Sliwinska of "Dancing With the Stars" / FRI 10-5-12 / One of Heinrich Schliemann's excavations / "Weekend Update" anchor between Miller and Macdonald / Symbol of Lutheranism / Beau Brummell's accessory / ___ Rebellion (1676 Jamestown uprising) / Stipend paid by a cathedral to a clergyman / Longest-living member of the Rat Pack / Merkel of German politics
Friday, October 5, 2012
Constructor: Patrick Berry
Relative difficulty: Medium
Word of the Day: EDYTA (18A: Sliwinska of "Dancing With the Stars") —
Edyta Śliwińska (Polish pronunciation: [ɛˈdɨta ɕliˈviɲska]; born May 6, 1981 in Warsaw, Poland) is a professional ballroom dancer who is currently starring in a stage show DANCE TEMPTATION (www.dancetemptation.com). She is best known for her appearances on the American version of the reality television series Dancing with the Stars, where she appeared on all of the first ten seasons of the show. (Wikipedia)
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Hello, CrossWorld. It's Evan Birnholz, the self-anointed Earl filling in for the King while he's away from the throne. Since today's Friday, here's a quick note of encouragement for any up-and-coming solver out there who likes crosswords but thinks the late-week puzzles are too intimidating: Only a short while ago, I wouldn't dare touch the Friday or Saturday New York Times puzzles for the same reason. Now, I blog about it for Rex Parker -- and treat myself like royalty every time I do it. So keep practicing!
This puzzle had all of the features of a splendidly-constructed gem for which Patrick Berry is well-renowned.....with one big exception, and no, it's not ENHALOING (49A: Surrounding with a glow). I'll get to that problem later, but first, the good-to-great stuff: Behold a cornucopia of lively, fresh, in-the-language phrases such as CLOSE CALL, TOE RINGS, JUNK DNA, MING VASE, MISTER BIG, ORANGE BOWL, ANY OLD WAY, ROOT CANAL, and WING IT. The clues for LSD (29D: Hits from the 1960s?) and GET WELL (37A: What invalid card readers might read) are wickedly clever.
I had an erratic, STOP-AND-GO (51A: Not flowing freely) solving rhythm -- I started very slowly, but once I cracked one or two answers in each corner, the rest of the corners generally fell shortly afterwards. I got some crucial, early help from these trivia gimmes: NEALON (22A: "Weekend Update" anchor between Miller and Macdonald), ANGELA (36D: Merkel of German politics), and BACON'S (5D: ___ Rebellion (1676 Jamestown uprising)), the latter of which I now know a lot more about than I did one month ago (thanks, Graduate School!). I did not know JOEY BISHOP (24D: Longest-living member of the Rat Pack) -- my knowledge of the Rat Pack doesn't extend far beyond Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin -- but with patience, his name emerged. Overall, I'd say that a slew of exciting phrases and tough-but-fun clues throughout the grid made 97% of this puzzle a real pleasure to solve.
But that 3% presents a rather glaring problem, an ultimate deathtrap in the northeast corner: EDYTA (?!) crossing PREBEND (9D: Stipend paid by a cathedral to a clergyman) (?!?!). That's just brutal. Let's start with the obscure name. Maybe I'm mistaken, but Edyta Śliwińska was never the "star" of the dancing pair, was she? I've seen only one or two episodes of "Dancing With the Stars" in my life, but isn't the whole point of it to match an A- or B-list celebrity (someone you would know outside of the show) with a professional-but-unknown ballroom dancer (someone you wouldn't)? Unless you're a hardcore "Dancing With the Stars" fan, I highly doubt you'd have the slightest idea who she is. In fact, her best finish on the show after ten seasons was second place, which she achieved only once, in 2008. All of her other finishes were usually no better than fifth place, so if you're more apt to remember the dancers who won the competition over the years, you don't get much help there either.
