Max of video game fame — FRIDAY, Jul. 24 2009 — Sinatra 1982 collaborative jazz album / Local regional boy scout gathering / Diagonally set spar
Friday, July 24, 2009
Constructor: Patrick Berry
Relative difficulty: Medium
Word of the Day: CAMPOREE (29D: Local or regional Boy Scout gathering) — A camporee is a local or regional gathering of Scouting units for a period of camping and common activities. Similar to a camporee, a jamboree occurs less often and draws units from the entire nation or world. (wikipedia)
Hey, it's the greatest constructor on the planet. That's a hard title to live up to day in day out. I liked this puzzle a lot as I worked my way through the top, but then somewhat less by the time I hit the bottom. It's got a lovely, smooth, swirly quality that I kind of like. Then again, it kind of reminds me of an intestine. It's even got a BUTT (24A: You might grind it out) at one end (the wrong end ... sorry, I never know where my mind is going to go when I start typing). My main problem with this grid is its heavy reliance on proper nouns, particularly names. And I'm a name-lover, generally. But they're clogging up the NE something awful — DAN'L is one of those answers I accept as occasionally inevitable in high-caliber grid, but it's super-sub-optimal (23A: "Young _____ Boone" (short-lived 1970s TV series)). GUSTAVE Courbet is famous enough (11D: French painter Courbet), but the TURNER guy is a mystery to me (13D: Pulitzer-winning historian Frederick Jackson _____). The main point here is that normally you don't want to logjam proper nouns, as the "knowitoryadon't"-ness of names can really make a puzzle undoable if you're not careful.
In the case of the NE name logjam, there was nothing offensive. But warning lights went off. In the SW, however, I let out a YELP and then censors had to BLEEP me a little as I filled in the answer SYMS (35D: "_____ by Sinatra" (1982 collaborative jazz album)), an unfamiliar and dubious-looking name. I checked and rechecked those crosses, and finally decided it had to be right, no matter how nuts it looked. Turns out the SYMS in "SYMS by Sinatra" is Sylvia SYMS. She's the singer. Sinatra's the conductor! Interesting. The "Y" from YELP was the last letter I put in this section, though the "P" was slightly suspect too, as CAMPOREE was new to me. So uncertain was I of this word that I wondered for a second whether there weren't such things as YELB and JANTABILE (that would have given me JAMBOREE, a word I recognize) (29A: Musical direction that means "lyrical" in Italian => CANTABILE).
After taking the SPIRAL STAIRCASE (43A: It gets you up and around) across the southern portion of the grid, I figured I'd make short work of that last little bit in the SE. I figured wrong. First I had to wrestle with two names I didn't know, PAXTON (42A: Folk singer Tom with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award) and PAYNE (34D: Max of video game fame). The latter was at least a little familiar to me, the former not at all. Worked my way to the tippy top of this puzzle's tail and ended up with TUP as a [Snooping aid]. Made no sense to me. At this point, I checked all the crosses ... and decided they were all rock solid. Rock Solid. Now, this is where having your brain *fully* turned on can help you. If you had to organize words or phrases into categories, it's very easy to see how you (I) might group [Maximally] and UTMOST together. They sound very much related. Problem 1, they are not the same part of speech (adverb vs. adj./noun). Problem 2 ... well problem 2 is that TUP is just BLEEPing wrong. If the clue had been about the reproductive habits of sheep, then maybe. But [snooping aid]? No.
My favorite part of this stupid mistake is my initial solution: Change the "T" to a "C." [Snooping aid] = CUP, as in the CUP you hold to your ear and press to the door when you want to hear what's happening on the other side. Does that even work? I saw it on an episode of "Growing Pains" once. This gave me CARTARS, which then sent me searching for ways I could turn CARTARS into [Medieval conquerors]. Changed BARMY (39A: Foolish, in British slang) to BALMY: CALTARS! OK, now we're getting ... somewhere. A few moments later and I was like "screw it," it must be TUP. I then emailed fellow blogger Orange and asked what the hell was going on with 32A: Snooping aid. Her answer: "wiretap." Me: "Oh ... but ... ohhhhhhhhh ... TAP ... I see ... now. 'AT MOST.' Yeah, that makes sense." The end. I thought the puzzle overall was on the easy side, but at this point in my solving career, failure is failure is failure. Still, overall, thumbs up for the puzzle.
- 16A: Bloomer after whom bloomers are named (Amelia) — more names! I got this with a cross or two, though if pressed I couldn't tell you who the hell she is. Aha, a 19th-century woman's rights and temperance advocate. Wife (19c. American historian) will surely laugh at me for not knowing that. And she will be right to do so.
- 30A: Actor who debuted in "Kung Fu: The Movie" (Brandon Lee) — more names. This name was far better known 16 years ago, when BRANDON LEE, son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, died on the set of what would become his most famous movie, "The Crow." Accidental shooting due to prop gun malfunction (brought on by negligence, I'm guessing).
- 35A: Activities at punk rock concerts (slam dances) — forerunners of mosh pits.
- 48A: Words from one who won't settle ("See you in court!") — nice that this crosses SUE (45D: Good name for a trial lawyer).
- 3D: Diagonally set spar (sprit) — I learned SPRIT from crosswords. This is how I learned most nautical words I know.
- 7D: Spike's former name (TNN) — yes, Spike is a TV station. I get TNT and TNN badly confused.
- 9D: Bibliog. equivalent of "ditto" (ibid.) — wow, "bibliog." sure is ugly. Sounds like a name from Tolkien. Like a hobbit-orc hybrid.
- 15D: Fish that can move equally well forward and backward (eels) — that clue really sounds like it wants a singular answer. But no!
- 22D: Fluid dynamics phenomenon (eddies) — the "S"-shape of the grid and the swirliness of EDDIES and the SPIRAL STAIRCASE are all working together to produce a kind of deliciously dizzying subtheme. "EELS in the EDDIES" = #rejectedhorrormovies.
- 25D: Convertible carriage (landau) — another crossword pick-up for me. Crosswords are the only places where carriages still exist. Look out for surrey and hansom.
- 36D: Reaganomics recommendation (tax cut) — More evidence the NYT is a leftist paper: this answer intersects BARMY.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]
P.S. my write-up of today's L.A. Times puzzle is here.