Slave in Buck's House of Hwang — Thur., Sep. 17 2009 — Tulip-growing center of Holland / Massenet opera based on Daudet novel
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Constructor: Arthur Schulman
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: Olde Skool Crosswordese — six impressively long theme answers are definitions of words that used to be very common in crossword grids, e.g. "crosswordese" (i.e. the puzzle wherein Will pats himself on back for (mostly) killing these words).
Word of the Day: ... so many choices ... how 'bout VETCH ... no, that was Word of the Day in April (didn't stick, obviously). Let's go with ERS (27D: Ers => BITTER VETCH) — no, the only dictionary def. I can find gives "BITTER VETCH" as the exact and only definition. Alright: ERI (9D: Eri => ASSAM SILKWORM) — Samia ricini, or the Eri silkworm, is raised in India and parts of the Orient for its silk. Raising Eri silkworms is referred to as Ericulture. (wormspit.com ... I swear) (can't wait to see ERICULTURE in a puzzle)
HALF-CENTURY PUZZLEMAKERS' WEEK
All the daily crosswords this week, Monday through Saturday, are by puzzlemakers who have been contributing to The Times for more than 50 years. Arthur Schulman, a retired psychology professor at the University of Virginia, had his Sunday Times debut on September 14, 1954. The puzzle below should be easy for solvers who remember their old-fashioned crossword vocabulary.
Finally, this week's theme pays off. I have no idea what half the !@#@ in this grid means, but I enjoyed wrestling with it all immensely. The theme density and unusual Down-heavy theme structure gave the grid an unusual and (at first) daunting feel. The conception and execution of the "Return of the Dead" theme was really marvelous. Especially marvelous was the fact that despite the fact that the grid was loaded with words I didn't know, everything was crossed fairly and pitched right to Thursday level, difficulty-wise. At least from where I was sitting. I have this feeling the puzzle may have been stymieing for some. Even though the puzzle sort of winks ironically at crosswordese, it also indulges in it a bit, just as it indulges in some proper nouns that have "Only In Crosswords a Half Century Ago" written all over them (Note: nowhere in the following sentences do I complain or say the answers are "bad" answers). SAPHO! (1D: Massenet opera based on a Daudet novel) — would've been easier if the opera spelled her name with two "P"s like everyone else does. Then there are the hissing Euro twins LISSE (41A: Tulip-growing center of Holland) and ISSY (64A: _____-les-Moulineaux (Paris suburb)). If I've seen these at all, they've been exceedingly rare. ORSINI (23A: Noble family name in medieval Italy shared by two Popes) is a cool name, but one constructors aren't apt to use unless they're well and truly stuck (Terminal "I"! — I know because ORSINI was one of several options for me in one corner of a crossword I was constructing yesterday— I ended up going with something better known, though no less Italian). Finally there's the venerable dames of Crosswordese: EVA, who's very inferrable today even if you didn't outright know her (54A: "Uncle Tom's Cabin" girl) and OLAN, who gets one of the best clues known to mankind (39D: Slave in Buck's House of Hwang). I knew OLAN as a piece of crosswordese, but ... honestly, I had no idea about the House of Hwang. I'm sure it's horrible, and something that shouldn't cause me amusement, but too bad: but it sounds like something out of an 80s teen sex comedy. "Porky's," to be exact.
- 37A: Ais (three-toed sloths)
- 3D: Ocas (wood sorrels)
- 18D: Ara (constellation) — this is one that never really went away
- 7D: Moas (flightless birds) — gimme gimme gimme. Having a Kiwi wife pays off from time to time. (just to be clear, wife is a human New Zealander, not a FLIGHTLESS BIRD)
- 9D: Eri (Assam silkworm) — looove the inventiveness of adding ASSAM to this answer to get the answer length right. At one point I was trying to make ASSAM SIDEARM(S) work.
- 27D: Ers (bitter vetch) — I was thinking ers, ums, uhs ...
- 9A: Jordan's only seaport (Aqaba) — perhaps the best Q-that-doesn't-need-a-U place name. Beats QATAR hands down.
- 30A: Mountain near Pelion (Ossa) — Daughter now knows more about Greek geography than I do, I think. Why don't we see PELION in the grid more? It looks cool.
- 35A: They're often served with caviar (blini) — another crossword staple, this one with the cool non-S plural.
- 42A: "Fish Magic" and "Viaducts Break Ranks" (Klees) — just learned who painted "Fish Magic" last week, from a puzzle.
- 55A: Westernmost of the major Hawaiian islands (Kauai) — really wanted that "U" to be a "W"
- 28D: Danish astronomer who followed Copernicus (Brahe) — I love his name. That's a name you don't forget. First name also great: TYCHO!
- 34D: River through Köln (Rhein) — Germanic spelling, yipes.
- 38D: Ziggurat features (tiers) — "Ziggurats" are ancient, pyramid-shaped temples. Maybe that should have been the Word of the Day. Too late now.
- 45D: Abbey Theater playwright (O'Casey) — he is like Yeats to me. Both Irish. Both unread by me. Both likely staying that way.
- 51D: Literary character who says "O, beware, my lord, of jealousy" (Iago) — more Old Skool crosswordese. Also Nu Skool crosswordese. Crosswordese Eterne.
- 53D: Major leagues, slangily, with "the" (bigs) — all kinds of awesome. Super great. Dead on.
- 56D: World champion of 1964-67, 1974-78 and 1978-79 (Ali) — ungainly clue, but shows ALI's impressive resilience. Had no idea that first interval was so long.
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