WEDNESDAY, Jan. 14, 2009 - O. Hill (Bygone Apple laptop / Buckwheat's affirmative / Low-lying wetland / Zagat's readers, informally)
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: "AIR" homophones - theme clues are homophones of "AIR," with each answer being a descripti0n of that particular clue
Word of the day: EXEGETE - a person skilled in exegesis (i.e. the explanation of a text, esp. of the Bible)
This was harder than your average Wednesday - either that, or I was so burnt out on crosswords when I solved it that my judgment cannot be trusted. Have you ever spent a ton of time constructing a puzzle, trying to get one particularly brutal corner to come together, then had the elation of making it work, then (hours later) had the soul-crushing realization that there is a fatal problem in your new construction that necessitates tearing All Your Beautiful New Work Out? OK, I'm talking to a select audience here, but Oh My God. OK, I'm better now.
This puzzle is impressive in many ways. In concept, it's basically an inverted version of the Andrea Carla Michaels puzzle we had a while back, where each theme answer started with a homophone of "AIR." This trick is much tougher (that's not a value judgment, Andrea, just an observation), in that you have to get plausible definitions for all of your "AIR"s to line up and behave - oh, and simply to be plausible definitions that don't sound tortured when you say them. Tougher for solvers too, as knowing the theme doesn't help you one bit - the theme is out in the open for all to see, right there in the clues, and you've got to figure out the phrases used to (reverse) clue them.
- 19A: E'er ('always' in poetry)
- 32A: Heir (monarch-to-be)
- 40A: Eyre (Bronte's Jane)
- 53A: Air (snobbish manner)
But the theme is not what's impressive to me about this puzzle. Those four short stacks of sevens appended to the 14-letter theme answers - those are impressive. It's tough to get theme answers to behave long enough for you to stick long words on top of them. Scrabbly letters in particular can kill you. Notice how the "J" in BRONTE'S JANE is carefully contained so that it can do no damage (J's can get very unhappy and disruptive when you try to stick them anywhere but the first letter of a word ... or perhaps the second letter in AJAR). But here, not only are there stacks of seven everywhere, but they're elegant. I mean ... on top of the ALWAYS IN POETRY, there's a very poetic moment from a Vaughan Williams piece (THE LARK -> 17A: It's "ascending" in a Vaughan Williams piece), as well as a word that might refer to someone who interprets poetry (EXEGETE -> 15A: Expert at interpreting a text). As a sometime literature teacher, this puzzle should have felt welcoming, I supposed, with its Shakespearean larks and its profound EXEGETE and its copy of "JANE Eyre" and ... hey, MONOTONOUS (25D: Like a stereotypically bad professor)? SNOBBISH MANNER? IBOOK (29D: Bygone Apple laptop)!? I'll have you know I work on a five-year-old IMAC, thank you very much. UNKINDNESS, indeed (6D: Bad behavior).
I'm trying to embed AOL video on blogger, and failing. There was some professor mockery on Monday-night's "Daily Show" - it's here. In the meantime, have some Vaughan Williams:
- 10A: A minimus is the smallest one (toe) - the monotonous professor in me thought this was something to do with paleography
- 28A: Inspiration for Hunter S. Thompson (acid) - Wow. That's ... true. Wasn't expecting that kind of drug-related candor.
- 50A: Low-lying wetland (swale) - sounds like a fake word. In my head, when I hear the word, I hear only the voice of Jerry Lewis's Nutty Professor.
- 58A: Zagat's readers, informally (foodies) - shout-out to one of my favoritest readers.
- 2D: Actress Arlene (Dahl) - Down with Roald, Up with Arlene!
- 10D: Flowerpot material (terra cotta) - this answer is beautiful; feels poetic, perhaps (in part) because it is intersecting the word "POETRY"
- 11D: Buckwheat's affirmative ("Otay!") - Kept reading this (and keep reading this) as [Buckwheat alternative]
- 42D: Boxer Willard defeated by Jack Dempsey for the world heavyweight title (Fred) ... I mean (Jess)
- 46D: Isaac Bashevis Singer story "_____ the Yeshiva Boy" ("Yentl") - is this the basis of the Streisand flick? In part, it seems, yes.
- 58D: Alphabet trio (FGH) - sometimes, if you want poetry, you have to make a few concessions to the crossword gods. This is one of them. I don't mind.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld