Friday, April 11, 2008
Relative difficulty: Challenging
Wow. I should have rated yesterday's puzzle Medium-Challenging, so that I had somewhere left to go today. This took a good deal more work than yesterday's did (typical for a Byron Walden puzzle). It was also a good deal more satisfying. If you are among the sports-phobic solvers out there, this one must have hurt. There are at least 10 sports-related clues, most of them (SNEAD and ILIE aside) really, really tough. But before we get to those, though, let's deal with the Bizarro Words / Phrases of the Day.
Winner: NON-U (41A: Like the hoi polloi) - I came at this one from underneath, then from above, and had the -ON- part. BONY? No. Then I got the initial "N" and stared at NON- thinking "... only one letter can go there ... and NONE makes no sense." I eventually hacked at 10D: Top Medoc classification until I got PREMIER CR-, and I knew that last letter had to be a "U," but NONU? Gibberish. Do the "hoi polloi" constitute a kind of social "NO-NO?" Are they so insignificant that they count as "NONE?" I then asked my wife, "Wife, is 'NON-U.' a thing? Could 'hoi polloi' be NON-U, as in 'NON-University type folk'?" Wife could neither confirm nor deny this, though she confessed she'd never heard of the expression "NON-U." In the end, it's the only thing that fit. And here we are. Hey, NONU is the name of a rugby player for the All Blacks, honey! (that's the NZ team). Cool coincidence. [Here's a thorough explanation of NON U - thanks to Doris for filling me in]
Runner-up: TOLUENE (53A: TNT ingredient?) - That question mark, ugh! Wanted NETWORK at first, thinking TNT would stand for Turner Network Television. By the end - and this was the Very End of the puzzle for me - I had -OLUEN-. I wanted the T in the first position, having (proudly) gotten TAT (53D: Reciprocal action) right off the bat somewhat earlier in the puzzle (it was that or TIT), but I figured that of all my Downs down there, that one was most likely to be wrong. I was reluctant to pull the trigger on the last letter, the E, because it was the second E in FEDAYEEN, and though that sounded right, I was sure I was confusing the 36D: Palestinian fighters with the MEDELLÍN Cartel. I could not have told you what TNT stood for, but something in the back of my brain said "TOLUENE is a real thing - put it in." Still, if TOLUENE is in fact an "ingredient" of TNT, why is there a "?" in the clue? I know that the clue's referencing the actual letters in "TNT" and not the substance itself (hence the "?"), but TOLUENE is still an ingredient, on some basic level, isn't it?
THE HONORABLE (37A: Mayor's introduction) Mentions:
- FEDAYEEN (for Adventurous Spelling)
- DELIRIA (for Achievement in Latin Pluralizing) - 54A: Bouts of madness
- THREE D (for Parsing Difficulty) - 19A: Like some glasses [THREED => THREE D, i.e. 3-D]
I spent much of this puzzle quite stuck, poking around at different parts of the puzzle without getting any kind of roll going. I had a handful of correct answers here and there, but almost always there was a wrong one mixed in, keeping me from progressing. Then the weirdest answer broke open the flood gates: JAG (46A: Bender). I wasn't sure of it, so I checked the "J" cross, and thought "--J-D-? Well that's not a word." And then two seconds later I thought in terms of a specific patron, and there was ST JUDE. After that, the puzzle felt more like a Thursday than a Saturday - until the end, in the SE, where I had a hard time delivering the knockout punch.
The sheer number of sports clues is impressive, but I was even more impressed with what appeared to be a Noah's-Ark-like pattern of different sports entering the puzzle two by two:
- Golf: GRIP (27A: Subject of a golf lesson) and SNEAD (44D: Winner of a record 82 P.G.A. Tour events)
- Tennis: 48D: Tennis's Nastase (Ilie) and 43A: Customary start for Wimbledon singles finals (two p.m.) - I had TEN A.M. at first, but that's because I grew up on the west coast, and Wimbledon aired there in the morning.
- Baseball: 20A: 1950s Dodgers pitcher _____ Labine (Clem) - I've seen this (obscure) guy in my puzzle before, and I still couldn't recall him - and 15A: Situation early in an inning (one away) - entertained ONE GONE and NO ONE ON before hitting on this one.
