Native of central Caucasus / SAT 7-23-11 / Big mystery during summer of 1980 / Ancient rival of Assyria / Friendly things in old ads
Saturday, July 23, 2011
n. a member of an Iranian people living in S Russia and N Georgia, chiefly in Ossetia in the Caucasus. (Collins Eng. Dict.)
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OSSET is like RUCTION, only more so ... though now that I see the relation to "OSSETia," I can at least say I've heard of the region involved (South Ossetia, to be specific—there must be some kind of troubles there, otherwise why would it be in the news? Here it is—declared independence from Georgia in 1990, fought two wars with Georgia in (1991, 2008), now autonomous but not officially recognized by Georgia). All this info doesn't make me like OSSET any more. The rest of the puzzle seems pretty strong, and "WHO SHOT J.R.?" is one of my favorite answers of the year (31A: Big mystery during the summer of 1980). I thought this puzzle was pretty damned hard, but then my time came in just a shade over yesterday's—i.e. pretty normal for a Saturday. Biggest trouble spots involved (not surprisingly) complete mystery answers: the aforementioned OSSET, the "come on it's an abbrev. for 'horizontal'" HOR (32D: Biblical mount where Aaron died), the "I know that word only from 'Canterbury Tales'" REEVE (30A: Town council president, in Canada), and the "why haven't you memorized him by now?" NEY (47A: Waterloo marshal).
Started with JETÉ (1D: "Grand" or "petit" dance move), which I knew was right both because it *felt* right, and because the "J" in the first position seemed highly likely for the Across (and it was: JET STREAM—1A: It's a blast for some balloonists). Speaking of "blast," South OSSETia was an "autonomous oblast" during the Soviet era. Aaaaanyway, JET STREAM gave me ENUF (7D: Sufficient, informally) gave me WIFI (20A: Provider of a hot spot at a coffee shop?) gave me "THE WIRE" (5D: It was Obama's self-professed favorite TV series). Didn't get far after that and had to restart with SPECS (36D: Design info) and GAZPACHO (44A: A dish best served cold). That took care of the west, mostly (that REEVE part was pretty intransigent). Had O-STAR (!?) for ORION (46D: Giant in astronomy), so didn't get into the SE for a while. REVENGE (one of my favorite topics) got me started again in the east (love the successive twin clues for this and GAZPACHO, btw). SVELTER came easily from there (40D: Relatively sylphlike), and SE corner was easiest of all. Finished in the NE, where I found HORSE (instead of BULL) HOCKEY, and a GRASS STAIN whose clue I still don't fully understand (12D: Yard stick?). Is it that the stain "sticks" to your pants? Yeesh. Last letter in the grid was the first "S" in OSSET. Shocked to get the "Congratulations" signal from my software.
"Sylphlike" looks awfully (and unfortunately) like "syphilitic."
- 15A: Asian symbols of wisdom (ELEPHANTS) — the whole damned continent thinks this?
- 22A: Alexander's need (GIN) — Ran the alphabet at -IN, hit GIN, remembered that there was such a thing as a "Brandy Alexander," and figured liquor was a good guess.
- 40A: "Friendly" things, in old ads (SKIES) — I always hate when "old" things are well within my memory. Disconcerting.
- 55A: Bit of décor at Trader Vic's (TIKI TORCH) — at first I was thinking of Trader Joe's. Once I got straightened out, this wasn't hard at all.
- 2D: Ancient rival of Assyria (ELAM) — EDOM ELOM ELAM ELOI who the hell knows!?
- 51D: 1982 high-tech film ("TRON") — a very big deal that I completely ignored. I was too busy playing actual video games at the corner 7-11 and/or pizza parlor.