SUN., Dec. 28, 2008- P. Berry (BBC panel show regular Phill / Cloak-wearing "Star Wars" race / Controversial 1987 expose by ex-MI5 agent Peter Wright)
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "Going Around in Circles" - grid represents the ORBITS (7A: What this puzzle's eight concentric rings (uncircled and circled) represent) of eight PLANETs (124A: One of these can be found reading counterclockwise somewhere in each concentric ring)
Hey, everyone. Rex here. Funny thing happened on the way to California ... long story short, I'm sitting in PuzzleGirl's home in Arlington, VA. I was supposed to be in Carmel by now, but, well, there was fog, then a "broken printer" that meant my pilot couldn't get his weather report (what century is this, again?), then a sprint to a gate in D.C. where, though I arrived there five minutes before official take-off, I was told that the doors were shut, our tickets given to stand-bys, and that's it. Actually, I was not told this. Wife was told this. I then waited in front of the guy who told her for about five minutes before the guy bothered to mention that we should go to Customer Service to rebook. At Customer Service I found a line a city block long. Waited there for a bit then a guy comes out and says "You're all International, right?" And I said, "No." Then he said "There's a much shorter line at D Concourse." Then I went there and picked up a phone, and then a lady told me "No flights to Carmel til Monday" and I asked her what she was smoking, sort of, then hung up, then waited in the shorter Customer Service line, only to be told "No flights to ANYWHERE NEAR Carmel until Monday." We could go back home, or we could wait in DC On Our Dime (their claim that the delay was "weather-related" was a horrible half-truth) until Monday. So ... I said "I'll call PuzzleGirl, she'll know what to do," only I didn't have her number; I had Andrea's number. So I called Andrea (whom I was supposed to have dinner with on Monday) in S.F. and she, miraculously, had PuzzleGirl's number. I called and left PuzzleGirl a woeful message. Not five minutes had passed before PuzzleGirl called back, said "I'll be right there - you can stay with us." And here we are. For 36 more hours. And we couldn't be happier. Well, maybe we'd be happier if we'd made it to Carmel on time, but this way we got to extend our vacation, and hang out with PG and her family for a couple days. Our daughters seem to love each other (despite the screaming I keep hearing from the basement), and PuzzleGirl and PuzzleHusband are exceedingly generous and kind. It's ridiculous, actually. We had a crappy, crappy day and then got Really, Really lucky. Hurrah.
OK, so the puzzle. It's a Patrick Berry creation and it's intricate as all git out. Very impressive in many ways. I think my favorite answer of the puzzle is ELEVATOR MUSIC (61D: Tunes that might make you want to get out on the floor) - the clue is admittedly a bit tortured in order to be misdirective, but the answer itself is fantastic - unusual but familiar, colloquial ... just great. I also like "SPY CATCHER" (49D: Controversial 1987 expose by ex-MI5 agent Peter Wright). Only wish I had heard of it.
"Gopher-wood? What's gopher-wood? Wood made from a gopher?"
"No. Dogwood isn't wood made from a dog."
These are the kinds of conversations I'm having this evening [see 52A: Gopher-wood construction (Ark)]
There is a horrible, terrible, alarming violation of the NATICK PRINCIPLE, except for the part where knowing the theme helps you infer the correct letter: JUPITUS (111A: BBC panel show regular Phill) x/w JAWA (111D: Cloak-wearing "Star Wars" race)!!?!?!? That is just wrong. But ... knowing that JUPITER's gotta be in that particular orbit somewhere should have helped you, eventually, fill it out correctly.
My favorite moment of the night so far was watching PG's nine-year old step up to the puzzle, look at 1A: Harry's pal at Hogwarts, and scoff: "Pff, that's easy, it's RON." He then walked away, as if to say "My work is done here."
PuzzleGirl points out that you might expect to see a lot more crappy fill in a puzzle with this amount of thematic density and intricacy, and yet (with the exception of that SE), it's overwhelmingly smooth. We were both impressed by the inclusion of MOON in the puzzle, and only just now realized that it's in EARTH's orbit. Very cool. In fact EARTH and THE MOON overlap in the grid.
Besides crazy Mr. JUPITUS, there were several other names that were new to me, including BARNETT (20A: 1968 N B. A. All-Star Dick) and PULASKI (23A: Georgia's Fort _____, site of an 1862 surrender), and POOLE (120A: Grace _____ ("Jane Eyre" character)). I knew Connie SELLECCA, but would never have imagined that her name had that many letters in it (65A: Actress/model Connie). "I can't believe that she spells her name like that!" Me either, PuzzleGirl.
I was derelict in my test-solving duties, in that I failed to comment on the fact that "treats" is in the clue for an answer (ACNE - 45D: Retin-A treats it) that the word TREATS (44A: Dog biscuits and such) actually intersects! None of you noticed that, though, right? Words shouldn't appear in both the grid and the clues (with obvious exceptions for most articles, prepositions, etc.). This rule should probably be more stringently applied when the clue and answer in question are in such close proximity.
- 36D: Trunk in your trunk (aorta) - "Make sure you say that's a terrible clue" - done and done.
- 106A: Where a pin may be made (mat) - you have no idea - No Idea - how seriously the next room is taking the issue of finding a picture to go with this answer. "Too bad Metcalf hasn't pinned anybody good." These are words coming out of PG's mouth. She and her husband are insane college wrestling fans. I have never met such people. It's fascinating. It's completely unironic, in case you're wondering. [Update - ten minutes later, the conversation about what image to use is Still Going On ...] [Update - it's half an hour now that they've been scrounging for the perfect PIN pic. They're so ... earnest]
- 4A: Hit 2004 film with many sequels ("Saw") - no desire to see these. They are gruesome, as I understand it. I have a friend who likes this kind of movie.
- 22A: _____ Adler of Conan Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia" (Irene) - her full name was an answer in a recent late-week puzzle, so no problem here.
- 56A: King famous for frightening people (Stephen) - First thought: "Larry?"
- 72A: Exterior decorator? (tattooer) - wow, that's a word? TATTOOIST is what I would have thought. Blogger appears to like both of those just fine. Weird.
- 117A: Something it's not always wise to share (opinion) - Lord, don't I know it.
- 54D: Oatcakes popular in Scotland (bannocks) - whoops; I think I tipped you all to this answer a few days back when we had "bannocks" in the clue and OATCAKES as the answer. I said I had just done a puzzle where they were reversed. It appears I was speaking of this puzzle.
- 47A: Formulator of the Three Principles of the People (Sun Yat-Sen) - very gettable, though hard to parse if you are looking for a two-part name (according to my wife)
- 80A: Treasure sought in "Titanic" (necklace) - I forgot about this part of the picture. I just remember ... oh, I remember the necklace on naked Kate, I think. Then I remember the wreck, and floating.
- 92A: Husband, in Hidalgo (esposo) - possibly the best Spanish word I've seen in the grid. Seems very lively, somehow.
- 93A: "_____ 911!" (comedy series) ("Reno!") - PuzzleGirl's sister apparently lives there. I just learned this tonight.
- 8D: "Gaspard de la Nuit" composer (Ravel) - don't know it. Let's listen:
- 14D: Yossarian's tentmate in "Catch-22" (Orr) - 'cause Bobby's too easy. ORR is crosswordese of the highest order as is ULEE (113D: Big-screen beekeeper) and ELENI (77D: Nicholas Gage memoir) and "ADIA" (73D: Top 10 hit for Sarah McLachlan).
- 21D: Bigelow beverages (teas) - Not my brand, but I recognized the name.
- 64D: Romeo's reckless friend (Mercutio) - yep, reckless. Ends up dead by Act III.
- 92D: What Mr. Spock suppressed (emotion) - I never thought of it as "suppressed." I thought it just wasn't there.
- 102D: _____ stick (trick-or-treater's accessory) (glow) - much discussion about whether this should have been "GLO" (answer: no)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (with my wife, PuzzleGirl, and PuzzleHusband somewhere in the background)