Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: UNITED ARTISTS (39A: Classic film company ... or a description of 17-, 32-, 46- and 65-Across) - Musician's last name + musician's last name = familiar word or phrase
The following was posted by Will Shortz on the NYT Crossword Puzzle Forum yesterday:
The youth of this constructor does make for interesting trivia - and today's puzzle is a solid and impressive debut in many ways. I'm a little disturbed or put off or something I can't quite put my finger on by the way that CrossWorld gets all AGOG (9A: Highly excited) for teens (especially teen boys - where are the girls? [... that question is meant to reflect a concern for gender equality, not a scurrilous desire to hear about girls, I swear]). I'm thrilled - sincerely - that good young constructors are emerging on what seems like a regular basis now. Good news for my future as a crossword-solving crotchety old man. But the puzzles are good or they aren't, and that's always going to be my main focus. Please don't expect me to "take it easy" on kids. I respect them enough to treat them like grown-ups. They're in a grown-up paper, they get grown-up criticism (I say this only because I have gotten Hammered in the past for criticizing new constructors). That list above, ranking adolescent boys based on when they first "did it" (as it were) ... I'm sure it looks like simple trivia to most, but the youth obsession is something I just don't get. Why is a teen's debut worthy of fanfare and a red carpet roll-out, when a (perhaps even better) debut by a man (or woman, for god's sake) in her 30s or older passes without much notice. In the end, I care about puzzles, not about the constructors' relative distance from puberty.
Two new teenage constructors are scheduled to appear in the Times during the next two weeks.
Tomorrow's (Tuesday's) puzzle is by Caleb Madison, a 15-year-old high school student in New York City. He contributes puzzles to his school paper and stopped by this year's ACPT. He'll be interning for me this summer. He's the youngest person I've ever published in the Times.
And a week from Friday, May 23, another young contributor, Patrick John Duggan, will make his crossword debut. Patrick is finishing his first year at Boston University. His puzzle -- the first one he ever sent me -- is a gorgeous themeless that feels like it's by an old pro.
For the record, below is an updated list of the youngest known constructors in NYT history.
Name, birthdate, date of first publication in the NYT, and age at that time:
1. Mike Miller, 11/20/62, 12/6/76#, 14 yrs 0 mos
2. Caleb Madison, 1/29/93, 5/13/08, 15 yrs 3 mos
3. Tyler Hinman, 11/5/84, 7/4/00, 15 yrs 7 mos
4. Ethan Cooper, 3/23/83, 5/17/99, 16 yrs 1 mo
5. Will Nediger, 12/4/89, 5/27/06, 16 yrs 5 mos
6. Natan Last, 11/13/90, 7/17/07, 16 yrs 8 mos
7. Michael Shteyman, 5/9/84, 2/13/01, 16 yrs 9 mos
8. Kyle Mahowald, 3/7/87, 3/22/04, 17 yrs 0 mos
9. Merl Reagle, 1/5/50, 2/11/67##, 17 yrs 1 mo
10. Oliver Hill, 7/30/90, 10/2/07, 17 yrs 2 mos
11. Patrick John Duggan, 9/18/89, 5/23/08, 18 yrs 8 mos
12. Michael Doran, 9/28/84, 9/16/03, 18 yrs 11 mos
13. Jeffrey Harris, 8/22/85, 8/30/04, 19 yrs 0 mos
14. Zach Jesse, 9/1/84, 1/19/04, 19 yrs 3 mos
15. Henry Hook, 9/18/55, 5/23/75#, 19 yrs 8 mos
# published by Will Weng
## published by Margaret Farrar
With that kind of preamble, you might think I hated this puzzle, and I did not. The theme is tight and clever - spot on (despite the movie / music disjuncture separating UNITED ARTISTS from the other theme answers). There's a high degree of difficulty here, with five theme answers and seven-letter words laid right alongside two of those theme answers. Nice. I have to ask, however, in what universe RECARVE is an acceptable answer (25D: Cut again, as a turkey). As my wife asked this morning, "What, did the turkey reconstitute itself overnight?" I mean ... it's a stunningly made-up word - and it's a Long Down In The Center Of The Grid. I'm flat-out astonished that that "word" passed any kind of test, and even more astonished that it's been given such a place of prominence in the grid. This grid is overloaded with tired crossword fill as it is - maybe RECARVE is there as dazzle camouflage, distracting you with its brazen implausibility so that you don't notice things like STOA (62D: Ancient Greek walkway) and EDEL (29A: Pulitzer-winning biographer Leon) and BAA (6A: Farm sound) and STE (23A: Fr. holy woman) and EAN (53A: Suffix with Caesar) and ELI (55A: Yale student) and ARI (7D: Uris hero - when's the last time anyone read Uris???) and THO (28D: Howe'er) and AZO (64D: _____ dye) and ORA (66D: "... _____ mouse?") and STA (42D: Where to board a train: Abbr.). I would add TOR (33D: Rocky hill) and ICBMS (1D: Cold war weaponry) to that list, but I happen to love TOR (that's where you might find ERNS in their AERIES), and ICBM makes me think fondly of the movie "Wordplay," where I believe Clinton figures out that one of the answers in his puzzle is ICBM.
- 17A: Singers Clint + Patti (Black/Smith)
- 32A: Singers Tom + Johnny (Petty / Cash)
- 46A: Singers Neil + Courtney (Young / Love)
- 65A: Singers James + Sly (Brown / Stone)
Not only do all these answers work perfectly, with no sense of overreaching or stretching or forcing at all, but none of the "artists" completely suck. I own music by nine out of ten of those people! The longish Down in this puzzle are nice too. Given my own penchant for teaching Klassical literature, I should have gotten ELYSIAN (22D: Heavenly) much more quickly than I did (actually considered ELYSIAL at one point ...?). And John LITHGOW (31D: John of "3rd Rock From the Sun") ... so many things I want to say ... heard a great story about him at the ACPT that involved the game of Scattegories ... but I can't tell that story (for So many reasons), so I'll just say I liked him in "The World According to Garp."
- 13A: Wispy clouds (cirri) - ooh, no "S" at the end ... tricky Tuesday stuff. CIRRI is a fancy if ugly word. Sounds more like a disease (cirrhosis?) than clouds.
- 44A: Show subtitled "The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" ("Hair") - wow, I did Not know that. One of my students wrote a proposal for "Paradise Lost: The Musical" as his final project. He even made a music video of the scene where Satan tempts Eve. He stars as Satan ... his body is painted red ... I wish it were on youtube...
- 45A: "_____ my shorts!": Bart Simpson ("Eat") - several things. First, I love a "Simpsons" reference as much (no, much more) than the next person, but Bart catchphrases are about my least favorite part of the show. Soooo 1991. Second, breakfast test? Anyone? I already had to endure EAR WAX (48D: Q-Tip target) and Courtney LOVE with my tea and cereal - I don't need to think about eating a young boy's underpants, thanks (P.S. EARWAX is in fact a great answer) (P.P.S. when I saw EAN in the puzzle, I thought "yeesh, just change it to EAT for god's sake..." but then noticed EAT was already in the puzzle. Still, I'd have changed it to the more interesting suffix, -EAL [Arbor ending?], just to get LON Chaney in the puzzle).
- 52A: "_____ Deep" (1999 Omar Epps film) - a partial, and an Obskure one at that. I know "In Too Deep" as a Genesis song (from my own teendom).
- 67A: Blue, in Bogotá (azul) - two blues in one puzzle? You can do that? Duly noted (36D: Bluish hue)
- 70A: Prominent part of a Groucho disguise (nose) - I'm confused. Is Groucho wearing a disguise? Or are people disguised as Groucho?
- 6D: Accused's bad break (bum rap) - my favorite answer in the whole damned puzzle. Stupendous.
- 10D: 1960s sitcom with the catchphrase "Sorry about that, Chief" ("Get Smart") - timely - the big screen version, starring Steve Carell, is coming to a theater near you this summer.
- 40D: Vessel in "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" (Nautilus) - nice clue for what most people know as fitness equipment.
- 56D: "An invasion of armies can be resisted; an invasion of _____ cannot be resisted": Hugo (ideas) - first, Hugo needed an editor; that second "be resisted" is patently unnecessary. Second, I got this instantly, without looking at the grid or having any prior familiarity with the quotation. I only wish the answer had been something unexpected, like, say, LEMURS.
So, in short, a legitimately impressive debut by Mr. Madison (anyone ever called you that, kid?). Congratulations - I hope to see a lot of your work in the future. Just put RECARVE in cold storage - better yet, send it out the airlock...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld