Monday, June 2, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: THE FOUR ELEMENTS (7D: What the starts of 22-, 36-, 41- and 50-Across comprise)
I do like this type of puzzle structure: a 15-letter theme-revealing answer coming straight down the middle of the puzzle, right through all the theme answers. I would have liked this puzzle slightly more if THE FOUR ELEMENTS had intersected not just FIRE and EARTH, but WATER and AIR too - but that may well have been impossible. I also like my theme answers a little longer than 7 letters (unless there are a Lot of them). And what's with EARTH ORBIT - I'm sure it's a valid concept, but there are many better, more in the language EARTH + 5 phrases. EARTH ANGEL. EARTHQUAKE. OK, so there's at least two. Further, a puzzle like this is always more elegant if the theme answers are used in non-theme contexts; in this case, that would mean using the elements in non-elemental contexts, which, again, may be completely impossible. AIR DATE and FIREARM transcend elementality, but EARTH ORBIT and WATER COLOR are still pretty elemental. So many angles to consider. In short, this puzzle would have been Perfect if the theme-revealing answer had a. intersected all the elements and b. featured the elements in all non-elemental contexts. As perfection is rarely if ever attainable, we should be happy we got the puzzle we got. It's good.
Except for a few Ugly words - especially ugly for a Monday. OCTAD hurts (5A: Group of eight). It hurts! And ironically, OCTAD's symmetrical counterpart, RESEE (65A: View again), has caused me to go blind at the horror of its non-wordness. It's really one of the cheatingest, most horrible "words" in the book. I had to guess (correctly!?) at 46A: Treaty of _____ Litovsk, 1918 (Brest), which seems rather la-di-dah for a Monday. SEXTON wasn't that easy either (20A: Church bell ringer). I had SECTON at first because I misremembered ALEX Trebek's first name as ALEC (3D: "I'll take Potpourri for $200, _____"). And yet I stared at 1A: Calves' meat (veal) wondering what the hell it could possibly mean. Why is CALVES' written as a possessive?? [Calf meat], OK. [Calves' meat] sounds like it's meat that calves eat, which, dear God, had better not be veal. That's how mad cow happens. PIG MEAT = pork. COW MEAT = beef. I mean, I'd never use those phrases, but they make sense to me. The possessive does not feel right (though I'm sure there's precedent). I looked at that clue and started trying to think of another word for the "meat" behind my shinbone.
- 22A: Heater or repeater (firearm) - wife had never heard of "heater" before; I tried to assure her that it was a semi-olde tyme crime fiction slang. I don't know if she was buying it. More on wife's reaction to puzzle below...
- 36A: Revolutionary pattern of the moon (earth orbit)
- 41A: Non-oil painting method (water color) - a really ungainly clue
- 50A: TV Guide info (air date)
Much of what I have to say about the rest of the puzzle is affected by the post-puzzle conversation I had with my wife.
Wife: "I'll bet there are some people who are Not going to be happy with 4D: The Civil War, for the Confederacy (lost cause)."
Me: "I don't think the people who are likely to be upset by such a clue are really crossword puzzle people."
Wife: "Do you really call old people 'golden AGERs?' (11D: Golden _____ (senior))?"
Me: "No. No you don't."
Wife: "Why isn't a 60A: Countess's husband a count?"
Me: "I ... don't know. Maybe EARL is England's version of Count. Count seems very European." [I was pretty much right]
Wife: "Who is SHERE Hite?" (39A: Sex researcher Hite)
Me: "You're a women's historian, shouldn't you ..." [wife glares at me]
One last way this puzzle relates to my wife: yesterday, she inexplicably and hilariously brought me home a bottle of Sierra Mist, the label of which was plastered with the image of Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart. Apparently the promotion for this summer's "Get Smart" movie adaptation has already begun. I don't drink soda (much), but this bottle is so cool-looking that I might not have a choice. Oh, and this relates to the puzzle ... because KAOS is the 10A: Evil organization in "Get Smart"
- 19A: "Man, oh, man!" ("Jeez!") - first, this is just a contraction of JESUS!, right? And if so, isn't it ... offensive ... to someone ... somewhere? Come on! Lord's name in vain! Anyone? Hey, is "GEE" related to "JESUS?" For the record, I say "aw JEEZ" an awful lot.
- 24A: Japanese maker of watches and calculators (Casio) - first, I always want to put two S's in this answer. Second, CASIO feels eternally mired in the 80s to me. If they have made a product since 1986, I don't know about it.
- 27A: Weight of diamonds (carat) - once again ... screwed it up and went with "K"-spelling.
- 43A: Fashion's _____ Saint Laurent (Yves) - R.I.P. He died yesterday.
- 1A: Winery containers (vats) - just seemed too ... downmarket to be right. Wanted something fancier. Why?
- 46D: It can be constricting (boa) - I had ... BRA. It's a good, good wrong answer.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld