Saturday, May 10, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy
We're doing Mother's Day stuff this morning (long story), and so I have to be super-abbrev. today. This puzzle was surprisingly, almost shockingly easy (for me). I was expecting to have to labor over it, given that hard puzzles always seem to appear when my Saturday mornings are crammed with stuff to do. I woke up before 6 (!?) and started poking at this puzzle, and before I'd been at it more than a minute or so, the whole NW was done. I mean, AMORE (1D: Venetian balladeer's topic) was a gimme, and I wanted REAGANS (19A: Family in 1980s news) right away. When I got another gimme, EROSE (6D: Jagged-edged), then OZONE HOLE (17A: Antarctic environmental concern) became obvious, and there was REAGANS, just as I expected, and wham bam done up there in the "Vancouver" section of the puzzle.
Things didn't get much harder anywhere else in the puzzle. I kept waiting for my inevitable face plant, but instead I just kept slicing clean through the puzzle. Put in ECSTATIC where EXULTANT (36D: More than happy) belonged, but that's about as close to a real mis-step as I had. The fact that I finished quickly does not make me any less impressed with this puzzle than I might have been had I struggled. I finished my first-ever xword grid yesterday - and it was beautiful, but ultimately a failure, for reasons I'll discuss some other time. The main point here - it is damned hard to fill in even moderately large chunks of white space without resorting to crap fill. In this puzzle, Karen has to rely on small, unpleasant abbreviations only a small handful of times, and the payoff is enormous. In each colorful quadrant, she really needed only one tiny bit of dreary short fill to make it all work. Nobody really wants to see ACCT (1A: Ledger no.) or CEO (38A: Top suit?) or OEO (58D: War on Poverty agcy.) or AKA (44D: Booking letters) or OSHA (32A: Nixon creation of 1970: Abbr.) (good clues on CEO and AKA, btw), but the point is that those answers disappear into the background when the longer words they enable are as vibrant as the ones in this puzzle are. This wasn't my favorite Karen Tracey puzzle of all time, but it's Rock Solid, and now more than ever I'm in awe of clean, crisp, untortured fill.
This puzzle seemed eerily aimed at me: I spent much of the past two days trying to get a seven-letter word to end in -ELO, so TANGELO (4D: Citrus tree) was criminally easy for me. Studied in Edinburgh for a while, and there was a big statue of JOHN KNOX (5D: 16th-century founder of Scottish Presbyterianism) right outside the dormitories there, so no problem there (ditto NAES - 8D: Caledonian contradictions). Just last week I watched the movie Junebug (for which the incredible Amy Adams was nominated for an Academy Award a few years back), and the music for that film was done by ... YO LA TENGO (whom I know from having been vaguely aware of indie rock in the 90s - my friend Michelle loves them - 57A: Indie rock band whose name is Spanish for "I have it"). And on and on.
Points of Interest:
- 5A: Painter Fouquet (Jean) - familiar-sounding, but I can't place him. Whoa, 15th c. That's much older than I thought. His babies are creepy...
- 9A: Dance of African origin (samba) - started with MAMBO, then fixed it.
- 16A: Aquafina alternative (Evian) - again, I implore you, stop drinking overpriced tap water.
- 18A: It might be jewel-encrusted (tiara) - clue makes this much easier than it could have been.
- 20A: Falafel seasoners (sesames) - not big on the plural here.
- 22A: It's hit with the pinky (Enter key) - excellent. Accurate.
- 25A: Nixon adviser Nofziger (Lyn) - a gimme, but I don't know why, as I was a baby when Nixon was president. This name must have lingered in the news for a while.
- 34A: "The Cosby Show" actress Alexander (Erika) - obscure in an unfun way.
- 35A: Rudy's coach in the 1993 football film "Rudy" (Ara) - why not just [Rudy's coach in "Rudy"]? If I have to know the least well known "Cosby Show" actress, then I should damn well have to know what "Rudy" was about.
- 36A: Preferred seating, for many (exit row) - EXIT ROW crossing YAHTZEE looks fantastic.
- 42A: Oenological category (reds) - not terribly exciting, until you notice its symmetry with the puzzle's other oenological answer: SECO (29A: Like some vino).
- 53A: Kept charging shots, say (ran a tab) - excellent in its colloquialness.
- 55A: Back together, for now (on again) - HA ha. I can't believe you can get away with using HALF of a colloquial expression for a variety of relationship. It's daring and brilliant.
- 62A: Lake craft (dory) - wonder if you ever see any of these on the ERIE CANAL (30D: Work on it began in Rome in 1817 - not that Rome, sucka).
- 63A: Spare in a boot (tyre) - I would have gone with [Apollonius of _____] or something about Dido, but you went with the rear end of a British car. Fine.
- 9D: Bit of securing hardware (set screw) - never heard of it, but got SCREW easily enough, so no real trouble.
- 11D: 1980s TV show or 2006 film ("Miami Vice") - sweeeet. Never saw the movie. Come to think of it, never really saw the TV show, either. And yet Crockett and Tubbs are indelibly etched in my memory. Why, Lord? Why?
- 13D: Santa _____ (meteorological phenomena) (Anas) - I think Chandler's "Red Wind" features this phenomenon...
- 21D: "Israfel" writer's monogram (EAP) - ickiest of the literary monograms, which is appropriate, as POE would enjoy being icky, I think.
- 28D: Part of French Indochina until 1949 (Laos) - in four letters ... what else?
- 31D: Hebrew of Phoenician (Canaanite) - I've had Sam Cooke singing "How Far Am I From Canaan" in my head ever since I filled this in. Worse fates could befall me. This guy knows what I'm talking about.
- 40D: It's just south of Nauru (equator) - got it off the "E," giving me the "Q" I needed to get SEAQUAKE (43A: Source of some big waves). A SEAQUAKE could probably do great damage to Nauru.
- 50D: Commodore competitor (Tandy) - more 80s deliciousness. Karen must be roughly my age - I think that on some level, puzzle-constructing eventually reveals your personality - especially where your ID lives. Expect my puzzles to be riddled with references to Donkey Kong, "Family Ties," and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
- 51D: Peak southeast of Bern (Eiger) - learned it was a "peak" from the puzzle. Here is Dan Bern, a favorite of my friend Matt.
- 42D: Assaying aid (reagent) - ... no idea ... Had all the letters but "R" and still looked at it cockeyed for a few seconds.
- 54D: Longtime West Virginia senator (Byrd) - clue should read [Loooooooooo ... [pause, breathe] ... ooooooooongtime West Virginia senator]. If McCain wants to look young and vibrant, he should run alongside this guy, who always looks and sounds like he's orating from a soap box (an actual soap box) some time around 1884.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld