Family name in Frank Miller's Sin City series / SUN 4-4-10 / Cursed alchemist / 1986 rock autobiography / Chartres shout / Epithet for Elizabeth I
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Constructor: Bob Klahn
Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: "AFTER WORD" — "BOARD" answers the question in the parenthetical addendum to the puzzle's title: What word can follow each half of the answer to each starred clue?
Word of the Day: Project Blue Book (42A: Project Blue Book subj. => UFO) —
Project Blue Book was one of a series of systematic studies of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) conducted by the United States Air Force (U.S.A.F.). Started in 1952, it was the second revival of such a study. A termination order was given for the study in December 1969, and all activity under its auspices ceased in January 1970.
Project Blue Book had two goals:
[...] By the time Project Blue Book ended, it had collected 12,618 UFO reports, and concluded that most of them were misidentifications of natural phenomena (clouds, stars, etc.) or conventional aircraft. The UFO reports were archived and are available under the Freedom of Information Act, but names and other personal information of all witnesses have been changed. (wikipedia)
- to determine if UFOs were a threat to national security, and
- to scientifically analyze UFO-related data.
The hardest Sunday puzzle I've done in a long, long time. Normally, Sundays are just longish Wednesdays for me. If the theme is imaginative and well executed, great; otherwise, it's a bit of a slog. I think God intended for crosswords to be 15x15. It's a magical size. At any rate, this puzzle was tough, but I would not call it a slog. I loved the challenge, and the quality of the fill is superb. I've seen this type of theme before ("both words can follow/precede..."), but 12 viable theme answers! That's astonishing. Also, usually in this type of puzzle, the phrases can seem forced (words that go together kinda sorta, but not easily). Today, most of the phrases are perfectly ordinary, and often interesting, with very little Frankenstein's monster effect. Clunkiest for me were FLOOR LEADER and DRAWING CARD. That FLOOR LEADER section took me forever. Everything around FLOOR stayed invisible for a good while. Had an easier time with DRAWING CARD because of MERYL (110A: Actress Streep), which I was sure was not MERYL because that would be too easy, and this puzzle is not easy. I actually considered other Streeps before tentatively entering the obvious MERYL. Klahn enjoys the devilish cluing, and it's on display all over the place here. So, overall, theme idea itself doesn't sound so great on paper, but the execution, coupled with the overall grid quality and tougher-than-average cluing, made this one a winner for me.
One interesting note about the awkwardness of the title + "bonus question" — Bob had written me on Friday saying that if I wanted to know why a certain word was missing from the grid on Sunday, I should just ask him once I'd finished. So I did. Turns out the puzzle was originally submitted with the simple title "BOARD MEETINGS." Will thought that not enough people would "get it." Here's how Bob put it:
The reason that BOARD is not in the grid is that it was part of my title, "Board Meetings." I submitted that along with a lot of potential theme entries for Will to choose from, he marked the ones he liked most, I built and submitted the grid, and at that point he decided that the significance of my title would be lost on enough of his audience that it needed to be replaced. Hence the current title and the "bonus question." (To insert BOARD in this grid would really have meant a substantial rework, and Will wasn't going to ask me to do that.)While I think "BOARD MEETINGS" is the superior titling option, I think both Bob and I understand that WS knows his audience a *lot* better than we do, and so giving it this more explicit, if less elegant, title was probably the right thing to do.
- 23A: *Either that ___ goes, or I do" (Oscar Wilde's reputed last words) (WALLPAPER) — possibly the best "WALLPAPER" clue of all time.
- 25A: *Legislative V.I.P. (FLOOR LEADER)
- 34A: *Object of superstition (BLACK CAT) — whoa ... don't know what a CAT BOARD is ... best I can tell, it's a board for a cat to scratch, perhaps to give it something to scratch other than your furniture.
- 39A: *Annual N.F.L. event (COLLEGE DRAFT)
- 54A: *Zigzag trail up a mountain (SWITCHBACK) — the first theme answer I got, and one of the earliest answers I got, PERIOD (52D: Stop sign?)
- 72A: *Green Bay Packers fan (CHEESE HEAD) — amazing that this answer works for the theme. Good stuff.
- 84A: *Tally (RUNNING SCORE)
- 90A: *Lamp holder (END TABLE)
- 98A: *Lure (DRAWING CARD)
- 102A: *Cover-up (WHITEWASH)
- 32D: *Wonder product (SANDWICH BREAD) — had the BREAD part and then was left wondering how to make WHITE stretch to 8 letters...
- 35D: *Risking detention (CUTTING SCHOOL)
I knew the puzzle was going to be brutal (for a Sunday) when I hit ROARK (15D: Family name in Frank Miller's "Sin City" series). I knew it, but could Not believe the puzzle was asking for it. Seemed like *such* a niche, comic book nerd kind of clue. "Who's going to know this?" Well, I did. But I doubt the majority of solvers did at first blush. ROARK was probably as obvious to most solvers as "THE ACT" was to me (i.e. not at all) (14D: 1977 Liza Minnelli musical). Or ADA (20A: "Cold Mountain" heroine). Or CARL (80A: Real first name of Alfalfa of the Little Rascals). Or IRENE (94D: Galsworthy's Mrs. Forsyte). Speaking of Forsyte, John Forsythe of "Dynasty" fame just died at the age of 92. He was quite the silver fox, and the cause of much cat-fighting between Krystle and Alexis.
