Friday, May 9, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
Very late start this morning - I fell into a black hole of puzzle constructing last night and didn't get to sleep til late. I sat there in bed very inefficiently working and reworking and reworking a corner of a grid. Useless, pointless work that couldn't really go anywhere definitive without my being able to use my computer ... and yet I couldn't tear myself away. It's like some horrid sickness. I'm not sure I want to start constructing. Time just disappears in ways that I have experieenced since a. I used to play video games, and b. I used to troll used bookstores in Ann Arbor. It's a disturbing obsession. Do you know what it's like to have a corner of your puzzle worked out perfectly ... only to realize that you've got DVO as a three-letter "word"? And the D and V and O all run through 7-letter words, so changing any one of them destroys your grid? I'm sure I'll get better at it, but right now I just feel defeated. I was ready to make the entire corner out of words ending in -ERS, just to have Something even remotely passable. As of this morning, I'm not even sure what I have.
Today's puzzle - just right. Tough enough that I had to work for it, but not so tough that I fell into the black pit of Despair. The top remained blank for disturbingly long time. I had ITES (3D: Plural suffix with urban) and TESLA (19A: Weber per square meter) right off, but not much else. I correctly guessed SO SAD (8D: "Such a tragedy") then GALA (20A: Certain fund-raiser) then IMAGE (7D: Something to project) and was still in the dark about those long crosses. I figured the -MO- in 15A: One might have a stunt double (action movie) had to involve MOVIE, but I'd only ever heard of actors having stunt doubles, not entire MOVIES. I don't like the phrasing on that clue at all. I do, however, love the answers on top of and beneath ACTION MOVIE - in fact, the three of them are a nicely themed triad. ACTION MOVIEs can, in some instances, I suppose, be HAIR-RAISERS (1A: Terrifying tales), and they most certainly can involve SHELL CASINGs (17A: Bit of ballistic evidence), my favorite answer of the day.
NE went down quickly - solved all the long Downs from the bottom up, guessing SMALL HOURS after WEE WEE HOURS wouldn't fit at 12D: Predawn period, and then hacking at crosses. I don't even remember seeing the clue for DARK SECRET (13D: Potential reputation ruiner), and I'm not familiar with the term SUBSYSTEMS (14D: Secondary arrangements), though it seems fairly self-explanatory. The only iffy things about this quadrant are the gag-inducing PALSY (24A: Buddy-buddy), which I have only heard in a phrase followed by WALSY, and MAU (16A: Egyptian _____ (cat breed)), which I don't think I've ever seen. Had no clue about PASA (24D: Simon & Garfunkel's "El Condor _____"), but it all came together from crosses.
The central 15-letter answer was remarkably easy to get - or, I should say, the TEMPERATURE part was easy to get. My understanding of ROOM TEMPERATURE was that it was in the high 60s. Here's this strange and completely unverified bit of information from Wikipedia:
"For human comfort, desirable room temperature greatly depends on individual needs and various other factors. According to the West Midlands Public Health Observatory, 21 °C (69.8 °F) is the recommended living room temperature, whereas 18 °C (64.4 °F) is the recommended bedroom temperature."
So when I saw 36A: The lower 70s, say, I didn't know what that first word could be. My guess: COOL. Now, this is silly, of course, as ... how could it be higher than ROOM TEMPERATURE and yet be defined as cool. I grew up in hot, hot country, and the lower 70s would have been considered quite COOL for much of the year. I'm just sayin' that ROOM wasn't on the table for me. And, of course, conveniently, ROOM and COOL share some letters, so it took me a bit to figure out my error. I would have had a Very terrible time in the SW if something AROUND hadn't been the only phrase my brain wanted for 26D: Rummage. Got the Ricky Nelson song easily (39A: "IT'S Late"), then figured out that the phrase in question was ROOT AROUND, and everything came together from there. I think I finished the puzzle in this quadrant.
Stem to stern:
- 12A: Org. that called '60s strikes (SDS) - a very common crossword answer. Other xword stalwarts included ARB (18A: Market figure, briefly), TESLA, EELERS (23D: Trappers with pots), and OREM (41A: Home of Utah Valley State College). My Crossword Catch of the Day was PACA (53D: Cousin of a guinea pig), which longtime readers will recognize as an answer that took my head off more than a year ago. I haven't seen it since, but I caged that pseudo-guinea pig quickly anyway.
- 21A: Organization originally called the Jolly Corks (Elks) - ELKS often appears in the grid as BPOE ... but you knew that. I think that in the history of name changes, this has to rank as one of the wisest and most dignified.
- 25A: Where many lives are expended (arcade) - a flat-out genius clue that drove me crazy for a while. I was trying to think what kind of morbid answer this could be - COAL MINES? WAR ZONE? But no, it's an arena I've entered many times in my life - and where the lives expended are, thankfully, electronic, not human. In most games I can think of (back in the day) you would start out with three lives, and then you could earn more lives by scoring points. Pac Man and Donkey Kong, and possibly Frogger, worked that way (if memory serves, which, as always, it may not).
- 29A: Bat shapers (lathes) - such a weird clue, but instantly gettable.
- 35A: The 10 in 10/20: Abbr. (Oct.) - this is one of those clues that often throws me, but I had the "O" in place, so no problem.
- 40A: Builder of a hanging nest (oriole) - my wife swears she saw one of these yesterday. She had me looking out the window trying to see into my across-the-street neighbors' trees. No luck. Just a bunch of uppity robins strutting around my lawn (as they have been for days - what are they up to?). I like that ORIOLE and ORIEL (46A: Projecting bit of architecture) are in the same puzzle, and so close together.
- 47A: Jib used to give a boat more speed (genoa) - the "????????????" answer of the day. Seriously, you want me to know multiple kinds of jibs? I barely know what JIB is.
- 57A: "Oklahoma!" bad guy (Jud) - all crosses. This guy needs his other "D" back. I love that "Oklahoma!" has an exclamation point built into its name. "You Must Shout Me!"
- 42A: Kir ingredient (cassis) - crème de? Or just CASSIS. What is CASSIS? "A Eurasian current bearing blackberries." The word "Eurasian" makes me laugh. "Eurasian!" "No, you're Asian!" I haven't seen the word in forever, and then yesterday, I had the weird experience of seeing it twice.
- 5D: "Doonesbury" journalist Hedley (Roland) - I blanked on this, but then when I had a few crosses, this guy's goofy face came instantly to mind.
- 10D: Actress Morelli of "The Leopard," 1963 (Rina) - How many RINAs can you name? I could name none. Until today.
- 25D: Yellowish-orange spread (apricot jam) - this sounded gross, like some kind of new-fangled fruity oleo, but no, it's pretty ordinary.
- 28D: One passing notes? (ATM) - ATM has to be one of the most frequently tarted up answers in recent crossword puzzle history. It's such a boring box of thing, that constructors / editors (not just at the NYT) go out of their ways to hide it, clothe it, cross-dress it, whatever. The whole scene is vaguely amusing. [One passing notes?] is better than [Long green box?], IMOO.
- 29D: 1960s TV western ("Laredo") - if you're going to give me second-rate TV from nearly half a century ago, at least make the clue sparkly.
- 56D: Flying piscivores (erns) - My people! CAW! "Piscivores" is an awesome word. I am a piscivore, though not a carnivore. Or a chickenivore.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld