SUNDAY, Oct. 8, 2006 - Fred Piscop

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Last night was the best baseball moment since October 2004. I celebrate the Yankees' annual demise with all the giddy excitement of a kid on a Halloween candy bender. But that was last night. And today is today. And this puzzle ate me alive. Maybe I'm being punished for reveling in others' misery. If that's true, it was totally worth it.


Solving time: 54:24

THEME: "Turnabout is Fair Play" (familiar phrases structured "_____ in the _____" have their first and last words reversed through clever cluing; see 95A, below)

Honestly, this puzzle made me angry. Again, I appreciate how difficult it must be to construct one of these babies, but I really did not enjoy much about this puzzle. It was horribly uneven. The theme was banal, even silly, and once understood, made it very easy to fill in "in the" in the middle of themed answers even before you'd looked at the clue. So, on the one hand, not clever and too easy. On the other hand, the puzzle was Impossibly hard for me in parts because of all the ridiculous tiny words and abbreviations and a lot of what seemed very off or forced cluing (see 124A, below). Of course, if I'd only known that "Ahab" was Jezebel's wife, things might have ended very differently for me. I am very proud, I must say, that I finally managed to conquer the Northern region of the puzzle (we'll call it "Winnipeg"), where my solving ended, and where I spent what must have been 8-10 minutes staring at a chunk of about 15 empty squares. Patience won out, and Somehow it all came together. The same cannot be said for my experience in the Due East ("Richmond"), which was very crash-and-burn - both my missed squares live in Richmond. Now, the autopsy:

1A: Fink on (rat out)

Love it. Beautifully colloquial in a hard-boiled way that I enjoy. Any answer that I can imagine coming out of the mouth of Jimmy Cagney is alright by me. And I guessed it right off. Only somehow I left it there, blank, and went off to start the puzzle elsewhere (at 113A: ____ morgana (mirage) [fata] - which by the way is badly clued, the "(mirage)" part being entirely unnecessary in a Sunday puzzle). By the time I got back to it, the memory of early happiness and hopefulness was like ashes in my mouth. In fact, my nailing "rat out" was a bit like Posada's 9th-inning home run last night: belated and thus meaningless. (side note: I have decided that though I hate the Yankees, I have developed a certain admiration for Jeter and Posada, who bleed pinstripes and never quit - if only they could shed Sheffield, A-Rod, and Giambi and pick up, say, TEN hungry young talented players to replace them, I think the Yankees could regain their resolve and become what they were in the late 90s: fearsome. Not that I *really* want to see that. I'm just sayin'...)

Let's do this by region - first, "Winnipeg"

7A: _____ Reid (the Green Hornet) [Britt]

The "r" and first "t" in this name were the very last squares I filled in. Curse you, "Winnipeg!" I have no idea what the "Green Hornet" was all about (60's TV show, before my time), but if this picture is any indication, it was gayer than even the 60's "Batman" TV show.

26A: Assaulted verbally (rant at)

Easy, right? Ugh, not for me, not today. This was part of the whole "Winnipeg" disaster. And I had the "ra" ... but I kept thinking "rail at," and the "i" just made no sense. Once I wrote out R A _ _ _ _ in the margin and started plugging in anything I could think of, I eventually hit the right answer. Didn't help that I was uncertain about ALL the intersecting down clues, including the next entry:

10D: Fife players (tootlers)

This word has such a ring of informality and implied incompetence to it that I hereby take offense for fife players everywhere (even if, somehow, fife players actually refer to themselves as "tootlers," which could very well be - to my knowledge, I do not know a fife player).

Now, "San Francisco"

53A: "American Idol" judge (Simon)

Of course I had "Abdul" here at first, because names are LAST names unless clue suggests otherwise, dammit! For me, of all people, to tank the "American Idol" clue right out of the box ... well, it's just unnatural. I'm a loyal viewer! You can see why this puzzle had me seeing red all over. Take the intersecting clue:

53D: Unrespectful sort (snip)

"Unrespectful?" "UNrespectful?" Why not "derespectful" or "misrespectful" or "antirespectful" or something equally tortured. The word is "disrespectful."

68A: Row C, maybe: Abbr. (Ind.)

By this time, I was annoyed by the swarm of abbreviations in the puzzle. Throw in the horrible "maybe" - which may as well be one of those cheeky question marks of which I am *so* fond - and then add on the somewhat tenuous logic of the answer (Row A= Dem, Row B= Rep, Row C=Ind), and you have one unamused solver.

Now, onto "Richmond":

48D: Popular block puzzle first put out in 1969 (soma)

I was born in 1969, so how could I not know this answer? Was it popular for like three months early in the year, before I was born? Was it a flash-in-the-pan, like mood rings or pet rocks? (But I have heard of those, at least!). Apparently this is the puzzle that Luddites favor 2-to-1 over the Rubik's Cube. Oh, and I missed the last letter in this answer, giving a second "o" instead of the proper "a." Thanks a lot, Luddites.

52A: _____ scale (mohs)

Total guess on my part. Dumb luck. Never heard of this (or if I did, I forgot it pretty quickly). Mohs is a scale of mineral hardness developed by Frederich Mohs (1773-1839). I'm sure there's a joke about penile tumescence here somewhere, but this puzzle has taken the puerility right out of me.

65A: Jezebel's husband (Ahab)

Must the puzzle routinely humiliate me? I should know my Bible much better than I do. I had "Ohae" here, which I'm sure I could pass off as a Biblical name if I had to: "that reminds me of the story of Ohae and his six goats of plenty" or whatever. Biblical spellings get all crazy. You know how it is. Come on, you know what I'm talking about. I'm trying to find a way to make my failure understandable. Help me out! To me, there is one Ahab, and he looks like this:
67D: Oscar title starter (best)

Simple enough when you see it, but the clue made NO sense to me when I was staring at four blank squares. I thought it was the first word of the title of a movie that won an Oscar, so I imagined "Gone" here ... and then I put "East" here, imagining (erroneously) that "East of Eden" had won an Oscar for Best Picture (it wasn't even nominated, though Jo Van Fleet won for Best Actress in a Supporting Role). "East" as a wrong answer meant that I also blew 74A: U.K. bestowal (O.B.E.). I had "oba," which is one letter off from "obi," which is a sash for a kimono and a definite Pantheon word ... all of which has nothing to do with the Order of the British Empire. So it turns out I had three squares wrong, not two. 50% more failure!

Two last comments:

95A (THEME):Test for a needed hosiery change? (nose in the sock)

Get it, "sock in the nose" becomes "nose in the sock?" I pronounce it the most whimsical jape of the season! Strangely, it took me a good long while to get this one right, as I could not think of anything to sock but the jaw or the gut ... although as I was doing this puzzle I sure wanted to sock something. Why am I so contrary this morning? I must have expended all my joy supply last night while reveling in the Yankees' demise. Ah, yes, just reflecting on it is making my mood lighten.

124A: Place to play Ping-Pong (rec hall)

First, why is Ping-Pong capitalized? Is it a copyrighted name like Xerox or Kleenex? If so, I did not know that. Second, "rec HALL?" The better answer here is "rec ROOM" (I entered this very confidently after getting "rec"). These people, for instance, are clearly playing in a "rec ROOM," not a "rec HALL": If you Google "rec hall," you get about 143,000 hits. If you Google "rec room"? Nearly 2.5 MILLION. "Rec room" wins. Hands down. "Mess hall," "rec room," those are the appropriate phrases, just as God intended. Amen.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Warm thanks to "lhoffman" and "kratsman" for the kind, enouraging words about This Here Blog; and also to "howard b," for being the first reader to offer up substantive puzzle commentary of his own. We should all know as much as he does about "meniscus" - and now we can.

Rex Parker loves lurkers, but encourages comments - it makes him happy to know that someone besides his mom is reading what he writes.


Anonymous 3:08 PM  

I remember doing the soma cube puzzle in 2nd grade.

Anonymous 6:34 PM  

Thanks for this. I'm still trying to check my answers, but the unlock code published tonight is WRONG. At least what you've written so far is what I've gotten. Now I can go cook dinner in peace :)

Anonymous 10:06 PM  

No prob, Rex. I always enjoy reading about what other people liked, disliked, and were stumped by in puzzles - thanks for the input.

I myself have a habit of wandering across puzzlers' blogs and randomly commenting here and there, without blogging myself. I guess it reassures me that I'm not the only one with this little pastime, while hopefully not annoying the bloggers too much.

Keep on puzzling, and most importantly, have fun.

Orange 11:38 PM  

I'm inclined to trust Will Shortz on the capitalized Ping-Pong—he seems to enjoy table tennis/ping-pong/whatever about as much as crosswords.

If there were a prize for best crossword-related blog commenting, Howard Barkin would definitely be a top contender.

Rex Parker 12:38 AM  

Well then somebody get me Howard Barkin's blog URL stat, 'cause I can't find it and there's no link from the only other crossword blog I read, which belongs to "Orange," which, coincidentally, and in all seriousness, is my favorite color, and which, also coincidentally, is one of the Detroit Tigers' colors. So once again, go Tigers.

And I'm inclined to trust Will Shortz on most things, which is not something I typically say about complete strangers.

Anonymous 12:31 PM  

Aw, thanks people.
I don't blog though (just have a placeholder), as I have just barely enough time to do the daily puzzles and perform my day-to-day job duties outside of regular life here. Plus, I no write real good.

I leave the real blogging to the experts, if there were such a thing (Is there? 'And the Bloggie goes to...').

Rex Parker 1:28 PM  

Do you know it never occurred to me that Howard Barkin and "Howard B" were the same person?! HA ha. (seriously, I'm laughing out loud at myself). I really should, I don't know, pay attention or something.

That makes Orange's last comment a Lot less of a non sequitur...

This hack solver is quite honored to have such accomplished puzzlers dropping by.

Anonymous 11:32 PM  

why'd you leave out "dehisced" (or however it was spelled)? love yr blog yo

Rex Parker 1:17 PM  

j, j, and e -

I groused about "dehisce," "evulse," and ... what was it? "Mediant," I think, but I did so in the NYT xword forum. Folks over there seemed cool with "dehisce," not as cool with "evulse." Too much arcana for Rex. If you're into gore, though, "dehisce" is a good word to know, as apparently it's something that wounds do (or so says Orange). Ew, yes, just Googled "dehisced" (past tense) and it's true. Surgical wounds. Gross.

Thanks for loving the blog yo. Come back any time.

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