SUNDAY, Sep. 28, 2008 - Cathy Allis Millhauser (French Polynesia constituents / Radio host/pianist John / Song sung by Gwen in Broadway's "Chicago")
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "'Twas Puzzling" - familiar phrases have their "W"-words changed to "TW"-words, creating silly phrases, which are clued, "?"-style
Add-a-letter! Done badly, the add-a-letter puzzles feel painful and lazy. Done well, they are minimalist wonders, where the resulting phrases are snappy enough to make you forget (or not care) that the only "theme" involved is the simple addition of a single letter. This version's TWist on the add-a-letter theme is that the added letter comes in all instances at the beginning of a word and directly before a "W." The results: mixed! But mostly good. Cathy Millhauser is a pro (I won't call her "old pro"), and she executes this theme in a way that makes the puzzle whimsical and breezy, not forced and groan-inducing. The non-theme fill is, almost without exception, utterly solid, with some really bright spots. Interestingly, the fact that the theme was simple, on a technical level (in the sense that you just add a "T"), that simplicity did not carry over completely to the solving experience. I got the theme early on, but still had to wait out a good number of the theme answers because I couldn't see where their "W" words were or what the original phrase was supposed to be.
Theme answers (with arbitrary 1-10 rating based on how much I liked each answer):
- 23A: When jerks come out? (the twitching hour): 8
- 38A: String around a cake box? (dessert twine): 6
- 53A: Men or women who pinch? (the tweaker sex): 2
- 78A: Nerd's essence? (the soul of twit): 5 - love the answer, but the clue is gross ("Nerd's essence?" just sounds ... icky) and I've never liked the TWIT-for-nerd substitution.
- 95A: Roast the other side of the marshmallow? (flip one's twig): 9
- 113A: Discouraging comment to a cloner? ("You can't twin 'em all"): 10
- 36D: Moth, perhaps? (tweed killer): 4
- 41D: Fabric that really breathes? (living twill): 8 - nice that the two TW- fabrics are both part of the two vertical theme pillars of the puzzle.
First: Pennsylvania (ironically named because it's the stupid Texas clue that gave me all the trouble):
The ANGELINA (47A: Texas county, river or forest that's a girl's first name) river ran right through the NE of this puzzle and forced me to hammer out nearly all the crosses before I got it / guessed it. I guess Ms. Jolie was deemed too "mainstream" for the Sunday puzzle. Elitists! I probably had PISA for my four-letter City near Milan (48D) for a while. I took 42D: Low tie (one one) to be something one might find at a haberdashery ... which then forced me to wonder what "low" could possibly mean in that context. Hey, are LOD (41A: City near Tel Aviv) and LODI related? Because they sure look alike.
Despite the massive gimme that PHIL provided (104D: Dr. with advice in O magazine), I had a hell of a lot of trouble squeezing into this stupid little alcove of the puzzle. I think I just took a while to link the "celebrant" in 104A: Certain celebrant (priest) to a religious context. Also, never in a million years (well, maybe a million...) would I have guessed IZOD for 117A: _____ Center, home of the New Jersey Nets. It's also possible-to-probable that I didn't know what a leveret was at all - 112A: A leveret is a young one (hare). As I look at this roughly 4x4 section now, it seems inconsequential, but when I was tearing through the puzzle, it did not feel that way.
- 19A: Song sung by Gwen in Broadway's "Chicago" ("Roxie") - everything I know about "Chicago" (and it's now a surprising lot) I learned from xwords.
- 20A: Radio host/pianist John (Tesh) - "Enjoy"
- 34A: Nonkosher sandwiches (BLTs) - The word "nonkosher" was so hard for my brain to process. Sounded ... exotic. Until I separated the NON from the KOSHER.
- 58A: "New Look" designer of 1947 (Dior) - ooh la la.
- 59A: Charity's urging ("donate!") - Me: "Who the hell is Charity?"
- 60A: Orbital point (apsis) - neeeeeever heard of it.
- 66A: Penseur's thought (idée) - "Penseur" meaning "thinker"; I'm never that thrilled with this way of cluing foreign words (changing one word in the clue to the equivalent lang.).
- 77A: One of Woody's stock at Woodstock (Arlo) - clue grosses me out in the same way [Nerd's essence?] did.
- 71A: Mushroom stalks (stipes) - if I knew this, I forgot it.
- 89A: Capital of South Australia (Adelaide) - not "The Australian Dollar." Australia is where you might find yourself an Outback buddy (mate) (50D). I suggest you stick with "MATE," as "Outback buddy" sounds like a phrase that might be misunderstood or taken the wrong way.
- 90A: French Polynesia constituents (iles) - where's the French word in the clue? "French" does not count!
- 119A: "Almighty" title role for Steve Carell ("Evan") - gimme. I did not / would not / could not bring myself to see this. Love "The Office," though.
- 123A: Kind of difference, oxymoronically (same) - nice clue.
- 1D: Monitor type, for short (CRT) - least favorite monitor type Ever; can never remember it.
- 6D: Invitation information specification (attire) - "All across the nation ... there's a new invitation information specification ... people in motion" (can you tell how tired I am?).
- 9D: Like some eggs or cloth (shirred) - Onto the DECOCT list with you, SHIRRED. Yuck.
- 24D: Apple pocketfuls (iPods) - Odd-sounding clue. Note: iPods tend not to fill your pocket completely. Unless you are packing several at once, though I believe that's known as a QUIVERFUL.
- 45D: Off-campus local (townie) - first heard this term in "Breaking Away."
- 55D: Nagpur noble (rajah) - all crosswordese answers should have to have playfully alliterative clues
- 61D: Rusty on the diamond (Staub) - "Le Grand Orange!" Haven't thought of him in 25 years. Baseball cards!
- 63D: Pitcher of a perfect game, 9/9/65 (Koufax) - my hero, and only partially because his name begins in "K" and ends in "X" (not enough to get John KNOX over the hero threshold, for instance).
- 64D: "Vigilant _____ to steal cream": Falstaff ("as a cat") - that's one hell of a partial. Yipes.
- 69D: Wahine's dance (hula) - a dance that now will forever make me think of author/artist Lynda Barry, who took it very seriously as a child, and whose book "What It Is" (among others) you should definitely read. Indispensable, inspirational greatness.
- 85D: Score just before victory, maybe (ad in) - another sports score ... interesting.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld