Saturday, May 17, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
Leaving the house shortly for writing group, so short shrift for Mr. Nothnagel today. This puzzle was pitched at almost perfect Saturday level. I stared at blanks, and then a patchy grid, for a while, and then one big gimme (TOWN AND GOWN - 24D: Of a university's relationship with its surroundings) opened up the whole SE section, and I worked my way methodically around the grid from there (in generally clockwise fashion). Overall, I'd say this is very solid, professional work. Nothing AWE-inspiring (52D: It's inspired), but virtually nothing to make you groan or grumble either, and lots of little bits of entertaining fill and twisty clues throughout.
And now, a brief word about proper nouns: I'm not sure there is consensus on the topic of names and how (much) to use them. I love names in my puzzles - keeps things fresh, lively, and (above all) culturally relevant and connected. Dictionaries are lovely (necessary, even), but they are also where words go to die. Names give a puzzle personality and zing, so I am a big fan. I have received letters from readers, however (and criticism on my own puzzles, I should add), indicating that there is such a thing as too many names - that names are a crutch, that they weaken a puzzle, that they turn the puzzle into a kind of trivia game, a kind of "you know it or you don't" enterprise that takes the fun out of solving. I want to open this topic up to you all, because this question - the proper noun question - gets at the heart of why I love crossword puzzles above all other puzzles - they connect with the big, bad messiness of culture (popular and otherwise). And as anyone who lives in this country knows, "culture" is a danger zone (not to be confused with "THE DEAD ZONE" starring Anthony Michael Hall - 5D: 1979 novel, 1983 film and 2002-07 series). This puzzle raises this issue in powerful ways, with (counting conservatively) 17 proper nouns. I don't mind this in the least. What do you think? Do names faze you? Bother you? Inspire you? Is there a limit? An area of knowledge / culture where the puzzle should not go, or should go only sparingly?
- 1A: Places such as Anatevka in "Fiddler on the Roof" (shtetls) - just revised a puzzle so I wouldn't have to use this word. Not that it's a bad word, exactly. Just very "Help Me Crossword Gods!" Sometimes you need those.
- 8A: Helper after a crash (techie) - computer crash (thought plane, then - having just watched a doc on FDR's early political career - stock market)
- 14A: Big syrup maker (Hershey) - Log Cabin wouldn't fit
- 15A: Designer of a stained-glass window in the U.N. building (Chagall) - had a huge thing for his work when I was in college.
- 17A: Holy Roman Emperor, 855-75 (Louis II) - yesterday Pete M. gave us YOTP for the random Roman numeral designating something about a pope. I think we need a term for Random Emperor or Pope. Name + Roman numeral Guy. Name and number guy. NANG?
- 19A: Architectural starting point (plat) - learned from xwords (the actual word in the grid is PLAN ... my brain wanted it to be PLAT so bad that it made it so)
- 21A: Jacket locales: Abbr. (bks) - don't like "locales" here (but I rarely like "locales)
- 22A: Dreaded victimizer of Charlie Brown (kite-eating tree) - holy moly this took me forever, even with the EATING firmly in place. CAKE-EATING TIME? I did not know the tree had an official name, and I tried to remember LUCY's last name, because all I could think of was how she would pull the football away at the last second...
- 28A: Newsman Roger (O'Neil) - I wanted AILES. Is that ... someone?
- 32A: Moves briskly and easily (waltzes) - I strangely admire this clue. I had GALLOPS at first.
- 36A: Star of the 1970s detective drama "Harry O" (Janssen) - no idea
- 37A: _____ Hargreaves, first woman to complete a solo climb of Everest, 1995 (Alison) - no idea
- 39A: "McSorley's Bar" painter (Sloan) - no idea (no, I'm not kidding, I don't know any of these folks ... not that I recall, anyway)
- 41A: One of the Bobbsey twins (Nan) - NAN, I know
- 48A: Site of a much-visited mausoleum (Agra) - kind of a gimme
- 49A: World of Warcraft participant, e.g. (gamer) - the future of crosswords will be littered with computer and gaming terminology... don't say you weren't warned.
- 50A: Cardinals' wear (red hats) - the most made-up answer in the whole grid
- 56A: Grateful person's reply ("I owe you") - nice letter combos in that one - good for when you need a boatload of vowels
- 58A: Jumper's cables? (tendons) - if this clue were an Achilles TENDON, it would be torn and the puzzle would be on the DL.
- 1D: Swindlers, in slang (sharks) - also a hockey team
- 6D: Place for woolgathering? (lea) - so WOOL = sheep. Is that synecdoche or metonymy? I always forget the difference.
- 10D: Film special effect, for short (CGI) - oft-abused technology
- 9D: Fontaine contents (eau) - nothing fancy, just French for "water"
- 13D: "We'll give a long cheer for _____ men" ("Down the Field" lyric) ("Eli's") - nothing fancy, just ELI again
- 15D: Chuck wagon bell sound (clang) - also, trolley sound
- 25D: They're stranded in the body (RNAs) - witty if instantly gettable clue. Why don't I like RNAS in the plural?
- 29D: _____ St. James, first woman to be named Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, 1992 (Lyn)
- 31D: "Relache" composer (Satie) - my first thought: FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.
- 35D: Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Tale of _____ Saltan" ("Tsar") - see also ELIS. Typical late-week stunt: hide the crosswordese in fancy cluing. I'm not complaining. It's entertaining.
- 38D: Four and four, say (pair) - oddly mystifying
- 40D: Crime syndicate sobriquet (Bugsy) - never saw this movie. Love Annette Bening.
- 42D: Photographer who was the inspiration for "Funny Face" (Avedon) - interesting. Now if I only knew what "Funny Face" was ... (AVEDON, I know)
- 43D: Shape-shifting Greek god (Nereus) - despite decent background in Greek mythology, I had to wait on this one.
- 45D: Land of Wahhabis (Qatar) - best country name Ever.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld