Jazzman Montgomery / SAT 10-29-16 / Jugged old British delicacy / Affirmed's rival for triple crown / Air spirit in folklore / Compiler of 1855 reference work / Ticket waster / Winemaking byproduct
Saturday, October 29, 2016
Constructor: Patrick Berry
Relative difficulty: Easy
Word of the Day: GOANNA (37D: Australian monitor lizard) —
A goanna is any of several Australian monitor lizards of the genus Varanus, as well as certain species from Southeast Asia. // Around 30 species of goanna are known, 25 of which are found in Australia. This varied group of carnivorous reptiles ranges greatly in size and fills several ecological niches. // The goanna features prominently in Aboriginal mythology and Australian folklore. // Being predatory lizards, goannas are often quite large, or at least bulky, with sharp teeth and claws. The largest is the perentie (V. giganteus), which can grow over 2.5 m (8.2 ft) in length. // Not all goannas are gargantuan. Pygmy goannas may be smaller than a man's arm. The smallest of these, the short-tailed monitor (Varanus brevicuda) reaches only 20 cm in length. They survive on smaller prey, such as insects and mice. // Goannas combine predatory and scavenging behaviours. A goanna will prey on any animal it can catch and is small enough to eat whole. Goannas have been blamed for the death of sheep by farmers, though most likely erroneously, as goannas are also eaters of carrion and are attracted to rotting meat.
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GOANNA gonna GOANNA. [Cheer on actress Paquin?] => GOANNA! I love this lizard's name. The punssibilities are endless. Who you GOANNA call? [_____] BUSTERS! (shout-out to Thursday's puzz). I fixate on GOANNA—a fine, upstanding word—because it was the only answer in this whole puzzle that felt a bit recherché. The puzzle otherwise feels phenomenally obscurity-free.* It is also smooth as &$^%. This is one of those increasingly rare NYT puzzles where I wanted to stop and smile and take pictures mid-solve. Pure enjoyment. Delightful answers and clues around every turn—and so many turns! Felt like I was looping and swooshing around the grid. No sad corners to get boxed into. All curves and waves and flourishes. This is the kind of puzzle for which I have the most respect—it's expertly crafted, but hides its artfulness. There's nothing terribly glitzy or showy about it on the surface. There are no stunts. It's not loaded with Xs Qs Zs etc. It just hums. It's fun. It's smart. It's a pleasure to solve. It could've been a bit tougher (felt more like a Friday), but no matter. It was a pleasure to watch the answers come into view. There's an effortlessness to the whole affair that makes it delightful to solve, but makes it unlikely, I think, that a solver's going to go "WOW!" But constructors, I assure you, are going "WOW!"
There's one little crutch I want to point out. Nah, I don't wanna say "crutch," because it implies some kind of laziness or cheapness that I don't think this puzzle possesses. But it's a ... thing ... that allows the constructor to pull the puzzle off so smoothly. Note how often "S" appears as the last letter of both an Across and Down. There are three lines of such "S"s, running NW up from the end of WES, the end of RAMRODS, and the end of CULTS, respectively (though that last line is just two long ... throw in the "S" at the end of BANTERS and you get your third set of three "S"s). You can stick an "S" on the end of most answers and make an acceptable answer, so terminal-S'ing it like this is a way of making filling a grid smoothly easier. To PB's enormous credit, those "S"s are of all different types—plurals, 3rd-person verbs, name endings—so you never really feel a sense of sameness. In fact, I doubt most solvers notice "S"-ending pile-ups at all. But "S"s make it easier. Of course, if that was the only trick to smoothing out themeless puzzles, we'd all be Patrick Berry.
I don't know who "foreign-owned company" immediately made me think NISSAN at 1A: Pickup trucks from a foreign-owned company made and sold only in North America, but it did, and that sent me rocketing into the puzzle (as correctly guessing all or part of 1A often does). Got NO-SHOW (1D: Ticket waster) off the "N" and filled in that NW corner easily.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
*OK, jugged HARE is slightly obscure, but HARE isn't.
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