Saturday, April 26, 2008
Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: Ha. I wish.
This was tough - an old-fashioned kind of tough, with an old (relatively speaking) tennis player and an old movie and an old play and an old gas company name and an old (now dead) Swedish soprano and an old French song and an olde timey phone contraption and a 19th century gunsmith and a largely 19th century sociologist and more high-end Masleskaesque vocab than you can shake a stick at. And yet - I enjoyed it. If all I had to do were Quarfoot and Nothnagel puzzles every weekend ... well, I'd have a lot of fun, but my pre-1980 knowledge muscle would go all soft. This is a well-constructed puzzle that gave me a real sense of accomplishment once I'd finished it. Very little of this puzzle was in my wheelhouse, and still I persevered. I did not hit it out of the park, but I managed to make contact and bloop a weak single into shallow centerfield to win the game. Think of the last hit of the 2001 World Series. Seriously, think about it. Sweet. It's like a narcotic. Where was I ... ?
Oh, right, success. My favorite part of this puzzle was the fact that I finished it with a giant, magnificent, impossible flourish. Imagine you're down against the best team in baseball and you're facing the best closer in baseball and defeat seems assured, but in the space of a few short minutes you go from dead to victorious. That was me in the North Carolina section of this puzzle. I had a gaping hole - a MAW (53D: Cavernous opening), if you will - south of ASL (36A: Syst. of unspoken words) and east of CIDERS (43D: Some like them hot) and all the way to the SE corner. Eventually that hole got partially filled in, but I was still missing virtually everything between CIDERS and ISLE OF MAN (32D: Douglas is its capital). The triple stack of 40A on top of 43 on top of 47A was Killing me. At some point, out of desperation, I wrote in the only Swedish name I could think of that fit for 47A: Swedish soprano noted for her Wagnerian roles: NILSSON. This was brilliant move #1, as it turned out to be right, and got me one step closer toward accepting the answer I wanted at 41D: Timecard abbr. (hrs.). When I imagined HRS into the grid, it gave me -H-LO for 40A: Gunsmith Remington, and even though the only PHILO I know is PHILO Vance, the detective in S. S. Van Dine mystery novels of the early 20th century, I thought "Why not?" - I still had to commit to CURLEW (43A: Cousin of the sandpiper) and PULE (40D: Whimper), two words that leaped to mind late but felt too absurd to be right. Once I had this whole tenuous mess in place, I looked at it and knew that it was right. It felt both entirely made-up and absolutely indisputable. And the puzzle was done. Final note on this section: even though I knew "sandpiper" was a bird, I thought multiple times about writing in CASHEW at 43A.
But that was not the only trouble spot by a long shot. Started fast in the NW with 1A: Pound sign letters (SPCA) and 15A: Galley output (chow) and 4D: Sounds of feigned sympathy (aws), then guessed ISH incorrectly at , wh34A: Ending like -like (-ine), which allowed me to drop (correctly) SCHEMATIC (1D: Techie's drawing) right down the NW coast. And then, for a while, nothing happened. Went over to the NE where I got the uncharacteristically easy FRAU (21A: Married woman abroad) and EVERT (12D: Winner of six U.S. Opens) with no trouble, and then - the most astonishing thing I did all puzzle long - I got MRS. MINIVER (16A: Title housewife in an Oscar-winning film) off just the "V" in EVERT. I have no idea what that movie was about or where that title came from, but there it was, and when crosses started proving it right, I was stunned. And then, for a while, nothing happened, because the long answer on top of MRS. MINIVER and the long answer underneath MRS. MINIVER would not coalesce into anything even remotely recognizable. One of the big problems up there was that set of short Downs. Kept switching between HMO (which I really wanted) and AMA (which I didn't) for 8D: Overseer of some practices: Abbr. Then back and forth between CIT (which I really wanted) and TIK (which I really didn't) for 9D: Summons: Abbr. To be fair (to me) TIK was a desperate guess brought on by one of my many preposterous guesses for the monumentally absurd clue that is 18A: Something damned with faint praise, in British lingo (curate's egg). I thought A BROKEN EGG might be right, hence the "K" that made me consider TIK. Then I was vacillating between -ENE (wrong) and -ANE (correct) for 10D: Hydrocarbon suffix. Turns out ENE, ANE, and INE are all in the puzzle. Hurray? Thankfully, I refused to give up MSRP (7D: Letters on a new car sticker), even though it was mocking me as potentially wrong for much of my NE journey. At some point, later in the puzzle, I finally got 11D: "Lose" at the office (misfile) by backing into it, which gave me the -MERA letter string I needed to recall the title I AM A CAMERA (5A: Play for which Julie Harris won the 1952 Tony for Best Actress). I have no idea how CURATE'S EGG finally made it into the grid, but it did. I am indebted to the word ARUMS (6D: Green dragon and skunk cabbage) for (finally) coming to me out of nowhere for no good reason and allowing me to pin down the NE once and for all.
