SATURDAY, Nov. 7 2009 — Dancer in a suite / Damn Yankees chorister / Cheyenne Kid portrayer / Lead female role in TV's Peter Gunn
Saturday, November 7, 2009
- Characterized by extremely brutal or cruel crimes; vicious.
- Infamous; scandalous: "That remorseless government persisted in its flagitious project" (Robert Southey).
[Middle English flagicious, wicked, from Latin flāgitiōsus, from flāgitium, shameful act, protest, from flāgitāre, to importune, to demand vehemently.]-----
Flagitious. Yes. That sounds about right.
This is the hardest NYT puzzle I've done since late 2007, when Bob Klahn unleashed another, even more flagitious beast on the unsuspecting solving public. I still remember words from that puzzle, so traumatic was the experience (GOLCONDA! OCHLOCRACY!). Today's puzzle, I actually managed to finish. With no mistakes. In something under a half an hour. There was a point early on in the solving experience where none of those things seemed possible. Got 1A: Peter who wrote "Underboss" (Maas) right off the bat, so things were looking rosy for about ... 3 seconds. Then I went begging. Wanted DION (17A: "Little Diane" singer, 1962) but couldn't confirm it. Everything else up there was a bust. Same thing in the far north. Had HMM and SAY at 9D: "Oh, I don't know" ("Gee") and then abandoned that section for the NE. Finally, finally, traction. ETON was a gimme (16A: Where Aldous Huxley taught George Orwell), and the "E" let me get ME FIRST (10D: Selfish), which was confirmed by FAST (19A: Like some friends). Even though I couldn't remember what "Doughty" meant (INTREPID), the NE actually fell and my penetration into the puzzle's interior extended as far west as the front end of UNION SHOP (27A: Local operation?) and the bottom end of NANCY DREW (22D: "The Bungalow Mystery" solver). And then ... oh man, Nothing. Just the sound of wind. An occasional tumbleweed. The menacing ticking of the clock on the wall (I don't have a clock on my wall, but you get the idea).
A few things I kicked myself for after I was done. One, not looking at or even seeing 14A: "Down _____" (1967 Janis Joplin song) ("On Me") the first time I was up there — that might have allowed me to connect MAAS and DION and pull Something out of my, er, hat. Two, not seeing MODIFY (1D: Reshape) early on (see "One," above). Three, taking longer than I had any right to coming up with LUCIFER (39D: "Doctor Faustus" character) and EL DORADO (32D: The first complete navigation of the Amazon was in search of this). Both feel like they should have been gimmes, but neither one showed up at first. Mephistopholes ... is the main flagitious character in "Doctor Faustus." I teach that damned play from time to time, and I can't even remember LUCIFER's part (actually, he's in there, but it's not a big part ... kind of like God's part in "Paradise Lost" — now *that* had a LUCIFER in it). And I'm sure I just heard some book reviewed about exploring the Amazon ... ugh. But back to the stuff that was legitimately brutal.
Lucky to have practiced Tai Chi, because when that didn't work as an answer for 42D: Chinese meditative practice I had something else to got to: QI GONG! Which gave me that "Q," which I really, really needed. Turns out I've heard of / seen ODALISQUE before (41A: Harem slave), but I couldn't retrieve it at all. That "Q" made it a lot easier to find the answer, eventually. SKA was a gimme (53D: Music genre of the English Beat and the Specials), but virtually nothing else in the S or SE was easy. Had REAMS for RAFTS (43A: A slew). Didn't know 48D: Artist Rembrandt (Peale). Couldn't see any of the other stuff until two things happened. The word SALABLE occurred to me for 40D: Ready to move). Seemed worth a stab. Then at 54A: Remark from draft-dodger? with the initial "B" in place I knew "draft" would not be a beer (first suspicion) but a breeze, and the answer "BRRR!" Goodnight S, Goodnight SE. Onto the SW...
Two words: EDIE and HART (55A: With 52-Across, lead female role in TV's "Peter Gunn"). W(ho) T(he) F(lagitious) is that? Know *of* "Peter Gunn," but never seen an episode (before my time) and certainly don't know secondary or tertiary characters. The fact that this utter unknown was camped out in not one but two of my short answers down there made that corner painful. I was eventually saved by knowing the definition of "flivver" (a former Word of the Day on this blog, I think). Once I got SCORCHER (31D: Hard-hit line drive), and then (eventually) TIA MARIA (33D: Liqueur reputedly named for a noblewoman's chambermaid), I managed to put in CRATE for 49A: Flivver. Then EL DORADO decided to show up, everything fell into place, and I rode the wave of happiness up to the NW / N for my final stand.
YAZOO??? (26A: Mississippi river named by La Salle). Not on my radar. To me, YAZOO is a synthpop band from the early 80s. I think the NW was the hardest corner by far. OK, MAAS and DION and ON ME are pretty gettable, but ANITRA? AMOS OZ? YAZOO? I guessed SENATOR at 4D: "Damn Yankees" chorister only because I had the S-N and I knew "Damn Yankees" involved baseball. Finally threw IT'S A STEAL across and moved in for the kill in the N. But not so fast. Standing SPANG in my way was ... SPANG! SPANG (5A: Squarely). That's not a word, that's a comic book sound effect (and a good one). That "P" was the last thing that went in. SPANG looked so weird that I worried a bit about SLATY (5D: Dull blue-gray), which I'd never heard of before. But I left it all as I had it. Turned out to be 100% correct. So, the verdict: LOVED IT. Exceedingly hard puzzles should have a (rare) place in this world, and *this* is how they're done. They give you a whiff of hope, then they crush your soul, but if you're persistent and patient ... eventually, you can stab them with your SLATY knives and, in fact, kill the beasts.
- 10A: Landlocked Muslim land (Mali) — wanted CHAD.
- 15A: Cheyenne Kid portrayer (Larue) — Like MAAS, Lash LARUE is crosswordese.
- 22A: West Coast N.F.L.'er ('Niner) — another reason the NE was the most gettable of the four corners. CHARGER, RAIDER, SEAHAWK ... none of them fit.
- 24A: Appeal from a diplomat (démarche) — wanted IMMUNITY. No idea what DEMARCHE is. Let's see: "a diplomatic representation or protest." OK, now I know.
- 28A: En _____ (by the rules: Fr.) (règle) — thank god for 7 years of French.
- 47A: Don Quixote type (romantic) — really wanted to write QUIXOTIC in here.
- 53A: World capital at the foot of Mount Vitosha (Sofia) — Bulgaria. Inferred it from "SO-..."
- 2D: Dancer in a suite (Anitra) — had trouble finding out what this meant even after I was finished. Turns out it's from Grieg's "Peer Gynt, Suite No. 1, Op. 46 — Anitra's Dance," which, now that I hear it, is very very familiar.
- 3D: "A Tale of Love and Darkness" author, 2003 (Amos Oz) — What a great entry. Never read anything by him, but I know the name. Didn't *see* the name, however, until the very last letter. Me: "It ... kind of looks like ASIMOV..."
- 7D: Strauss heroine from classical myth (Ariadne) — she's in both Ovid's "Heroides" and Chaucer's "Legend of Good Women," so I managed to pick her up. I also remembered that Strauss wrote something called "Ariadne auf Naxos."
- 21D: Low finish? (shoe shine) — niiiice. First wanted a really really long suffix for "low," then thought "low" might refer to what cows do...
- 27D: 1805 Napoleonic victory site (Ulm) — got it off the "U"; not many three-letter Euro place names starting with "U."
- 45D: Four-note chord (tetrad) — with "-RAD" in place, the TET part (TETR = Gr. "four) was easy.
Off to listen to 39A: The Who's "Live at LEEDS," 1970 double-platinum album. See you tomorrow.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
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