Muhammad's pugilistic daughter - WEDNESDAY, Feb. 25, 2009 - K Browder (Schoolmaster's rod / Brand of clothing or energy drink / Radio no-no)
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: Things that can be SPIKED (48D: What 21- and 52-Across and 3- and 31-Down might be)
Word of the Day: FERULE (35D: Schoolmaster's rod) - An instrument, such as a cane, stick, or flat piece of wood, used in punishing children. (answers.com)
I was very lucky today - I got mowed down by FERULE last year in a disastrous SE corner that I remember vividly. OK, so I remember only FERULE, but that's something, or at least it was today. Point is, FERULE came to me easily, and thank god it did, because NO FEAR (34A: Brand of clothing or energy drink)? I suppose I would have guessed that "F" correctly by eliminating the alternatives (NO BEAR!), but I have only the vaguest sense of ever having seen said brand of clothing, and I *know* I didn't know there was any company that made clothing *and* energy drinks. Anyway, I breezed through the NO FEAR / FERULE section, but I can imagine that there are others who did not. I did not breeze through the ARAWAK section, as that is a tribe I have barely heard of (61A: Indian encountered by Columbus). One of the letters in that answer was the last I put in the grid.
I did not know that NEWS STORIES (21A: Pulitzer Prize entries) could be SPIKED. Is this the sense that's intended (Def. 5b @answers.com)?:
To add excitement or vitality to: spiked the speech with many jokes
Looking over the definitions of "spike," I've decided that my favorite is "Slang. a hypodermic needle." A "spike" can also be "A young mackerel of small size, usually 15 centimeters (6 inches) or less in length," FYI. But back to the theme - I think that, technically, you SPIKE the punch, not the bowl, so PUNCHBOWLS struck me as a little odd (31D: Party servers), though I'm sure the phrasing is accepted, just like ICE TEA is apparently accepted (9D: Summer cooler). I would have written ICED. IRON FENCES (3D: Some ornamental barriers) is a very interesting answer, and VOLLEYBALLS (52A: They may be served at the beach) is the answer one would most expect to see in a puzzle with this theme.
This puzzle provides a good example (to me) of how constant solving will make you a better solver. I'm not sure if I should be embarrassed or proud at the number of words and phrases I have learned from crosswords. I learned "STILLE Nacht" (65A: "_____ Nacht" (German carol)) only a couple days ago, and here it is, served up on a silver platter. Same thing is true of A.M.E. (28A: _____ Zion Church). You know about FERULE. Add to today's list LST (37D: W.W. II transport: Abbr.), ETUI (11D: Place for a thimble), ETO (38D: Arena where 37-Downs were used: Abbr.), and even SISAL (39D: Rope fiber).
There seem a lot of black squares today, including rarely seen "cheater" squares here and there (black squares added for ease of construction that do not affect the number of Across or Down clues). Maybe a little heavy on the abbrevs. today, but that's what happens when you make your grid chock full of 3-and 4-letter words. The abbrevs. become very hard to avoid. The good thing about the non-theme fill today is the quartet of sevens whose tails/heads meet at the center of the puzzle.
- LECTERN (37A: Stand that a speaker might take)
- SPINNER (39A: Randomizing device)
- TIPSTER (7D: One with the inside track at the track?)
- POLARIS (42D: Star in Ursa Minor)
I think they're all vivid, interesting words. They make me imagine someone giving a speech from a rotating LECTERN (rotating because it sits atop a SPINNER). Then there's the TIPSTER telling you to bet it all on POLARIS in the fifth. Will do.
- 7A: "More than I need to know," in modern lingo (TMI) - already dated. Please never say it. This also goes for "bling," which was dated 10 years ago (I just heard some "reporter" use this word in relation to the Oscars, which is why I'm commenting on it now).
- 14A: U.S./Mexico border city (Laredo) - Hmm, I've played "Streets of Laredo" before ... feels like I should do something different. OK, here you go:
- 19A: Littlest sucker (runt) - oh, a piglet. "Sucker" makes me think "mosquito."
- 49A: Muhammad's pugilistic daughter (Laila) - also French for "LAI, there!" (64A: My _____, Vietnam). I always want to spell her name LEILA, which is somebody's name, but I don't know whose. Then there's Clapton's LAYLA.
- 22D: John's ode to Yoko ("Woman") - not one of my favorites, but since I now feel a deep and abiding connection to Lennon, I'll play ... something.
- 44D: Radio no-no (payola) - thought this was going to be something like "profanity."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld