WEDNESDAY, Sep. 3, 2008 - David J. Kahn (Frozen dessert chain since 1981 / Legree's creator / Cathedral city near Cambridge)
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: MICHAEL PHELPS (36A: Subject of this puzzle)
This puzzle is both amazingly constructed and super easy - well, it was certainly easy if you even halfway paid attention to ... no, you didn't even have to pay attention to the Olympics, because every news outlet, soft and hard, was discussing this guy non-stop for a month. But enough about PHELPS. Check out the novel arrangement of the theme answers. MICHAEL PHELPS is the only Across element. His most significant achievement, the EIGHT GOLD MEDALS, neatly intersects his name at the center (the realization of which must have been the initial impetus for this puzzle), but what impressed me the most was the addition of two more theme elements that intersect PHELPS' name, and, especially, the two bonus six-letter theme answers, each of which runs immediately parallel to EIGHTGOLDMEDALS. Really beautiful, and especially impressive given the very short time between Phelps' eighth gold and the publication of this puzzle. I was in Baltimore a few weeks ago and I saw this couple walking around with Michael Phelps shirts on, and noticed vendors selling them (along with Orioles, and (predominantly) Red Sox gear), and I thought "what kind of idiot wears a MICHAEL PHELPS T-shirt? Really?" Had no idea I was in his home town. Never heard him called "The Baltimore BULLET." That's a good name.
The rest of the fill in this puzzle was OK. Nothing special. Didn't have to be.
- 36A: Subject of this puzzle (Michael Phelps)
- 4D: What each of seven 36-Across events at the 2008 Olympics ended in (World Record time)
- 7D: Singular achievement by 36-Across at the 2008 Olympics (eight gold medals)
- 10D: One technique used by 36-Across (butterfly stroke)
- 6D: Brand name associated with 36-Across (Speedo)
- 46D: The Baltimore _____ (nickname of 36-Across)
My big "WTF?" moment - my only one for this puzzle - was EGER (18A: Hungarian city known for its thermal baths). All the crosses were simple, so I knew it had to be right, but yikes. Also didn't know ELY (42A: Cathedral city near Cambridge), so I pretty much sucked today on the Geography front. The puzzle gets a little crosswordezish in its corners, and especially in the ELOI / ELAL sequence (57A: Beautiful race in an H.G. Wells novel + 59A: Israeli flag carrier), but it's hardly a distraction at all, especially considering how spectacularly the theme was executed.
Anything else? Yes, a bit:
- 1A: Legree's creator (Stowe) - I blank on this every time, no matter how many times I learn and relearn it. It's like dropping a routine pop fly again and again and again. My mind wants only Dickens, and then I get stuck in some 19c. vortex that for some reason is void of STOWE.
- 19A: Frozen dessert chain since 1981 (TCBY) - The Country's Best Yogurt. I'm (much) more an ice cream man myself.
- 28A: Carnival food on sticks (corndogs) - there was a time when I was also a CORNDOG man. Well, boy.
- 35A: It may be found in a box in the basement (fuse) - love that clue. MOLD would also have been a good answer.
- 43A: More men do this than women, studies show (snore) - what an odd clue? I don't snore, but I do this loud breathing thing sometimes that apparently can be very distracting. Right, honey?
- 64A: Word often prefixed with kilo- (byte) - other prefixes are now seen more often, but yes, this is true enough.
- 65A: Snipers' place (nest) - took a while for this to come to me. Not sure why, but the word NEST is creeping me out this morning. It's making me think of vermin, not birds.
- 27D: Go for, in price (are) - wow, talk about your slow curves. I couldn't make sense of the clue, let alone solve it. "Go for ... that's OPT, but ... in price ... what?" But the clue (just barely) works. "These GO FOR $5 a pair" / "These ARE $5 a pair"
- 39D: Chicago carriers (els) - elevated trains, very common stuff. I prefer the golfer clue (Golfer Ernie) to the train clue. Seems less forced, somehow, and less regional. And gets rid of the plural. I can't believe I have an opinion about this. What has my life become?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS 5-weeks-ago folks - please see the VP debate-themed puzzle I've co-constructed. It's timely now, and won't be (so much) 5 weeks from now.