Monday, April 21, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: Cleaning up - six theme answers all begin with a word that can refer to a method of cleaning
This was a Tuesday puzzle. I did it in under 4, but I'm not sure how, as I stumbled and stutter-stepped all over the place, in between picking my jaw up off the floor after seeing multiple astonishing clues and answers. The theme is well conceived, but stretched too far, at least for a Monday. SCRUB OAK is not terribly familiar, SWEEP HAND is equally marginal (really annoyed my wife), and WASH SALE ... an absolute novelty to me. I'll give the puzzle credit for originality, and for ambition. But I have to question why there are so many high-end words, normally seen only in late-week puzzles. I have recently blogged about at least three different words in this puzzle, and how puzzling / annoying they were to me, but none of those words had the gall to show up on a Monday. And here they are ... like some kind of gang, a roving pack of puzzle undesirables.
29D: Legendary Washington hostess Perle (Mesta) - "Legendary?" She's not the Loch Ness Monster.
50A: Hasty glance (apercu - actually aperçu) - that killed people when it turned up in a Friday. Monday? Monday? Wow. OK.
24D: Actor Tom of "The Girl Can't Help It" (Ewell) - this sap is lame enough when he's clued via the (at least familiar) "Seven-Year Itch." In this guise ... he's unbearable. Throw him back!
63A: Drug-yielding shrub (senna) - more flora I've never heard of.
32A: Fugard's "A Lesson From _____" (Aloes) - soothing plants can teach us so much ... and yes, the plant is in fact what the title refers to: a collection of ALOE plants. It's ... a metaphor for something, I'm sure.
I'd be surprised to see any of the above answers on a Monday. All of them together ... freakish. Weirdest Monday experience I've had in a long time.
- 18A: Symbol of a new start (clean slate)
- 20A: Low-growing tree found typically in rocky soil (scrub oak)
- 33A: It indicates the seconds on a clock face (sweep hand)
- 40A: Small whirlwind (dust devil)
- 52A: Stock transaction done at a loss for tax purposes - I wonder how many people, having no idea what either this or 52D: Pantywaist (wuss) means, will be inclined toward CASH SALE here...
- 57A: Old radio part (vacuum tube)
There are some high-end clues for basic answers. I particularly like the clue for ERIE - 39A: _____ Lackawanna (bygone railroad) ("Bygone," by the way - another great crossword clue word, à la "slangily" and "sloganeer"). MEALS is also clued a bit fancily - 38A: Three squares, e.g. I was unhappy with a couple answers because they seemed off, clue-wise. First, isn't HAZMAT (26A: Dangerous cargo) an abbreviation? Shouldn't "briefly" be somewhere in this clue? Then there's RIFLED, which I also don't like, as it doesn't substitute well for the words in the clue - 44A: Ransacked and robbed. "Ransacked" is enough here, isn't it? "Robbed?" If you rob someone with a "rifle," I guess. . . Today is yet another day where syntactically linked clues bring me no joy. If REAP's counterpart had been SOW, maybe, but SEEDS (13D: Does some spring farmwork)? Meh. (REAP = 1A: Do some fall farmwork ... I didn't really read the "farmwork" part and immediately wrote in RAKE)
- 16A: Actor Murphy of old westerns (Audie) - familiar to me, but wife got very thrown by the intersection of this answer and 11D: Red who fought oil well fires (Adair), neither of whom she knew (she grew up in the Antipodes, people, give her a break).
- 43A: "As You Like It" forest (Arden) - pretty uppity literary clue for Monday. I had an English professor named ARDEN Reed. Sadly (as far as aptness goes), he did not teach Shakespeare. He taught British Literature II. Pope, Swift, etc. Also Romantic poetry. Probably still does. I remember misspelling Jonathan Swift's name on a paper (I wrote JOHN ...) and getting it back with a comment that he (Professor Reed) was particularly sensitive to this misspelling, as Jonathan was his son's name. D'oh!
- 45A: Seer's gift, briefly (ESP) - I think of "seers" as ancient and ESP as modern. Not sure why.
- 59A: "Stronger than dirt" sloganeer (Ajax) - I cannot resist a clue with "sloganeer" in it!
- 2D: Prez or veep (exec) - how I discovered my 1A - RAKE - was wrong.
- 5D: Debutante's date (escort) - see also 30D: Lover (swain).
- 8D: Fat farm (spa) - well that's not ... nice.
- 27D: Baseball's Felipe or Jesus (Alou) - the most common baseball name in crosswords at one point. I have to give editors credit - they have kept my puzzles nearly ALOU-free for a good long time now. So much so that I'm almost happy to see ALOU today.
- 44D: Usher again (reseat) - oh come on, that's terrible. At least the clue wasn't [Ush again].
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS I have a bet going with myself, and it starts ... now.
PPS Well, that took exactly four minutes - I bet myself that someone would make a NABES comment inside of 15 minutes (49D: Local theaters, in slang). Commenter Mimi made that 15 minute mark look ludicrously high. Thanks, Mimi.