SUNDAY, Jun 7, 2009 — It opened in Manhattan in 1924 / Bygone Toyotas / Long-snouted swimmer / Frodo foe / Color Me * 1990s R&B group
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Constructor: Jeremy Newton
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "SHIFTY BUSINESS" — a rebus puzzle where circled squares represent gear positions on a 5-speed transmission
Word of the Day: GAR (63A: Long-snouted swimmer) — n.
- Any of several ganoid fishes of the family Lepisosteidae of fresh and brackish waters of North and Central America, having long narrow jaws, an elongated body, and a long snout.
- A similar or related fish, such as the needlefish. Also called garfish, garpike.
[Short for GARFISH.]
tr.v. Scots., garred, gar·ring, gars.
To cause or compel.
[Middle English geren, from Old Norse gera, to make.]I knew I'd come to regret giving up my stick-shift for an automatic — I just didn't know it would have crossword consequences. I didn't see the gear shift pattern until the very, very end. That is, I had every square filled but the two rebus squares that were *not* ordinal numbers (NEUTRAL, REVERSE). What's super weird about the central square, NEUTRAL, is that the Down answer makes sense without the square filled in (an ODORIZER is a thing ... OK, maybe it's DEODORIZER and ODOR EATER that I'm conflating, but it sounded like a thing) while the Across answer is the opposite of its clue ("TAKES A STANCE?? ... but you just said the guy didn't care one way or the other?!"). Only after flipping through synonyms for "FLIP" did I discover "REVERSE" and thus the whole big idea behind the puzzle. It really is an impressive construction, this theme. Perfect positioning on the gears. The grid also felt much more open than most Sunday grids, especially in the east and west, with their 2 stacks each of 5-, 6-, 7-, and 8-letter words. Filling this grid required some daring and, er, creativity, but the results were mostly impressive.
The only real objection I have to the theme answers involves "GO TO [THIRD] BASE," clued as 35A: Anticipate heading home. I see that the clue was trying to get you to think of "home" in a non-baseball fashion (tricksy), but the tone of both the clue and answer feels off. You can't "anticipate" heading home too much or your head's out of the game and you get picked off or make a bad running decision or something. Plus, if the batter sucks, you might, in fact, "anticipate" heading to the dugout in a few more pitches. If the answer had been clued more baseballishly, with reference to a triple or, I don't know, the result of some balks, I would have liked it better. "Oh, my, there's home plate, just 90 ft. away. I can't wait to arrive there, what with all the fanfare my arrival will likely cause. It will be joyous indeed." A sex clue might have been more accurate as well, though clearly not Sunday morning material. Baseball gripe aside, this puzzle was solid and enjoyable.
- 33A: Teacher's question at the start of show-and-tell ("Who's 1st?")
- 5D: Witnessed (saw 1st hand)
- 35A: Anticipate heading home (go to 3rd base)
- 10D: Finish last on "Jeopardy!" (come 3rd) — now here, a sex clue really would have been objectionable (i.e. where's my "in"?)
- 67A: Doesn't care either way (takes a NEUTRAL stance)
- 48D: It freshens the air (odor NEUTRAL izer)
- 98A: At once (this 2nd)
- 67D: TV advertising staple (thirty 2nd spot)
- 101A: Some summer feasts in the U.S. (July 4th BBQs)
- 102D: Hardly commendable (4th rate) - wouldn't any ordinal 2nd or higher have worked here?
- 103A: Where to sign a credit card (REVERSE side)
- 84D: Trick the defensive line, maybe (run a REVERSE play)
Let's highlight some of the ballsier fill of the day, much of which I'm actually on the fence about liking/disliking (which means the answer is that the fill is probably good, but I'm going to highlight it anyway, for your consideration). First, there's a single UV RAY (66A: Thing absorbed by the ozone layer, for short). I don't believe I've ever seen one out all by its lonesome. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard or seen the singular at all. Can you measure a single ray (scientists!)? Actually, the first answer I hit that made me go "Wha?" as ON NOW (1D: Available for viewing). In fact, I might have exclaimed "Come ON, NOW! That's not a phrase!" "I can't talk. 'Golden Girls' is ON NOW." OK, maybe I can imagine having said that at some point in my life. Moving on ... a FACE MASK is something a football helmet has. Jason wore a HOCKEY MASK (55A: "Friday the 13th" prop). Famously. Yes, it was a MASK that covered his FACE and thus FACE MASK, technically, works, but purism (is that a word?) says we should honor the hockey specificity of one of the most iconic horror movie "props" of all time. LIL BATE would make a good rapper name, but BATE on its own (76A: Diminish) ... how is it different from ABATE, again? Lastly, SNORTY (61A: Audibly upset, as a bull). Dictionary I just consulted says "(British informal) ill-tempered or annoyed." Webster's 3rd Int'l just has "characterized by or given to snorting" — no "British," no "informal," no bull. Which raises the question: do bulls snort when they are not upset? That is, is snorting a particular act of annoyance, or do bulls just snort a lot? And what about British bulls? I'm telling you — can of worms.
- 21A: Biological rings (areolae) - that would be 2nd base
- 8D: Frodo foe (orc) - ENT good, ORC bad.
- 22A: 1950 University of Havana grad (Castro) - really, who else was it going to be?
- 47A: Prefix with ribonucleic (deoxy-) — as in "deoxyribonucleic acid," or DNA.
- 54A: Color Me _____, 1990s R&B group (Badd) - I wrote my senior thesis on the fact that 1987-1991 was the nadir of American pop music. OK, I wrote that in my head, not in actuality, but I stand by the theory. I consider Color Me Badd to be a very, very good example of what is meant by the phrase "Rock Bottom."
- 56A: Inning stretcher, maybe (rain delay) - more baseball, accurately clued
- 123A: Texas/Louisiana border river (Sabine) - learned from crosswords
- 126A: It's bound to be used in a service (hymnal) - good clue. I had HEARSE.
- 3D: Boogie, Bee Gees-style (disco) - Is "boogie" a noun here? Or is "disco" a verb? Both words have strong late 70s cred.
- 7D: Bygone Toyotas (Paseos) - this model got by me, somehow
- 18D: Rock singer Reznor (Trent) - front man for NIN (Nine Inch Nails). Here's Johnny Cash covering the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt":
- 41D: Old El Paso competitor (Ortega) - salsa!
- 50D: Baker v. _____, landmark 1962 Supreme Court case (Carr) - something about reapportionment. More here.
- 64D: Roman who declared "Carthage must be destroyed" (Cato) - and it was.
- 71D: Home of Rainbow Bridge National monument (Utah) - the world's largest known natural bridge, according to wikipedia. Rainbow Bridge is also what your pet crosses over when it dies. Or so the poem on my vet's wall tells me.
- 105D: Title girl in a Ritchie Valens hit (Donna) - I know someone named Donna. In fact, I'm pet-sitting for her right now: "She has a dog / Baxter is his name"...
- 120D: Creator of the chess champion Deep Blue (IBM) - wouldn't [Creator of Deep Blue] have worked here? Deep Blue is super famous as a chess-playing computer.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld