Ancient Spartan magistrate — THURSDAY, Aug. 27 2009 — Japanese butler in Auntie Mame / Metallic shade in Sheffield
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Constructor: Derek Bowman
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: A PATTERN — circled squares form inverted "pyramid" with seven rows. First row contains word PATTERN, and subsequent rows lose one letter at a time, spelling new words each time, until the final row, which contains the single circled square "A." Further, the word in each row provides the clue for an answer in the grid; thus seven different clues read [First row], [Second row], etc.
Word of the Day: EPHOR (2A: Ancient Spartan magistrate) — n., pl. -ors or -o·ri (-ə-rī').
One of a body of five elected magistrates exercising a supervisory power over the kings of Sparta.
[Latin ephorus, from Greek ephoros, from ephorān, to oversee : ep-, epi-, epi- + horān, to see.]-----
Fussy puzzles always leave me lukewarm. This is a fine piece of construction, but I didn't enjoy solving it. A pretty good gauge of my enjoyment level is how succinctly the theme can be explained. Now, it's a faulty gauge, because "Breeds of Dog," for example, is succinct, but apt to suck as a theme. But in general, elegance means simplicity. Brilliant simplicity = ideal. Today's puzzle combines two theme types (both of them on Brendan Emmett Quigley's list of "10 Bull@#$! Themes," a must-read), and makes something ambitious and novel out of them. Thus, not bull@#$!. You've got your "assorted circled letters spell out a word" theme (Bull@#$! Theme #4) combined with your "theme clues are words made from a single original word, which sheds one letter at a time as we move from theme clue to theme clue" (Bull@#$! Theme #6b). Puzzle manages to pull off both theme types while also maintaining geometrical precision with the circles. Impressive. Just not a joy to solve. There is nothing, thematically, holding the puzzle together. Clues, answers ... have nothing in common, meaning-wise. The puzzle is all about shape, all about letter placement. Letters as objects, not components of words whose meanings are important. That kills things a bit for me. Then there's the fact that the theme clues are [First row], [Second row], etc. This seems wrong. [First row OF CIRCLES] is what you mean. There are 15 rows in the puzzle. So I admire the creativity and ambition here, but the puzzle wasn't my cup. It happens. No big deal.
- PATTERN — 52A: First row (design)
- PATTER — 51D: Second row (spiel)
- PATER — 43D: Third or sixth row (dad)
- PATE — 64A: Fourth row (head)
- PAT — 4D: Fifth row (dab)
- PA — 43D: Third or sixth row (dad)
- A — 61D: Seventh row (one)
Once again, NW was a total bear for me. Moccasins have BEADs (1A: Moccasin adornment)? I thought they were just simple slip-on shoes, relatively unadorned. There must be a native American type that is more pimped out. Thought I was dealing with a rebus for a moment at the Peck clue, trying to get ATTICUS to fit in 17A: Literary lead role for Gregory Peck in 1956 (Ahab). And EPHOR is a word I'm sure I've seen before, but I couldn't remember it (2D: Ancient Spartan magistrate). Still looks alien to me. (Btw, sort of, why have I never seen EEPHUS in the puzzle? It's a valid answer, a baseball answer, and those two "E"s have to be good for something.).
Early attempts at understanding the circled squares were not great. Noticed the "P"s descending down the left of the triangle, and then the "A"s on the next "row," etc. and tried predicting where letters would be that way — with much failure. Once I'd convinced myself there was no rebus, and that the "row" clues would just come to me eventually, I got far enough in to the grid to figure out what I was dealing with, and it all came together fairly nicely. This is a good example of the difficulty coming not from the clues/answers, per se, but from the gimmick. Get the gimmick, get the puzzle.
- 13A: With 14-Across, Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam have each won this several times (LPGA / TITLE) — clue confused me. LPGA TITLE is not a single thing. It's any tournament on the tour. The "this" in the clue made me think the answer would be an event, not an event type. I had LADY in the first part and TOURS in the second at different points in my attempts to solve this.
- 29A: New York's _____ Institute (art school) (Pratt) — I know this place from watching too much "Project Runway" over the years. PRATT and PRATTLE in same grid is mildly unfortunate.
- 33A: C7H5N3O6 (TNT) — whatever you say. Got it all from crosses.
- 46A: Stereo component (preamp) — ??? ... Preamplifier: n. An electronic circuit or device that detects and strengthens weak signals, as from a radio receiver, for subsequent, more powerful amplification stages.
- 7D: Japanese butler in "Auntie Mame" (Ito) — never seen this clue for ITO before. Judge ITO's heyday is long gone, I guess.
- 8D: Mickey Mouse's puppy pal (Pluto) — uh ... yeah, I guess he *is* a "puppy." Weird. Puppies aren't usually as big as their owners.
- 9D: Shipping magnate Onassis (Ari) — shouldn't something cue the short form of his name? I mean, I can see that ARISTOTLE doesn't fit, but still, aren't there rules about this sort of thing?
- 33D: Gene Roddenberry-inspired sci-fi series ("Andromeda") — couldn't tell you a single thing about it.
- 34D: Metallic shade, in Sheffield (steel grey) — "Sheffield" because a. it alliterates with "shade," and b. because "GREY" with an "E" is British, though I can never remember the US/UK distinction there.
- 53D: Classic Broadway musical with the song "Alice Blue Gown" ("Irene") — so classic I forgot to hear about it.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]
PS PuzzleGirl's excellent, extended write-up of this past weekend's "Lollapuzzoola 2" tournament in Queens can be found here.