Thursday, July 17, 2014
Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld
Relative difficulty: Easyish (4:46 for rusty old me)
THEME: Baby got BACK — Literally, each theme answer that normally contains the word BACK has the word preceding BACK spelled backwards, and BACK is omitted from the answer
Word of the Day: ONE-C (14A: Draft status for someone in the Public Health Service) —
1-C Member of the Armed Forces of the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or the Public Health Service. (Enl.) Enlisted. Member who volunteered for service, (Ind.) Inducted. Member who was conscripted into service, (Dis.) Discharged. Member released after completing service. (Sep.)Separated. Member released before completing service.
• • •I laughed out loud when opening this puzzle. See, I've only babysat Rex's place once before, a couple years ago, and I got an Alan Arbesfeld Thursday then. Today I was hopeful of a Blindauer, maybe, or perhaps a Peterson, or a Gorski. Dare I hope for a Thursday Heaney?
But again I get a Thursday Arbesfeld! Nothing against Alan, who's a wonderful and prolific constructor. I guess that's what I should expect at this point.
And this puzzle did not disappoint. Sure, it's a trick I've seen before, but here it's done smoothly, with a minimum of dreckish fill, and with non-themed stacked 9s to boot. Well done!
- PMUHWHALE [humpback whale] (17A: Singer in the sea, literally)
- LLAFPOSITION [fallback position] (27A: Plan B, literally) This one felt a little off, as I usually use FALLBACK with PLAN or OPTION, but it was fair enough.
- RETRAUQSNEAK [quarterback sneak] (42A: Gridiron maneuver, literally)
- YGGIPRIDE [piggyback ride] (57A: Little kid's lift, literally) I had figured out the PIGGY part here but kept thinking of PIGGY BANK, which of course doesn't include BACK in it. I find it a little weird that the ride is considered a "gift" in the clue here. I don't remember my piggyback rides being any sort of present but rather just a fun, spur-of-the-moment idea that would end with my dad hurting his back... (ED: Yes, it was "lift" in the clue, not "gift". Stupid speed-solving me. But I strangely like the imagery evoked when thinking of my dad hurting his back, so leaving in the anecdote. :) AJR)
This whole ONEC thing threw me (I've accustomed to ONEA as the lone draft status in crosswords), plus I plopped NOVA in at 1A right away, leading to some early frustrations. But then I got WHALE, sussed out the backwards HUMP, and was smooth sailing the rest of the way. Some cutesy-ness with fill and clues, but nothing too offending.
- ON E (10D: In dire need of gas, say) — Cute way to avoid the ONE duplication with ONE-C. And totally in-the-language. A clue like "Using Molly, say" might be a clue for this answer if it appeared in an American Values Club crossword; likely too edgy for the NYT.
- EMPTY NETS (13D: Fisherman's bane and hockey player's boon) — Odd to see it in the plural, but the clue redeemed any inelegance. I'm a huge NCAA hockey fan, longtime St. Cloud State University season ticket holder. 83 days til opening night! This one wasn't an empty-netter, but a literal last-second equalizer scored while SCSU had their net empty.
- NOLTE (9A: Oscar nominee for "Affliction") — Underrated movie. James Coburn was phenomenally monstrous as the drunk dad, and won his lone Oscar for it. Nolte likely clinched the nom in the scene where he pulls his tooth out with a pair of pliers over the kitchen sink. Very dark and completely depressing, but worth a watch. You know it's dark when Willem Dafoe is one of the good guys in the movie.
- PADRE (50D: Tony Gwynn, notably) — Notable also that he died recently, and Fox caught plenty of guff for not mentioning Gwynn ONE TIME during the All-Star telecast, while practically worshiping every step that Derek Jeter took on Tuesday. Gwynn was probably the best singles hitter of all time (though I could entertain an argument for Rod Carew, too), and the last serious threat at hitting .400, in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
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