Little auk — SATURDAY, Aug. 8 2009— Folklorist/musicologist Alan / Title girl of 1906 L. Frank Baum novel / 1989 Broadway monodrama
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Constructor: Karen M. Tracey
Relative difficulty: Medium
Word of the Day: DOVEKIE (25A: Little auk) — A small black-and-white sea bird (Alle alle) of the Arctic and northern Atlantic oceans, having a short bill and a stout body. Also called little auk.
More than almost any other constructor, Karen Tracey speaks my puzzle language. For whatever reasons, even when a puzzle is reasonably tough (as today's was), I feel like I'm on her wavelength. Despite a few nutso words, this puzzle was expertly filled. Wildly inventive and a joy to solve. Easily the best puzzle of the week (admittedly, the competition hasn't been too tough). Speaking of PUZZLES (49A: Stumps) — Z Square! That's hot. That corner was the last to fall, and part of the reason it didn't fall quickly was that I couldn't believe there'd be Even More Scrabbly letters. Just seemed like piling on. So instead of NUZZLES (my first thought for 36D: Is an affectionate pooch) I went with NESTLES. Lesson: committing to wrong answers is about the most confounding thing you can do as a solver. Paradox: on tough puzzles, you often have to commit to answers you aren't sure about if you want anything to budge. Just be careful about how *hard* you commit. Since NESTLES didn't do much for me, I had no real trouble getting rid of it. Really, really wish I could have understood the chronological (not geographical) meaning of "setting" in 46A: "The Great Gatsby" setting (Jazz Age) much earlier than I did.
Two answers that were so crazy-looking I had to look them up when I was done to confirm that they were real. First, DOVEKIE. If all the crosses hadn't been unimpeachable, I'd have been worried here. I wondered briefly if I'd spelled MAZURKA right (5D: One of 58 Chopin compositions). Then across the pond we've got ULAN-UDE, which looks like a random collection of letters to me. I've heard of ULAN BATOR, but this one was very, very new to me (24A: Capital of the Buryat Republic). Didn't recognize and couldn't place "Buryat," so I was pretty much a dead man on this answer. Bring in the crosses! Luckily, all gettable (hallmark of a well-constructed puzzle — crazy-ass words have rock solid, reasonably easily identifiable crosses). LOMAX (41D: Folklorist/musicologist Alan) and KLEIN (18D: German mathematician who lent his name to a "bottle") round out my "???" answers for the day.
Bunch of gimmes helped me get traction. Among them, FRAG is my favorite (10A: Wound, in a way, as a fellow G.I.). BRET Easton Ellis wrote "American Psycho," among other things. Super easy. EL DUQUE (21A: Pitcher Orlando Hernandez's nickname) looks great in the grid, but there's hardly any way to clue it that diminishes its gimmeness, and it's a fat, fat gimme, i.e. it gives you a "Q" (which made QUARTET easy ... the RAJ part came later, 11D: "The Jewel in the Crown" begins it, with "The"). The weirdest, most mysterious gimme of the puzzle has to be PREJEAN (40D: Real-life death penalty opponent played by Sarandon in "Dead Man Walking"). I pulled that one out of Thin Air, with no crosses. As I was saying to myself, "oh, that's Sister somebody," PREJEAN leapt to mind. "No ... is that it?" Tested it and immediately confirmed the "J" off of JARHEAD (50A: 2003 Anthony Swofford Gulf war memoir made into a 2005 film). Amazing luck that allowed me to tear down the SE corner lickety-split.
- 14A: Patterson who played the title role on TV's "Private Benjamin" (Lorna) — OK, that seems too obscure pop culturey even for me.
- 16A: Four-time Grammy winner Schifrin (Lalo) — I think I read somewhere that "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening was a fan. For whatever reason, LALO makes me think of Groening. The more I think on this connection, the thinner it seems. Whatever. I got the answer easily enough, so whatever my brain was thinking, it seems to have worked.
- 17A: He said "You are free and that is why you are lost" (Franz Kafka) — paradoxically depressing!
- 19A: Spanish seers? (ojos) — "?" made it a gimme.
- 28A: Cousin of an Omaha (Ponca) — learned it from crosswords. One of my favorite tribe names. Fun to say / shout.
- 29A: Home of the Knockmealdown Mountains (Ireland) — would be soooo much better if they were called the Knockmedown Mountains, and esp. if people who lived near there were known for getting fall-down drunk a lot.
- 34A: 1989 Broadway monodrama (Tru) — "monodrama" is a new to me. Is that a play with only one actor? Must be. Is.
- 57A: With 44-Across, Champion rider (Gene / Autry) — finally giving in to NUZZLES made this answer, finally, come into view.
- 58A: Old royal residence in 29-Across (Tara) — helped me change ICELAND to IRELAND at 29A.
- 59A: Pianist with 15 Grammys (Corea) — Chick COREA, a not uncommon name in xwords.
- 60A: Cramped urban dwellings, briefly (SROs) — Single-Room Occupancy. A def. of "SRO" I learned from crosswords and have seen nowhere else.
- 4D: Title girl of a 1906 L. Frank Baum novel (Annabel) — didn't know this, though "ANNABEL" was easy to guess from just a few crosses.
- 22D: Zealand resident (Dane) — wife is from New Zealand, but I completely blanked on where old Zealand was. Stared at D-N- for a bit before exclaiming, "oh, duh."
- 27D: Explorer of North America's eastern coast in 1524 (Verrazzano) — eponymous NYC bridge guy.
- 31D: Player of Det. Eames on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (Erbe) — one of my most disliked names in CrossWorld. 3rd rate crosswordese. [to be clear, I don't dislike Ms. ERBE personally. I don't know her. I do know that she appears in xwords all out of proportion to her fame. It's just hard for constructors to resist the sweet, weird letter combo her last name provides.]
- 53D: Cannon shot on a set? (Dyan) — honestly, when was the last time DYAN Cannon was shot anywhere but at a Lakers game? 1982?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
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