The center and SW of this puzzle were a breeze by comparison. My other MRS. MINIVER moment (which is my new term for when a tough term you have no business knowing just falls in your lap - i.e. a Very good guess) came when I almost jokingly threw out AXIAL for 28A: Kind of skeleton or symmetry. I had the first "A" and that was it. But AXIAL skeleton and AXIAL symmetry sounded ... like something. "But that's absurd," I thought. "That gives me an "X" in this Down clue which ... hey ... wait ... no ... EXXON? Could 24D: Replacer of the Humble brand in the early 1970s really be EXXON? Let's see ... 30A: Rhapsodize = ... WAX POETIC! Yes yes yes!" Final MRS. MINIVER moment of the day: STOMP (44D: Jazz Age dance) which I got off the "T" from 48A: Rent (tore).
- 17A: Burdens on some shoulders (hods) - if you are a mason, yes. I could think only of epaulets and organ grinders' monkeys. There is a 1918 movie called "Smashing Through" featuring a character called Hod Mason. Inaptly, he is a prospector.
- 27A: Old-style call to arms (alarum) - most often seen (by me) in the stage directions of Renaissance drama.
- 37A: Song title followed by the lyric "Lovers say that in France" ("C'est si bon") - mmm, Eartha Kitt. I wanted "C'est la vie" at first, but that was ... Robbie Nevil.
- 42A: Croaking flier (raven) - it croaks? I like the RAVEN / CURLEW juxtaposition.
- 44A: Titular author of two books of the Bible (St. Peter) - "Titular" is a funny word.
- 50A: Crispy Twister sandwich offerer (KFC) - this puzzle is full of -er clue words. "Offerer," plus the aforementioned "replacer" and "overseer" and "flier," and then 31D: Some airplane runners (tail skids), 55D: Announcement carriers, for short (PAs), 3D: Indicators of intelligence? (code names), 38D: Small, furry African climber (tree rat). I can't believe that poor animal's actual, technical name is TREE RAT. Adam must have been really tired when he named that poor guy. "It looks like a rat, it's up in that tree ... TREE RAT. Next!"
- 55A: Gila River native (Pima) - high-end Native American vocab. Nor ERIE or CREE or HOPI today.
- 56A: Its currency unit is the ariary (Madagascar) - would have gotten this sooner if it had been clued as an animated movie.
- 57A: Time of Ta'anit Esther (Adar) - does this rhyme with "Gay-dar," because it looks like it does. ADAR is my go-to Hebraic answer.
- 58A: O. Henry specialty (plot twists) - seemed too obvious to be right, but there it was - first long answer I had in the SW.
- 2D: Cell's lack (phone line) - took me a while to figure out which kind of "cell" was being referred to.
- 5D: Response to "Don't panic" ("I'm calm") - wanted "I'm cool," but only after I wanted "Shut the @#$# up don't tell me what to do I'm trying to @#$# think here so that I can save our sorry asses from the meteor / killer shark / yeti / Huns / etc.!"
- 26D: Process of nature by which all things change (tao) - man, I knew this one. Too bad I never saw this clue (that rarely happens on Saturdays).
- 28D: One of a pair of biblical brothers (Aaron) - and Moses. AARON is known for his ROD (!).
- 30D: Max who wrote "Politics as a Vocation" (Weber) - wanted WEBER, but then the title of the book sounded weirdly modern to my ears, so I resisted. My favorite Max in five letters is MAX POWER - the name Homer takes on after a popular TV cop also named "Homer Simpson" is retooled from hip and suave to comically buffoonish. After failing to convince the producers of the show to change the character's name, Homer decides to change his own:
After reading through a list of ridiculous names Homer gave him, including "Rembrandt Q. Einstein", "Handsome B. Wonderful", and "Hercules Rockefeller", the judge allows him to change his name to "Max Power" (which Homer got off a hair dryer and was the only name he spelled correctly). The family is surprised to learn of his name-change, but "Max" starts speaking of his new personality — dynamic, decisive, uncompromising and rude.
I am such a dork that I am laughing out loud just reading the summary of this episode at Wikipedia.
Signed, Max Power, King of CrossWorld
PS I have noticed just this week a marked increase in robo-sites that are essentially stealing my words in order to direct traffic to their ridiculously ad-laden sites. Some of these sites simply lift my posts in their entirety. If you are still using Google to find me on a regular basis (and gajillions of you are, even regular readers), I would ask you simply to bookmark my site - your browser should have a menu heading that allows you to do this with ease. You can use your web browser bookmarks to access your favorite pages directly, without having to keep looking them up. So ... bookmark! And just come here directly - the completed grid will always be here (assuming it's after 9am on the date of puzzle publication), so any answer you don't have - whoop, there it is. Thanks.