Friday, May 16, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy
When I look at the times at the NYT website, I see that I would currently be in the top ten, and this shocks me, as a. I didn't rush, and b. I thought the puzzle was a cinch. Clearly, my rating may not reflect the majority experience today. But once I got JACUZZI (1A: Steam room alternative), it was was all alpine from there. Kevin Der is the elder statesman of teen constructors (wait, you are a teen, aren't you Kevin? - he's quite young, at any rate), and I love that this puzzle shows his age. WHASSUP!? (8A: "Yo!") is the kind of expression you might see on someone's FACEBOOK (39A: Alternative to Friendster or MySpace) page, and if you don't know what FACEBOOK is, you are over 50 and/or not affiliated with a college, university, high school, or any place where people under 25 might be found. Most of my students have FACEBOOK pages. One other very modern word in the puzzle is NETIZEN (60A: Blogger, e.g.), a word I can't stand, but ... I can't knock the clue. This puzzle makes me think of unhealthy habits of many of my nerdier students - it's all computers and MARS BARs (26D: Chocolate treat) and SODA CANs (36D: Crush holder that's crushable) with them ... though the 20 OUNCE (43A: Bit) plastic bottle is almost certainly more prevalent than the can.
Only a few frowny faces today, and they aren't very frowny, frankly. Ironically, one of the frowny faces goes to SMILERS (20A: Most clowns) - it's got the twin crutches of -ER and -S resulting in a word one rarely uses. Plus clowns are satanic, and they aren't really smiling - those smiles are painted on. AMBS (10D: Many former senators and governors: Abbr.) is one of those abbrev.'s you never want but occasionally need, and this puzzle is mostly free of such stuff, so no problem. PETALED is a bit painful (14D: Like many blooms). Finally, there's AÑO (29A: Marzo to marzo, e.g.) - actually, on second thought, no comment.
Zingers today include the musical answers GAVOTTES (35D: Parts of some Bach suites) and MERL (26A: Jazzman Saunders). The latter is an old friend as Googlers lit up my site the last time this clue / answer pairing appeared in the puzzle. Here's a sample of MERL's "jazz" stylings. His body of work seems more bluesy (or funky, or jam band-y) than jazzy, but maybe that's a fine distinction. More beanballs: AA MILNE, clued from the deep dark recesses of his literary resumé: 16A: His last novel was "Chloe Marr," 1946; DOREEN Tracey - who should more than make up for the 21st-century focus of some of today's clues, as she was three years old when "Chloe Marr" was published: 44D: "The Mickey Mouse Club" regular _____ Tracey; STOWE, whose "Uncle Tom's Cabin" has about four other characters better known than Topsy: 28D: She wrote of Topsy; and finally RETE, which is only a beanball if you are outside the medical field and / or have never done crosswords: 49A: Bundle of nerves. Strangely, it only this second occurred to me that [Bundle of nerves] is playing on an idiomatic expression for a nervous person ...
There's some wonderful stuff in this puzzle - the one-two punch of ZIPS / ZOOMS is really snazzy (5D: Flies / 6D: Flies). The misdirection on SMITS (25A: "The West Wing" actor) is amazing - I wonder how many people came down out of the NW corner, got the inital "S" in this answer, and proceeded to write in SHEEN. I know I did. I used to know all the Super Bowl teams back when there had only been about ten Super Bowls, and probably the most famous Super Bowl to date, at that time, was III - Namath's Jets over Unitas's Colts. So I loved 1D: Elated person after Super Bowl III (Jets fan), if only because it was a gimme that took me back to my not-terribly-distant youth. Wife and daughter take karate, so DOJOS was less difficult to uncover than it might have been - clever clue: 47A: Places to develop one's chops? - I initially suspected some equivalent of BARBECUES or OVENS. I remember liking "The Truman Show," but I don't remember the FIJI part (39D: Island that Truman wants to go to in "The Truman Show"). No matter; I had the "J" in place. This clue reminds me that it's Laura Linney day today ... in my mind. She was in "The Truman Show" (as Truman's wife) as well as the biopic "John ADAMS" (27A: He called the U.S. vice presidency a "most insignificant office"). I'm still waiting for her to come out of hiding and declare her undying love for me ... remind me to put "The Savages" in my Netflix queue.
- 17A: Cellar's opposite (top spot) - kind of a baseball clue, which is alright by me.
- 23A: Emerson said intellect annuls it (fate) - guessed this off the "F" ... Emerson would not have lasted long in an ancient Greek play.
- 45A: Old sticker (lance) - It's weird - I doubt anyone impaled and / or driven off one's horse by a LANCE would have been heard to exclaim "I've been stuck." A burr is a "sticker."
- 56A: Water-skiing need (tow line) - even just now I started typing in TOW ROPE, which I believe is the expression I know better.
- 59A: Merchant whose customers click (e-tailer) - this takes the techno-modernity of this puzzle just a skosh too far. Most e-words are god awful. I accept EMAIL and few others.
- 2D: Tree of the laurel family (avocado) - I did not know that.
- 24D: Typography measure (em space) - I knew EMS and ENS were print measurements. EM SPACE sounds like the Rolek watch of social networking sites.
- 33D: Muscle mag topic (pec) - I'm pretty sure the mag would talk about PECS in the plural, but OK.
- 41D: Pump numbers (octanes) - didn't I just see this clue, in the form of [87 and 91]? Sometimes puzzles blur together.
- 47D: Opposite of agitato (dolce) - because [_____ & Gabbana] would have taken the modernity of this puzzle truly over the top.
- 3D: Santiago skipper (capitán) - is this a specific skipper, or is "Santiago" an arbitrary, Spanish-speaking place name?
- 51D: She co-starred in "Gangs of New York," 2002 (Diaz) - never saw it, and still have no desire. Something about the self-importance ... and the costumes ... turns me off.
- 55D: Designer born in Guangzhou, China (Pei)
- 57D: Chinese author _____ Yutang (Lin) - way to double down on the Chinese answers here at the very end!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS whoops, left out the marvelous QUIXOTE (37D: Visionary) - the fictional character's name is normally associated with foolish hope, and [Visionary] does not tip the "foolish" part well at all. Still, even if you can't get AXE (50A: It can be double-sided) from the weird way that it's clued, I would think QUIXOTE would come into view eventually.