: Charles Laughton's role in "The Sign of the Cross" (Nero) - helped that I just taught Julius Caesar and so have Roman history on the brain - and SNIP (8D: Sassy one) is an idiomatic expression I've never heard used quite this way. I prefer [Barber shop sound] as a clue for this word.
[This just in - schools are all closed - looks like it's "Family Day In"!]
Thorny part the second: Iowa
The upper midwest felt oddly treacherous. I got through it, but felt ... well, have you ever hit a patch of ice while driving, and nothing goes terribly wrong and you come out of it just fine, but you're all pumped full of adrenalin and just grateful because things could have gone a whole lot worse? Well, that's what getting through this part (and the SE) was like, only with a little less adrenalin, probably. Thankfully FRA was a gimme (27A: Monastery title) because the two major Downs in this region, particularly the main artery CATH (25D: Like J.F.K.: Abbr.), were tough for me to get. I had CAT- and still didn't know what I was dealing with. In my mind, J.F.K. was an airport, I think, not a CATHolic person. And ROSA (28D: Monte _____, highest point in the Pennine Alps) ... well, in order to know that, I'd first have to know what the Pennine Alps are.
Thorny part the third: Florida
It takes some kind of guts to cross BETATRON (40D: Particle accelerator) and OORT (64A: Astronomy's _____ cloud), especially when you already have ORTS in the puzzle. OORT is a word I know only from crosswords, and I think I know it only from one, fairly recent crossword. If I hadn't learned the acceptability of OORT, I would have been second-guessing that initial "O" (from BETATRON), though ultimately I probably would have stuck with the "O," because as silly as OORT looks, all other vowel-ORT variations look sillier. Other problems down here include not living in Chicago (61A: Chicago's Dan _____ Expressway (Ryan)), and being a very negligent lawn-tender (50A: Lawn care tool (aerator)).
I have focused on "thorny" parts a lot today, but I should make it clear that "thorny" is a relative term, and this puzzle was not, in the end, all that tough. Pleasantly pesky, I'd say, but not hard.
- 37A: Knickers wearer (lad) - not in the U.K. .... I mean, probably. Unless you're a British man who's into that sort of thing.
- 42A: Jong who wrote "Sappho's Leap" (Erica) - just write [Jong], because anything after that is irrelevant. There is only one JONG, and her name is ERICA. Clue may as well read [Jong who woke up this morning and ate cornflakes].
- 59A: Aida and Norma, notably (opera roles) - hmmm ... not sure this holds together well as a self-standing phrase. I started to write in OPERETTAS at first (!?).
- 43A: Woodcutter's tool (wedge) - wife had to explain to me what this means.
- 44A: Many a turban wearer (Sikh) - something about the terminal "KH" pleases me.
- 65A: Finishes, as cartoon artwork, with "in" (inks) - I didn't know the "in" was necessary. Actually, in comics, the person who INKS doesn't do the coloring "in" - that's for the colorist to do.
- 2D: Sock material (orlon) - I found this baffling for about three seconds. The word wouldn't come, and then just felt wrong.
- 4D: Buzzer on "This Old House" (power saw) - nice answer. Goes well (I think) with WEDGE, in that handy people (unlike me) would probably know how to use both of them.
- 24D: Joe Jackson's "_____ Really Going Out With Him?" ("Is She") - love this, mostly because I love this song and most things Joe Jackson has ever done. I have a live double album by him that is probably the best live album I own besides, maybe, the recent Lucinda Williams live album, which is damn near perfect. Saw her in NYC in 2005 - best concert-going experience of my life, by far. OK, where was I? Oh, right, IS SHE was a great colloquial two-worder to complement OH HI (33D: "I didn't think you'd be here...") and TO YOU (51D: Conclusion of "Happy Birthday").
- 52D: Eye-popping canvases (op art) - a very, very common art-related answer. If it hurts to look at or appears to be moving even though you know it's stationary, it's OP ART. Or you are high. Or both.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
Today's other puzzles:
- LAT (C) 6:10 - Russell G. Brown: very clever theme, but man, there was some iffy / rough fill in there. Three words I've barely ever seen, but all of them very handy to know. Worth doing, especially if you are in training for the tournament.
- NYS (C) 7:24 - Robert H. Wolfe, "End to End": not until the very very very end did I realize what the exact nature of the theme was. Hard to believe it did not dawn on me sooner, given how many times the same, rare letter appears in the puzzle. Nice clue at 36A: Pole vault unit? - my final hurdle.
- CS (C) - 3:26 - Martin Ashwood-Smith, "Cerealization": whoops. Error. Stupid. Must calm down (any time I think I have a shot at breaking 3 minutes, I tend to spaz out).