Mewing passerines / THU 7-21-11 / 1985 NL MVP Willie / Bridge at Narni artist / Courtier who invites Hamlet to fence with Laertes
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Constructor: Michael Sharp
Relative difficulty: I have no idea
THEME: SLICED / CHEESE (36A: With 38-Across, deli purchase ... or a description of the answer to 17-, 26-, 47- or 55-Across) — theme answers are cheeses, which the "?"-style clues "slice" into wacky phrases
Word of the Day: SIR Barton (3D: ___ Barton, first Triple Crown winner, 1919) —
Sir Barton, (1916–1937), was a chestnut thoroughbred colt who in 1919 became the first winner of the American Triple Crown. // He was sired by leading stud Star Shoot out of the Hanover mare Lady Sterling. His grandsire was the 1893 English Triple Crown champion, Isinglass. // Sir Barton was bred in Kentucky by John E. Madden and Vivian A. Gooch at Hamburg Place Farm near Lexington. Madden raced him in his two-year-old season. He was entered in six races, winning none. Madden sold the horse in 1918 for $10,000 to Canadian businessman J. K. L. Ross. // Ross placed Sir Barton in the hands of trainer H. Guy Bedwelland jockey Johnny Loftus. At three, he made his season debut as a maiden in the Kentucky Derby. He was supposed to be the rabbit for his highly regarded stablemate, a horse named Billy Kelly. (A rabbit is a speed horse set up to wear out the rest of the field, thereby allowing another horse to win.) However, it was Sir Barton who led the field of 12 horses from start to finish, winning the race by five lengths. Just four days later, the horse was in Baltimore and won the Preakness Stakes, beating Eternal. Again he led all the way. He then won the Withers Stakes in New York and shortly thereafter completed the first Triple Crown in U.S. history by easily winning the Belmont Stakes, setting an American record for the mile and three-eighths race, the distance for the Belmont at the time. Amazingly, Sir Barton's four wins were accomplished in a space of just 32 days. He was voted the 1919 Horse of the Year, American racing's highest honor. (wikipedia)
You could make the argument that this puzzle is basically one solid theme answer + three answers that were forcibly and brutally conscripted into theme service. But I figure if you're going to go wacky, go big or go home. And if MA'S CAR PONE isn't going big, wacky-wise, I don't know what is (55A: Mom's special road-trip corn bread?). That phrase is so improbable, so surreal, that I can't help but love it, the way you might love a cross-eyed, three-legged dog that can yodel. Fact: I considered cluing this answer [Mom's fish, after taking a rave drug], which I love even more, but I didn't think that meaning of "E" was in-the-language for most NYT solvers, so I backed off. That's right, MA'S CAR PONE is me backing off. If I could send one of these theme answers home, it would be LIMB URGER, if only because "URGER" is barely a word (47A: One trying to shake a leg?). My original clue for PRO VOL. ONE was [In favor of the first bk.?] — I don't like that "Abbr." at the end of 26A: In favor of the first book?: Abbr.; seems unnecessarily confusing. Which part is abbreviated? Who knows?
Seems like at least half the clues were changed this time, possibly because I clue like a maniac. My clues tend to be reaches—usually not ridiculous, but often pushing the limits of traditional crossword puzzle solver knowledge, usually in the direction of stuff I love. Will wisely lost my "Simpsons" clue for JASPER (1A: Traditional March birthstone) and my yoga clue for CORPSE (46D: Zombie, essentially). Many of the other changes were a matter of de-pop-culturefication, or simple concision. It's a bit weird to get your puzzle back and have it be unrecognizable in parts. I had no idea JASPER was a stone. I'm serious. I knew my clue on JASPER would get changed, but I figured it would be changed to JASPER Johns. So 1A was a mystery to me. I actually thought Will might have changed the answer itself. Then I hit the 1919 Triple Crown winner, which I also did Not know, and thought, "Huh ... I'm going to be unable to complete my own puzzle. That'll be a first." Clues on OSAKA (34D: City of 2 1/2+ million at the mouth of the Yodo River) and DANKE (13D: Comment preceding "Gern geschehen") and COROT were also new to me, though, to be fair, my own original clue on COROT would probably be mystifying to me. I know he's French, and pre-Impressionist, and that's about it (32A: "The Bridge at Narni" artist).
As for the fill in general, I'm pretty pleased with it. Least pleased with the ALG. / AB OVO / OSRIC section (I'd kill OSRIC if I could—ironic, since he's one of the few characters who *don't* die at the end of "Hamlet" ... wait, he doesn't die, does he? I'm reading that Branagh makes him die, but I don't remember that being part of the play...) (42D: Courtier who invites Hamlet to fence with Laertes). Love STEEL TOE (10D: Common work boot feature) and FOOTRUB (7D: Service that requires no shoes) and BEEFSUP (and the fact that BEEF crosses BURGER) (41D: Fortifies). Also love TOPLESS (!) (44A: Like some bars and beaches) and, for reasons I really don't fully comprehend, the clue on FIBER (52A: ___ One). In my original submission, I cross-referenced 31A: "Beat it!" ("GET OUT!") and 20A: Dissolve a relationship (END IT). Will dissolved that relationship. I now realize I could have triple-cross-referenced these answers with EXES (28A: Joint custody parties), but it's probably a good thing that that idea occurred to me very late. Happy to bring Willie MCGEE back into the light, however briefly, and to have him sitting right next to BIRDS (he played for the Cardinals) (49D: 1985 N.L. M.V.P. Willie). If this puzzle has no other distinction, it will go down in history as the first appearance in the NYT crossword of one Mr. Justin BIEBER (65A: "Baby" singer Justin). The floodgates are open. The Age of BIEBER is well and truly upon us. God be with us.
Finally, I discovered that Will has a sly sense of humor. Check out his clue on BARB (53D: Sharp put-down). My first thought upon reading it: "touché."
- 21A: Antelope of southern Africa (RHEBOK) — had clued this as [Oribi cousin] but Will (in a very useful email he sent me, explaining some of his clue changes) said: "For any solver who doesn't know what an oribi or rhebok is, the clue would be meaningless. So I was more explanatory"
- 62A: It's developed during training season (ROSTER) — I forget what my original clue was here, but this clue (a good one) took me a while to figure out (it'd been a long time since I'd seen this puzzle; it was accepted sometime in the fall of '10, I think).
- 4D: Obsolescent communication devices (PAGERS) — I think I had them as "simple"; I'm glad Will went one step further and relegated them to "bygone" status.
- 46D: Zombie, essentially (CORPSE) — coincidentally, wife and I just started watching AMC's "The Walking Dead" (I read the comic and decided I'd give the TV show a go). It's about zombies. Best part of the viewing experience so far is when zombies are trying to bust into a department store where survivors are holed up. One zombie picks up a big rock and starts trying to break the glass, and wife and I exclaim, at Exactly The Same Time (and word for word), "They know how to use tools!?" (All earlier evidence suggested they were pretty simple (and slow) creatures)
- 37D: Mewing passerines (CATBIRDS) — I love this clue, in part because it kind of looks like nonsense.