FRIDAY, Aug. 8, 2008 - Mike Nothnagel (TITLE CASTLE TOWN OF BOOK AND FILM / "THUG" and "LOOT" DERIVE FROM IT)
Friday, August 8, 2008
Relative difficulty: Challenging
While it's true that I hadn't had more than 5 hours sleep for almost four days when I solved this puzzle last night, I think it would have been rough for me even if I had been well rested. I came to a complete halt at least three times. The kind of halt that's a true halt - complete with the stunned look, the dubious eye-scrunching and head-tilting, the brow-furrowing, etc. Lots and lots of pop culture here, and yet it helped me very little. Long answers like SUPERSIZE ME (4D: Hit 2004 Morgan Spurlock documentary) and AXEL FOLEY (59A: 1985 Golden Globe-nominated role for Eddie Murphy) were complete gimmes, but did little to increase my forward momentum in this puzzle. And though I had to endure some iffy fill like ORZOS (40A: Soup pastas) and ADOZE (38A: Catching a few z's) and ED. IN (34D: _____ chief (publ. honcho)) and HOER (13D: Crop cropper), as well as the redundantly T'd SETTS (47A: Paving stones), I really enjoyed the challenge that this puzzle presented - even the loopy NE, the site of my final showdown with this puzzle, which is where I'll start.
If "DOCTOR WHO" (6A: TV series featuring a robotic dog named K-9) was a gimme for you, I'm imagining the NE was a hell of a lot easier than it was for me. A couple of key crosses might have tipped the whole thing for me fairly early, but they were not forthcoming. Instead I had a bunch of O's, including one where it didn't belong - in the first position (having convinced myself that 6D: U.K. decorations must be OBEs - never heard of DSOs). I mean ... I nailed @#$#ing OONA (7D: 1998 biography subtitled "Living in the Shadows") and that got me nothing!? None of the Downs up there, except ODE (10D: Dedicated lines) would budge, and the other Acrosses? Forget about it. I had the nearly correct but awfully stupid ON ONE'S TOE for a while at 18A: Waiting for the starting gun, say (on one knee) (speaking of which: Olympics start today, if you're into that sort of thing). Other issues in the frozen NE:
- Took forever for my brain to accept SAME as an answer for 20A: Very
- Had a million different plausible answers for 8D: Not tread lightly (clomp), none of which were correct - TROMP, STOMP, etc.
- Couldn't imagine a conductor would ever have to deal with anyone who had a TIN EAR (9D: Conductor's bane) - why would such a person ever bother becoming a musician?
- Completely overthought the relatively easy RFK (11D: 1960s atty. gen.)
- Had YSER and EDER where ODER belonged (14D: The Szczecin Lagoon is an extension of its mouth)
- Entertained BAA for BRR (21A: Seasonal sound) in what were a series of ovine-related mistakes - BAA for BRR, misunderstanding the "stock" in 30A: Sold all one's stock? as a synonym for livestock (e.g. sheep), and then RAMS (53D: Ones going head to head?), which actually wasn't a mistake at all, so that's good.
- GOT BRONZE seemed better than WON BRONZE to me (12D: Got beaten by two people?), considering the clue emphasizes the opposite of winning.
The SW was where I ended up starting - built my way into the middle of the puzzle and worked from there. Getting the RAZOR part of RAZOR BLADES (25D: Cutting-edge technology?) would have been tremendously helpful, but the "technology" part had me thinking way more futuristically - LASER BLADES? Ugh. After a while I got into and took care of the NW, but the SW, the far East, and the NE would not go down without a serious fight.
The SW came very close to violating the "Natick Principle" (that a proper noun that fewer than 25% of solvers are likely to know should not cross other proper nouns unless they are very well known). I'm not sure either AXEL FOLEY or Mary LYON (57D: Mary who founded Mount Holyoke College) count as "very well known," but since the "Y" was the only plausible letter at that point, I'm not calling foul. I should add that I had no problem with the "Y" in LYON - it was the "O" I had a problem with (I had her as Mary LYNN, which is my sister's mother-in-law's name, which is another story entirely). LENO (56D: "You're not famous until my mother has heard of you" quipper) is famous enough, as another proper noun cross for AXEL FOLEY, not to pose a real problem. LENO is also crossword mainstay "ONE L" spelled backwards. Then there was the lovely MANO-A-MANO (63A: Without assistance in a fight), the parsing of which was well nigh impossible. I had the middle, and never would have thought to break the word between the "O" and the "A." Other problems down here:
- LEI for LOA (60D: "Mahalo nui _____" ("Thank you very much," in Hilo))
- Drawing an absolute blank on the second half of LOVE SCENE (35D: Shoot with steam?) - I initially wanted PORNO FLIC... but it wouldn't fit (!)
The far East has ZENDA (37A: Title castle town of book and film), which I only just this second realized is from the book "The Prisoner of Zenda" and not the video game and probably also book and film "The Legend of ZELDA." UDON (31D: Soup pasta) is not normally called a "pasta" (UDON = Japanese, "pasta" = Italian). The major problem over here, though, was having ALLERGIES for ALLERGENS (42A: Causes of some breakouts). That just ... hurt.
- 1A: Many a stuntman's sequence (chase) - I had FALLS. Remember "The Fall Guy?" How was I supposed to take Lee Majors serious in anything when he wasn't worth at least 6 million dollars?
- 16A: Something to chew on (solid food) - despite the loopiness of this answer, it's the one that saved me in the NE. If it hadn't clicked into place, four to five other answers would still have empty squares up there.
- 22A: Pump alternative (T-strap) - nailed it! Easy, as was "LOLA" (28D: 1970 hit with the lyric "Girls will be boys and boys will be girls"), HINDI (50D: "Thug" and "loot" derive from it), and SKINS (66A: One side in an informal game)
- 24A: Kitchen gizmo (parer) - RICER? DICER? CORER?
- 27A: Termagant (scold) - Great word. I wanted SHREW.
- 39A: Jed's first chief of starr on "The West Wing" (Leo) - "The West Wing" - man, I must have seen that show, like ... twice.
- 2D: Alternatives to wraps (heros) - I had the similar-sounding and much more wrap-like GYROS
- 23D: Food often described using the number of fingers it takes to eat it (poi) - total guess, but ... three letters, eaten with fingers ... there weren't a lot of options.
- 29D: Old-fashioned argument enders (duels) - Nice to have this and Aaron BRR in the same puzzle.
- 43D: Historical war zone: Abbr. (ETO) - basic crossword answer ... yet I had DMZ at first (?!)
- 52D: Some cricket matches (tests) - wanted INTERMINABLE. Cricket is huge in NZ, but its rules are massively perplexing to me, and the gear they wear ... are you playing a sport or going on a picnic? Make up your mind.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS My wife blogged the hell out of our recent trip to NZ, so I won't bother doing much of that here, but I did want to pass on one crossword-related pic. Here is a restaurant I saw in Dunedin with a name so potentially crosswordy, it should have had "(Var.)" in it. It's in the [Turkish poo-bah] family of crossword answers - you've got your DEYs and BEYs and AGAs, and then there's PASHA, and now there's this: