1983 Gary Busey comedy / THU 1-21-10 / Authoritarian Spanish leader / 50 mythical sea nymphs / Brevipennate bird / British character in Zorro
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: CUTS CORNERS (36A: What this puzzle's theme does?) — Corners of the puzzle act as rebus squares representing the word "NOTHING." In the print version of the puzzle, there are no black squares in the corners — the corners are simply not there (i.e. cut out, hence CUTS CORNERS). Click here for an image of the grid as it appears in the paper.
Word of the Day: CAUDILLO (36D: Authoritarian Spanish leader) —
caudillo (kôdēl'yō Span. kouTHē'yō), [Span.,= military strongman], type of South American political leader that arose with the 19th-century wars of independence. The first caudillos were often generals who, leading private armies, used their military might to achieve power in the newly independent states. Many were large landowners (hacendados) who sought to advance their private interests. They had in common military skill and a personal magnetism capable of commanding the allegiance of the masses. Caudillos were not associated with particular ideologies or political philosophies. Although they often began their career by opposing the oligarchy, they almost invariably became oligarchs and rarely upset the existing social order. In power, their authority was largely unchecked. Caudillos, or caudilhos in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, left their mark on the histories of all South American nations. Well-known caudillos were Juan Manuel de Rosas and Juan Facundo Quiroga in Argentina, Gabriel García Moreno in Ecuador, Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana and Porfirio Díaz in Mexico, and Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina in the Dominican Republic. In Spain, General Francisco Franco gave himself the title of el Caudillo, using the term literally without its disparaging connotations. (Columbia Encyclopedia)
I received a heads-up about this puzzle's unusual format (and format disparity between the print and online versions) yesterday from Jim Horne at NYT's "Wordplay" blog, but didn't know what exactly his message said because it was prefaced with so many "spoiler alerts!" that I didn't read it until after I'd finished solving the puzzle the way I do every puzzle — on screen using Black Ink software (most people who solve on-screen, or print out the puzzle from their computers, use Across Lite). Once I'd finished the puzzle, I knew immediately what the print version would look like — the NOTHING in the corners would be quite literal: emptiness, with those squares CUT out as the central theme answers suggests. I had absolutely no trouble picking up the gimmick even with black squares (instead of emptiness) in my corners, and breezed through this in better-than-average time. Noodled around in the NW until AGAMEMNON broke that corner open (16A: Major role in "Troy") — couldn't do much with PERSONAL, but when FANCY ended up meaning the *opposite* of its clue (13D: Free of bells and whistles), I knew that corner was supposed to represent a word — NOT? ... no, NOTHING. Got it. I then immediately filled out the entire perimeter of the puzzle, moving clockwise, without stopping once and without requiring any crosses. When you know NOTHING is in the corner, those edge answers are a piece of cake. would have rated the puzzle "Easy," but CAUDILLO was a complete unknown to me in the SW, TAMARIN felt the same way in the NE (12D: Rain forest monkey) (though I think I've seen it before), and SORENSEN (20D: Author of the 1965 biography "Kennedy") and SLOVENS (!?) (49A: Hardly fops) made me work for the middle. Still just over 6 minutes. I'm guessing this will be one of those puzzle where the difficulty level has *everything* to do with how quickly you pick up the rebus. Once you've got it, the puzzle is easy (for a Thursday). But getting it could have proved tricky for some.
Verdict: this puzzle is conceptually ingenious, as most of Liz Gorski's puzzles are. I love how the central answer is a play on words that actually affects the shape of the grid *and* creates a rebus puzzle. It's brilliant. The non-theme fill is much clunkier than usual for a Gorski puzzle (see IS A crossing ALL OR (!), a plural of R.E.M. (which I've ever seen), and EER followed by ERE on top of ERRANT, yikes...), but the infelicities are quite forgivable. When I say that your crap fill had better get you something good, had better be worth it ... this is what I mean. I will accept a certain amount of iffiness if overall brilliance *and* an enjoyable solving experience are the result.
- 1A: "Don't take offense at that" — [nothing] PERSONAL
- 9A: Was free — COST [nothing]
- 15D: "Swish!" — [nothing] BUT NET
- 47D: Betting option — ALL OR [nothing]
- 65A: Daring person's cry — HERE GOES [nothing]!
- 64A: Loan lure, maybe — [nothing] DOWN
- 38D: A nominal fee — NEXT TO [nothing]
- 13D: Free of bells and whistles — [nothing] FANCY
- 14A: 1983 Gary Busey comedy ("D.C. Cab") — I know that Mr. T was in that movie. I know that Tony Danza was in that movie (wait ... he was in "Taxi" ... am I confusing things? ... yes. Yes I am). Anyway, I had no idea Busey was in that movie. I never saw it.
- 17A: Performer in a seven-million-gallon tank (Shamu) — that's a lot of gallons.
- 22A: Stick on a pub wall (cue) — nice clue. Wanted DART.
- 41A: Brevipennate bird (Mac)*
- 44A: British character in "Zorro" (zed) — liked that one a lot.
- 55A: Brand at a checkout counter that's also the name of a Phoenix radio stations (KOOL) — "at a checkout counter" did virtually nothing for me in terms of narrowing things down. There's all kinds of crap at my grocery's checkout counters (cigarettes are not one of them). Still, I admire the audacious long-windedness of this clue for some reason.
- 26D: 50 mythical sea nymphs (Nereids) — I often confuse my OREADS and NEREIDS and DRYADS ... not today.
- 46D: Opera house attire (stoles) — if you are wealthy dowager from the 1920s, sure. Do people still wear STOLES to the opera, and if so, do other people not point and laugh and ask if they're filming a movie? "Hey, you know what goes well with Puccini? Carcass!"
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]
*No, I'm not serious. I know the answer is EMU ... long story.