- Football: 29D: Defend with focus, in football (key on) and 33A: Player coached by Hank Stram (Kansas City Chief)
- Then there's the odd couple of basketball and soccer: 25D: Slovenian-born N.B.A. guard Vujacic (Sasha) and 16A: Target of some soccer kicks (far post)
- And the gambling duo: 1A: Strip authority (pit boss) and 8D: "Too rich for my blood" ("I fold")
Had I'M OUT for I FOLD, which helped me get ONEONTA (18A: State University of New York campus site) but kept FAR POST away from me for way way too long. ONEONTA is rough. Not for me - it's just up the road. But if you don't live around here, you maybe know four SUNY campuses: Binghamton, Buffalo, Stony Brook, and Albany. There are many, many more.
- 8A: Savanna bounders (impalas) - here's something weird. This is the very first answer I thought of (after GAZELLES) and yet I don't think I wrote it in til very late. I have No idea why. My post-10pm solving brain is kind of unreliable.
- 17A: Lipitor and such (statins) - gimme. Not sure why. Maybe from watching too much CBS (every other ad is for some medication that older people might need).
- 22A: Go-_____ (certain motorized scooters) (peds) - ouch. I almost want to challenge that these are real things, but I'm sure I would lose that challenge. Still, I have never heard of such a thing in all my life. MOPED, yes.
- 23A: Ink holder (pad) - also, sadly, PEN and POT (both of which I had at some point)
- 24A: French department that's home to the Chartreuse Mountains (Isere) - doing puzzles a lot helped here, in that ISERE is a semi-familiar place name to me.
- 30A: Kennedyesque conquests (New Frontiers) - I could Not figure out what this clue was getting at. HOT BLONDES? ACTRESSES? It surely wasn't military "conquests," as those attempts ... never went so great for Kennedy. But it's from his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Check it out. He's one hell of an orator. NEW FRONTIERS are more a metaphor for the challenges facing the US in the 60s.
- 38A: Wearer of a wraparound cloth called a lavalava (Samoan) - wife's immediate response when faced with this clue: "FIJIAN? SAMOAN?" She's from the South Pacific, so no big surprise there, I guess.
- 42A: With 14-Down, part of a U.S. political map (red / states) - very nice work. Got this one pretty easily.
- 45A: Kegger cry ("toga!") - ??? In "Animal House," yes, in general ... come on. Alternative offered by my wife (when I had -OG-): GO-GO! Alternative offered by me: YOGA!
- 49A: Tub handle? (Parkay) - loved this.
- 55A: Kindergarten admonition ("act nice") - did Not like this. BE NICE and PLAY NICE, OK, but ACT NICE? I'm sure people have said it, but it feels a little off.
- 1D: Like the grunge rock movement (post-punk) - true enough. Grunge reminds me of my very first years in grad school. Its only lasting legacy, as far as I can tell, is Nirvana, who transcended that label almost immediately.
- 2D: Where Neptune can be found (in the sea) - wrote it in very early, then took it out, deeming it too silly. I can say with near certainty that Neptune does not, in fact, live IN THE SEA.
- 4D: "America the Beautiful" poet Katharine Lee _____ (Bates) - no idea, but I practically channeled her name. Had the -AT-, inferred the "S" from the cross, and then guessed the rest.
- 5D: Boo-boo (owie) - me to wife: "How would you spell OWIE?" Wife: "I wouldn't." How about [Decapitated Eno collaborator?]
- 6D: Gear impediment (sand) - another hunch that ended up being correct. Wanted WRENCH but it wouldn't fit.
- 9D: Place for a comb (mane) - I just googled this phrase, and found this site - the stupid question and answer string made me laugh out loud. God bless the internets.
- 20D: Underwritten? (captioned) - I was so so so proud of myself when I entered FOOTNOTED. You are a genius, I said to myself.
- 31D: Setting numbered in multiples of the square root of 2 (f-stop) - wow, I had no idea. None. I mean, I knew F-STOP was a setting on a camera, but the square root of 2 stuff = news to me. Byron ... enjoys math.
- 52D: "Lucky Number Slevin" actress, 2006 (Liu) - ugh, did anyone see that movie? Of all the juicy LIU flicks, you choose this one? Where's "Kill Bill," I (always) say. On the upside, no reference to "Ally McBeal."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld