Epithet for Falstaff / SAT 5-15-10 / Earthen embankment / Jo's suitor in "Little Women" / Van Gogh's Portrait of Tanguy
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Constructors: Trip Payne & Patrick Berry
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
As is typical on a Saturday, this puzzle is themeless, unless "grindingly difficult" counts as a theme.
Word of the Day: VARLET (27A: "___ vile" (epithet for Falstaff)) —
Hi, my name is Ben. I'll be sitting in for Rex today while he helps his grandmother celebrate her 90th birthday in Idaho.
- On my Wednesday morning train I read a recent New Yorker Talk of the Town article that mentioned a (then-)Saigon hotel popular with 1970s Vietnam War correspondents: the Rex Hotel.
- An hour later I was dealing with some suburban Chicago real estate on a street called Rex Boulevard.
- A few minutes later I got an email from our own Rex Parker inviting me to write this.
- And then on today's train while banging out Patrick Blindauer's new Fireball Crossword (a cool puzzle, by the way) I happened upon 41 Across, three letters, clued as "Dinosaur voiced by Wallace Shawn in the 'Toy Story' movies."
Today's puzzle by the Twin Torquemadas was the opposite experience, all fits and starts and POTHOLES (32D: Results of road fatigue). Some answers took two or three entirely defensible wrong guesses before I got there. (25D: Edges: RIMS to LIPS to NIPS. Oh, it's a verb.) I'm glad I solve on a computer because I would have erased a few holes in my paper.
As for why I'm writing this at night: it's my first time doing it and I'm not sure how long it will take, so given Rex's publication deadline I don't dare start writing it in the morning. But as Friday's puzzle showed, even allowing for the difference in difficulty, I am a lot better at doing crosswords first thing in the morning than late at night. The same is true for blogging. This is an unfortunate disconnect from a readership that starts looking for answers and commentary at daybreak and a newspaper that releases its puzzle to the Internet late on the eve of its publication. So the next time I do this, if there is a next time, it would be nice if I could somehow get an early look at the puzzle (cue "Mission: Impossible" theme).
Let's start with the grid. It's sassy. Two 11-letter triple stacks nestled behind 15s? A grid this wide open is not easily constructed, particularly with nice clean fill as in this case, but Trip and Patrick are two of the best.
I started up top and after reading the first three 11s, I had nothing but my enthusiasm. Even the gimme-sounding 19A: Alliterative team name didn't offer much help, since there are a fair number of those. You've got your CLEVELANDCAVALIERS, your BOSTONBRUINS, your SEATTLESEAHAWKS, and so on.
But 1D: "After whom ___ thou pursue?": 1 Samuel (DOST) was a total gimme even for us secular humanist types. Now I knew the team name started with T, so they were the T___ T___s of whatever word length. Even this casual NFL follower could see the TENNESSEETITANS from 100 yards away.
I looked back at 17A: 1970s woe (STAGFLATION). It was 11 letters long and now I had S________. All I could think of was SKYLABSFALL. Incredibly, this was not correct.
So I started chipping away with the downs, and soon got things going up top. 9D: Slobbery cartoon character (ODIE), much as my pride resists acknowledging anything having to do with Garfield, is a crossword must-know. Three vowels in four letters, including one at either end? Not as hip as REN but just as useful to constructors.
Soon I had O_____M_D__ for 15A: Paperless reading materials, which was enough to give me ONLINEMEDIA, and kept on grinding away. Still, the rest of the grid was like pulling teeth:
- 18A: Resident ignored by census taker (PET): First I wanted DOG, then CAT. I had the idea but not the expression, as they say in copyright law. Expressions can be protected but not ideas. You can copyright Han Solo, but you can't copyright the concept of a swashbuckling renegade hero.
- 16A: Dentiform : tooth :: Pisiform : ____ (PEA): Insert sophomoric double entendre here. None of the body parts I was thinking of was three letters long.
- 29A: Nielsen count (VIEWERS): I confidently wrote down RATINGS and I bet I'm not the only one. Confidence on a Saturday so often turns out to be overconfidence. On the Nielsen front, I grew up playing tennis at the A.C. Nielsen Tennis Center in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Illinois. The ratings company founder was a local resident who loved tennis and donated a 20-court indoor-outdoor complex to the community. Now that is my kind of guy. As for tennis, I was intending to play both days this weekend, but since it looks like I will be staying up half the night blogging about this puzzle, let's just get some Sunday morning doubles before the Blackhawks game, shall we?
- 37A: Runner's place (BASE): I had _A_E and wanted LANE.
- 47D: Consoles, in a way (PATS): I had __TS and wanted TUTS.
- 14D: Gradually destroys (EATSAT): I had E_____ and wanted ERODES.
55A: Had people over (ENTERTAINED): My first guess was right and I bet yours was too. Still can't think of any other 11-letter word or phrase that would work here, not that I have tried to.
Other answers you could get with just a little thought:
- 7D: Part of a famous conjugation (AMAS): Well, it ain't VENI, VIDI or VICI since those are three different verbs. After I got the Nashville football team (remember the Titans?) I had ___S so AMAS, as in AMO AMAS AMAT, was clearly called for.
- 57A: Ingredients in everything bagels, a nifty clue by the way, could only be one of a handful of things. First I thought of POPPYSEEDS, but the answer was 11 letters. Next thought was SESAMESEEDS and it was right. Now I want an everything bagel.
- 49D: Earthen embankment (BERM): My mom uses this word occasionally, and though I don't remember hearing it anywhere else, that was apparently enough for it to sink in.
- 46D: ___ Fonck, top Allied fighter ace of W.W. I (RENE): Had __NE, figured he wasn't named after the Hawaiian state bird so often seen in crossword puzzles (NENE), and having taken six years of French and spent a summer in La Rochelle, France as a high school exchange student, recognized the -nck ending as a French construction. That was enough to get me RENE.
Extending the French theme, the SW of this puzzle was nearly my Waterloo. I am very proud that I can honestly say I eventually solved it without help, but sacre bleu! Never has a more innocent-looking corner of a puzzle given me more trouble. In hindsight some of my trouble spots don't look that difficult (and I'll never know if I'd have done better in the morning) but at the time the short fill was brutal, for me anyway. I was all kinds of wrong all over the place:
- 36D: Dash part (TACH): This was a dashboard abbreviation but I couldn't get past the idea of a footrace, so I wanted YARD or STEP. Not helping matters was that I stupidly put EDITORPUBLISHER at first for 45A: Writer who doesn't need an agent (AUTHORPUBLISHER), so I had ___T for the dash part. Eventually getting to ___H didn't help me much.
- 52A: Receiver of contributions, for short (IRA): I deeply wanted PAC in this spot.
- 43A: Stock-buying venue (RANCH): I was on the right track thinking about livestock as opposed to securities, but I couldn't get there with ____H. I was thinking of cattle auctions and the only market-type place I could think of in five letters was AGORA. This should not have been that hard.
- 56A: Ascertain (SEE): I knew this was either GET or SEE and spent the better part of the Obama administration frustratedly changing my mind between one and the other.
- 40D: Available as evidence, maybe (ONTAPE): I had ON___E and couldn't get past ONLINE or ONTIME, neither of which was any good.
- 39D: Jo's suitor in "Little Women" (LAURIE): This had to be a gimme for a lot of people, but not for me. I never read this book and needed half the letters before I could remember it. It didn't help that LAURIE, like LESLIE and EVELYN, was once a boy's name before girls took it over. I knew that MRDARCY was the gentleman caller in another classic novel I really should have read by now but haven't, but I couldn't quite recall this one. Speaking of which, I could tell you the far less famous ex-wives of Tom Cruise (MIMIROGERS) and Steven Spielberg (AMYIRVING) and Harrison Ford (MELISSAMATHISON), and even the not at all famous ex-husband of Mena Suvari (ROBERTBRINKMANN), but not 22A: Actress Balsam who was once married to George Clooney (TALIA).
- 54A: Party staple (DIP). Should this have been impossible? It was for me. At first I thought of REP and SEN, as in political party, despite the lack of abbreviation in the clue, and their failure to fit the clue. After getting LAURIE I had _I_. I thought of VIN, despite the lack of French in the clue, and its weak fit to the clue. At one point I was like, "JIM. JIM is at every party."
- And finally, the last word I muscled into place, 38D: Do lines? (BRAIDS). I felt pretty sure that Will Shortz and the Sulzberger family would not approve of something like GETLIT or COKEUP in this spot, and the question mark at the end also told me to look for a pun. The problem was that I was looking for the wrong ones. I was thinking "Do" as in Do Re Mi, even though hindsight tells me the pronunciation of Do should not change for a pun to work, so I initially wanted STAFFS or STAVES as in the lines that a Do note goes on. I was not thinking of "Do" as in hairdo At All. I also thought about Tae Kwon Do, which was as useless as it sounds. After I got 38A: Makes excessively large (BLOATS), I knew the Do lines started with a B. I then went for BRANDS as in product lines, though this didn't feel too solid. Did the NRA receive contributions? Then, bang, IRA and BRAIDS and as Dennis Miller once said, I was out of here.
My thanks to Rex for letting me pinch-hit today. If he's the King of CrossWorld then I'm the Dauphin Prince, sitting on the throne in a too-big crown. Beyond the compliment of handing me the keys to his kingdom, he also trusted me to make my debut on a Saturday. It's kind of like how our friend Amy Reynaldo recently made her New York Times constructing debut on a Sunday, only immeasurably less impressive, and upon further reflection, not like it at all.
As Wade mentioned yesterday, I write a blog called Ben Bass and Beyond. Stop by and say hello some time. Actually there are a few crossword stories on there right now, including a summary of the 2010 Chicago tournament and the first crossword puzzle I ever constructed. Scroll down to the bottom half of the main page (syndication solvers will have to click "Older Posts"). And Rex Parker is a "follower," so you should be too.
Hope you're having fun in Idaho, Rex. In addition to being the Gem State, and a too-infrequent crossword answer for a U.S. state that both begins and ends with a vowel, "Idaho" is also an occasional corollary to the expression "You da man."
Until SethG's turn tomorrow,
Ben Bass, Dauphin Prince,
for Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
(Exit, pursued by a bear.)
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]