Thursday, April 3, 2008
Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: it's a COW rebus, signaled very cleverly by the puzzle's central answer, WHERE'S THE BEEF? (38A: 1980s catchphrase)
I have to rush this today, which is sad because this puzzle merits more commentary (some negative, but mostly positive) than most puzzles in recent memory. You should see my completed puzzle (on paper). I always mark it up before I start my commentary - making notes to myself about which answers I want to discuss, what I want to say, how I want to group them, etc. Today's puzzle is covered in pencil jottings. It's a mess. There are words and phrases like "aargh," "ick," "cool," "very cute," and "F#@K YOU" written in the margins. I think I made many of these in the middle of solving (that's when the profanity tends to come out). OK, too much preamble. In short, a very challenging and mostly pleasing Thursday.
- 5A: Freaked out (had a COW) and 9D: One tied for first place (CO-Winner)
- 10A: Looks unhappy (sCOWls) and 11D: Place for grazing (COW pasture)
- 10D: Barges (sCOWs) and 16A: Soup or salad ingredient (COW pea)
- 1D: It makes livestock go crazy (loCOWeed) and 17A: Beloved film character with a tail (COWardly Lion) - a word for LOCOWEED: genius. I love this answer so so so much. I own a song that features "LOCOWEED" in the lyrics. It's called "COW COW Boogie" (by Ella Mae Morse): "He was raised on LOCOWEED / He's what you call a swing half-breed ..." - the only time I've ever ever heard the word. Love it. See a performance right here.
- 41A: Baseball cover (COW hide) and 41D: Surfer's exclamation (COWabunga!)
- 31D: Its coat of arms features a horseman spearing a dragon (MosCOW) and 42A: Pens together (COWrites)
- 61A: Cry just before someone gets some big bucks? ("Ride 'em COWboy) and 63D: Shrink (COWer)
- 44D: It may be milked for all it's worth (dairy COW) and 68A: Battle site in "Animal Farm" (COW shed)
There are 8 rebus squares involving 16 answers, plus WHERE'S THE BEEF?, which anchors the whole thing. I had worked nearly 1/3 of the puzzle before I ever discovered the theme, and I discovered it almost accidentally. I took one look at 38A: 1980s catchphrase and immediately tested WHERE'S THE BEEF. I believe that makes it the #1 80s catchphrase of all time. If it's the first thing that comes to mind in a (probably) giant category, it wins. Even then, I didn't know (but sensed) it was a rebus. Usually, when I'm seriously struggling with a pre-Friday puzzle (i.e. W or Th), it's a rebus I haven't smoked out yet. Normally I'd like my rebus word / phrase / image not to signify what it actually is so much, i.e. if it's DOG, I don't want a lot of DOG HOUSE and WORK LIKE A DOG - I want the word split up to hide its DOG-ness. So there are a few too many COW-like COWs today, but ... it's COW for god's sake. That's a high level of rebusing difficulty. So I withdraw any complaint I might have made in my head at some point.
So much other stuff:
- 1A: Benjamin Harrison's vice president, _____ P. Morton (Levi) - Cruel. Took me so long to get this, as two of the (great) Down crosses remained invisible for a long time.
- 14A: Big pullers (oxen) - wanted RIGS
- 19A: Car with an acronymic name (Saab) - how did I not know this? "Born from Jets," yes. Acronym? No.
- 20A: Cousin of the bald eagle (ern) - Caw!
- 22A: "The White Horse _____" (operetta) ("Inn") - WTF!?!?! That's your clue for INN? That's Saturday stuff.
- 24A: Holy man's title (Sri) - more cruelty. FRA and DON work here too.
- 25A: One of the so-called Southern Ivies (Emory) - one of the few answers longer than 4 letters long I was able to piece together pre-rebus-discovery. I think DUKE is in this category too. Don't know what others there are.
- 27A: Victor Nunez title hero (Ulee) - what and what and who and what? Who is Victor Nuñez and what is ULEE besides a Peter Fonda character??? Oh, FUUUUUUUUU[beeeeeeeeeeeep], he's the [beep]ing director of "ULEE's gold." In my mind, Victor Nuñez was this guy:
- 28A: Spike TV, once (TNN) - this is a very important equation to learn, because it gets clued in both directions.
- 30A: Speaker's adjunct (amp) - good example of the difficulty level of cluing today. Looking at that clue, I had no idea what to expect as an answer.
- 34A: Drinks with a spoon, maybe (cocoas) - "Drinks" = not a verb, but a noun. Again, tricky.
- 37A: Mexican silver dollars (duros) - here is where I exclaimed (on paper) "F--- Y---!" This is because a. DUROS? and b. I had D-ROS and the missing vowel was provided only by a crossing that ... was also Spanish!!!!!!!!! (CUESTA - 33D: Hill, in Spain). No no no, you cannot do that. Crossing words from the same foreign language, and at a vowel no less!? I guessed "U," which is really all it could be, but still ... foul, I cry.
- 43A: Whence the line, "Whatever it is, I fear Greeks even when they bring gifts" (Aeneid) - HA ha, I've read Aeneid a million times (roughly) and never noticed the Greeks-bearing-gifts line.
- 45A: "Die Meistersinger" soprano (Eva) - no way. Crosses, all crosses.
- 54A: Diminutive suffix (-ule) - entertained -OLE and -ILE for a bit.
- 58A: Old Turkish title (bey) - had AGA, of course, then got the "A" and had AGY, which I felt I had also seen as a [Turkish title] before. I guess not. What was I thinking of?
- 66A: Catherine Deneuve was on its first U.S. cover (Elle) - could think only of Time and Life, which seemed far too old for Ms. Deneuve to have graced their first covers.
- 69A: Range in lipsticks (reds) - Weird, weird clue, but REDS was the first thing I guessed, so I guess it's a good clue.
- 5D: Robert of "Airplane!" (Hays) - right in my wheelhouse, and yet ... I had HAAS. :(
- 6D: _____ prima (painting technique) (alla) - no way. Crosses, all crosses. Had ALTA at one point.
- 13D: Group assimilated by the Romans (Sabines) - this is odd. The verb normally used in this situation is RAPE. "Assimilated" - that's a new one on me. That sounds like the language the Roman government would have used to spin the story to the networks.
- 18D: Be productive, as chickens (lay) - thank god for this answer, which gave me at least a little traction in my sad, early minutes of solving.
- 35D: Food brand whose name is a portmanteau of two state names (Oreida) - If I never see the word "portmanteau" again it'll be too soon.
- 36D: Knife, slangily (shiv) - goes great with 53D: Prison break, e.g. (lam)
- 47D: Eye in the heavens (Hubble) - you do know it's not actually an "eye," right? Seems like the clue should have a "?" attached. PS Batman once launched his own surveillance satellite called Brother Eye.
- 56D: Pond, in Liverpool (mere) - I feel like I haven't seen this word since I took the SATs.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld