FRIDAY, Dec. 12, 2008 - Mike Nothnagel (Mandrake the Magician's sidekick / Fictional manager of a "psychiatric help" booth / Carpenter's scoring tool)
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: None, though the grid looks suspiciously Canadian...
There are two important points to be made about this puzzle. Well, maybe more, but I'm going with two. First, the NW was way, way harder to get into than any other part of the puzzle. A true IMPASSE (38D: You can't escape from it) - for a while, anyway. In fact, I'd have rated this puzzle "Medium" had it not been for the NW. Not knowing LOTHAR didn't help (1A: Mandrake the Magician's sidekick), but usually I can fight my way out of a blank 1A. Today, not so lucky. I literally had that whole quadrant framed, but otherwise empty. Everything inside the area defined by FRAT ROW in the south and REGISTRAR in the east was empty. Never heard of 5D: NPR's "Only _____" ("a Game") - at one point I had the "ME" and thought "Only ... Hit Me? Ask Me? For Me?" Ugh. I tried TAS where FAC was supposed to go (23A: Sch. staff). FAC is ugly, but legal. Had ERG where OHM was supposed to be (20A: Unit in a physics textbook). These three-letter mishaps made the oddly clued Downs up there Very hard to uncover. Tried LET OUT for LET OFF (1D: Release). Eventually figured that HALF had to be the second part of 2D: Fair share, maybe (one half), and then got the CAR part of what ended up being TRAM CAR (3D: Rock roller?), and the whole section fell from there. Except ...
And this brings me to the second important point about this puzzle: HAB (4D: Bell Centre team member, familiarly). I simply challenge the puzzle-worthiness of this answer. I call foul. I call a much more profane word, actually. I was second-guessing LOTHAR, so bad did HAB look. I know the professional sports teams in all four major N. American sports. HAB? OK, I long ago accepted that I had to know that Houston has a minor league hockey team called the AEROS, but I refuse to accept that I have to know another @#$#ing minor league hockey team. I mean, HAB? OK, I'm going to write a puzzle with BSEN in it. Fair? No, of course it's not. But the HABS (short for Hamilton Bulldogs) play the BSENS on a regular basis. What the @#$# is a BSEN, you ask? LOOK IT UP! That's what I had to do with @#$ing HAB. I'm guessing this was some misguided way to pay tribute to Ontario, which Mr. Nothnagel has some particular attachment to (see 50A: Setting of Main Duck Island - LAKE ONTARIO). There's also some Frenchy fill today in the intersecting TOQUES (44D: Kitchen headgear) and COQ (51A: It may come in vin). The fact that Mike is fond of math is one thing - I support that, even though I don't always understand it, and I enjoyed today's CALC clue (34A: Course that has its limits, briefly). But this Canada thing ... there are, indeed limits.
[OK, back to relevant commentary now...]
Best answer of the day: LUCY VAN PELT (45A: Fictional manager of a "psychiatric help" booth). By a mile. Beautiful, smile-inducing gimme. She gave "Peanuts" its edge - not to mention its unabashed sexuality. I don't know that any cartoon girl has pursued a cartoon boy as hotly as she chased Schroeder. Draping herself over the piano, endlessly trying to seduce him away from his relentless practice and his bust of Beethoven. The kind of endless sexual drama that was good for scores of strips. Quite the opposite of her treatment of Charlie Brown. "Oh, sure, go ahead, kick it Chuck, I won't pull it away..." Such a Chuck-tease. Always Chuck-blocking. OK, that's enough "Peanuts" sex-talk for one day. Here's some more grown-up piano-related sexual innuendo for you:
There were, I'm happy to say, several other cute and easy answers. ESPRESSO BAR was clever, if transparent (24A: Its employees get a lot of perks). ALF is an obvious answer to any clue that wants a three-letter sitcom title character (32D: 1980s sitcom title role). I know enough Spanish to have gotten AGUA easily (41A: About three-fourths of la Tierra), enough about Hindu gods to have gotten VISHNU (53A: God commonly depicted with four arms), and enough about Arthurian legend to have gotten ELAINE (57A: Half-sister of Arthur). As easy as those were (relatively), they were mostly offset by a couple of technical words that I just didn't know. One is ROAN (7A: Sheepskin leather for bookbinding). I know the horse, but the leather, no. Then there was SCRIBER (11D: Carpenter's scoring tool). Sounds writing-related, but no. Needed all the crosses, and basically guessed at the "C," having completely, perhaps purposefully, forgotten about the existence of the Country Music Association.
- 18A: Call after which someone fills a box ("Batter up!") - I find the clue ungainly. I even have that word scrawled in the margin of the puzzle. Then I drew a line from that word to 31D: Pre-reincarnation periods (past lives). All but one of those lives is in fact post-reincarnation, as well as pre-. I'm just sayin'.
- 28A: Where le nez is (tête) - yeah, roughly. Hey, more French! Back to Canada with vous!
- 33A: Capital of Shaanxi province (Xian) - here's how good my Chinese is: I had the "X" and just wrote in "XIAN" on a gut feeling that it ... just seemed right. So ... I invented a Chinese place name that ended up being real. That's how deep my mystical powers run.
- 55A: Pitching asset? (ear) - I did not know "pitch" could be verbized the way it is here.
- 27A: Flawlessly (to a T) - now That's what I'm talking about. TO A TURN, my eye.
- 56A: Home of the ancient Olympics (Elis) - Mmm, crossword knowledge. Had ELEAN a few weeks back, which is how I found out about ELIS.
- 34D: Quaint news source (crier) - I challenged this on the basis that when the crier was an actual "news source," he was not quaint. He was just the news guy.
- 22A: Piece of silver (spoon) - cute. Had me fooled. I was thinking coin. Then I was thinking horse (not a pretty thought).
- 36D: Desert denizens (iguanas) - Denizens! That word needs to be *in* the grid. It's done its time in cluing purgatory.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS Check out this 1941 crossword puzzle from the "Cleveland Plain-Dealer" (sent to me by a kind reader who found it while cleaning out someone's house, I think). As always, click to enlarge:
Hand-shaded and -numbered grid! Two-letter answers. The tersest clues on the planet. I found the puzzle nearly undoable. ERIE is clued [Large lake]. Well, that's not wrong...