Headline during Dreyfus Affair — SATURDAY, Aug. 29 2009 — Nell director Michael / Bullying seabird / Studebaker relative / Classical lyre holder
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Constructor: Doug "The Thug" Peterson (ironic nickname I just gave him — he is a kind, thoughtful, softspoken man)
Relative difficulty: Easy
Word of the Day: JAEGER (8D: Bullying seabird) — n.
- (also jā'gər) Any of several Arctic and Boreal sea birds of the genus Stercorarius that harass smaller birds and snatch the food they drop. Also called skua.
- A huntsman or hunting attendant.
[German Jäger, hunter, jaeger, from Middle High German jeger, from Old High German jagāri, from jagōn, to hunt.] (answers.com)
This one was not just easy — it was possibly the easiest Saturday puzzle I've ever done, and so easy that I'm convinced there was a screw-up and this week's Friday/Saturday puzzles were switched. I'm having trouble imagining how someone could have had more trouble on this one than they did on yesterday's (though said people surely exist). You know who might have done poorly on this puzzle? Bird-haters. It was a bad day for the ornithophobic, what with CAW cawing in your ear up top (11D: Field call), a herd of EMUS running at you in the west (40A: Some farm stock), a double shot of "Peter and the Wolf" bird names — 44A: "Peter and the Wolf" bird (Sasha) + 45A: "Peter and the Wolf" duck (Sonia) — and then, finally, the puzzle's only real roundhouse punch (from my perspective): JAEGER (8D: Bullying seabird). I recognize JAEGER only when it's preceded by Andrea or followed by "-meister" (actually "Jägermeister" is spelled thusly, but I can't hear the difference). And hey, if you can't figure out what kind of "bird" SASHA is, why not throw the clue to SASHA Obama? It can't be easy knowing her sister MALIA is going to be a crossword hero like her dad, while SASHA will surely be left back (crossword frequency-wise) with the JENNAs and CHELSEAs of the world. Give the kid a break.
This puzzle started off with a big fat gimme for both baseball and crossword fans: Mike MUSSINA (1A: 2001-08 Yankees pitcher with seven Gold Gloves). He was in "Wordplay!" I wish Doug had included that fact in the clue, just to taunt the sports-haters among us. "I want to hate this clue, because sports are bad, but he does crosswords, and those are good, so ... [head explodes]." Went MUSSINA to IMPS (5D: Hell-raisers) to (improbably) MAWLS (18A: Heavy hitters). What's improbable is not my spelling (which is just wrong), but the fact that I was so far inside the ballpark on that one ("W" goes to "U"). ASKS was easy (21A: Puts it to), and the "K" gave "ST. LUKE" away (3D: He wrote of the prodigal son) and then the NW was done and once the front ends of those 15s were done, they went across very easily (though the TOWERS part of CELL PHONE TOWERS took a cross or two to get, 17A: Some coverage providers).
Threw URETHANE down off the "URE-" despite feeling like I might be making up a word (12D: Bowling ball material). Wrote down ELSEMERE for ELSINORE at first (14D: "To be, or not to be" soliloquy setting), briefly confusing my "Hamlet" settings with my Chaucerian manuscripts (what can I say? Job hazard). Otherwise, honestly, I walked through this thing, half asleep, sipping tea, taking long pauses to sit back and admire the grid and enjoy my apple ... and I still finished under 10. On a Saturday? Insane. This would have been a fabulous Friday puzzle. And yesterday's, a perfect Saturday. On the upside, I got enjoy to two great puzzles.
Today's names (often killers in late-week puzzles) were in my wheelhouse, occasionally without my knowing it. For instance, how the the hell did I know APTED (9D: "Nell" director Michael)? Went with APTOW at first, then realized I was thinking Judd Apatow — but I got APTED off just the "P" in INTIMATE APPAREL (15A: Revealing pieces). And I couldn't tell you one thing about Michael APTED right now beyond the info I got from this puzzle. JULES Feiffer, on the other hand, was a fat gimme — I teach a course on comics, so my knowing him is no surprise, though I knew his name well before my obsession with comics started. CHAN wasn't a gimme, but crosses took care of him no problem (23A: "Keeper of the Keys" was the last novel he was featured in). I also teach a course on crime fiction (starting Tuesday), so Earl Derr Biggers and his creation Charlie CHAN are familiar names to me. SABIN was my first guess at 41D: _____ vaccine, though I held off writing his name in, thinking answer might be SERUM (?) ... and then SERA ended up being the next-door answer (44D: Clinic supplies). Weird. Then there's PLUTARCH — easy when the "P," "L," and "U" are already in place before you even see the clue (32D: "On the Malice of Herodotus" author).
- 8A: Headline during the Dreyfus Affair ("J'Accuse!") — if you know anything about the Dreyfus Affair, you know Zola and this phrase.
- 33A: Worker in a big house near Big Ben (gaoler) — cute clue, but one that makes the answer Super easy to get. That answer opened up the whole SW very, very nicely. Got "I GUESS SO" off that "G" alone (29D: "Um ... all right").
- 34A: What an antsy person might watch (clock) — great clue — one that actually made me pause and think for a few moments.
- 41A: Otto follows it (sette) — Italian numbers will slow me down, but here I knew it was "seven" I was looking for, and so S--TE went in the grid right away, and I waited the rest out.
- 43A: Seasoning cristales (sal) — never really saw clues on EMUS or SAL because those long Downs went down so easily.
- 46A: Something shown off on a half-pipe (skateboard trick) — like CELL PHONE TOWERS, I had to wait for the last word on this one. Considered SKILL and TRIAL (!?), and then slapped head/said "D'oh" when the much better / more obvious TRICK fell into place.
- 1D: Algonquian language (Micmac) — crossed my fingers and hoped it was right, since all the crosses seemed solid and it sounded right ...
- 10D: Coast Guard noncoms (CPOs) — know this only from xwords and the TV show "CPO Sharkey," which I've never seen. From the Random Video department, here is L.A. punk band The Dickies performing on "C.P.O. Sharkey" (late '70s). Acc. to Wikipedia: "Notably, the series was the first American prime-time TV series to have a punk rock themed episode, with San Fernando Valley punk rock band, The Dickies, making a guest appearance."
- 4D: Sash supporters (sills) — off the "S" in MUSSINA. First thoughts were of Miss America pageants or OBIS, but then this window-related meaning came to mind.
- 30D: Creator of the stuff of legends? (mapmaker) — great clue, though again, very easy. Move off the apparent meaning of "legend" and the first place you land is the map-related meaning of "legend."
- 34D: Old Silk Road destination (Cathay) — had to wait for a few crosses, but the name is very familiar from xwords (like DESOTO, 36D: Studebaker alternative), so no problem.
- 48D: Ending with Sea or Ski (Doo) — when you have momentum ... when you come at every answer with at least one and usually multiple crosses in place, then the puzzle just falls and the potential toughness of the clues in many cases becomes irrelevant. I had DO- before I ever saw this clue. What's the answer going to be? DOG? Actually, SKIDOG and SEADOG are great names.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]
P.S. Whoa, just noticed (how did I not know this?) that "The Daily Beast" has a crossword puzzle now, written by a fantastic constructor, Matt Gaffney. Check it out. Not sure how regular this gig is. I'll ask him and let you know tomorrow.