THURSDAY, May 28 2009 - G Cee (Bandmaster from 1880 to 1931 / Dweller on the Bay of Biscay / Vintner Martini's associate / French tire)
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: GET OVER IT (36A: Advice for the brokenhearted ... or one of four arrangements found literally in this puzzle) - letter string "GET" sits right on top of letter string "IT" at four different places in the grid
Word of the Day: QAT (61D: African plant whose leaves are chewed as a stimulant) -
Khat (Catha edulis, family Celastraceae; Arabic: قات; Somali: qaat; pronounced [ˈkæt]; Ge'ez ጫት č̣āt), also known as qat, qaat, quat, gat, jaad, chat, chad, chaad and miraa, is a flowering plant native to tropical East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Khat contains the alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria. In 1980 the World Health Organization classified khat as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence. The plant has been targeted by anti-drug organizations like the DEA. It is a controlled/illegal substance in many countries. (wikipedia)What a weird solving experience. I worked the NW corner pretty easily, and made my way to the center, where I got the theme-revealing answer - GET OVER IT - with no trouble at all. Though OUTSOLE is not that familiar to me as a term (12D: Shoe part that touches the floor), and WRITTEN refused to go down easily (11D: Set down), the NE was reasonably tame, and before I knew it, half the puzzle was done. Then ... there was the bottom half. Going down there was like entering some weird, exotic world, where answers seemed familiar but off, or else not familiar at all. Odd abbrevs. and a super-strange partial and words I'd simply never seen before, words I weren't sure were words at all. Luckily, MAGILLA Gorilla was there to guide me through it all (my own personal Virgil), and I finished in better-than-average time (41D: _____ Gorilla, 1960s cartoon title character). But looking back over the grid, I have to believe this is actually a tougher-than-average Thursday puzzle. Times at the NY Times puzzle site seem to suggest that as well.
Evidence of difficulty: when I was done, I had with three answers that felt more like risky bets than sure things. Last letter in the grid was the "O" in OCA (47A: Mozart's "L'_____ del Cairo"). "The South American Tuber of Cairo?" I thought. Well, the crosses were pretty much indisputable, so why not? But before OCA, there was the even more befuddling Incident at Pneu Qat. Holy moly. My French education apparently left me without the word for "tire," and the only reason I felt at all confident about it was that PNEU (56D: French tire) has analogues in English (as a prefix meaining air, breath, wind ... a PNEUmatic tire is filled with compressed air). Then there's QAT (61D: African plant whose leaves are chewed as stimulant), whose definition I ultimately found under "KHAT," which tells you something about its commonness in the English language. It's a real plant, QAT is a real spelling, so I can't complain too much. If nothing else, I learned a new word. But OCA, PNEU, and QAT had this puzzle feeling very old school, very pre-Shortz. I was reading about NYT puzzle editors last night in Coral Amende's "The Crossword Obsession" (Berkley, 2001), and the issue of arcane, exotic, or obscure fill came up a lot. The book is worth reading if only for the long testimonials from people who have been in the puzzle-making business a long time, including Shortz, Stan Newman, Manny Nosowsky, Liz Gorski, etc.
- 17A: Something that's hard to close? (pa GET urner)
- 20A: Mirror (im IT ate)
- 21A: Editor's resource (Ro GET 's)
- 26A: George Knightley, to Emma Woodhouse (su IT or) - speaking of Austen, Marvel Comics is in the middle of a 5-issue, abridged but faithful adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" - the cover of each issue parodies a certain style of contemporary women's magazines. Awesome.
- 50A: Fathers (be GET s)
- 55A: Certain computer image format (b IT map)
- 57A: Herbal beverage (sa GET ea)
- 60A: One in search of heretics (inquis IT or) - Edwyn Powys Mathers, the pioneer of cryptic-style crosswords in Britain, took his nom de puzzle from a famous INQUISITOR: Torquemada.
I'm impressed by the concept and general architecture of this puzzle, with its neat central theme-revealing answer and something remarkably close to symmetrical placement of the GET/IT stacks. No real stand-out answers here, but overall, a pretty solid feat of construction, especially given the architectural pressures of the theme. I had many false starts throughout the grid:
- ARK for URN (7D: Ossuary, maybe)
- PELT for PARE (52A: Skin)
- ICED TEA for SAGE TEA
- WILT for MELT (62A: Go weak at the knees)
I was not too happy about the twin "A" partials, A RUT (16A: Stuck, after "in") and the way worse A SURE (53D: "It's _____ bet"), but something about the line ALEE AGREE ARUT is kind of funny, in a good way.
I have a recluing suggestion for 2D:
Come on, that was good.
- 5A: Bandmaster from 1880 to 1931 (Sousa) - clue is oddly daunting, but the answer very familiar.
- 43A: Vintner Martini's associate (Rossi) - "Martini and ROSSI Asti Spumante" is a phrase that is permanently etched in my head from TV commercials of my childhood. I feel like one of the ads involved people repeating that phrase incessantly, like some kind of cultish chant. Here's an ad I don't remember, but I wish I did:
- 49A: Dweller on the Bay of Biscay (Breton) - "Bay of Biscay" always sounds Asian to me. I think I'm getting it confused with Bay of Bengal.
- 59A: Hungarian Communist leader _____ Kun (Bela) - whoa. Total guess, based on fact that BELA is a name I recognize, and BMI sounded right (59D: Songwriters' grp.).
- 65A: Personal reserve funds, for short (IRAs) - "reserve"? ... I guess that's right, though I'm "reserving" that money for way down the road. "Reserve" suggests to me that you can tap it whenever you need. You probably wouldn't use your IRA that way. Or maybe you would.
- 2D: Tree-lined avenue (alameda) - I've probably said this before, but ALAMEDA is an avenue name to me (or a city in CA), not a general term for an avenue.
- 18D: "The Kingdom and the Power" author, 1969 (Talese) - alright, that's it. This guy's going right on my summer reading list. I keep saying I'm going to read him and it keeps not happening. No more.
- 44D: Sound before "That's all, folks!" (stutter) - I'm not going to be able to explain this well, but STUTTER is not a "sound" to me - it's a sound pattern. Any number of sounds might be part of a STUTTER. I considered SNICKER (?), and then realized I was conflating Looney Tunes with Woody Woodpecker.
- 58D: The Chieftains' home (Eire) - helped me change ICED TEA to SAGE TEA. I knew they were Irish and probably didn't live in some heretofore unknown county called DIRE.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
SYNDICATED READERS (you folks reading this on July 2, 2009): PS lots of entries rolled in yesterday for the contest I'm holding at my other website, "Pop Sensation." Still a full day left to enter. Check it out.