English poet/composer Gurney / SAT 1-29-11 / Smallish ballpark in slang / Freshwater plant also called wild celery / Soapmaking compound chemically
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Vallisneria is a genus of freshwater aquatic plant, commonly called eelgrass, tape grass or vallis. The genus has 6-10 species that are widely distributed, but do not grow in colder regions. // Vallisneria is a submersed plant that spreads by runners and sometimes forms tall underwater meadows. Leaves arise in clusters from their roots. The leaves have rounded tips, and definite raised veins. Single white female flowers grow to the water surface on very long stalks. Tape grass fruit is a banana-like capsule having many tiny seeds. (wikipedia)
Wow, this one put up almost no resistance, and my experience of Saturdays being easier than Fridays continues. More often than not, in recent months, I've dusted off the Saturday faster than the Friday. I thought Fridays were supposed to be easier, but I'm just not convinced they are any more. Can't imagine someone taking longer to finish this one than it took to do yesterday's, for instance (which took me about 50% longer). I started with the cinchy MEL (4D: TV diner employer of 9-Down), which gave me the obvious ALICE at 9-Down, and that pair gave me toeholds in two different parts of the grid. Pretty serendipitous. Crossed MEL with WHOEVER (15A: "It doesn't matter ... anyone's fine"), then crossed that with SWEATSHOPS (1D: Much of New York's Garment District, once) and proceeded to take the NW apart. I might have gotten slowed down here and there, but I never got stuck. Not once. Not complaining; just puzzled.
Today's puzzle provides an excellent illustration of how the joints, or narrow passageways connecting the more wide-open white spaces, bear a lot of stress so that the longer answers can shine (which is as it should be). The ugliest things about this grid are these passageways: OVIS over ATA in the SE, KOH in the N (27A: Soapmaking compound, chemically), AIS (aieee!) in the NW—all bad, but all holding big chunks of deliciousness in place, and therefore all forgivable and forgettable. Nothing terribly obscure today, except perhaps this IVOR guy (5D: English poet/composer Gurney), and EELGRASS, which I'd never heard of but got easily from crosses. Didn't know what [Lazuline] meant, but I had the BLUE and just guessed the SKY part (confirmed by ENYA—see, she's good for something; 55D: Mononymous four-time Grammy winner). In the "Lesson Learned" category today we have BANDBOX (58A: Smallish ballpark, in slang), which baffled me earlier in my solving career. I was told then that "any baseball fan knows what that means"—but I'd been a baseball fan for 30 years and had never heard it. To this day, the only place I've encountered it is in crosswords. Twice now. [Note, that may be a lie—I have a faint memory of seeing the word in print *just* after my first crossword BANDBOX experience]
- 1A: Eric ___, Google C.E.O. beginning in 2001 (SCHMIDT) — I think I just read that this won't be true anymore, or maybe already isn't true. Something about going younger, getting back the entrepreneurial spirit, businessspeak businessspeak, etc. Yep, it looks like Google co-found Larry Page (b. 1973) will take over as C.E.O. in April.
- 8A: Period between Shaban and Shawwal (RAMADAN) — "Period between" and Arabic-sounding names tells me all I need to know to get this one.
- 16A: Home of Nascar's longest oval (ALABAMA) — the whole damn state is the "home?" Random.
- 18A: Title for Columbus, in the Indies (VICEROY) — when you've got "-ICERO-" in place before you ever see the clue, this one's not hard, though I thought briefly CICERO might be involved...
- 40A: Present day figure in Paris? ("PÈRE NOEL") — i.e. Father Christmas
- 2D: Upscale wedding reception amenity (CHAIR COVER) — interesting answer, though "amenity" seems weird to me. They're usually plain and don't exactly provide added pleasure. Also, not terribly "upscale," in my experience.
- 7D: TV host with a star on Canada's Walk of Fame (TREBEK) — off the "R" in WHOEVER, I honestly considered DR. PHIL.
- 11D: He had righteous blood, per Matthew 23:35 (ABEL) — nice little misdirect there, using N.T. to clue O.T. figure.
- 28D: Texas city near the Coahuila border (DEL RIO) — really helps to know your southwest geography today, with DEL RIO and TAOS (21D: County with the restor town Red River) holding the key to the grid's NE territory.
- 31D: Staples of jazz music (TENOR SAXES) — Didn't think of Mavis Staples as a jazz singer, so took "Staples" at face value and was eventually rewarded for doing so.
- 45D: Emmy-winning reality show host of 2008, '09 and '10 (PROBST) — Jeff PROBST of "Survivor" fame. I used to watch that show. Wife still does. It's a (very) minor point of contention in the household.
- 42A: Cheap cigar, in slang (EL ROPO) — I know almost all my cigar terminology from crosswords. I can only think of CLARO right now, but I'm sure there's more.
- 33D: Big creature in un zoológico (OSO) — a bear. I had the last "O" and just guessed. Correctly.
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