Old English recorder /FRI 6-10-11/ Political entity 1854-1900 / Animated girl-group leader / Actress Corby Grandma Walton / Short-lived republic 1836
Friday, June 10, 2011
Samuel Pepys FRS, MP, JP, (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man. Although Pepys had no maritime experience, he rose by patronage, hard work and his talent for administration, to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and subsequently King James II. // His influence and reforms at the Admiralty were important in the early professionalisation of the Royal Navy. // The detailed private diary Pepys kept from 1660 until 1669 was first published in the 19th century, and is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period. It provides a combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London.
What makes this puzzle wonderful: the ultra-clean grid (ROTA sucks on a Wednesday, but is just fine as the lone bit of short crud in an otherwise gorgeous themeless) (41A: Membership list); the rank unobscurity of the fill—all names are widely known, all vocabulary common (interesting, but familiar); the wide-open spaces; the wide-ranging quality of answers (balanced ... I tend to love puzzles that are somewhat more contemporary in their frame of reference, but this one seems designed to have broad appeal, which is more-than-reasonable); the spot-on clues—I mean, [Old English recorder] had me baffled despite the fact that I *taught* PEPYS just a month or so ago; it's literally correct, despite the fact that both "Old English" (suggesting Beowulf-era England) and "recorder" (suggesting musical instrument) will throw you (me) off.
I started out painfully slowly, with just PARE, IVAN, and HAVE IT OUT in my grid, along with a smattering of Ss where I knew plurals must be. I went All Over the grid and couldn't get any kind of toehold until I hit DARIN (37A: "Beyond the Sea" singer), which allowed me to guess DEEP END, then get CHET (42A: Jazz trumpeter Baker) ... and I was off. Not quickly, but methodically. And suddenly all the parts that had refused to let me in began to open up, and in the end, my time was pretty normal for a Friday. I love the zoo-like quality the animal answers bring to the grid, as well as the 19th-century feel imparted by answers like ORANGE FREE STATE (17A: Political entity of 1854-1900) and TEXAS (25D: Short-lived republic founded in 1836) and DAVIS (51A: Mid 19th-century president), and the classical literature elements playing around in the SE corner and elsewhere: TROY and CARTHAGE and THEBAN and PAGAN. Lots of little subthemes swirling around and giving the grid an interesting character. No pop culture that isn't at least 35 years old, and yet it still didn't feel musty and dated to me. Superior work all around.
- 1A: It uses liquid from a pitcher (SPIT BALL) — more great clue misdirection
- 9A: Cloud maker (A-BOMB) — I wanted APPLE (if you follow tech news, you know why)
- 19A: Tree-defoliating insect (TENT CATERPILLAR) — never heard of this, and was dubious when TENT ran into the TENT from TENTACLE. For everyone who says I don't like learning new things or answers I don't know or whatever other nonsense people say, here: didn't know it, liked it (this is not a first ... or a second, or a ninety-eighth...). Also didn't know SAN ANGELO, but could piece it together easily enough (52A: Site of Goodfellow Air Force Base).
- 32A: Pirate's hiding place, possibly (ISLE) — confidently wrote in CAVE, ugh.
- 33A: "Poor Richard's Almanack" tidbit (MAXIM) — wouldn't have minded a [Men's mag] clue here to give the puzzle some balance, something from this century, but I don't mind this clue. Love the "X" dead center (reminds me of a treasure map, speaking of "Pirate's hiding place...").
- 50A: Popular June program? ("LEAVE IT TO BEAVER") — never saw this clue, which is lovely. Tough yet playful, and capable of generating a true aha moment.
- 54A: 1950s million-selling song that begins "The evening breeze caressed the trees ..." ("TENDERLY") — never heard of it (to my knowledge), but like SAN ANGELO, I could piece it together from crosses. I know "LOVE ME TENDER" by Elvis. I know "FAITHFULLY," by Journey. I also know this:
- 5D: Typical of urban life (BIG-CITY) — just a great, great colloquial answer
- 10D: Role in a drawing-room mystery (BUTLER) — I teach crime fiction, but BUTLERs are almost never involved, mainly because I tend to avoid "drawing-room mysteries" like the plague.
- 11D: Flame Queen ___ (famous gemstone) (OPAL) — never heard of it (again!). From the second I saw this clue, this is the song that's been stuck in my head:
- 12D: Having multiple layers of self-reference (META) — spot-on, in-the-language; great clue.
- 15D: Swampland swimmer (TERRAPIN) — Some kind of turtle. Maryland's mascot.
- 44D: "That little darkroom where negatives are developed," per Michael Pritchard (FEAR) — interesting quote, but I have no idea who this is—he appears to be some kind of motivational speaker ... this clue feels like it was taken from a Quotations site (search=FEAR), and yet I still enjoyed figuring out how to get from clue to answer.
- 24D: Actress Corby who played Grandma Walton (ELLEN) — this is possibly the most obscure thing in the puzzle. But ELLEN is a basic name. Not too tough.
- 18D: Roby Roy or Shirley Temple (EPONYM) — I had DRINKS, which is stupid since the clue says "or," not "and" ... and yet the "N" was still in the right place, which helped me get TANTRUMS (25A: They're thrown in anger).
- 23D: Animated girl-group leader (JOSIE) — ... and the Pussycats.
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