Resort region near Barcelona — Sun., Sep. 27 2009 — Latin catchphrase sometimes seen on sundials / Andrea known as the liberator of Genoa
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Constructor: Patrick Berry
Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: "That is Two Say" — 13 different squares contain pairs of letters that read phonetically in one direction, but must be spelled out in the other direction in order to make sense.
Word of the Day: Casey [KC] JONES (94D: Driver of the Cannonball Special) — John Luther "Casey" Jones (March 14, 1863 – April 30, 1900) was an American railroad engineer from Jackson, Tennessee who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad (IC). On April 30, 1900, he alone was killed when his passenger train collided with a stalled freight train at Vaughan, Mississippi on a foggy and rainy night. His dramatic death trying to stop his train and save lives made him a folk hero who became immortalized in a popular ballad sung by his friend Wallace Saunders, an African American engine wiper for the IC. Due to the enduring popularity of this classic song, he has been the world's most famous railroad engineer for over a century. (wikipedia)
Now this was hard. I picked up the theme fairly early, and it was still hard. By the time I got down to the SW quadrant, it was very hard. The theme squares were a. not the same letters every time, and b. not symmetrical, and so it was like walking through a damned haunted house, not knowing when some mystery was going to jump out and spook you (those things managed to stay patiently hidden for a good long time in many cases). Plus, there was no consistency to the way the theme squares worked; sometimes the phonetic direction was Across, other times Down. No pattern (that I could see). But the problem, difficulty-wise, wasn't just the theme, though. It was the theme coupled with a delightfully vicious cluing strategy, and words / phrases aplenty that seemed to come out of left field. Some of them were slight groaners (the PATINES / ENSEALS crossing was mildly unpleasant) (30A: Surface films: Var. + 17D: Closes tight), but most of the rest of them seemed freaky but fair. Here's all the non-theme stuff that made me say "Whoa ... what?":
- 23A: Resort region near Barcelona (Costa Brava) — didn't know it at all AND was convinced there was a rebus square hiding in there. Ouch. This NW corner was the second-to-last area to fall.
- 33A: Key sequence in a chromosome (marker gene) — what a great answer. Sounds familiar, but I couldn't define it for you. Tough pick-up for me.
- 77A: Driving surface (tee pad) — the biggest WTF in the grid. The "P" in this answer was the very last square to fall, and I must have stared at blankness for many, many seconds. I couldn't believe TEE PAD was a thing, and I couldn't make any sense of the Down clue: 78D: One end of a digression, for short? -AREN doesn't want to make any word except the name KAREN, and I knew the Across wasn't TEEKAD. Finally the fact that PAREN. could be short for "parenthesis" occurred to me, and I knew TEE PAD must be right. Maybe that was a gimme for golfers, but I couldn't get a straight answer on TEE PAD even after I finished and googled it. Yikes.
- 97A: Masters piece (poem) — as in Edgar Lee Masters!? Jebus H. Krist! Yesterday it's "France" meaning Anatole France, today it's "Masters" meaning Edgar Lee Masters. My Literary Way-Back Machine's getting a lot of use this weekend. (see also TROLLOPE at 45D: Author of the Barsetshire novels)
- 99A: Car make of the 1930s (Graham) — familiar with the cracker, but not the car. Not At All.
- 106A: Unaccented syllable (atonic) — after I got it, it felt mildly familiar, but since I'm no musician, it looks really weird, like and adj. posing as a noun.
- 84A: Surname of two signers of the Declaration of Independence (Lee) — Getty and Brenda.
- 111A: Andrea known as the liberator of Genoa (Doria) — I knew this as a ship. Never heard of the guy it was named after. I always (Always) confuse the Andrea DORIA and the Achille Lauro.
- 98D: Leaf vein (midrib) — ouch, what? I know nothing about botany? OK, that's true.
- 89D: Mug with a mug (Toby) — not until I got it all from crosses did I remember what a TOBY mug was. The name "Toby" makes me laugh because of the character on "The Office" with that name, and Michael Scott's fierce hatred for him.
This should have been the Halloween-time Sunday puzzle — it was a trick and a treat. Made me use my brain and amused me at the same time. Good job.
Picked up the theme when CARPE ... had nowhere to go. I thought there might be a rebus puzzle wherein letters are read in one direction going Down and the reverse direction coming Across, but that thought lasted about two seconds. Once A[DM]IRABLE became undeniable, I saw that "DM" could be said aloud to render "DIEM," and I was in business — as much as I could be in a puzzle like this. What was really disconcerting, as I made my way through the grid, was where the theme squares weren't. I kept looking in the longer Acrosses, and almost (almost!) every time — no. Expected a bunch in the central Across (since I ran into that Across at the "AT"), but ... no. No more. Just the one. But then you get into the nooks and crannies, and ... well, there's a 8x4 part of the SW quadrant that's got FOUR theme squares in it (that's the area that repeatedly punched me in the face).
- 14A: Club (CU dgel)
- 14D: Casual farewell (CU — "see you" — later)
- 31A: Dental problem (tooth DK — "decay")
- 24D: Post decorations on four-posters (be DK nobs)
- 37A: Very noticeable (SA lient)
- 2D: Life magazine staple (photo SA — "essay")
- 40A: Praiseworthy (a DM irable)
- 13D: Latin catchphrase sometimes seen on sundials (carpe DM — "diem")
- 47A: Chianti and Beaujolais (r ED s)
- 48D: Singer who played herself in "Ocean's Eleven" (ED — "Eydie" — Gormé)
- 60A: Music compilation marketer (K-T el)
- 60D: "Married ... With Children" actress (KT — "Katey" — Sagal)
- 70A: 1873 adventure novel that begins and ends in London ("Around the World in AT — "Eighty" — Days")
- 55D: Units of fineness (kar AT s)
- 74A: "Fer-de-Lance" mystery novelist (Re XS tout)
- 67D: How drunks drink (to XS — "excess")
- 87A: Stop worrying (rest EZ)
- 83D: Chisel face (b EZ el) — BEZEL! I practically shook my fist at this answer when I finally got it. If the "EZ" part of the Across hadn't been so "EZ" to pick up, I might still be staring at emptiness.
- 93A: Dipstick housing (cran KC ase)
- 94D: Driver of the Cannonball Special (KC — "Casey" — Jones) — I knew KC Jones as the coach of the 1980s Celtics, and that is the only KC Jones I knew.
- 103A: American everyman (John Q.P ublic) — wow.
- 104D: Carny booth prize (QP — "Kewpie" — doll) — I had WRY for DRY at 110A: Like some humor, so the answer -WOLL was doing NOTHING for me. Changing W to D got me the QP instantly, which got me the JOHN Q. PUBLIC that was hiding from me as well.
- 106A: It's not to be touched (poison IV — "ivy")
- 96D: Flu symptom, with "the" (sh IV ers)
- 116A: Jealous (green with NV — "envy")
- 107D: Sneaker material (ca NV as)
Wow, that's a lot a lot a lot of theme material.
- 114A: Ethan Frome portrayer, 1993 (Liam Neeson) — usually appears in puzzle just as last name. One of those long answers today where I expected a theme square to jump out and bite me. But no.
- 7D: Screamer at a crime scene (alarm) — wanted SIREN.
- 34D: Prestigious London hotel (Ritz) — I just think of this as a generic fancy hotel name, though I suppose Taco had to be singing about somewhere specific.
61D: Gloomy Milne character (Eeyore) — gloomy and vowelly.
Now here are your Tweets of the Week (puzzle chat from the Twitterverse):
- @TazaChocolate Today's NY Times Xword, 15d: Cry before waving the hand. It doesn't fit but all I want to write is "You are the weakest link. Goodbye."
- @andrea_bartle Bad things happen when work gets boring... I resort to weird tasting drinks, 409, and crossword puzzles to entertain me.
- @arielawesome LA Times crossword is too easy. they try to thwart me w/ 1930s movie trivia, but i've got Bob, the sharp octogenarian, at my disposal. win!
- @foxbiterer my mum, doing a crossword, just said "what's a planet that begins with 'e'?" Am adopted.
- @kathycacace Clean hair. Make up. Saw some art. Posted up in Tompkins with $3 coffee and the crossword. Is there such a thing as personal gentrification?
- @laconic1 Deliberately leaving out some crossword answers so can appear intelligent in company later - sad?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]