SATURDAY, Nov. 29, 2008 - Barry C. Silk (Defier of Stalin / "Oedipe" opera composer, 1936 / The sculptures "Cloud Shepherd" and "Coquille Crystals")
Friday, November 28, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
Whew. Solid Saturday. Right over the plate. Reasonably smooth, reasonably tough, a flashy answer or two, and even a snazzy construction feat - right in the heart of the puzzle, a SELDOM SEEN (63A: Rare) Z-square formed by the intersections of DIZZY (37A: Swimming) and RAZZ (40A: Heckle) with PIZZA (29D: Kind of oven) and OZZY (34D: "The Osbournes" dad). OZZY was one of a big handful of gimmes in today's puzzles: two more proper nouns in EDY (43D: Last name in ice cream) and NIC (49A: Actor Cage, informally), the oddly easy ROO (21A: Bush jumper, informally), the gut-level guess, DECO (18A: Like the Empire State Building), and the came-to-me-instantly AM I TO BLAME? (25D: Question that may be answered "No, you're not responsible"). I suppose that last one could have been DID I DO THAT? Thankfully, that didn't occur to me.
This puzzle had the typical handful of people I'd never (or barely) heard of. I know I've seen GRISSOM in my puzzle before, but that didn't help today - needed most of the crosses to get it (41D: Second American to fly in space). This AYER guy is totally unknown to me (44A: Philosopher who promoted logical positivism). AYERS, everyone's heard of now. AYER, not so much. And GREER (41A: 20-Across in the Hall of Fame) - 20A: Net rival (Sixer)??? I know Rosey GRIER, but Hal GREER was before my time. His Wikipedia entry contains this curious claim: "Hal Greer is recognized as the only African-American athlete enshrined in a major sports hall of fame from West Virginia." I had heard of TITO (35A: Defier of Stalin), of course, but that doesn't mean his name came to me instantly. A cross or two was enough to do the trick. And I know ARP pretty well, but I am not familiar with the names of either of the sculptures (or ARPS) in question today (11A: The sculptures "Cloud Shepherd" and "Coquille Crystals").
The toughest part of the puzzle for me was the SE, perhaps because that triad of parallel proper nouns (ENESCO, GRISSOM, CHIOS) were all initially unknown to me, which left the whole middle of that section barren. I think that after I guessed the -ER in AYER, I guessed ENESCO from the EN- (45D: "Oedipe" opera composer), but that still left things very sparse down there. It wasn't until I entertained the very sad ICEL (53D: Place to find fjord explorers: Abbr.) that the section finally broke. Seriously, I was saved by ICEL, which is funny for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that I once rewrote an entire section of a puzzle in order to get rid of ICEL. Got ICEL after ruling out SWED and NORW and NZLD as possible abbreviations. CHIOS has an evil ring to it (50D: Greek island in the Aegean).
SW was no piece of cake either. Knowing the Elvis song would have helped - 31A: Elvis's "_____ of Blues" ("A Mess"). As it was, I had to work my way into that section from the east, which was Not easy, especially considering I had DROP for DREG (37D: Small remnant), which meant that neither GOATEE (42A: The devil is often depicted with one) nor ABRIDGE (47A: Cut down) came very quickly. Realizing that no word was likely to end -DPE, I took out the -OP in DROP, got AM I TO BLAME from no crosses, then got ABRIDGE and started to hammer away at things from there. I love the clue on MADAGASCAR (24D: "The eighth continent," to ecologists). Insular cultures evolve in Crazy ways, so I'm sure MADAGASCAR is a biologist's delight. It is also my daughter's delight, when translated into animated film form.
- 1A: Sole deciding issue (litmus test) - great answer. Unusual, and very in-the-language (comes up most often, in my experience, around Supreme Court appointees).
- 15A: The United States, for one (ocean liner) - don't like this clue. Especially didn't like it when I thought the answer was OCEAN LINED.
- 22A: It might drip from a crack (sarcasm) - clever, but the words "drip" and "crack" are grossing me out, so I can't get too excited.
- 30A: Was vagarious (roamed) - put this answer in right away, but then worried that I might have misremembered my word roots. VAGabond. VAGrant. I was hoping that was the kind of VAG in question (!).
- 36A: Shooter's equipment (dice) - much cooler than the answer I wanted: LENS.
- 46A: Many members of prestigious faculties: Abbr. (Drs.) - uh ... and not-so-prestigious ones too, believe me. Most faculties these days are loaded with Drs. It's hard to get on a faculty without one.
- 52A: What takes a pit crew down? (mine shaft) - doesn't the elevator technically take them down the shaft? Or one of those tram dealies? You enter the MINE SHAFT through the adit, which is a word I want desperately to make a comeback.
- 5D: Remove from the lotus position (uncross) - just a great (perfect, in fact) clue.
- 55D: Au fait (able) - er, uh, um, what? This is English?
- 57D: Arctic _____ (tern) - surprise bird! Always a great way to end a puzzle.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld