Friday, June 6, 2008
Relative difficulty: Challenging
So excited to see Ashish's name on the puzzle - I wish he'd publish more, as he is one of the more careful, thoughtful, inventive puzzle writers out there. Excitement turned briefly to consternation as the puzzle smacked me around like no Friday has smacked me around in a while. All those 15s (which, perhaps counterintuitively, normally make a puzzle easier) and I still got hung up a lot. Trouble started right away at 1A: R.B.I. or E.R.A. where I fell straight into the STAT pit (answer = far more generic ABBR.). After getting flustered that I couldn't make any of the NW Downs work with STAT, I guess my eyes just started roaming the clues randomly, because eventually I ended up starting with a strange semi-guess way on the other end of the puzzle. Why do I know that the "Titanic" composer's name is HORNER (45D: Oscar-winning "Titanic" score composer)? And more importantly, why wasn't the 90s movies part of my brain working this well when it came time for 37A: Movie line spoken by Renee Zellweger after "Just shut up" ("You had me at 'Hello'")? I could think only of "Bridget Jones' Diary," for some sad reason. But back to HORNER. I wrote it in tentatively and then got the "H" cross with ease: 44A: They often cross (paths). Then I was so proud of myself for knowing that 46D: Heroin, slangily was SNOW (my crime fiction reading, finally paying off!) ... only it was SCAG, which is about the ugliest word in the English language.
Speaking of ugly: ETHNIC CLEANSING!?!?! (11D: Heinous war crime) - I assume this means we've dropped All restrictions on unpleasantness in the puzzle. Slightly less unpleasant: THIOL (12D: Compound added to natural gas to give it an odor). Holy moly that word looks made-up. This puzzle was actually chock full of things I simply didn't know. Embarrassingly, one of these things is SELAH (7D: Psalm ender). Another: O GOD (67A: Psalm starter). I'm apparently not a big Psalm reader. Plus, I tend to spell OH thusly, as in "Oh God, You Devil." Still not sure how SHOAL is the right answer for 31D: Spit, e.g. The only "spit" I know, besides the saliva kind, is the stick you stick through a roasting pig, and possibly a card game. Aha, here it means some kind of coastal landform. Yeah, I grew up ... inland. I live closer now to a major body of water than I ever have in my life, and that body is the Susquehanna River, so ... yeah, inland. I remember NARD (un-) fondly from earlier puzzles, but I'm guessing it's going to flummox a few people today (24D: Olden ointment). However, if I had to bet on the most popular train-wreck site of the day, I'm going to put my money on "West Virginia," where PICON (34A: Molly of early stage and screen) comes screaming through ALPH (25D: Fictional river of verse) and MAIER (26D: Three-time skiing world champion Hermann). I knew ... none of those. It's astonishing to me that three weird proper nouns were allowed to collide like this. When ALPH is the Best known word in a three-way collision, Something Is Wrong. I guessed the first two letters of PICON ... and was right. I was Sure I was wrong. PICON ... isn't that a print measure? It sounds oddly familiar. Anyway, throw in the wonderfully-yet-oddly-clued AFLAC (29A: Fortune 500 company whose toll-free number ends with 23522) and you've got a minor disaster on your hands.
Once again - second day in a row - the NE was the hardest part of the puzzle for me. 8A: Zeroes is RESETS!? It's a verb!? Ugh. I had LOSERS, and I was Confident. Ish. And AGATHA means good?? (16A: Saint whose name means "good"). Is that Greek? Yes, it seems so: agathos. Yeesh. And 13D: Flip is SASSY? These one-word enigmatic clues are more Saturday Newsday than Friday NYT. Loved (in that I hated it, then loved it) EGG clued as 9D: Graded item. Took way too long, but the answer was good enough to make my frustration disappear. Anyway, that corner was a nightmare, and it was awfully close to the PICON train wreck. I still can't quite believe I finished this puzzle with no errors.
Oh, and I'm sure I was supposed to like TRY GOOGLING THIS (17A: Mean crossword clue writer's challenge to solvers?), but man oh man I Did Not. It's a cute insidery thing to include, but that is Not A Phrase. Has anyone written that phrase anywhere before? Is it the title of something I haven't read? I'm just at a loss ... stunned that this got beyond the "Inspired Idea" stage.
Things I DUG (47A: Considered groovy):
- 58D: Kind of band (jug) - hee hee. Why this came to me quickly, I don't know, but man, that "J" helped a lot with 57A: Event starting on 08/08/08 at 08:08:08 p.m. (Beijing Olympics).
- 41A: "Scandalized Masks" painter, 1883 (Ensor) - I feel like we've had this exact clue before. Anyway, ENSOR is fabulous, freaky, funny, scary ... and They Might Be Giants wrote a song about him.
- 6D: Very desirous person's sacrifice (right arm) - fabulous. I was looking for EYETEETH, but that was in last week's puzzle.
Things that made me say "...?"
- 55A: 1970s tennis star Ramirez (Raul) - Wha? I thought I knew all the 70s tennis "stars."
- 39D: Fahd's successor in Saudi Arabia (Abdullah) - yee haw, that looks great in the grid.
- 48D: Texas senator succeeded by Cornyn (Gramm) - Misread name in clue as "Comyn." Whoops. I know GRAMM, but I needed crosses to remember him.
- 62A: "Charley's Aunt" star Chaplin (Syd) - uh ... guh ... er ... who?
- 53D: Neighbor of Helsinki (Espoo) - I have so many things to say, but they are all childish and probably do not pass the breakfast test (though with ETHNIC CLEANSING in the puzzle, the breakfast test would seem to have been suspended temporarily).
- 15D: Interior designer's creation (motif) - I like this a lot. Appropriate, but not easy.
- 22D: Turn red, maybe (redye) - ooh I do Not like this. But you knew that.
- 33D: Chlorure de sodium (sel) - briefly got my languages confused and wrote SAL.
- 36D: Best Actor nominee of 1991 and 1998 (Nolte) - he is now probably best known, sadly, for one of the greatest mugshots in celebrity history.
- 52D: 1980s-'90s New York governor (Cuomo) - it goes him, Pataki, Spitzer, Paterson. It's weird how quickly the Spitzer story went away. I guess insane election seasons trump everything else.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld