WEDNESDAY, Dec. 17, 2008 - John Farmer (Sherwood Forest minstrel / "Two cents plain" drink / One of the Gandhis)
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: Every Good Boy Does Fine - first words in successive theme answers provide the words to this mnemonic for remembering the NOTES on a musical staff (65A: Staff members, and what the circled letters in this puzzle represent)
My first thought was, "this is upside down." I hadn't yet noticed, even after finishing the grid, that the theme involved not just the notes, but the mnemonic "EVERY GOOD BOY DOES FINE." EGBDF - I actually thought to myself that those letters stand for "EVERY GOOD BOY DOES FINE." I just didn't notice at first that those very words were in the grid. I know it seems impossible, but it's true. This is a very clever theme, smoothly executed, but the part about the staff being upside down is oddly distracting. I mean, the theme answers are arranged to replicate the structure of the staff (note, space, note, space, etc.), but when the puzzle is right side up, that visual effect is inaccurate. You have to flip it to make the position of the notes make sense. But if you were to make it accurate, then your puzzle would read FINE DOES BOY GOOD EVERY, which is not better. So the staff is upside-down. The main idea is the menmonic, and that is expressed very elegantly.
- 19A: On occasion (EVERY so often)
- 27A: Yesteryear, nostalgically (GOOD old days)
- 35A: Order of the Arrow members (BOY scouts)
- 46A: Makes something better in a big way (DOES wonders) - had the most trouble with this one. I was thinking the answer had something to do with paying restitution; don't ask me why.
- 54A: Ducky (FINE and dandy)
"I always knew the mnemonic as 'EVERY GOOD BOY ...'" Yes, there are a number of them.
The grid is oddly shaped, with much more horizontal black than I'm used to seeing in the puzzle. This creates a middle that is quite different in texture and consistency from the wide open NW and SE corners, as the puzzle goes from expansive to cramped to expansive again (assuming you work it from the top down). The horizontal black creates lots of little banks of 3-letter Downs (FAA, LYN, USE ... GOO OMY ONS ... etc.), most of which were fairly easy to bang out 1, 2, 3. Now that I look at them, those three-letter high pockets in the middle look like some kind of system of underground caves, or maybe an ant farm. Very cool. If you want to go with a food analogy, they're the nooks and crannies in this Thomas's English muffin of a puzzle. Flavor pockets? Whatever. They were fun to explore.
I should note that I didn't test-solve this puzzle. Didn't have time. The original Wednesday puzzle that was sent to me ended up being DOA - a fatal error in a theme answer! Very sad, as the theme was clever. So this puzzle was a late replacement - and I never got around to it until about 10 minutes before the puzzle came out last night.
I had great luck with my opening gambit - wrote in AWASH (1A: Inundated) right away and then nailed all three of those initial long Downs right off the bat, bam, bam, bam. Getting the top across in any section helps considerably with speed, because you are far more likely to able to knock the Downs out in quick succession with their first (as opposed to their second or fourth) letters in place. Soared through the puzzle without incident, until I stalled briefly around the WON in WONDERS, and then again a few squares lower (didn't know RAJIV - 59A: One of the Gandhis). Would have had serious trouble in the SE, but ALAN-A-DALE (62A: Sherwood Forest minstrel) came to me from somewhere ... the Ghost of Crosswords Past, maybe ... and DAWS was in a recent puzzle and somehow the clue at 64A: "Two cents plain" drink just shouted "some kind of WATER (soda water). Plus CONYERS (45D: House Judiciary Committee chairman John), while not terribly well known, is from Michigan, where I spent some time in the 90s, so his name came quickly enough.
This puzzle is to be admired for its Scrabbly undertones - 2 X's, 2 J's, 2 Z's, a passel of Y's. Nothing gaudy, just a nice spicy aftertaste.
This puzzle is also chock full o' fill that I learned from crosswords, and that I think you should make a special point of knowing if you don't know it already. I already mentioned ALAN-A-DALE. You don't normally see him in full-name force like this, but his "last" name will show up from time to time. Having common letters sometimes trumps legitimate fame. Believe it or not, I learned AMMETER from crosswords (1D: Electric gauge). Again, a mess of common letters. OK, maybe I'd heard / seen the word somewhere before, but I remember very clearly going "huh?" when I wrote it in a while back. Now it's familiar enough that I can write it in with just the initial letter in place. EZIO Pinza (7D: Opera singer Pinza) is one of a host of E-to-O names that you will come across time and again. EERO Saarinen, ENZO Ferrari, etc. Never knew "eel" was a verb until the puzzle; today we get EELED (9A: Caught congers, e.g.). I like EELED today because it looks like a very, very large version of the Across answer that precedes it (look ... wait for it ... see also TINT and TIN back-to-back). Repeat after me: LYN Nofziger, LYN Nofziger, LYN Nofziger (24D: Former White House adviser Nofziger). Nixon/Reagan adviser. LYN is short for "FrankLYN," so he is a he, not a she. AZO dye (60D: _____ dye) is straight-up crosswordese. Know it, love it, live it. Lastly, the entire bank of OBE / UAR / TYS is known to me only because I do crosswords. Although, to be fair, I would now know about the OBE now because of my having recently watched that PBS documentary on the British monarchy. The Queen is faaaaascinating to me. I think the monarchy should be abolished and all the wealth returned whence it was pilfered, but something about that woman is exceedingly compelling to me. I think I actually have a bit of a crush on her. I blame Helen Mirren.
- 16A: They may have a view of a bridge (xrays) - trickery! I take it a "bridge" is something to do with dental work. I'm not old enough to have terrible teeth yet. Soon.
- 33A: Hyatt alternative (Omni) - also a bygone Dodge.
- 34A: "A Thousand Acres" novelist Smiley (Jane) - revision of the Lear story. Or so I hear (never read it, never saw it - gave up on her after reading "Moo").
- 42A: Competitor of uBid (eBay) - really? Competitor? "uBid" sounds like a very sad ripoff. Never heard of it.
- 53A: Singer/songwriter Aimee (Mann) - ah, LOVE her, as you know. But there is one big problem with 20D: _____ Tuesday (53-Across's pop band). "Pop" should have been replaced with "former" - she hasn't been part of "TIL Tuesday" in 20 years. Here's something from TIL Tuesday:
And now something from Mann, solo:
- 15D: _____ Tafari (Haile Selassie) - whoa. Never seen RAS Tafari written out. Two separate names ... wow. Good to know.
- 44D: "Happy Gilmore" star, 1996 (Sandler) - ah, a delicious, mildly embarrassing gimme (never saw it, but know the title well).
- 49D: Div. for the Mets and Marlins (NL East) - this one was made considerably easier; clue changed from [N.Y., Wash., and Fla. are in it].
- 39D: Music store stock (CDs) - I would have changed this to GDP. Just a thought.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld