SUNDAY, Nov. 30, 2008 - Richard Silvestri ("Also Sprach Zarathustra" hitmaker, 1973 / Herringlike fish / Darius the Scamp? / Endor inhabitants)
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: "Uh-Oh" - "UH" sound is changed to "OH" sound in several common (or at least vaguely familiar) phrases, resulting in wacky phrases, which are clued with "?" clues
Rough. That is my word for this puzzle. The theme was humdrum. Basic. Bland. Unmemorable. As much bad stuff (LOAM AND ABNER, really? - 52A: Dirty radio sitcom?) as good stuff (PEACH FOES - 47A: Fruit flies?). It's got what feels like a remarkably low theme density. Only seven theme answers, and two of those are remarkably short. "ARE WE HAVING PHONE YET?" is godawful, especially for a central answer - the longest in the puzzle. The other wacky phrases are at least phrases that make a kind of literal sense. OK, maybe not the krappy LOAM AND ABNER, but the others at least seem imaginable, envisionable. "ARE WE HAVING PHONE YET?" has the unfortunate effect of both sounding like something uttered comically by a non-native speaker and evoking the torturous Verizon catchphrase, "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?" Ugh.
But the real story of this puzzle is the Bizarro fill, esp. in the N by NW section of the puzzle. The hardest section for me, by far, was the NW, where I had to endure a phrase no one has used since 1975 ("NO JIVE" - 19A: "Honestly, man" - which I was Sure was "NO JOKE," a much more current and in-the-language phrase) and a word no one has ever used (GNAR - 1D: Sound like an angry dog) . Then there's the seemingly invented ATONIC (23A: Not accented) and the never- before- seen- by- me DECEM (6D: X). If I hadn't known RAMIS (32A: "Stripes" actor, 1981) - and even that one took a second to come to me - I'd still be working on the NW. Never mind that everything else up there besides "Get A JOB" (3D: "Get _____" (doo-wop classic)) is clued in some weird, slightly off way. Not a pleasant experience.
A very close second on the lunacy scale is the MENHADEN (9D: Herringlike fish) / DEODATO (39A: "Also Sprach Zarathustra" hitmaker, 1973) crossing. I've never heard of either. If I hadn't known some Latin, I'd still be staring at a blank space where these words collide. I believe I might have seen DEODATO in a puzzle or clue, maybe once before. I have Never seen MENHADEN Anywhere ever. I'm still shocked that these two obscurities were allowed to collide. OK, not ASEC/PSEC shocked, but shocked nonetheless. The SHAVUOT (62D: Spring Jewish holiday) / LANARK (63D: Historical Scottish county) pairing gave me some grief in the Colorado region of the puzzle. I think I'd heard of the Jewish holiday before, but probably never seen it spelled. LANARK is a book I know, but I don't know what "historical" is supposed to mean in relation to a county. It existed in "history," yes. Lastly, in the gripe department, there's IANA (120A: Suffix for a collection) and CYTE (124A: Cell suffix) involved in some ugly suffix mating ritual down there in Louisiana.
- 29A: Helpful comment to a judge? ("There's the ROBE")
- 47A: Fruit flies? (peach FOES)
- 52A: Dirty radio sitcom? ("LOAM and Abner")
- 67A: Jokey question to a Verizon technician? ("Are we having PHONE yet?")
- 82A: Darius the scamp? (Persian ROGUE)
- 88A: Pot-smoking cleric? (Friar TOKE) - two pot references this weekend! I had PRIEST ---- here for a bit. That damn "-RI-" suckered me in.
- 105A: Result of excessive rowing (pain in the BOAT) - I really don't want "butt" in my puzzle, however disguised.
Last of the leftovers:
- 7A: Web programmer's medium (HTML) - OK, so now it's a "medium." I can live with that. I remember there was some controversy over labeling a while back.
- 21A: Economist Janeway (Eliot) - ELIOT reminds me of T.S.... or "Phone Home." Haven't heard of this economist.
- 44D: Turkish inns (imarets) - thankfully, I'd seen in before. Otherwise - ouch.
- 58A: Polonius's hiding place (arras) - aw yeah. Turns out they are not sword-proof.
- 61A: Do some grapplin' (rassle) - turns out there's one thing I really like about this puzzle: this answer! I try to get my dogs to "RASSLE" every morning. They usually oblige.
- 66A: Weapon in the Charge of the Light Brigade (lance) - ah, the Crimean War. Never goes out of style, somehow.
- 75A: Cowgirl Dale (Evans) - a flat-out gimme. Huzzah! She is in good company. One of my other flat-out gimmes was ... COATI! (91A: Raccoon relative). $100 to anyone who can produce a picture of Dale EVANS with a COATI. No photoshopping!
- 80A: Output of une legislature (loi) - for our Canadian solvers.
- 93A: The story of the aftermath of Oceanic Flight 815 ("Lost") - I just spend several minutes looking for this "story" ... only to realize that the "LOST" in question is the TV show. Until just a few minutes ago, I was thinking that "LOST" was that movie about plane wreck survivors who eat each other. That's "Alive."
- 92A: Endor inhabitants (Ewoks) - Endor is a forest moon. Like Oceanic Flight 815, it is also fictional (part of the "Star Wars" universe)
- 113A: Hairy TV cousin (Itt) - easy enough. Most "cousins" are ITT in the puzzle.
- 115A: _____ Torrence, American sprinter who won three gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics (Gwen) - came to me instantly, for reasons I don't understand. I don't follow track and field at all.
- 121A: Henry Fielding novel and heroine (Amelia) - never read (or heard of) it, but I have friends who undoubtedly have. They make you do crazy !@#@# in grad school.
- 5D: 1979 Broadway hit with the song "On This Night of a Thousand Stars" ("Evita") - luckily the answer is familiar, because the clue means nothing. In other musical news, I watched "Guys and Dolls" yesterday. Yes, I voluntarily watched a musical. And loved it (but I love hard-boiled fiction, and so the style and lingo and dames and what not were right up my alley). About halfway through, daughter came in the room: "What are you watching?" So she watched the rest with me. Is it wrong that I went back and specifically made her watch "Pet Me, Papa"? I thought she would love the cat suits (and she did).
- I'm just hoping the whole ... metaphor of that song was utterly lost on her. We watched "Arsenic and Old Lace" on Friday. She Loved that. "I think those ladies are going to kill him (Cary Grant)" - "Uh, no honey, that's their nephew. He's going to be O.K."
- 8D: Home-run run (trot) - love this. My littlest dog TROTs everywhere she goes. Sometimes we even call her "TROT-TROT."
- 12D: Celebs as a group (A List) - Interesting counterpart to LINE A (123A: Form beginning). You know what word I don't like: "Celebs."
- 18D: Plant circulatory tissue (xylem) - interesting X-cross with SAX (16A: Adolphe _____, musical instrument inventor)
- 36D: "True blue" and gold team (U.C.L.A.) - That's "light blue" to you and me.
- 66D: Poe poem that ends "From grief and groan to a golden throne beside the King of Heaven" ("Lenore") - Also contains the line "Peccavimus; but rave not thus!"
- 89D: Mathematician Turing (Alan) - hey, I remembered his name! Now if I could just remember why he's famous ...
- 90D: Miss Havisham's ward in "Great Expectations" (Estella) - just read this (well, part of this) this past summer. Forgot this was her name.
- 100D: Fossil-yielding rock (shale) - Washington Post TV critic Tom SHALEs had been around a while, but is not yet a fossil.
- 107D: 1982 Disney film ("Tron") - this should be automatic. If it says "Disney" or "1982" and it's in four letters - TRON.
- 111D: War of 1812 battle site (Erie) - ah, my least-understood American war. And yet another way to clue ERIE.
I'm in my local paper today. Man, my head is huge.