FRIDAY, Dec. 22, 2006 - Mike Nothnagel

Friday, December 22, 2006

Solving time: untimed, but fast

THEME: none

I am very sorry that of all the puzzles I've done in the past three months, this is the first one that gets the abbreviated commentary treatment, because it truly deserves my full attention. This is one of the best Friday puzzles I've done since I began the blog - it's got that sizzling, surprising, Quarfootian quality that I Luhhhhve in a puzzle. There is Nothing dull or old-fashioned or painful about the puzzle at all. It's super-clever in its cluing and fresh and inventive in its fill. Really first rate.

The whole NE is some kind of miracle quadrant. 8D: Lecture follow-up (Q and A) has been done before, sure, but its "Q" and (first) "A" crosses are phenomenal: 8A: Special delivery? (quints) made me very happy, and 16A: When some hands join (at noon) really blew me away - but I'm a sucker for longer entries that include short words normally left out of answers - indefinite articles, definite articles, and (in this case) prepositions. 11D: Rarely (not often) is fairly unremarkable, but it sparkles here because, as a negative, it contrasts beautifully with its much more positive (and deliciously dated) neighbor to the east, 12D: 100% (to the max).

I had FOUR gimmes in this puzzle, which is a ton for me, for a Friday. The first thing I filled in was 53A: Met who won the 1985 Cy Young Award (Gooden) - that's right at the tail end of my dorky-teen / baseball-card-collecting phase (I'm being told the "dorky-teen" part was not a phase, just a state of being). Gooden was a force of nature. Then he won a World Series. THE World Series. Then he coked out, right? Or was that Strawberry? Anyhoo, speaking of THE World Series, another baseball gimme lies just across the grid: 41D: Winner of the first World Series (as the "Americans") [Red Sox]. RED SOX were of course the infamous losers of THE World Series (1986). I wasn't sure if the answer was BOSTON or REDSOX, but I knew it. BOSTON seems more accurate - how can a team that doesn't exist yet win anything? That's like saying Ali beat Liston. Clay beat Liston. Still, I don't care, 'cause I knew this one cold.

I like the two other gimmes because they are so colorful, and from opposite ends of the pop culture spectrum (high and low brow). 30A: Wonderland directive made me think EAT ME before I'd even looked to see how many letters it was. EAT ME is just a great phrase, and I'm glad someone found a way to get around its apparent profanity to work it into a puzzle. I grew up listening to INXS (Aussies), and I really liked them, so it's mildly depressing to see them clued here at the nadir of their career as 10D: Band featured on the reality show "Rock Star". Should have been called "Who Wants To Replace Our Singer, Who Died From Auto-Erotic Asphyxiation?"

My proudest correct guess of the puzzle: with only the final "T," I got 57A: Stumblebum (galoot). The very long crossing fill in this puzzle - 15D: Clinical trial phenomenon (placebo effect) and 34A: Superstition that a rookie's second season will fail (sophomore season) were remarkably easy to get. That latter clue needs to be re-written, though. The rookie must have had a good first season ("rookie phenom"?) - and a rookie can't have a second season ... "a player's second season"? Superstition usually comes into play, or up for discussion, when rookie is no longer one.

Loved how this puzzle forced me to stick with answers that just seemed Wrong when partially filled in, e.g. 32A: Relaxed (Type B) - "What ends in "-EB???" - and that mysterious "X" floating out in the middle of 55A: Doesn't let differences cause conflict, what could that be? Answer: COEXISTS. Loved also the clever cluing in 29D: It can help you carry a tune (iPod) - mine will be helping me carry thousands of tunes tomorrow on a flight to Denver (fingers crossed). Thought that 28D: Rescuee's cry (My hero!) should have had "in cartoons" or "in melodrama" appended to the clue. Again, as I did recently with "TGIF," I take issue with the idea that anyone, anywhere, actually "cried" this phrase.

NW was the last to fall, mainly because of perhaps the most insidious clue of the bunch - never has a three-letter answer stymied me for so long. I wanted 7D: It helps in passing to be DEE or CEE. Then, when I totally nailed 17A: "Sold!" (It's a deal!), I knew that the final letter was A, so I thought "wow, how cute: AN A. That sure does help in passing. But that meant that a word would have to end in -NP, which I was willing to believe for a while, given other odd letter combos in the puzzle. But then 14A: Shop steward, briefly (union rep) became undeniable, giving me _EA, and then the full weight of the clue's sinisterness hit me. "Passing" as in "passing a (@#$#-ing) law." YEA (as opposed to NAY). Genius. Seriously. If only I had known my non-baseball-related 80s questions - 1A: Seminal computer game of 1989 (Sim City) and 19A: 1982 Richard Pryor flick (The Toy), the whole NW might have been much easier, and the YEA issue might never have come up.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Damn, this commentary wasn't "abbreviated" at all. I gotta work on this "writing less" thing.


Anonymous 5:09 PM  

Our local newspaper puzzle had "inept" clued as "stumblebum" this week. And I'd never heard the word "stumblebum" before in my life. In My Entire Life. Now here it is again. Am I stumbling into the universe of words used only in crosswords?

Alex S. 5:55 PM  

Law & Order gets an assist on this puzzle.

I was doing it on the couch while my wife was watching a rerun on TV. I had the --HE-- and was thinking it would be something HELP. I was looking at it exactly when someone on the TV said "My hero."

I was also slowed down by sophomore jinx. I got sophomore right away but I don't know that I've really heard "sophomore jinx" but rather "sophomore slump."

The big gimmee for me was SIMCITY. It was nice to start a Friday puzzle nailing 1A and then having the whole quadrant done before I had to wander of in search of other gimmees.

Rex Parker 6:03 PM  

Weird - you are totally right about SOPHOMORE SLUMP (not JINX), but that never dawned on me because, having solved the NE first, I had -JINX before I had anything else.

There were so many other great answers I didn't even get to, like TVREMOTE [Show stopper?] and ONPAROLE [Just out]. That MYHERO story is eeerie.


PS Yes, honey, you have in fact stumbled into the world of words-found-only-in-crosswords-and-their-clues. It's freaky, but you get used to it.

Orange 8:14 PM  

Wikipedia is my boyfriend: He explains both sophomore slump and the sports-specific SOPHOMORE JINX, which is a term I'd never heard before.

Good luck getting to Denver!

Anonymous 11:10 PM  

I mentioned this on the NYT Forum as well:

When I submitted my clues for this puzzle, the clue for SOPHOMORE JINX wasn't a sports reference, but a music one. I had always heard the term used in reference to second albums, not second seasons. Go figure.


Howard B 11:23 PM  

Yes, Gooden was a big help to me as well. Good to know that sometimes being a Mets fan is actually a benefit.

I had seen 'sophomore jinx' more often than 'slump', mostly from reading Hockey News articles in the off-season predicting (usually rather poorly) the performance of last year's rookie players in the coming season. If you ever somehow break into professional sports, and the media predicts that you'll avoid the jinx, start saving your paychecks and bonuses immediately.

Off to a mostly puzzle-free week of vacation. Have fun out there, and may you never experience a Bill Buckner moment.

Rex Parker 9:03 AM  

But SOPHOMORE JINX doesn't alliterate...

It is, however, far far more Scrabbly than SOPHOMORE SLUMP.


Anonymous 10:54 AM  

Maybe your wife is too high class to have heard of stumblebum. I used to hear it pretty often growing up in a motherless household with 7 brothers as they discussed various boxers (not canines). As a teenager, my brother was in the golden gloves, lightweight division. After a few bouts my father urged him to give it up. Stumblebum described a boxer who wasn't much good to begin with and/or one who might also have had his brains beat out one time too many and so would never ever get to be any "gooder". Stumblebum in the boxing context connoted natural ineptness and/or exacerbated brain damage.

Rex Parker 11:47 AM  

My wife is nothing if not "high class" - she's sipping a martini and quoting Goethe while listening to Mozart as we speak.

My wife is a Kiwi. That might explain ... something.

Boxing ... OK, that makes more sense. Some sense, anyway.


Anonymous 3:19 PM  

(from 6 weeks later land)

I really liked this puzzle too, but it seemed easy for a Friday, or maybe I'm just getting much better. The two long crossings came quickly, which got the rest going. I erred on NOTOFTEN (putting ONEINTEN) which held up the northeast corner for a while. And I had to look up the Richard Pryor flick because I couldn't connect with the crossing TREY. The Top? The Toe? The Ton? Now I know.

Anonymous 5:19 PM  

In montreal, this puzzles arrives six weeks late. However, I balk at spelling the HQ for the Universal Postal Union as BERN.


Rex Parker 5:20 PM  

I too often feel like the puzzle was "too easy" if I'm right on its wavelength. I feel guilty solving Nothnagel and Quarfoot because I feel like ... I think like they do, in a way, or appreciate the same things in puzzles that they do (or seem to). I will say, though (from the land of six-weeks-ahead, i.e. the future, i.e. today, Feb. 2, 2007), that today's Friday felt a tad easy, too. Fun, but not particularly taxing. But I liked it nonetheless. Kahn writes good puzzles (bought his baseball puzzle book today, coincidentally - so far they aren't very hard, but they are helping me shore up my spotty baseball knowledge).


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