Glorified gatekeeper in Goias / SAT 3-20-10 / Compounds that smell rotting fish / White item in 1944 Matisse painting / 1995 Literature Nobelist
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Uncial is a majuscule script (written entirely in capital letters) commonly used from the 3rd to 8th centuries AD by Latin and Greek scribes. Uncial letters are written in either Greek, Latin, or Gothic. // Early uncial script is likely to have developed from late Old Roman cursive. Early forms are characterized by broad single stroke letters using simple round forms taking advantage of the new parchment and vellum surfaces, as opposed to the angular, multiple stroke letters which are more suited for rougher surfaces, such as papyrus. In the oldest examples of uncial, such as the De bellis macedonicis manuscript in the British Library, all of the letters are disconnected from one another, and word separation is typically not used. Word separation, however, is characteristic of later uncial usage. (wikipedia)
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This puzzle has 56 words. Going under 60 words is almost always a bad idea (unless your name is Patrick Berry). There's just no point. The best you're going to get is a pyrrhic victory — the grid gets filled, but at a huge cost (mostly to my patience and good will). Today's is one of those typical low word-count grids, with four quadrants connected only at the center, creating what feels like four separate puzzle experiences. And, as usual, there is a bunch of "S"s and "R"s, and some "-ED" suffixes "to boot" (see RESTLESS, STRESSED, RESEEDED, ASSES, and a host of others). And, as usual, there are many words with zero excitement value, like ACETONES (21A: Options for thinning) and ANILINES (10D: Compounds that smell of rotting fish) (at least the clue on the latter is interesting). A couple of the quadrants are halfway decent in parts. I like the SE the best, first because it has the least forced fill, and second because there's a liveliness and surprising quality to the answers — had to change SAO PAOLO to SAO PEDRO, had a genuine aha moment with UPPER ARM (35A: Place for many a shot), and enjoyed the colloquial zing of "I'D LOVE TO" (45A: "Sure thing!"). But the NE makes me want to SHRIKE (22A: Harsh-sounding bird that immobilizes its prey by impalement). Something about UNCIAL crossing ANILINES seems so lifeless, so pointless, so soul-crushing, that even the fantastically clued PUNCHERS next to the pugilist-related LACERATE (9D: Tear) can't redeem it. I've seen worse puzzles of this type (with word counts this low, with grids this shape). But I've seen better; and the *average* Saturday puzzle with a word count, say, in the 60s (still pretty low), is miles better than this.
Started easily enough in the NW with ONE ACT (2D: Like Edward Albee's first five plays). I somehow knew LAUPER (3D: 1984 Best New Artist Grammy winner). From there, I just followed the NINJAS (1D: Stealthy fighters) / JAPANESE (19A: Like 1-Down) connection right on out of the quadrant — by far the easiest of the four. Threw DESOLATE down at 25A: Lonely (DESERTED), but that went away as soon as I read the clue at 8D: Pugilists ... or stationery store items (PUNCHERS). Had a lot of hesitation in this quadrant, which ended up being the toughest of them all for me. Never heard of ANILINES. Heard of UNCIAL, somewhere, but couldn't remember the exact order of the letters. Honestly did not know HALSEY at all (12D: Vice admiral on the U.S.S. Enterprise). Thought he was a character on "Star Trek" I'd somehow never heard of. Wasn't sure what 15A: Photons, e.g. was getting at, even after "QUA-" ("QUARKS can't be right ..." — it's QUANTA). Not familiar with the term A CELLS (20A: Rare battery varieties), though I guessed it easily enough. Well, I guessed the CELLS part, and the "A" came later. Anyway, slowly and unpleasantly, that section eventually came together. Rebooted in SW with LOSERS (50A: Ties don't have them), and then ÉLÈVES right on top of it (48A: People taking les examens). This quadrant was pretty easy, except I couldn't make any sense of TRACED TO (32A: Had a prior link with), and still am having trouble making sense of it now. The "O" from TO finally allowed me to see what the hell 26D: Glorified gatekeeper, in Goiás was all about (SAO PEDRO). Well, it gave me SAO, at any rate. PEDRO came later. Drew blanks on most of the SE, but then ran into the gimme ADESTE (39D: Noel opener), which revealed another near-gimme, OPIATES (49A: Heroin and the like). Easy enough to hammer home from there.
For those of you who still struggle mightily to complete a Saturday, I want to review my toe-holds — the answers I got from No crosses — just so you can see how I got going. The quadrants, in the order in which I solved them:
- NW: The clue about Albee's plays literally (that is, figuratively) shouted ONE ACT at me. Clue tells you it's adjectival ("Like ..."), and while plays might be many things, in crossworld they are very often ONE ACT.
- NE: If it hadn't been for PUNCHERS, I don't know what I'd have done with this section. With that word in place, I got SPLASH (7A: Big impression) and the "CELL" part of ACELLS. This gave me enough info to take the section down, eventually.
- SW: Started with LOSERS — the word "Ties" in the clue is flaunting its ambiguity, i.e. "Ties" can mean a ton of things, so I started scrolling through meanings in my head. The clue makes sense only for the definition meaning "even scores." WINNERS wouldn't fit. LOSERS fit, and had that "-SERS" string that I know a puzzle like this (very low word count) needs to survive. This is also how I put the -LESS on the end of 30D: Always moving (RESTLESS), which then got me the pretty easy ÉLÈVES.
- SE: As I said earlier, the key was ADESTE (first word of the carol, or "Noel," "ADESTE Fideles"). ADESTE is super duper common crossword fill, so commit it to memory if it's not already there.
"Oh Come, all ye PUNCHERS and ONE-ACT LOSERS!"
- 27A: Limerick neighbor (CLARE) — a few days late, we get a double dose of Irishness in CLARE and HEANEY (24A: 1995 Literature Nobelist)
- 51A: Eye muscles attach to it (SCLERA) — no idea. I do know that SCLERA is an anatomical term, though, so I was able to piece it together with a few crosses.
- 5D: Attendees at some biz meetings (STENOS) — dated and weird, as "biz" is usu. used for an industry (e.g. show biz), not as an abbrev. for "business" in the simple everyday phrase "business meetings."
- 32D: Mandolin effect (TREMOLO) — had VIBRATO at first (?).
- 33D: White item in a 1944 Matisse painting (TULIP) — No idea. First thought was "TABLE."
- 36D: He was served to the Olympians as food (PELOPS) — man, Greek mythology is so full of people feeding people to other people (or gods) that I couldn't for the life of me remember who was involved here. Familiarity with the extensive cast of characters, however, gave me PELOPS with just a little help (thanks, Great Books Program at University of Michigan!). Oh, and don't worry about poor PELOPS. He was reassembled (!?) by the gods, exc. for his shoulder, which is the only part that actually got eaten (by Persephone). Gods gave him an ivory shoulder, which, if I remember correctly, he outfitted with lasers and used to blow up the Kraken. PELOPS = eponym of PELOPONNESIAN Peninsula.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
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P.S. The round of 64 is over, and we have a three-way tie for first in the "All Hail OOXTEPLERNON" bracket of ESPN's NCAA Basketball Challenge — R. Rappold, C. Rork, and D. Gulczynski all picked 27 of the 32 games correctly. Rappold has slightly more points left on the board, but not enough to matter significantly. As for my own picks — I did well, but lost my craziest Final Four pick (Louisville) in the first round, so that pretty much does it for me. It's probably best that I not win my own contest.