FRIDAY, Jan. 16, 2009 - M. Nothnagel (Uppland inhabitant / He fought Robin on an episode of "Batman" / Scotch flavorer / Steward's domain)
Friday, January 16, 2009
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
Theme: OK, OK? (actually, there's no theme, but ...)
Word of the Day: EZER Weizman - "swashbuckling and acerbic former president of Israel who built the country's air force and guided it in the startlingly swift victory over the Arab forces in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war" [New York Times]
I don't know why, but I struggled more on this Friday (esp. in the very beginning) than any Friday I've done in a long, long time. Not sure what or whom to blame: puzzle burn-out (doing 6-10 a day now), tiredness, a brutally cold winter, the economy ... yeah, those'll do. I just poked at the puzzle for several minutes and had only patches of answers filled in, which led me to believe at one point that there was a rebus involved or some other trickery and I just couldn't see it. I went POPE (2D: Poet who wrote "Hope springs eternal in the human breast"), SPREE, ERNS (4D: Birds with "meat cleaver" bills) ... nothing. OMOO (16A: Novel about its author's experiences on Tahiti), NOTRE (12D: Our counterpart in France?) ... nothing. Then a bigger gust - ANKE (25D: Huber of women's tennis), DE SAC, ETHAN HAWKE (27D: Oscar nominee for "Training Day," 2001), SKEE, PORK (61A: Government largesse), SLOW, LESS IS MORE ... and then nothing.
This is when I caught my big (opposite-of-) break - I saw the clue 48A: Reno's county and thought "Reno is kinda near TAHOE, so that must be the answer, and ... there's some trick to this puzzle where you jump or ignore esses." Thus TASHOE was born. This was only confirmed by 48D: With 64A, sight under the eaves, at times. TASPS made know sense, but TAPS ... well, I didn't get that either, but at least it was a word. So I wandered around the grid like a lost, sad, sedated puppy, until it started to come together, and I realized - there's no trick. I was just SLOW. Only now am I remembering that I had been slightly drunk earlier in the evening. Gin and Friday puzzles apparently don't mix well.
Still, even in the cold light of day, there are issues here. I like chatty, colloquial phrases as much if not more than the next guy, but YES WE DO (15D: Reply to "Have you got that in stock?") is not tall enough to ride this ride. OK SHOOT is a little closer (36A: Response to "I have a question for you"), but with ALL OK already on the ride, OK SHOOT should have been forced to sit on a bench with cotton candy and wait. The "Reply to..." and "Response to..." clues were part of what made me think there was some theme involved - "Aha, these are made-up phrases that will all amount to ... something ... in the end." Only they didn't. Now move across the grid to see YOU-KNOW-WHO, which I Love (10D: Unnamed individual). That's how colloquial is done - a totally self-contained and in-the-language phrase that people use all the time, but that seems very surprising when it shows up in your puzzle. Brilliant, especially paralleled with the equally lively IMPULSE BUY (11D: Many an item at a checkout line). The rest of this puzzle kind of tasted of HOT DILL (my longtime wrong answer for 39D: Bechamel sauce ingredient (hot milk)).
I felt guilty solving the puzzle, in that the only stuff I was getting at first was pop culture and SHOW BIZ (38A: Tinseltown is part of it) stuff that I just knew and didn't have to work for: ETHAN HAWKE, MR. UNIVERSE (53A: Arnold Schwarzenegger, four times), and Verne TROYER (46A: Verne of Austin Powers films) really saved my skin. Same with KATO (41A: He fought Robin on an episode of "Batman") and Don HENLEY. Wait ... that's not Don. That's a 22A: Regatta setting. What the hell? Mysteries like this abounded. WNET is a horribly provincial answer that I resent every time I see it (30A: PBS station with a transmitter on the Empire State Building). I didn't know Scotch had a "flavorer," but roasting PEAT is a part of the scotch-making process, it turns out. YING could be a panda for all I know (10A: Soprano _____ Huang) - needed all the crosses there. And "ELSIES"!? (5D: "The Two _____" (Martha Finley children's book)) - come on. Who is Martha Finley, first of all? Second of all, what is this book? Third, this is up there with "Bad Plural Names I Have Seen" in puzzles. I think I would have respected [Spokescow and namesakes] more.
- 20A: Many a Kirkuk native (Kurd) - in retrospect, I should have gotten this right away. But no. I just sat there thinking "Iraqi? Iraqi? Shia? Sunni? Iraqi?" Etc.
- 24A: "A Writer's Life" writer, 2006 (Talese) - TALESE remains at the top of my "Man I Want To Read Something By That Guy I Should Do That" list.
- 33A: Uppland inhabitant (Swede) - I went to college near a one-P'd Upland. I think they film a lot of porn there.
- 1D: Steward's domain (shop) - who knew one little clue could be so confusing. Lord knows how many wrong answers I considered before this dropped in.
- 23D: Brand named after the pronunciation of its parent company's initials (Esso) - ESSO is ESSO is ESSO. You can try to dress it up fancy (I actually kind of like the clue), but it's still just a kid from around the block, like OMOO and RBIS and ERGO and ESTA and that weird kid ATKA (32D: Aleutian island), etc.
- 35D: Israel's Weizman (Ezer) - I had just (just!) learned this name from another puzzle earlier in the day. One of my few lucky breaks.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld