Friday, March 21, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: Old Movies (or, none)
I breathed a deep sigh of relief about 25% of my way into this puzzle, as I realized that I finally had a winner on my hands, after a week of bad to ho-hum puzzles. I've always liked Peter Collins's puzzles, but this may be his best yet - a very solid, inventive, and entertaining "themeless" Friday. I use the "unnecessary quotation marks" because it felt themed at times, with at least four movie clues scattered throughout the grid. If you live by pop culture, you die by pop culture, and today I did a little of both. I was exceedingly grateful for the flat-out (intersecting) gimmes of Liam NEESON (44A: "Michael Collins" title role player) and Edward James OLMOS (35D: "Stand and Deliver" Oscar nominee, 1988), though as usual I could not spell NEESON's name correctly - this time I went with NEASON, I think. On the current "Battlestar Galactica," OLMOS plays Commander Adama, whom I now keep wanting to call Commander Obama. The other movie clues didn't come so easily. 15A: 1978 cult film with a mutant child ("Eraserhead") is a great answer - an early David Lynch film that I've heard of but never seen. The movie I wanted to put here: "BASKET CASE." There are multiple problems with that answer (not the least of which is that "BASKET CASE" came out in 1982), but here's the one line summary from imdb, just so you can see why I was confused:
A young man carrying a big basket that contains his deformed Siamese-twin brother seeks vengeance on the doctors who separated them against their will.
Lastly in movieville, we have Mischa AUER (18D: Oscar-nominated "My Man Godfrey" actor, 1936), which is all kinds of awesome given that the last time this guy showed up (fairly recently), he was erroneously clued as [Violinist Mischa], resulting in untold thousands of Google hits to my site. His grandfather Leopold was the famous violinist. I did not get AUER easily. I think the "A" may have been the last letter I filled in, as my solving went SW, NW, Center, SE, NE.
I had some serious name problems, resulting in educated guesses that were, thankfully, correct. I don't know who JENS Stoltenberg is (51D: Norwegian P.M. Stoltenberg) but I'm sure he's thrilled to be sharing his little corner of the puzzle with ORGY (52D: Immoderate indulgence). I guessed the "J" in JENS from my remedial Spanish, of which OJO (50A: Eye of the tigre?) pretty much represents the outer limits. A little annoying to have two trickily clued Spanish answers today (see also ESTA, 58A: It is in Peru), but I somehow like the foreign symmetry of OJO and OST (19A: One of four directions in 5-Down), the latter of which builds off the nicely clued 5D: It's no longer divided (Berlin). (BERLIN makes me think of Leonard Cohen: "First ... we take Manhattan ...")
My greatest moment as a solver today came when I mentally threw COAXER into the bottom of the NE quadrant, despite not really understanding why the answer fit the clue (42A: One using soft soap). Is the "soft soap" a lubricant ... of some kind? Is it a metaphor for ... greasing someone up? Anyhoo, that put the "X" there at the bottom of a long answer - 12D: Zydeco instrument - and god bless The Who, SQUEEZE BOX was the first thing that popped in my head. I had to convince myself it was a real thing, but that didn't take long. That answer allowed me to get into the NW, but finishing it off was hard. Just guessed that the 11A: Falcons' grp. had something to do with the Air Force (USAF), couldn't remember what "gazetteer" meant, but the "Q" helped me see I was dealing with some kind of SQuare something at 16A: Gazetteer meas. (sq. mi.). And I've never ever heard of 11D: Lend-Lease Act provision (U.S. aid), and the answer seems awfully general. The "AI" was the closing moment for me, with the A starting one name I wasn't completely sure of (AUER) and the I providing the second letter in another (NIELS - 21A: Mathematician _____ Henrik Abel).
This puzzle deserves applause for the wide range of answers, as well as for its four 3x10 blocks, one in each quadrant. Especially impressive that none of the resulting 10-letter answers feels particularly strained. Peter Collins teaches math, so the presence of NIELS Henrik Abel and FIRST ORDER (14D: Simplest, in math and logic) is perhaps not surprising. Ideally those answers wouldn't intersect, but I'll let it go this time.
- 1A: They have many sticking points (rose bushes) - cute and accurate, a rare combo.
- 22A: Brown and others (Tinas) - o you elitist New York Times - why couldn't this have been Bobbys!?
- 27A: Football Hall-of-Famer Huff (Sam) - don't know this guy. Thankfully, his name is ordinary.
- 29A: Corrida sticker (dart) - one of many instances where I had the wrong answer initially. Here, I had DIRK (which I got off the "K" in the (wrong) TSK - should have been TUT - 22D: Sound of disapproval).
- 30A: Pessimist in a Disney cartoon (Eeyore) - it somehow pains me to see EEYORE referred to as a "Disney" toon.
- 17A: Sealing fans? (polar bears) - great, if disturbing, clue.
- 34A: Letters between two names (aka) - criminalia. I like it.
- 35A: One way to get through a wall (osmosis) - cute, though something about the clue implies that there might be other ways ... and if your "way" is OSMOSIS, my guess is that you didn't have any other options.
- 37A: Checkers, e.g. (men) - this kind of hurt. I wanted COCKER SPANIEL or at least DOG.
- 40A: It involves many unknowns: Abbr. (alg.) - another math answer for you. You math constructors should really have limits set on you.
- 41A: Sched. maker, often (mgr.) - I had MOM, which I think is an awesome answer.
- 59A: Doll that was once a going thing (Betsy Wetsy) - Don't know whether to laugh or cry. I ordinary urination can't pass the breakfast test, I'm surprised simulated urination does. Still, this answer is fantastic, a pop culture home run. I knew it as soon as I dropped that first "Y" down from MARIN COUNTY (23D: Home to San Quentin State Prison), though to be honest my first thought was "Oh wow ... POLLY POTTY."
- 1D: Credit report damager, briefly (repo) - Yeah, that would suck. I prefer REPO to be followed by MAN.
- 2D: Prizes for top atletas (oros) - whoops, looks like I missed an answer when I was adding up the Spanish. That's three. Again ... there oughta be a law. Or at least limits.
- 4D: Tikkanen of hockey (Esa) - the beauty of blogging a name you don't know - it sticks with you. I see this guy Everywhere now.
- 6D: Architectural subdiscipline (urban design) - beautiful answer. Elegant. A nice counterpoint to the more popcultury aspects of the puzzle.
- 7D: "_____ Lady" (1971 hit song) ("She's a") - first thing in the grid. Tom Jones!
- 9D: Roadside stand units (ears) - i.e. of corn. I had EATS at first.
- 10D: Old sit-in org. (SDS) - your go-to radical student group.
- 21D: When doubled, what a rat does (names) - genius. Just great.
- 24D: Opening pair? (Adam and Eve) - cute and easy, just like I like 'em. That came out creepy...
- 26D: Marmalade ingredient (orange zest) - I thought more of the ORANGE made it in than just the ZEST.
- 45D: Perfect Day maker (Serta) - Your nights will suck, but your days: magnifique!
- 46D: "_____ of traitors!": Shak. ("A nest") - don't know why this phrase is so familiar, but it is. Why is Shakespeare abbreviated?
- 49D: Summer cooler (Icee) - trademark! This took me a while. Had the -EE and wanted ... TREE. As in "Let's get cool by sitting in the shade of that TREE." Yes, lame.
- 54D: Where races are screened?: Abbr. (OTB) - so proud of my self (non-bettor) that this just came to me, giving me the "T" that helped me get TEST-TAKING with only two letters in place (57A: Student activity).
- 55D: "They Like _____" (song from "Call Me Madam") ("Ike") - odd way to get at Eisenhower, but why not? Easy enough to ferret out.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS I got so much mail yesterday "correcting" me on DEL MAR. Apparently my facetiousness amp was not set high enough. I often say manifestly wrong things in jest - I knew very well that DEL MAR was DELaware + MARyland. The query about the Spanishness of the name was brought on only by the fact that there is a perfectly good (Spanish) place name of DEL MAR, so as portmanteaus go, DEL MAR seemed weak. And also, re: yesterday, try to be nice to each other. Yeesh. If you don't like what I or someone else has to say about a puzzle, by all means disagree, but try to do so in a way that focuses on the puzzle and does not resort to dime-store psychoanalysis of the people with whom you disagree. Contrary to the apparent beliefs of some, my readers are a pretty independent lot, and don't just jump 'cause I say so. In short, they are not my FLYING MONKEYS (that's for you, Andrea), so please don't treat them as such.