FRIDAY, Nov. 28, 2008 - Joe Krozel (Judah's house, in a Lew Wallace title / Commandant's outfit: Abbr. / It makes pot potent: Abbr.)
Friday, November 28, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy
Today's puzzle provides an illustrative contrast to yesterday's puzzle. Yesterday's puzzle was astonishingly smooth from stem to stern. Only a couple of abbreviations, almost no forced fill at all. Magical. The theme, while imaginative, wasn't an excessive burden on the grid, so the constructor could fill it gracefully. But because today's puzzle has a very high degree of architectural difficulty - ten 15-letter answers in one grid! - the non-15-letter fill is severely constrained, often painfully so. When you are locked into an ambitious concept like the one on display today, short answers suffer. I've rarely seen such a large and unappealing group of abbreviations in one place at one time. It's one thing to need a few abbreviations to fill out your grid, quite another to rely on TMI (55D: 1979 nuclear accident site: Abbr.) and IGN (56D: Engine starter: Abbr.) (ugh, side by side) and MEM (19A: Part of a grp.) and VISC (37D: Baron's superior: Abbr.), not to mention the seriously wince-inducing suffixes -IER (46D: Occupational suffix) and, especially, -ATIVE (40A: Talk ender). But perhaps the worst construction offense in the whole puzzle was the inexplicable decision to cross ASEC (23D: "Be there in _____") and PSEC (28A: Tiny fraction of a min.). I don't want those two answers in the same grid together at all, let alone crossing. Just ... no. No. No. In both cases, SEC is an abbrev. of second ("picosecond," "a second"). Therefore ... come on! This obscenity alone practically negates the magnificent achievement of the five up / five down 15-letter answers. Don't even get me started on the proximity of SECY (29A: Dept. head) to this whole mess. Weirdly enough, just last night, right before I solved this puzzle, I threw aside (in disgust) a puzzle that contained both ERA (clued [Elizabethan or Victorian]) and AN ERA (clued [End of _____]). And those answers didn't even intersect. Bah! This is a marquee puzzle - if last year is any indication, more people solve the puzzle today than any day of the year (Black Friday refugees). The puzzle should really put on a better face (though its relative easiness will probably make it appealing to many)
Your 15-letter answers:
- 16A: Cry on a corsair ("Shiver me timbers!") - a fine answer, but one sadly upstaged by the appearance of its identical twin very recently (in the "Talk Like a Pirate" Day puzzle)
- 22A: Something exercised by artists (creative license)
- 34A: It's high in Manhattan (the cost of living)
- 44A: Music theory subject (pentatonic scale) - my favorite long answer
- 52A: Plans to nail suspects (sting operations) - cool that it intersects ...
- 2D: Goal of a neighborhood watch (crime prevention)
- 5D: Island locales (service stations) - not the kind of island you were thinking of ...
- 6D: Coaching cliché ("There's no 'I' in 'team'")
- 8D: Great all-around reviews (critical acclaim)
- 10D: Is totally apathetic (doesn't give a hoot)
- 6A: It makes pot potent: Abbr. (THC) - an abbrev. I actually liked. Fresh, rarely seen, slightly risqué for the NYT.
- 14A: Judah's house, in a Lew Wallace title (Hur) - I would like to thank Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons" for making a vanity biopic of his life, "A Burns for All Seasons" (directed by Señor Spielbergo), and then entering it in the Springfield Film Festival. A quote from that "movie" is the only reason this answer was a gimme for me. Here is the movie plot (synopsis taken from here):
The first scene opens with Mr. Burns atop a horse wearing a sombrero, rounds of machine gun ammunition draped across his chest. "Simple villagers," he says to a group of people, "I promise you I will close plants in America and bring work here!" Chespirito cries, "Viva Senor Burns!" and the assembled villagers cry, "Viva! Viva!" Burns' horse gallops off, but Burns doesn't manage to stay in the saddle, instead getting dragged back and forth along the ground.
The next scene features Mr. Burns saying, "Remember, Elliot, I'll be right here," on one knee to a child. The tip of his finger lights up briefly; he then enters a spaceship, its door spiraling closed, which takes off into the crimson sky.
The next scene shows a Roman centurion on a horse leading a group of shackled prisoners across the desert. The last prisoner, who bears a striking resemblance to Charlton Heston, collapses from exhaustion. A shadow appears over him: a man kneels in front of him, strokes his hair, and hands him a bottle of spring water. "Drink up, Judah Ben Hur," exhorts Mr. Burns. Ben Hur does so, then looks up gratefully and says, "You truly are the king of kings." A heavenly light shines down upon Burns, and he says "Excellent."
- 21A: St. Anthony's crosses (taus) - it's like the top part of the cross broke off
- 38A: Yom _____ (Tov) - I know Yom Kippur, and I know Mazel Tov. I do not know Yom TOV.
- 39A: Laotian language group (Tai) - one of those Friday/Saturday-level three-letter answers I can never quite remember.
- 57A: Potential lockdown preceder (riot) - there is a hateful show on MSNBC, I think, called "Lockdown" (actually, now that I think about it, it's "Lockup") where you get to gawk at "real life" inside a prison. Maybe I'm in the minority on this, but ... I just don't think suffering shouldn't be a spectator sport. OK, so we don't sell our prisoners' organs on the black market like ... some countries ... but I'm not sure it's a good idea to exploit human misery ... ever.
- 60A: 365 giorni (anno) - a good guess
- 61A: Friend of Frodo (Sam) - is that anything like a "Friend of Dorothy"?
- 1D: Part of O.M.H.S. (On her ...) - Bond. James Bond.
- 13D: Commandant's outfit: Abbr. (USMC) - United States Marine Corps. "Comandant" sounds awfully foreign.
- 25D: First name in New World exploration (Leif) - wife liked this. Not sure why. Here's some LEIF for you:
- 26D: River through Mâcon (Saone) - one of the ugliest river names there is. I swear to god that I just typo'd "names" as THAMES. HA ha.
- 27D: Hi-tech read (e-mag) - the internets are no longer "hi-tech"
- 35D: Hawaiian staple (nene)*
- 45D: Fictional faithful friend (Tonto) - unlike SAM, who is, of course, real.
- 47D: Montana who played Luca Brasi in "The Godfather" (Lenny) - news to me. Wife had LINNY, as she could not, for the life of her, figure out 51A: Gents (hes). I told her I understood. Nobody likes / uses / wants to see HES.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
*just kidding, it's TARO