Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Easy
THEME: Baseball wordplay, I guess - non-baseball phrases clued in a wacky baseball manner. Huzzah.
Two words: ALOES (22A: Bitter drug) and SEDALIA (25D: City in central Missouri). Why anyone thought this crossing was acceptable is beyond me. ALOES is a word that should be seen maybe once a year tops, and then only because the rest of your puzzle is Fantastic and you have to make the sacrifice, and THEN only if you clue it via the Athol Fugard play "A Lesson from ALOES." And SEDALIA, if you do not live in MO, is nowhere. Barely more than 20K people huddled in the middle of nowhere, and it's somehow puzzle-worthy? VISALIA is more of a place name than SEDALIA, and I wouldn't foist VISALIA on you despite the fact that I grew up one hour from there and it would be a gimme for me. Or, I might force it on you, if I were sure that all the crosses were gettable. An obscure non-plural s-ending word crossing an obscure proper noun? Yeah, good idea. I finished this puzzle last night and had a blank at this crossing. I decided I didn't care what the answer was and went to sleep.
- 17A: Musial's 6 and Gibson's 45? (Cardinal numbers) - cute. I almost like this one.
- 27A: Pregame practice in Cincinnati? (Red pepper) - "Pepper?" I only vaguely know this "practice." Here's a definition I yanked off of ask.com: "A warm-up exercise in which players standing a short distance from a batter field the ball and toss it to the batter, who hits each toss back to the fielders." This sounds like a good way to get your nose broken if you are one of the fielders.
- 48A: AT&T Park standout? (Giant star) - would have liked a Barry Bonds clue here (even though he's no longer a Giant). Something more colorful than [Corporate name Park bland word]
- 62A: Prospects for a New York pennant? (Met expectations) - this is horribly bland. In fact, all of these except for CARDINAL NUMBERS are pretty pathetic.
The grid shape here is also torturous (and tortuous) with that horrible intestine-like middle section completely separated from far east and far west. All in all an unpleasant, if ultimately harmless and forgettable, experience.
There have been some disappointing puzzles in the paper lately, but I want to step back for a second and make something very clear to readers who think I grouse too much. The NYT puzzle, for all its occasional faults, is really rivaled by only one other puzzle in the US: The NY Sun. If you want to see how consistently Good the NYT is, how high Will and constructors have set the bar, just try doing this widely syndicated daily puzzle - specifically the Saturday, May 3 edition (you can choose the date from a menu in the upper right corner). When you're done, you can check out my tirade in the comments section here, or (completely unrelated, uncoordinated, and coincidental) Tyler Hinman's semi-tirade here. Sometimes it's good to remember just how good Times solvers have it (puzzles like this one notwithstanding).
Today was a good day for trotting out your xword knowledge. There were at least four answers today that I would have struggled with in the not-too-distant past - and they're all super-familiar to me now, thanks to xwords:
- IGOR (66A: Operatic prince) - put this in without blinking, with no crosses in place. Before crosswords, IGOR was only a creepy lab assistant.
- INEZ (11D: Don Juan's mother) - also Rex Parker's grandmother, who turns 88 next week. Happy birthday, grandma. I love you. As many of you already know, my first crossword memory involves watching my grandma work a puzzle at my mom's kitchen table when I was about 12. Didn't start solving til about 8 years later, but clearly that moment made a big impression.
- ELIAS (28D: Inventor Howe) - can't even remember what he invented, but I know his name cold. Ooh, he patented the first American-made sewing machine. Innnnnteresting.
- STEAMERS (39D: Clambake fare) - there are no clams where I grew up. Just ... raisins. And relentless dry heat for four months out of the year - the kind that makes the metal parts of seatbelts potentially lethal weapons if your car has been parked in the sun for any length of time. But I digress.
Interesting and/or tough stuff:
- 10A: Author O'Flaherty (Liam) - part of the Celtic Revival of the late 19c. and early 20c. The only name you know from the list of authors involved in this movement is William Butler Yeats. You wouldn't know LIAM were it not for xwords. Oh, stop, you would not. You know LIAM Neeson and maybe that guy named LIAM from Oasis (if you are British), and that's it.
- 36A: Beach washer (tide) - what a weird clue ... I like it. You can't really "wash" the beach, can you? It's made of dirt, isn't it? TIDE is EDIT backwards.
- 47A: Earl in the court of Elizabeth I (Essex) - learned a lot about this guy after reading James Shapiro's fascinating 1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare this past year.
- 51A: Music booster (amp) - this is like [Tide washer], in a way. -ER noun misdirects you a bit.
- 67A: Perrier alternative (Evian) - stop drinking bottled water right now. Really. Come on. I mean, sure, set some aside in case of natural disaster, but otherwise ...
- 71A: Revue segment (skit) - this one's pretty good.
- 2D: One of TV's "Two and a Half Men" (Alan) - whatever you say.
- 8D: End of some company names (Sons) - had SON- and thought "???? ... SONY?"
- 29D: Indoor game much seen on English TV (darts) - TV? Wow, that's ... sad. How is that anything less than dull?
- 50D: Rathskeller decorations (steins) - Here is Wikipedia's definition of "Rathskeller" ... hey, my university's mysteriously in this write-up. Weird. The only "Rathskeller" I know of is not on or even near campus, as the write-up implies. It's a downtown bar. If you Google [rathskeller binghamton], you can see, without even clicking on any of the hits, the phrases "impending change in ownership" and "recent stabbing" ... I like when my city is comically depressing, as opposed to just plain old depressing.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld