Competitive lumberjack / SAT 2-26-11 / Gregor's sister in Metamorphosis / Hydra's neighbor / Group worshiping teocalli / Glamorous high profile pair
Saturday, February 26, 2011
BIRLv. birled, birl·ing, birlsv.tr.To cause (a floating log) to spin rapidly by rotating with the feet.v.intr.1. To participate in birling.2. To spin.n.A whirring noise; a hum.birler n.
• • •PFFT (57D: Indication of a dud).
As you can (maybe) see from my grid, I finished with an error. I'll eat my hat, scarf, *and* mittens if I'm the only one who made the error — BUD / DIRLER for BUB / BIRLER. Look, there are lots of things I don't know, and I certainly finish puzzles with errors from time to time, so please understand that it really isn't sour grapes that makes me say that that crossing is horrible. Fatal, even. You have to figure the percentage of the population that's going to know that BIRLER is a thing. I put that percentage at pretty small. There's no way even to infer BIRLER, to pick it over DIRLER (the way I *totally* inferred the godawful ORNIS from the word "ornithological"—52A: Avifauna). Since the cross makes *much* more sense as BUD, not BUB (who says that?) (48A: Pal), this means folks who don't know BIRLER will naturally, understandably, put in the "D." And most will go on with their days having no idea it's wrong. The clue on BUB should not have had BUD as a possible (here, more probable) answer, but I'm not sure how you do that, frankly. This really is a construction failure of the highest order. Nevermind that you ran BIRLER through ORNIS (!?) and alongside the dreaded, never-thought-I'd-see-its-ugly-ass-again SODDY (53D: Like some outfields). The rest of the grid is a toughish Saturday with some good parts and some less-than-good parts, but the middle south? Should've sent the constructor back to the drawing board.
Not a fan of gaining your difficulty through obscurity instead of tough, clever, misdirective cluing. GRETE (29A: Gregor's sister in "The Metamorphosis"), AMTRAC (42A: Amphibious W.W. II vehicle), and non-KEN Burns were all big "???"s for me. Crossing old, bygone, largely forgotten actors in the SW? Not cool. I know ED WYNN only from crosswords (64A: "The Diary of Anne Frank" Oscar nominee) and HENREID? (38D: He played Laszlo in "Casablanca") ... I just saw that damn movie and couldn't remember his name. Wasn't til I was done that I figured out what RENOS stood for (RENOvationS) (47A: Decorating do-overs, for short). Thankfully, crosswords taught me ALEN (56D: Chrysler Building architect William Van ___). Too many odd names in one small place (leaving aside MRS. MALAPROP (55A: "She's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile" speaker), who is pretty famous and just about the loveliest thing in the grid). NW and SE are charming, but the rest was a bit of a chore, except the BUB / BIRLER / ORNIS part, about which, no more.
I had two absolutely deadly mistakes—ELATION for ELYSIUM early on (8D: Perfectly happy state), and FURNACE for RAT RACE toward the end (44D: Exhausting thing to run). Oh, wait, I forgot one: COMPANY for NOT MANY (40D: Two, say).
Important toe-holds USAF in the NW (5D: Ace's setting: Abbr.), ZONE in the NE, ANAT. in the SW, and LAH in the SE (though that last one did very little for me, frankly). The saddest thing about the entire puzzle, for me, was how I was saved from near death by ... MR. MISTER (32A: Band with the 1985 #1 hit "Broken Wings"), a band I once almost got beat up for mocking (true story—that guy *really* liked MR. MISTER...). These sensitive '80s rockers floated down and, like a guardian angel or mystical spirit guide, completely cracked open the upper part of the grid for me. Without MR. MISTER (whispering "Take / These broken wings / And learn to fly again / Learn to live so free..."), I might still be working with ELATION. So, despite finding their music cloying and semi-repulsive, I offer my thanks.
Sticking with '80s pop, here's the RIC (58A: Documentarian Burns) I wish I'd gotten:
Started out with IT COUPLE (1A: Glamorous, high-profile pair)—how lucky was that?—and then quickly ran into my ELATION problem. ZONE helped me get AZTECS (9A: Group worshiping at a teocalli), which made NE not so tough—though it took me many, many crosses to come up with SPENSER (14D: One-named fictional detective), which I always assumed was a last name, not an ENYA-type single name. Guessed ELIS at 25A: Big Red rivals out of crossword reflex. I assume Big Red is Cornell. Crossword reflexes helped again in the SE, where my sense that [Longtime classical music label] must be a "Saturday" way of getting at the ultra-common ERATO helped me get past FURNACE and into RAT RACE.
Lastly, [Inveterate brown-bagger] is perhaps my favorite clue ever for SOT.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
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