SATURDAY, Mar. 14, 2009 - Barry Silk (Sticky paint resins / Eponym of national forest in New Mexico / Dartmoor setting / Alternative to pillbox)
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: O, The Places I Haven't Gone (or, none)
Word of the Day: ALKYD - An Alkyd is a polyester derived from the reaction of an alcohol (alkohol) and an acid or acid anhydride hence the term alk-yd from "alcohol and acid or anhydride]". Alkyds are used in paints and in moulds for casting. They are the dominant resin or "binder" in most "oil-based" coatings sold to the consumer market. (wikipedia)
Well, if you have spent any time in the Philadelphia area, then I'm guessing this was a good day for you. At least comparatively good, i.e. gooder than the day I had. I've never heard of JFK PLAZA (1A: Park near Philly's City Hall, site of the LOVE statue), and by not having heard of it, you can see all the Crucial letters I miss out on. I spent as much time on the NW corner as I did on the rest of the puzzle, which was also pretty tough. Another place I've never been: KIT CARSON National Forest (3D: Eponym of a national forest in New Mexico). I'm not ashamed to tell you that I had LAS CRUCES and SAN CARLOS (!?!?!?) in there before I got KIT CARSON. That "K" may have been one of the last letters I filled in. There are three proper nouns I didn't know up there: JFK PLAZA, KIT CARSON (at least I've heard of ... him?), and LILA LEE (5D: With 59-Down, Rudolph Valentino's "Blood and Sand" co-star). Had SARA LEE for a bit. Also, ALKYDS (20A: Sticky paint resins)? Nope, never seen it. Went to sleep last night still thinking there was an off chance that it was wrong.
What's fascinating, to me, about my abysmal performance in the NW is the fact that the main blockage, the sticking point that had to be unstuck before I could solve it, wasn't up in the meat of the corner, where the long Acrosses and Downs collide, but way down at the back end of the Downs. The word that tipped the puzzle for me - that took it from a mainly empty to a completely finished corner inside of a minute: MEN (41A: Head word). Here's the weird thing - I considered that "head" might signify "toilet" very early on in the solving experience, but didn't give it much though, and went about solving other parts of the puzzle. When I got back to it, I had the "E," but ... man, I have no idea why MEN didn't come to me then. But at some point SAN CARLOS got in there and so I had -ES where MEN was supposed to be and thought "'HES'??? They can't be serious?" I'd seen that as a plural for "males" before, but couldn't imagine it written on a bathroom door. Once I let my brain open to the much simpler "MEN," then JERUSALEM (heretofore hidden from view) went right down (1D: It was captured by British forces in 1917), and there's the J in JFK PLAZA ... all done quickly from there. Another small answer that might have tipped things earlier if I'd just trusted it: PCT (4D: Election figure: Abbr.). I wanted it, but could get no confirmation, and so never put it in. 24D: One isn't sharp (dolt) . . . tell me about it.
Fabrics did me in again today: add to the TOILE / TUILE controversy the slant-rhyming LISLES (31A: Fine threads), which, despite my familiarity with the French town of LISLE, I insisted on spelling LILLES (hence SAN CARLOS!). Also never heard of a FLASH FIRE (2D: Result of a combustion explosion). BRUSH FIRE, yes, and though I knew the clue wasn't asking for it, my brain just kept repeating the phrase like a skipping record. "Hey, try BRUSH FIRE now, maybe it'll work ... how 'bout BRUSH FIRE? BRUSH FIRE?" Yikes. And to think, it all started out up there with USC (19A: John Wayne's L.A. alma mater) and AFROS (27A: Picked styles?) as such promising gimmes. That was one of the weird features about this puzzle: for a very tough puzzle, it had a lot of gimmes. It was as if the answers tended to congregate at either end of the difficulty spectrum. USC, AFROS, MUIR (22A: Sierra Club founder), SAVE (42A: Reliever's triumph), HALF (54A: One of two that make one), INUIT (13D: Anorak wearer), INFLUX (45D: Opposite of exodus), AVOIR (38D: To have, in Tours), SCOPES (44A: 1925 trial name), I'M DONE (45A: Confirmation to a busboy), IDLY (51A: With no apparent purpose), CFL (34A: Grey Cup sports org.), HESSE (47A: "Das Glasperlenspiel" novelist), TIOS (9D: Reunión attendees), BEETS (26A: A root crop) - these were all gimmes or near gimmes.
Like yesterday's puzzle, this one felt old-fashioned. Maleska-era. But not antique and dusty. Just brutal. Light on contemporary references (X GAMES excepted - 11D: Skateboarders compete in them). Heavy on technical words and place names and general knowledge. PREPAY (55A: Gas pump option), TAX TIP (9A: One might help you on your return), and I'M GONE (16A: "Ciao!") have a nice fresh and chatty feel, and ZONKED ... Well, ZONKED is ZONKED (7D: Totally beat). Even when I was done, I didn't quite get how the word was being used. I thought it might mean "stricken, as by a brick," until I realized I was thinking of not ZONKED but "KONKED" or "CONKED" or perhaps "BONKED." "Beat" in this case means "tired." Again, having the "Z" would have helped. "Beat" for "tired" ... "Head" for "toilet" ... "Put out" for SORE ... lots of colloquialism used as misdirection today.
What to say about the rest of the puzzle. Started in southern middle and spread down first into the SW, which is lovely. Threw down INFLUX and then saw what I think is the best clue of the day: 58A: Secret area of anatomy? What's great about it - I got the "Secret" gag immediately (very clever) but went straight to ARM PIT, which fits, and had me briefly second-guessing INFLUX. Only after I'd settled a few things out did the gorgeous AXILLA come into view (anatomical term for "arm pit"). Problems here: misread 49D: Polish person? as being 48D (!) and so wrote SHINE where SHARD was supposed to go (48D: Dig find). Also, SWANS? Even now I don't know what this means. Looking up ... whoa, the third definition of "PEN" is "female swan." Yikes. And here I thought it was going to be a brand of writing implement, like CROSS or MONT BLANC.
NE was by far the easiest corner. After MUIR, I tested BEETS, and with that terminal -UE in place, TOQUE came instantly (12D: Alternative to a pillbox), confirmed by OPAQUE (18A: Not easily understood), and we're done. Or nearly so. The diagonal stretch from NW to SE was another matter. Tough for me. Can't tell you how long DEVILS took (29A: Prepares with hot seasoning). Too long. DEVON is a place I've heard of, but have no idea what "Dartmoor" is (21D: Dartmoor setting). Lucky guess on IRIS (30D: One of Tennessee's state symbols), though I really can't think of another plausible -IS answer there.
Got into a bit of trouble in the SE with my completely confident entry of YOKEL into the grid at 52D: Bumpkin. That put a "K" in the answer to 60A: Sari-clad royal, and things generally ground to a halt until I let myself consider other Y-answers to 52D. Guessed EL PASO (46D: Texas's westernmost county), thinking it couldn't be right because it was just too familiar. Must be EL GATO or EL LOCO or something. Never seen MAHARANI before, but RANI is familiar enough. CAPSULATE (34D: Enclosed, as seeds) and FRESHENER (35D: Toning skin lotion) are pretty dull, but I love the LASER DISK (36D: Passe video store offering) / "COOL JERK" (65A: 1966 hit for the Capitols) collision. I know the song "COOL JERK" from the Go-Go's mid-80s cover version.
- 25A: Prefix with facsimile (tele-) - is this the same thing as a FAX? TELEFAX? I have no idea.
- 23A: Alewife's relative (shad) - Glad I'd seen this recently, or it might have been rough.
- 39A: River surrounding Navy Island (Niagara) - needed lots of crosses here.
- 53A: Arnsberg is on it (Ruhr) - another place name that needed several crosses. Considered YSER ... ODER ...
- 64A: N.C.A.A. rival of George Mason (Drexel) - even with the "X" in place this didn't come easily. Isn't DREXEL in Philadelphia too? WTF is up with the Philly Phocus today?
- 56D: Dixieland group? (Y'all!) - OK, that is pretty good. Up there with the AXILLA clue for cleverness.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS puzzle is a pangram, for those of you who care about such things. I do not - though Scrabbliness in general is always appreciated.