SATURDAY, Aug. 16, 2008 - Byron Walden (DRIFT PRAIRIE SHARERS / LION AND UNICORN WEARER / COMPOUND USED TO STABILIZE PERFUMES)
Friday, August 15, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: Corn dogs and spoons
I finished this in under 20 minutes, which I consider a massive success considering the often brutal nature of a Byron Walden puzzle. Very difficult, very clever, very entertaining - everything I want in a Saturday. It's a got a signature weird word (HERBARIA - 2D: Mint preserves?), but not a ton of weird words. It's got a slew of proper names, many of them just famous enough to be in puzzles but not famous enough to come readily to mind. I got KYL (45A: Arizona pol Jon) because I'd seen him before (though I had KYD in there at first), and I flat out guessed MCPHERSON off the "MCP," woo hoo (53A: James Birdseye _____, Union general in the Civil War)! Then there's that other Greta, SCACCHI (39D: Greta of "The Player"), and Jerry HERMAN (42D: Jerry who wrote "Hello, Dolly!"), and Reed RICHARDS (yay comics - 29A: Reed _____, Mr. Fantastic of Marvel Comics), and the very famous Isaac ASIMOV (44D: "Pebble in the Sky" author), here clued by reference to one of his less famous works. Familiar place names with odd clues - yep, we got at least two of those in TACOMA (43A: Western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad) and OSAKA (47A: City of 2 1/2 million at the mouth of the Yodo River) (Pacific Rim!). Did you know that my city's housing market is the second-best in the nation, after Yakima (TACOMA, Yakima ... you can see how I got there, right?)!? Weird. Back to puzzle. We have some music in CON ANIMA (21D: Spiritedly, on scores) and HARMONIC / TONES (49A: With 58-Across, violinists' productions) (Hey, TONES is an anagram of STENO - 23A: Recording artist?). Nutso pop culture clues? Sure, here, have some STRATTON (23D: "Silver Spoons" family name). High-end science term? How about KETONE (9D: Compound used to stabilize perfumes)? Then there's the "?" clues - all over the damned place. Here's my feeling about "?" clues. They are Great when they land and Horrible when they don't. Here, they mostly land: The very first clue is a simple beauty (1A: Pacer pacer? => SHOT CLOCK), and SKY WROTE (36D: Used lofty words?) and SKI PARKA (39A: Protection for someone on the run?) and ORES (50D: Groundbreaking discoveries?) all have clever and gettable "?" clues. Not as many wacky letter combos or Scrabbly letters as I expect from a B.W. puzzle, but VIP PASSES (with its own great "?" clue, 59A: Fancy entrees?) does its part to keep you on your toes, parsing-wise. Overall, a fabulous, first-rate job.
What else is there to say? Well, quite a bit, thanks for asking:
- 10A: It began with the slogan "It's time to get connected" (MSNBC) - one of the main reasons the NE was the last area to fall. I hd ALERO (16A: Old Olds) and ROCKETTE (20A: One in a line of 36) and SENS (28A: 45-Across and others: Abbr.) and nothing else for a while. Put in and took out BRITON a few times (13D: Lion and unicorn wearer) - same with NESTLE (12D: Spoon, say). But it was only when BRITON and NESTLE were both in that I saw the "NB" combo I needed to guess MSNBC.
- 22A: Winston Smith's greatest fear, in "1984" (rats) - I haven't read this book since 1984, so this did not come readily to mind. Lots of authors in the puzzle today, with Orwell and Asimov and the woefully under-famous Alice MUNRO (51A: "The View From Castle Rock" author).
- 27A: _____ Island, birthplace and longtime home of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Staten) - meant nothing to me. Thankfully, I know that STATEN Island is indeed somewhere. I went to a wedding there once. The air reeked of garbage. Is that normal for STATEN Island?
- 8D: Some reds (clarets) - see lion and unicorn picture, above
- 55D: "Happy Days" event (hop) - hmmm ... I remember a marathon dance (à la "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?") where Fonzie did some weird Russian number at the end to psych out Joanie's bitchy nemesis ... but a "hop?" I'm sure it's correct. At any rate, this clue reminds me of the fabulous video for "Buddy Holly," by Weezer (I can't embed the full video, with extended "Happy Days" intro - you'll have to go here to see that one)
- 38A: Serve without consequence (let) - just a great clue. "Serve" really really looks like a verb here.
- 46A: With 34-Across, protests peacefully, in a way (goes / on a fast) - four-word phrase, broken up. You don't see that kind of inventive gridding very often.
- 48A: Small two-master (yawl) - "YAWL wanna come back to my YURT(s) (48D: Mongolian dwellings) for some CONEYS (14D: Corn dog alternatives)? ... No?"
- 57A: Columbus's flagship? (Ohio State) - so "flagship" means ... the "chief," as in "chief" ... state University? It is THE Ohio State University, after all.
- 1D: Patron of pregnant women (St. Gerard) - the key here was a. knowing it would start "ST" and then b. having enough patience to wait out the crosses.
- 5D: Prefix in many juice names (cran) - I love seeing this answer, as I have a little puzzle of mine out in the garage with this answer in it, and anything that makes it seem more legitimate ups the chances I will fix the puzzle up and take it out into the light of day.
- 11D: Company retirement asset? (sleep sofa) - I know this as a SLEEper SOFA, so despite having SOFA, it took some time to get the first half (and, by extension, the entire NE).
- 32D: P, in a phonetic alphabet (papa) - uh, what?
- 34D: Relenting assent ("OK, OK!") - very nice.
- 37D: Hoisted quaffs (tall ones) - excellent answer; I thought for sure that "hoisted" was a verb, and the answer would be HAD ... something. HAD CONES was on the table at one point.
- 41D: Attain on the wing (soar to) - clue feels odd or wrong to me. But the answer goes nicely with SKY WROTE.