Thursday, October 19, 2006
Solving time: 20:39
THEME: Same clue for pairs of answers that intersect at first letter (six times) - see horrible 24A, below
This puzzle was awkward and deeply unsatisfying. It's true that Young managed to get the theme into Every instance where across and down answers intersect at their first letters, but still ... it's not symmetrical, and the non-flexibility in cluing meant that many of the clues felt forced, especially 36A and 36D: Good tennis score - technically, neither of the answers (ACE and ADVANTAGE, respectively), is a "score" (an ACE is a good shot and ADVANTAGE by itself is not a score at all - it's either ADVANTAGE IN or ADVANTAGE OUT - and it's only "good" if the advantage belongs to YOU). There is also some ugly fill, including some clunky arcana, e.g. XERO is nowhere near my first choice for a four-letter 23A: Prefix with -graphy, not least because I've Never Heard Of It (copying technology, by the way, which you can infer ... with hindsight). I'm trying to find something nice to say about this puzzle ... it's got MARMOSETS in it, which is a fun and unusual word. I'm sure I'll think of more good things as I mellow out from this unpleasant solving experience. Remember that I am still getting over a cold, and this is undoubtedly affecting my solving abilities and my temperament. So no offense, Mr. Young. Seriously.
Spent about HALF my time in the "Portland" region of the puzzle, where plausible but WRONG answers kept me stuck for a good long time. So I'll start there:
24A: Not many (two)
24D: Not many (three)
So weak. I mean, I can see the logic, and can even hear myself potentially saying the phrase "o, not many, maybe two or three." And yet UGH. Three is "many" in certain situations. How many tumors in your lungs? How many nipples do you have? How many leeches on your forehead? Three? Damn, THAT'S A LOT OF TUMORS / NIPPLES / LEECHES! Seeing a three-letter answer for 24A, I of course wanted FEW. I actually ended up with SCO at one point, which I thought was some garbled version of a "scoche" (Dear God how do you spell "scoshe"?), which I think is some tiny amount in cooking, colloquially. Then I had SWO, again imagining that I was dealing with some ridiculous Southern regionalism. Let me explain the problem further: for 24D I had SHRED, as in "not one shred of evidence," which I know is a stretch, but I had those damned center letters, and I couldn't see THREE for the life of me. PLUS I had NO idea what was intended by:
43A: Part of a possessive supermarket brand name (Edy)
In retrospect, I see what the cluers were going for, but O My God That Clue Is Torturous. Is the supermarket possessive? Is the answer a possessive (I was thinking ... OUR ... HIS ... HER). More accurately, the answer is part of a possessive brand name in a supermarket, but even that just sucks. So I had DDY for a bit (convinced as I was of #$%$-ing SHRED, which gave me that first D), thinking again that this is something out of the Piggly Wiggly that I had simply never encountered. Maybe DDY stood for "Dan's Damngood Yogurt" or something. What do I know? In Japan, this answer would have been clued: "Brand name that excites young women."
33A: Apply to the skin, say (rub in)
Absolutely reasonable answer. And yet I had DAB ON. And thus, because of that "O," I wanted 30D: Dunk (dip) to be BOB. Cascading wrongness. Such was my "Portland" experience.
28A: Library catalog abbr. (et. al.)
Having spent many an hour in libraries, I thought this would be a gimme - I had the TAL part of the answer, but could NOT think of what the first letter would be. An "I"? Well why would "italic" be abbreviated in a catalog? Even after I got the cross (19D: Custody sharers, maybe (exes)), which gave me the "E," I just looked at ETAL wondering what it could be short for. Do I know any words that begin ETAL...? No I don't. After about ten seconds I collapsed under the weight of the obvious.
29A: Fitting in the hands (holdable)
You know, I'm sure this is an actual word in the English language, but it's surely one of the weakest, lamest constructions ever. It's something you'd say if you'd suddenly forgotten the word "portable" or "hand-held." What would even be described as "holdable"? - "You know what I love about McDonald's hamburgers? They're really holdable. I'm holding the hell out of this one right now. Aw yeah." To prove that I am SO right, just Google "holdable" and you will see that the only thing "holdable" is a CURSOR, which is on a #$#$-ing screen and thus does not "fit in your hands," even on PORTABLE computers!
56A: Singer born Eithne Ní Bhraonáin (Enya)
"Sail away, sail away, sail away!" No, seriously, sail away, Enya, because you're bothering me. She's really gunning for a Pantheon position, ins't she? Back in the puzzle for the second time in just a few weeks. And now we know that, despite the fact that I won't be able to listen to it, I will have to include an Enya track on the future soundtrack to "Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle." I am happy to take suggestions from all you Enya fans out there (I'm looking at you, Santa Monica).
9D: Subspecies especially adapted to their environments (ecotypes)
45D: Some salts (oleates)
OK, the first one is not as bad as the second, but they are both unpleasant in their own ways. Not a fan of semi-specialized scientific language, especially in the long answers, and Especially when the answer is nowhere in the vicinity of what could be considered common knowledge. I will grant ECOTYPES an exemption, actually, but not OLEATES. Sounds like a snack cracker or a breakfast cereal. Does it have something to do with fat? With Olestra? And as for ECOTYPES, what subspecies isn't "especially adapted to their environments?" The cylinder-winged seagull? stump-legged cheetah? no-toed sloth?
32D: Witticism (jeu d'esprit)
I'd give you bon mot, but this is just far too much French. Who is going to use this phrase (who is not himself a Frenchman, in France, speaking to other French folk, in a café, in the 18th century, etc.)?
38D: "Mary Worth" cartoonist Ken (Ernst)
This comic is unintentionally hilarious, and commented on beautifully, almost every day, by the Comics Curmudgeon. In recent weeks, Mary's would-be beau, Aldo, who looks like Captain Kangaroo, became a raging alcoholic and then Mary and her friends tried an intervention but that backfired and Aldo took a bottle of whiskey and his car over a cliff to his fiery death. Trust me, it's at least as funny as it sounds.
52D: Loy of "The Thin Man" (Myrna)
It's always nice when one of the HUMAN stars of that film series can get some face time in a crossword puzzle. That damn Asta is such a fame-whore.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld