Long Island town / WED 8-1-12 / Designer inits. / Accessory for the fastidious dresser / Priam's wife / Arctic seabirds
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Constructor: Doug Peterson
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: I'm OK, You're OK — Three notable figures with the initials O.K., each of whom might meet and greet one another with the title of this puzzle.
Word of the Day: OMAR KHAYYAM (17A: Persian mathematician known for his poetry) —
Ghiyāth ad-Din Abu'l-Fat'h 'Umar ibn Ibrāhīm al-Khayyām Nīshāpūrī (1048–1131; Persian: غیاث الدین ابوالفتح عمر بن ابراهیم خیام نیشابورﻯ) was a Persian polymath: philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and poet. He also wrote treatises on mechanics, geography, mineralogy, music, climatology and Islamic theology.
He is the author of one of the most important treatises on algebra written before modern times, the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra, which includes a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle.
His significance as a philosopher and teacher, and his few remaining philosophical works, have not received the same attention as his scientific and poetic writings. Al-Zamakhshari referred to him as “the philosopher of the world.” (Wikipedia)
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Evan Birnholz here, checking in again before heading off to New York for both a friend's wedding and Lollapuzzoola! I don't think I'll be able to stay beyond the morning round of puzzles because of said wedding, but I'll still look for any Rex Parkerites (and actual Rex Parkers) there.
Today was.....an okay puzzle. I'm not saying that merely to be pun-tastic about the theme, nor am I saying that because it was your standard Wednesday fare. The reason I'm calling it "okay" is because, quite honestly, it was both maddening and satisfying at the same time, and if you average those two reactions out, you get....something in between. I'm thus labeling that thing in between as the state of feeling "okay."
CRAFT. I'm guessing there aren't that many of you. Perhaps you threw in something more obvious like SNEAK or CREEP, or if you were like me, nothing at all, because even those two didn't come to me at first glance. In fact, it feels like the clue is missing an "e.g." or something to indicate that a stealth bomber is a kind of aircraft....or maybe I've just never heard of the act of stealth as a synonym for being crafty.
But let's say you skipped 1-Across at the start. Immediately there's 1D: Food, colloquially. Was your first answer GRUB, like mine was, instead of the correct CHOW? I would hope not, because that could have set off a chain reaction that made most of the northwest corner a complete mystery. I erased GRUB and put down THOTH at 14A (Falcon-headed Egyptian God) rather than HORUS — just a dumb mistake, as I should have known I had the wrong bird (Thoth has the head of the crossword-friendly ibis) — but I compounded things by leaving THOTH in and then crossed it with ROAN at 3D (Fine steed), rather than the correct ARAB. And of course I initially came up blank on the way-out-of-who-knows-where FUR SEAL (4D: Flippered fish-eater with a double coat).
All of that happened before the first theme answer reared its head. OMAR who? KHAYYAM what? How many Persian, poetic mathematicians can you name off the top of your head? Yeah, didn't think so. He's been in the puzzle before as a first-name-only answer, and he might have been easier to recall if the clue referred to the famous poem "The Rubáiyát." But if you haven't heard of him, good luck. And even if you had, you still had the challenge of spelling out his last name correctly. The other two O.K.-related theme answers are hardly friendlier in that regard.
- 17A: Persian mathematician known for his poetry (OMAR KHAYYAM).
- 26A: Ukrainian-born actress who was a Bond girl in "Quantum of Solace" (OLGA KURYLENKO) — I've seen many James Bond movies, including "Quantum of Solace," but if aliens took over the world and gave me one shot to save the human species if only I could guess that Olga Kurylenko was in that movie and spell her name correctly....then I'm sorry, human race, but you'd be extinct. Well, not exactly. I got it right, but I was slowed down by the fact that A) I didn't know her, and B) when I had most of the letters down, I kept thinking that she was married to former N.B.A All-Star Andrei Kirilenko, and that the answer just misspelled her name. But nope, he's married to someone else, and his wife is, uh....unique, to say the least.
- 45A: Noted conductor whose son played TV's Colonel Klink (OTTO KLEMPERER) — I had no idea the two were related. Like his O.K. brethren Omar Khayyam, Otto is an old crossword staple on a first-name basis, but his last name was still tough to remember without help from the crosses.
- 60A: What 17-, 26- or 45-Across might say upon meeting 17-, 26- or 45-Across? (I'M OK YOU'RE OK) — The puzzle's constructor admitted a couple of weeks ago that when he solves a puzzle he tends to "peek," meaning he checks to see if there is a theme revealer first before attacking the other theme answers. Perhaps he was trying to warn us. I imagine that strategy might have made solving this puzzle of his a tad easier if you got initially stumped on any of the above three.
Still, despite all of those difficulties, the puzzle did have its satisfying moments. I was able to scratch and claw my way to a solution with no mistakes, in part using a technique I've described in the comment section a few times before (I'll explain in a minute). I'm all for a challenge, even on a Wednesday puzzle, so I appreciated the deceptive cluing on several answers which really cranked up the difficulty meter pretty high, like with URBAN (12D: Music genre), ERN (36A: It may follow directions), and the Gone With The Wind-related DAMN (10D: Butler expletive). There's some nice spark with entries like PAYPAL, OAT BRAN, LINT ROLLER, and GUN CONTROL — a timely answer given recent events that, as Amy Reynaldo notes, may also create further discussion about the Dark Knight references from Monday's and Tuesday's puzzles. Perhaps most importantly, I had a genuine a-ha moment with the "I'M OKAY YOU'RE OKAY" revealer, which is a great way to tie the theme together.
Plus, on further reflection, the image of the three themed celebs/historical figures meeting together in some bizarre space-time continuum and actually introducing themselves by saying "I'M OK, YOU'RE OK" is pretty funny and actually quite apt. If they were at a party, what else could they possibly say to one another?
Omar: What do you do for a living?
Olga: I'm an actress.
Omar: Oh, it's funny you mention that, because I know how to solve cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle!
Omar: I also write poems! About love, and nature....and also cubic equations!
Otto: Have either of you seen me conduct the New York Philharmonic?
Otto: Really? Well, we all have the same initials! So....best friends forever???
Someone needs to crash that party and get them some BEER (44A: Boilermaker component).
And now, let us take a moment to remember the guests who were not invited to the OK Corral. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Olga Korbut is the biggest name who got snubbed; I dare you to watch this video from the 1972 Olympics in Munich where she performed a move on the uneven bars that was so amazing, I was convinced it was fake. Former German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn won the Golden Ball award during the 2002 World Cup. Chicago sports fans will perhaps remember the long-time Bear and six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz. Among the non-athletes, Oskar Kokoschka was an Austrian Expressionist painter; Owen Kline, the son of actor Kevin Kline, played the character Frank in "The Squid and the Whale"; and Olivia Kendall was the fictional little girl on "The Cosby Show" (played by Raven-Symoné).
- 9D: "Idylls of the King" maiden (ELAINE) — My mother's name. You'd think this answer would be ELAYNE since that looks, I dunno, more medieval. Just like how George R. R. Martin spells the word "sir" as S-E-R in the Song of Ice and Fire books.
- 18D: Priam's wife (HECUBA) — This was by far the most difficult filler answer for me, as I've never read Homer's Iliad and it crossed not one but two theme entries. I was staring at -EC--A, needed two unknown theme letters, and had to resolve 32A (Petting zoo sound) as either BAA or MAA. In this situation, here was my strategy: Fill in a word that will give me crosses I've seen in previous puzzles, even if I don't understand how the final answer fits the clue. I tried M at 32-Across, but nothing came to mind with -EC-MA (RECIMA? LECEMA?). But when I plugged in B for BAA, HECUBA jumped out at me. It didn't matter that I've never read the Iliad or knew who Hecuba was; the fact that I'd seen her name in prior puzzles meant my chance of getting it right was better than normal. I guessed correctly. When faced with a tough crossing like this, my rule is: When possible, fall back on answers you've seen before.
- 24D: With much room to spare (BY A MILE) — In keeping with everybody being okay, the New York Times was thinking positively here. If they were crankier, they'd have clued this as "How badly one misses the basket on an airball." Here is a video of the aforementioned Andrei Kirilenko airballing....a dunk.
- 37A: Spot for a summer nap (HAMMOCK) — Only if you're outdoors. If you invest in indoor hammocks, it's an all-year-round thing.
- 47D: Obi-Wan ___ (KENOBI) — I was wrong! There was a fourth guest at the O.K. party. Unfortunately, his pick-up line "You're OK, I'm OK but with double you in between" never caught on.