Friday, February 7, 2014
Constructor: Ned White
Relative difficulty: MEDIUM
Word of the Day: VIRAGOS (38D: Witchy women) —
1 : loud overbearing women2: women of great stature, strength, and courage
• • •It's impressed me, at least since the days of SAT vocab, which is I suppose around the time one starts being impressed by things like this, that English is lousy with synonyms for "hag," and moreover that so many of these words sound so strange: harridan, termagant, virago, shrew. Like the apocryphal claim about Eskimo words for snow, the variety of synonyms for HAG suggests a very old and ingrained preoccupation in the English language with complaining about how women complain; there are far fewer equivalent choices available for men.
VIRAGOS, however, also has a positive sense (see the second definition above), though you wouldn't know it from solving crosswords, which as far as I can tell have never once alluded to it. The particular confluence of positive and negative in the definition is telling - outspoken women are almost always labeled complainers, sometimes even sent to prison - and so is which one of the two available meanings we invariably choose for our puzzle clues.
Hi, I'm Ben Tausig, editor of the American Values Club xword, a weekly indie puzzle sometimes mentioned in this space. I'm filling in for Rex, all up on my soapbox. Happy Olympics to all.
Today's puzzle, like all New York Times puzzles outside of Sunday, has no title, but I'll call it Plain White Crossword. It's workmanlike, pretty fine. My guess is that White's seed entries were DOOBEDOOBEDOO (12A: Bit of nonsense famously replacing "strangers in the night") and BEGSTHEQUESTION (57A: Is guilty of petitio principii), though maybe White is a Eurovision guy and he actually started with GIMMEGIMMEGIMME (14A: 1979 Abba single). All six of the stacked entries in the north and south were passable or better, but nothing (excepting maybe the Abba song) quite rose to spectacular. Much of the best stuff was in the midrange, lengthwise - the aforementioned VIRAGOS, HOGAUGE (25D: Common standard for model railroads), the sparkling AREYOUOK (35D: Query after a wipeout) and KEVLAR (36A: Synthetic fiber used in bicycle tires and bulletproof vests).
The shorter entries got hairy. So it is with 68-letter grids, although in the realm of themelesses one wants either chock-a-block freshness or doubleplus shine in the fill. MDI (10D: Century-starting year), GANT (46A: Family name in "Look, Homeward Angel"), OER (52A: Throughout, in verse), and APLEY (44A: John P. Marquand's "The Late George ___") are a few of the drier spots. BUREN (47A: Part of a U.S. president's name that's Dutch for "neighbors") is a poor entry more than salvaged by a good trivia clue, while the paired OSE (54A: Suffix of saccharides) and TRI (56A: Prefix with saccharides) fell flat in my solve, both because the clue phrasing diverged and because saccharides are kind of a boring subject for wordplay.
I personally would have changed GANT to GANK, the latter being a very familiar (to me) bit of middle schoolese meaning "grab," though the correct decision in this context was probably to err on the side of the literary reference. Nevertheless, that section held out the longest for me. I would sincerely like to hear your collective opinion on GANK. I haven't heard it in daily conversation in quite some time but certainly I've had many Alice in Chains CDs and slices of pepperoni pizza ganked from my hands.
The three-letter entry USA, clued as a patriotic chant, has long bugged me somewhat, and USAUSAUSA even more so. Presumably Canadians scream CANADA sometimes, but we never see that clued as a patriotic chant. How about BULGARIA? TURKSANDCAICOS? And as to the arbitrary number of instances, doesn't a chant just last as long as the crowd has energy? Why is saying it exactly three times particularly valid or in-the-language? Is STYXSTYXSTYX usable as "Chant at an arena rock concert"?
Finally, there were a handful of lovely clues in this puzzle, among them for QBS (59D: Snap targets, for short), which had me going in other directions, and EDITMENU, (5D: Paste holder?) which was quite tricky if perhaps a tad stretchy.
I didn't have too bad of a time.
Signed, Ben Tausig (@datageneral, avxwords.com)