- 29A: Dentiform : tooth :: pyriform : ___ (PEAR) — well, that took a while. "Tooth" had me thinking anatomically for too long.
- 60A: Navigator William with a sea named after him (BARENTS)
- 61A: Jazzy Chick (COREA) — This had me thinking about possible wacky theme answers like CHICK KOREA or CHICK CORNEA...
- 66A: Something that might be hard to drink? (CIDER) — a great, Klahnish clue.
- 74A: Chartres shout (CRI) — First thought: "What's the French equivalent of OLE?"
- 92A: "The Flying Dutchman" tenor (ERIK) — been in puzzles before. Not sure if it'll ever stick. I was able to get it off the -IK, so I guess that's ... something.
- 95A: Exotic berry in some fruit juices (AÇAÍ) — was wondering why I hadn't seen this berry in puzzles before (maybe I have and just forgot). Highly touted as a "superfood" by Oprah, among others.
- 106A: 1986 rock autobiography ("I, TINA") — if clue involves 1986, autobiography, and music, it's "I, TINA," a very common crossword answer.
- 112A: Interjection added to the O.E.D. in 2001 ("D'OH!") — [Homeric interjection] might have been more accurate:
- 113A: Land called Mizraim in the Bible (EGYPT) — er, uh, no. Needed several crosses before this familiar country came into view.
- 2D: Suffix with boff (-OLA) — seems a variation of "Boffo," which is some kind of hybrid of "Big Box Office," i.e. "a huge hit."
- 4D: Birthplace of William Thackeray and Satyajit Ray (CALCUTTA) — "Somewhere in India" was the only guess I had 'til crosses made it evident. I get Thackeray and Trollope confused, as they are both 19c. British novelists I haven't read.
- 9D: June "honoree," briefly (U.S. FLAG) — for a while, just had the "G," and had *no* idea what the scare quotes around "honoree" could mean. Then somehow the answer just came to me, and really helped solve that damned "FLOOR" area of the grid (FLAG proved the "F" in "FLOOR," for instance).
- 28D: Gregg Allman's wife who filed for divorce after nine days (CHER) — took me way longer than it should have. Thought it was going to be some lady I'd never heard of.
- 37D: Major party (TORIES) — only long after I'd finished did I get that "Major" was John Major, former P.M. of the U.K.
- 49D: Cursed alchemist (MIDAS) — Tricky. Being an alchemist (i.e. changing whatever he touched to gold) *was* his curse. Also, what he asked for. Irony!
- 56D: Coat named for a British lord (RAGLAN) — strangely, this was my first guess, with very little to go on. I cannot wear a coat or anything with a RAGLAN sleeve as I do not have the shoulders to pull it off. RAGLAN lost his arm in the Battle of Waterloo.
- 69D: Epithet for Elizabeth I (ORIANA) — I teach Renaissance literature and it still took me a while to come up with this.
- 70D: Sassy lassies (MINXES) — This clue has "ass" in it. Twice.
- 76D: Half-circle window over a door (FAN LIGHT) — another complete mystery to me. Was looking for, I don't know, TRANSOM?
- 80D: Resident of Daiquirí (CUBAN) — I know it as a drink, not a place. Last night I had something called a "French 76," I think, with gin and champagne and something else and all I could taste was champagne. Wife had a "Wimbley," which has Pimm's No. 5 (we don't know what that is) and ginger ale and is served with a cucumber wedge. Wife insisted that her cucumber was a "slice," not a "wedge." Discussion of specific properties of "wedge"-ness ensued. We could have been on an episode of "Nerd Date," if that were a show.
- @sidspid Feet up, slippers on, Radio 4, the crossword, and a huge crack pipe. Sorry, cup of tea, that's it. Cup of tea.
- @sassydotnet When I first looked at today's @nytimes crossword I thought I was having a stroke.
- @bovinepublic Gaaaahhh, my pen exploded all over my hand while I was doing a crossword puzzle. Not cool, pen. Not cool.
- @KylesBeard my nascent crossword addiction has alerted me to the alarming yeti fixation of crossword constructors. maybe they're on to something.
- @UncouthGentlman NYT crossword clue: food for regular folks? Answer: Bran. Seriously, Will Shortz? A poop joke?
- @bobdively Unusual Monday NYT xword puzzle fail due to insufficient hair style lore. (Why would anyone under 55 know Mamie Eisenhower had bangs?)
- @atwong Why do I bother with the pretext of reading the paper when, truthfully, all I really care about is the crossword.
- @krystalite Mom's doing a crossword puzzle in Rachel Ray's magazine. With every answer obtained, Mom's respect for Rachel Ray diminishes.
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