Monday, April 28, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "NECKING" (41A: Making out ... or a hint to this puzzle's four hidden articles of clothing) - each "article of clothing" is hidden in one of the grid's long theme answers
I have never before seen an explanation of the theme in the header of the puzzle this early in the week. I can only guess that there was a huge oversight in the cluing of 41-Across, which tells you that the puzzle is hiding the clothes, but doesn't tell you (as it usually does) where they're hidden (either by naming the clues directly, e.g. "17-Across, 64-Across, etc." or by marking those clues with stars and then indicating that we should look at the starred clues). Major distraction. I kept thinking I was missing something, especially when two of my theme answers were such clunky hassles (see below). The distance between the meanings of the theme-indicating answer (NECKING) and the neckwear is pretty vast, so maybe that's why extra help was (it seems) needed in the puzzle's header. But maybe, just maybe, that's a sign that the puzzle simply doesn't cohere well enough. It either coheres or it doesn't - putting that huge explanation at the top of the grid is like putting a neon-colored band-aid on your face to cover a pimple, i.e it's not helping.
- 17A: Boardinghouse sign (roomS TO LEt)
- 11D: Favoring common folk (anTI-Elite) - ooh I do Not like this answer. This is not nearly strong enough of a phrase to be in a theme position. If you are going to go ANTI-, you need a phrase with some established credibility, like, I don't know, ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT or ANTI-IMMIGRANT or ANTI-WAR. Hell, ANTI-OBAMA gets you 365,000 hits to "ANTI-ELITE"'s pathetic 13,200. I know it must have been Death to split TIE across two words (or in this case, word parts), but still, if you can't do it, you can't do it. This puzzle's concept is very sound, but its execution - lacking.
- 34D: Daytona 500 enthusiast (NASCAR Fan) - OK, OK, we get that you are ANTI-ELITE, which is a very bandwagony thing to be these days, what with all the ANTI-OBAMA sentiment in the air, but NASCAR FAN!? This is taking your ANTI-ELITism too far, and too deep into my puzzle. You could have at least had the decency to make the phrase a good one, like NASCAR DAD (which is the answer I had until the bitter end). I realize that a SCARD doesn't go around your neck, but I don't really care at this point. NASCAR DAD gave me ALDA at 63A: _____ Romeo (car) (Alfa), which is obviously wrong, but when you see ALDA in the grid, you rarely question it. HODE, however, set off a few bells when I finally noticed it (69A: Sharpen, as skills - HONE). By the way, do we really need the "car" part of the ALFA Romeo clue. This puzzle feels exceedingly dumbed-down. Is this part of some new plan to make the early-week puzzles more accessible to new solvers?
- 64A: Halifax's home (NovA SCOTia) - I'd like to say "Hey, what's up?" to all my NOVA SCOTIA readers (there are a surprising number of them - Halifax sends more people to my site than any other place in Canada besides Vancouver and Calgary).
My biggest stumbling block in this puzzle, after I muddled through ANTI-ELITE was at the top of the NASCAR FAN region. I do not like or fully understand 32A: Many conundrums have them (puns). I thought a "conundrum" was simply a thorny problem or puzzling situation - thus I had RUBS, as in "Aye, there's the rub" (problem, conundrum). But apparently the first definition of "conundrum" is:
A riddle in which a fanciful question is answered by a pun.
I can't even imagine such a riddle, and given that this seems to describe the type of "humor" I favor least, I'm not sure I care to hear many examples. RUBS gave me the "R" I needed to put in the very wrong ROAR for 32D: Sound of laughter. Harrumph. Thankfully, I was bailed out by baseball, yet again - 40A: Pitcher's stat (ERA) forced me to change ROAR to PEAL and I fixed that little section from there.
- 22A: Goes out in a game of rummy (gins) - this walks a fine line between icky and cool for me. I'm going to rule "cool," though [Mechanical devices] or, better, [Plymouth, Tanqueray, etc.] would have pleased me more.
- 35A: Sneak peek: Var. (prevue) - could have bothered me, but didn't, as it owned up to what it was, i.e. a VARiant. I'll allow one of these per puzzle, no problem.
- 43A: Pages that aren't editorial matter (ads) - somebody has to edit the ads, don't they? And ADS are often (usually) on the same page as editorial matter. No matter. It's not as if this clue was hard.
- 44A: Open, as an envelope (unseal) - I have to TEAR OPEN most of the ones I receive, as the seal is too firm to UNSEAL politely.
- 48A: Some creepy-crawlies (lice) - I balked at this clue, because I thought LICE hopped rather than crawled - then I realized I was thinking of FLEAS (which I have seen close up, unlike LICE, which I have not).
- 2D: Lifted off the launch pad, e.g. (arose) - are you kidding me here? It's a spaceship, not a @#$#ing lark. AROSE? The rocket isn't getting out of bed, it's Blasting Into the Sky? AROSE, ugh.
- 8D: Letter after phi, chi, psi (omega) - do you really think anyone needs "phi" and "chi" in this clue? I know it's Monday, but ... you could start at the beginning of the Greek alphabet and list all letters preceding Omega and it would do zilch to the difficulty level of this clue (low).
- 31D: Lennon/Ono's "Happy _____ (War Is Over)" (Xmas) - this word is hilarious to me and my family now because of a single email I got the day after I put up my donation button (see sidebar). Most of the mail I got was kind, supportive, etc., but this one ... here. I'm going to reprint it in its entirety:
I would never donate anything to a person who uses an X in place of Christ as you did last Christmas season
- Please keep in mind that I received this message in April! So he'd been holding all that anger and indignation in for four months. Dang. So I guess he'll hang out with Satan ... he just won't pay him for the privilege. Awesome. Truly one of the greatest letters I've ever received.
- 33D: Language of Lahore (Urdu) - Lahore is the capital of Punjab province in Pakistan and the second-largest city in Pakistan after Karachi. Thus concludes today's geography lesson. Nope, I lied. Here's more, from Wikipedia:
Punjabi is the native language of the province and is the most widely-spoken language in Lahore and rural areas. Urdu and English, however, are becoming more popular with younger generations since they are officially supported, whereas Punjabi has no official patronage.
- 45D: Shaded passageway (pergola) - really prevented my rounding the corner smoothly there in the SE. I get PERGOLA and GAZEBO confused in that I think of them both as sites unto themselves, not "passageways." In the case of PERGOLA, I'm wrong, though pics from a Google Image search don't look much like "passageways" to me.
- 52D: Old piano key material (ivory) - now illegal. I have some IVORY sculptures that I pre-inherited from my mom. I would show you them, but you'd have to send the children out of the room.
- 56D: Valley known for its chateaux (Loire) - I haven't been to France since 1987, but if I went again, this is somewhere I'd want to go.
- 65D: Old prairie home material (sod) - not to be confused with "The Old Sod" (Ireland).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld