Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: BALLS (seriously, BALLS - 38A: Word that can follow the starts of 17-, 21-, 58- and 64-Across and 3- and 40-Down)
My wife can tell you that I giggled through half of this puzzle. As soon as I got to BALLS, it was hard for me to keep a straight face. I'm immature like that. I was really hoping to see a theme answer like BLUEBIRD or BLUEBEARD, but no luck. If there was one kind of BALLS I really wanted to see (!) in this puzzle, it was SNOW. But these BALLS are all pretty good. I think I like HIGH BALLS best although MEAT HEAD is clearly the best of all the theme answers. The puzzle contains an impressive six theme answers (including two pairs of intersecting answers). The non-theme fill was so-so (VEE and DEE? TIERING?), but that hardly mattered. The theme alone ensured that my overall solving experience was a good one. The best BALLS-related moment for me was that my first stab at 58A: Artists' smudge remover was DRY ERASER ... but then I wondered what kind of horrible, heretofore unheard-of malady DRY BALLS was ... and figured my answer must be wrong.
- 17A: Fund-raiser wear, perhaps (BLACK tie)
- 3D: "All in the Family" nickname (MEAThead)
- 21A: Yellow flower (BUTTERcup)
- 58A: Artist's smudge remover (gum eraser)
- 40D: Cajole (SOFT soap) - learned this odd expression from ... crosswords
- 64A: 1952 Gary Cooper western ("High Noon") - one of my very favorite movies, hurray
Today's puzzle is loaded with useful crosswordese, from low-end common stuff to high-end gold. It's a testament to how many puzzles I've done that I got 25A: Metric volume measure (stere) instantly, with no crosses. I confused my crosswordese at 5D: Little Giant of the Giants, writing ORR where OTT belonged. No puzzle is quite complete without an OBI (29A: It may be tied with a bow) - I get searches for [Sapporo sash] on a regular basis; it must be a clue that every crossword puzzle in the universe uses for OBI. ERG (54A: Work unit) is so crossword-common that there was once an ERG rebus puzzle - I'm all for the repurposing or otherwise inventive use of crosswordese. If it's architectural, recessed and/or vaulted, it's an APSE (67A: Vaulted area, often) - a word I associate with OGEE, perhaps because they are both four-letter architectural terms that I learned at roughly the same time (under the tutelage of Eugene T. Maleska). The real wheat-from-the-chaff answer of the day, however, was ATLI (14A: Chief Hun, in Scandinavian legend) - an answer that inveterate solvers likely nailed and everyone else likely gawked at helpessly / worked out from crosses. I'm writing a little something about the language of crosswords, and just yesterday I was thinking about this rare but vital word and whether it was worth mentioning. I guess so... if ATLI knocked you down, you'll want to be on the look-out for ATRI and ATRA and possibly ATKA ... wow, I've got a real crosswordese word ladder going there.
I tripped right out of the box on this puzzle, putting in FOAL (4A: Stable newborn) and then following that up with FRAUDS for 4D: Quacks. Actual answer: FAKERS. FRAUDS is so much better that it took me a while to get rid of it. After making a first pass through a bunch of the Acrosses up top and not really getting anywhere, I thought the puzzle was going to be hard, but then, I don't know, something clicked and I took off like a shot.
- 19A: Superlawyer Gerry (Spence) - that's a word? "Superlawyer?" Unless you don a cape and can fly, you really should put the "super" away.
- 43A: Fancy dancer (stepper) - isn't any dancer, technically, a "STEPPER?"
- 15A: Bygone political council (Soviet) - I never think of this word in any concept except "The SOVIET Union." Feels odd to see it standing on its own. So lonely. "Where is my Union? Where are my SSRS!?"
- 49A: Photo badges and such (IDs) - yesterday, NO ID, today ... IDS. Nice coincidence.
- 63A: Cure-all (elixir) - I never like this clue for ELIXIR, though I've seen it before and it's technically valid. PANACEA = cure-all. To me, an ELIXIR is just a medicinal or even magical drink of some kind.
- 66A: Lucy or Ricky, to Fred and Ethel (tenant) - entertaining clue.
- 6D: Out (alibi) - wow, that's some vicious cluing. I'm just glad I got Midori ITO early (24A: 1989 world champion skater), giving me the terminal "I" in ALIBI.
- 1D: Lettuce variety (bibb) - man I hate that third "B"
- 11D: Like the contents of egg rolls (minced) - excellent clue.
- 16D: Hide-covered abode (tepee) - now I'm no TEPEE expert, but ... I thought the hide was the abode.
- 36D: Fingers (tells on) - this feels off. Kids "tell on" each other. Ratfinks and hoodlums "finger" each other. The use of "finger" as a verb is hereby officially grossing me out.
- 44D: Arranging in rows (tiering) - ugh to the nth power.
- 47D: Repeller of evil (amulet) - "repeller" is getting that little red underline that occurs when Blogger (or any writing program with spellcheck) hates a word. This was the answer that helped me change DRY ERASER to GUM ERASER.
- 51D: Aqualung, e.g., in the 1971 Jethro Tull album (lecher) - whoa. Whoa. Really? That's what Aqualung is/was? I always felt you had to be kind of high - or really like the flute - to listen to Jethro Tull. I'm vaguely tempted to listen to this song now. OK, here goes. Mmm, theatrical. I feel like I'm at a Renaissance festival ... after dark.
- 53D: Either President Bush (Texan) - I always feel like they are kinda play-acting at being TEXANs, but I guess there's a literal truth to this clue.
- 65D: Fed. property agency (GSA) - stands for ... I have no idea. Government something, surely. Nope: General Services Administration. I'm having déjà vu about not knowing this answer. I expect that will happen more and more as the years roll on ...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS I really like the SW corner of this puzzle. Maybe it's the fantastical AMULET / ELIXIR crossing (the salt) combined with the biblical BEGET (the sweet) and the downhome BAD TEXAN (the spice). Anyway, it tastes good.