fairly popular girl's name in Poland, it's just not very common here in the United States. According to the Social Security Administration, that name has never been anywhere close to the 15,000 most common baby names in the past 75 years. It's not out of the ordinary to see five-letter female names like IRENE or ILENE or IRENA or RENEE (16D: "Walk Away ___" (1966 #5 hit)) in crossword puzzles, and it's expected that you'll get tough clues for common crossword answers in a Friday NYT grid (again, RENEE).....but when the answer itself is rare, like EDYTA? Yuck. That name is hard enough to spell, let alone remember it from a TV show you may or may not even watch. Obscure Dancer + Polish Name That's Rare in the U.S. and Hard to Spell = Very, very difficult to get without all of the crosses.
Speaking of which, meet EDYTA's partner in crime, PREBEND. Preb-huh?! I like to think that I Know Things and that I'm Generally Smart, but I've never, ever heard of a prebend before (and when I type it, I get the squiggly red line beneath it as though it were misspelled, so even my computer is like, "what the hell?"). You know that an answer is going to be really tough when its clue on a Friday is basically copied from the dictionary, because there's no choice but to give you the most straightforward definition possible. I made it harder on myself when I started to doubt PRAMS (9A: London carriages) where I thought TRAMS could work equally well. So now, the situation is Obscure Dancer + Polish Name That's Rare in the U.S. and Hard to Spell + Obscure English Word That Crosses It = "Screw it, just guess." I avoided ODYTA/PROBEND and IDYTA/TRIBEND, even though they both seemed reasonable enough, and went with my gut feeling. I guessed right. I have a sneaking suspicion that many, many others were not so lucky.
I really wonder if one's opinion on this puzzle will depend on whether that person feels that a plethora of great, sparkling entries as described above outweighs the frustration of solving a horrible crossing like that. Oh, and if you had any lingering doubts about their crossword-related obscurity, neither EDYTA nor PREBEND has ever appeared as an answer in the New York Times puzzle until today, not even as part of the clues either. Yet they had to cross one another. That's a real shame because, as I said, the rest of the puzzle is quite nice.
- 17A: Impetus to review safety procedures (CLOSE CALL) — With -----CA-- in place, I confidently dropped in BOMB SCARE. Obviously that was from the sick, deranged department of my brain. Getting LEGION (15D: Army division) helped fix that.
- 19A: Like many gazebos (OCTAGONAL) — Also like many Ultimate Fighting Championship rings. Has our blog host mastered Rex Kwon Do yet?
- 22D: They're in a particular order (NUNS) — With N-NS in place, I dropped in NONS. That was not from the sick, deranged part of my brain, but the careless, what-was-I-thinking part of my brain.
- 26D: Resident of the largest Spanish-speaking nation (ARGENTINE) — Me: "Isn't it Argentinian?" The Internet: "It's both."
- 28A: Lightheaded? (BLOND) — I was going to grouse about the lack of a terminal E, but The Intertubes just taught me a second thing that I didn't previously know: BLONDE is the preferred spelling for a female's hair, whereas BLOND is the preferred spelling for a male's hair. [Insert one of those "The More You Know" public service announcements from NBC here.]
- 35A: Hard to control (ROWDY) — "Hard to control" is a rather appropriate characterization of former WWE superstar Rowdy Roddy Piper. There are no words that can do justice to describing his interviews, like this one from 1992:
(Sorry for the ad. Just wait it out. It's worth it. Trust me.)
- 39A: Small concession (BONE) — As in, "throw me a frickin' bone here." The clue feels like its missing something like "say" or "in a saying" since we're dealing with an idiom.
- 41A: San Fernando Valley city (ENCINO) — Home of that poignant, heartwarming, critically-acclaimed film "Encino Man," starring Brendan Fraser, Pauly Shore, and the guy who played Mikey in "The Goonies," a movie which has the distinct advantage of not being "Encino Man."
p.s. If you haven't seen it yet, I strongly urge you to check out an astounding crossword constructed by Rex himself. It has a record-breaking count of just 13 black squares. Try imagining some clues too, if you dare.