Saturday, March 15, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy
Today's puzzle makes me indescribably happy. Just when I was beginning to wonder "Hey, whatever happened to The Magician, The Future of Puzzling, The Golden Child, The Kandinsky of Krosswords, etc." along comes not just a new Quarfoot puzzle, but one of the most enjoyable DQ puzzles of all time (which, believe me, is saying something). I will admit that part of my love for it involves my having broken my personal land speed record for a Saturday. When my wife described breaking a board in karate, she talked about how surprised she was when it happened because it felt like there was no resistance at all. That's how I felt with this puzzle. I was expecting trek through harsh climate and instead got world's best waterslide ride. There were only a few times that I paused at all during this puzzle, and several of those times were simply to gawk in admiration at the astonishing answers.
What's strange to me is how many of these answers felt super-easy to me; some of them had no business being as easy as they were. I knew some things instantly that I really have no business knowing. I was in some kind of zone, where the right answer just floated right to the top, completely at my command. Why Isn't Every Day Like This? Here are the all the clues I've written "easy" next to (keep in mind, by "easy" I mean that I got it easily - often for reasons that are unknown to me - and not that the clue is actually empirically easy)
- 17A: "Family Ties" family (Keatons) - an absolute gimme for me and most people of a certain age (30-50?) who lived in / grew up in America in the 80s. I hesitated, and went through the first names of everyone in the family, trying to get a last name to follow: "Elise ... Mallory ... Alex ... Alex P. Keaton!" The role that made Michael J. Fox famous.
- 15A: It began in 1968, for tennis (open era) - got it off one letter (the "n"). Why? The phrase announced its rightness so forcefully that it couldn't be denied.
- 37A: Chips-in-a-can brand from Lay's (Stax) - never had these in my life, but got it off the "S"; not the direction most people would go for STAX, but I like it.
- 38A: Silicon Valley city (Los Altos) - there are a billion LOS this and LA that cities in California. Why I was able to retrieve LOS ALTOS, I don't know, but again, I *knew* in my bones it was right. The Force was strong in me.
- 46A: Hill of law (Anita) - like KEATONS, a gimme. I was just starting grad school when she was undergoing her horrible public degradation.
- 47A: Milieu for Katarina Witt (Eis) - I just wrote about how I know only three German words; I named them all, and this was one of them.
- 49A: Old Testament patriarch (Enoch) - had the "EN," piece of cake (perhaps because I TA'd for a professor named ENOCH when I was in grad school).
- 51A: Female demon (lamia) - love of D&D and Keats made this one a gimme.
- 53A: People's 1999 Sexiest Man Alive (Gere) - in four letters? Who else? Oh, PITT, I guess. He never even occurred to me.
- 65A: Banderas's "The Mambo Kings" co-star, 1992 (Assante) - where did this come from!? I never saw this movie. I had the last three letters, so maybe I would have gotten ASSANTE no matter what the clue.
- 10D: "But hark! _____ comes gently to the door": Robert Burns ("a rap") - had the "P" ... and knew it instantly. I have no idea what poem this is referencing - Google tells me it's something called "A Cotter's Saturday Night."
- 28D: Speedy express (Acela) - super common crossword fare, which just happens to lie right in the heart of the only section of the puzzle that might have given me trouble.
- 32D: Piece of a candy bar? (Kat) - it was that or KIT.
- 39D: One way to do something stupid (on a dare) - had ON in place, so this was obvious.
- 48D: Bimonthly magazine for environmentalists (Sierra) - had the RA in place, so this was obvious (it seems So Much of slaying a Saturday has to do with the auspicious placement of your crosses).
- 51D: Stimulating order (latte) - off the "L" - literally, these answers were falling into place like God Himself was directing my hand. Or ... more like I was Neo at the end of the first "Matrix" movie, when he figures out and finally believes that the "reality" he knows is just an illusory program that he can manipulate at will.
- 61D: Setting for an idyll (lea) - off the second "A" in ASSANTE. Piece of cake.
The grid structure makes the puzzle very easy to tame. There are no wide open spaces, no vast expanses of white squares daring you to try to get into them. Instead, lots of little words allow you many opportunities to claw at the puzzle, while every section of the puzzle has at least two different ways in and out of it - compare yesterday's, where, especially in the SW, there was no exit. Overall, this puzzle was way way easier than yesterday's, which is a slam on neither puzzle. Just an observation.
The marquee answer of the day, for me, was GAY ICON (1A: Judy Garland or Liza Minnelli). I have said before that DQ has a signature, showy 1A, and not only did he not disappoint today - this may be his best 1A ever, and it is certainly my favorite. Bold, original, daring, funny. Literally, you had me at GAY ICON. I didn't think GAY ICON could get any better ... until I saw it crossed with APE SUIT (2D: Popular costume party costume). Genius. Other marvelousness includes X'S AND O'S (18A: Football coaching figures), BAD PERM (55A: Botched salon job), and the ultra-fantastic DOE, A DEER (36D: Rodgers and Hammerstein refrain starter). Weirdly, before I came upstairs to get the puzzle, I paused the PBS special I was watching on Carol Burnett. The special featured Julie Andrews very very prominently (contemporary interviews, plus footage of her performing with Burnett in the 60s). It's a great documentary.
- 8A: Sushi covering (sea weed) - NORI. Delicious.
- 25A: Bashkir's close cousin (Tatar) - another "how did I know this?" moment. No idea what "Bashkir" means, but I had the "T" and thought only TATAR.
- 27A: Weapon for Wonder Woman (tiara) - HA ha, I forgot she used that as a weapon. Oh, did I have a crush on Lynda Carter when I was 9? (A: yes)
- 29A: TV shopper's option (QVC) - DQ in his "I'll just shove as many damned Scrabbly letters in the puzzle as I can" mode.
- 24D: Episcopal leader (primate) - here was my one and only problem in the puzzle. I wrote in PRELATE. It's nice when your wrong answer shares 5 out of 7 letters with the right one. As soon as things felt off / squirrely, I took out PRELATE and everything fell into place. Sometimes the best thing you can do is pull an answer you're pretty sure of - if all the trouble is in that answer's vicinity, pull it.
- 31A: Dancer's guider, for short (St. Nick) - had the ST. part and wanted VITUS. Once I changed PRELATE to PRIMATE, it came easily: Dancer = reindeer. Great clue.
- 42A: Top of a slope? (ski hat) - had SKI CAP, which slowed me up for a few seconds, I guess.
- 54A: City ESE of Utrecht (Ede) - utterly unknown to me.
- 60A: 1970 western named for a fictional Texas city (Rio Lobo) - John Wayne film written by Leigh Brackett.
- 63A: Ethnic conflict (race war) - see also the Democratic Party's presidential nominating process...
- 1D: Some four-wheelers (Go-Karts)
- 21D: Some four-wheelers, for short (ATVs) - not the biggest fan of pairs like these, but when you pick up a "K" and a "V" in the process, I guess it's OK
- 5D: High-ranking suits (CEOs)
- 8D: Bodybuilders' prides (six-packs) - OK, the clue feels a little iffy, with the possessive plural and all, but I like the colloquial answer.
- 9D: "Scandalized Masks" painter, 1883 (Ensor) - Meet James Ensor! His stuff is scary to me.
- 13D: Chanel fragrance for men (Egoiste) - goes nicely, and pretentiously, with ARTISTE (62A: Virtuoso).
- 26D: Warning about people moving from side to side? (Ped Xing) - great clue, great answer.
- 40D: Bit of cocoa? (silent A) - DAMMIT! I vowed I would never fall for this variety of trickery again! And yet I fell right into it. Only when I had SI---NTA did I finally grasp the answer. Quarfoot!
- 55D: Blowout (bash)
- 43D: 55-Down with fiddles (hoe down) - this may be my favorite clue. "Just add fiddles!""
- 44D: Flipper (acrobat) - this was an answer in a recent puzzle of note, so I got it easily.
- 45D: 2003 sci-fi disaster film featuring subterranean team of "terranauts" ("The Core") - pop culture absurdity - one of the things I count on DQ for. Again, I don't know how I knew this. I had "THE C..." and the title limped forward from the back of my brain: "I'm right here, sir, ready for duty [cough]"
Please don't think that I'm bragging today. I just felt like ... I spend much of my time on this blog expressing annoyance or frustration; today I just wanted to try to convey the rare feeling of unalloyed joy.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld