Thursday, October 26, 2006
Solving time: 20:23 (on-screen)
THEME: SEE [blank] (long clues ask you to "See" another clue/answer, which ends up being the second word in the clue, e.g. 17A: See 59-Down [where 59-Down=FIT ... so "See Fit"] (deem worthy))
First things first. Chocolate. If you live in or near the Ithaca, NY area, you must, must, must head to Sarah's Patisserie and start eating everything in sight. Sarah herself brought a box full of chocolates and primarly-chocolate pastries to my office yesterday and O My God. Everything was beautiful *and* delicious. Sarah even included a little chocolate duck for my 6-yr-old daughter. Sarah's wife, Tammy, is the executive chef and owner. Her desserts are featured at Willow restaurant (also in Ithaca, also Great). This is what one of her desserts looks like. It's called "The Sixth Avenue." My wife and I had one last night, and it was the best chocolate experience I've had since I went to Jacques Torres's place in Brooklyn last summer (completely coincidentally, M. Torres was Tammy's chocolatiering teacher). If Sarah's Patisserie Only Had a Website (!?) I would have a link to it HERE.
Why did I do the puzzle on-screen when I had Just vowed never to do so again? Who knows? Self-inflicted misery. I guess part of me imagines that I will have a massive solving-time breakthrough; instead, I end up stuck in the utterly foreseeable morass of mis-typing and mis-clicking. And once again, my ensuing crankiness is inflicted upon the puzzle and its talented, well-meaning constructors.
Can a puzzle simultaneously be clever, too clever, and not clever enough? If so, this is that puzzle. There is the undeniably clever use of "See [another clue]," which is a crossword cluing convention so common that you would never suspect it of trickery. The best kind of trick is the one that is hidden out in the open. The Purloined Letter trick. Plus, they managed to pull off this cleverness without choking the puzzle with obscurities (47A: Mexican Indian tribe (Huastec) being the one exception). So, this puzzle, it's clever. Yet, it's too clever: I don't like looking all over Hell and Gone to figure out what my clues are. Cleverness has impeded the Pleasure Principle (never wise). Then there's not clever enough: there is no pattern to the clue / answer pairings - those we are asked to "See" are not in any consistent relationship to the answers they clue, and they are (maddeningly, to my OCD brain) NOT symmetrical; worse, they are Almost symmetrical, as if the constructors thought they might be able to pull it off, but were forced to bail out of their plan at some point. So all the answers we are asked to "See" are vertical answers that touch the corners of the puzzle (we See RED, See THINGS, See FIT) ... except in the NE, where, if the puzzle Were symmetrical, we would have to "See BEEPER" (not an expression I know ... ABOUT is sitting sheepishly just three clicks to the west, like an actor who missed his mark). And if the concept is clever, the execution is not (so much). There's no real pop or life to the clue/answer pairings - I do like HALLUCINATE at 11D: See 43-Down [=THINGS], but TAKE CARE OF and BECOME ANGRY are kind of lifeless, and DEEM WORTHY is a Stretch for "See Fit" (the former implicitly applying to a person, the latter, to a situation or action - or so my morning brain tells me). This puzzle is wonderful in its conception, weaker in its execution (which is almost word-for-word what one of my grad school professors wrote about my written work in a letter of recommendation that I attempted to read by holding the sealed envelope up to the light...).
6A: Moonfish (opah)
6D: Daily TV staple since 1986 (Oprah)
Not sure if this is brilliant or lazy, but there's something oddly pleasing about these conjoined near-twins. Oprah is ubiquitous, but her show does not run "daily." Is "weekdaily" a word?
28D: City founded by Cadmus (Thebes)
Ah, my comfort zone. I love all things Theban - it's where all the most horrible things on earth happen, where family does things to family that should Not be done to family (Home of Oedipus REX). Cadmus is banished from Tyre by his father Agenor for failing to find his abducted sister Europa. So Cadmus heads off to settle a new land called Boeotia. Things do Not go well - all the people he brings with him are slaughtered by a giant serpent. Cadmus avenges their deaths by killing the serpent. Then he sows the serpent's teeth, and a new race of men emerges from the earth like plants. And then these new men immediately set to killing each other until only five remain. So the city is basically born out of family harming family, brothers killing brothers, civil war. Here is Ovid, from Metamorphoses (trans. Martin):
Now all of them were equally enraged!
These brothers of a moment slew each other,
until young men, whose lives had just begun,
lay beating the breast of their ensanguined mother. [nice!]
And now just five remained: one was Echion,
who, warned by Pallas, threw his weapons down,
seeking and giving securities for peace
among his brothers; these were the companions
Sidonian Cadmus had when he built the city
granted him by the oracle of Phoebus. (153-62)
And they all lived happily ever after.
42A: Product that prevents gas (Beano)
Awesome. Contemporary. Flatulence-Preventing. The only reason I am aware of this product is because I would often find it lying around the home of my friend Steve - super-smart, super-funny, super-gassy. At least I think it was Steve's. It could have been his wife's...
43A: "Boyz N the Hood" role (Tre)
45A: Kind of round in a tournament, informally (elim)
54A: Canceled (no go)
I don't like any of these. The first is pretty obscure, and makes me think of the early 90s, which you all know is a time in my life which I'd just as soon forget. Plus, whenever I see that movie title, I cringe. Spell it right, or go all the way and change "the" to "da." That's what I say. The second answer (ELIM) ... I don't hear it much if at all, and I've been in some tournaments. It works, it's just not as colloquial as I'd like. The last (NO GO) seems quite off. How can something be "canceled" if it was never allowed to "go?"
62D: Pop music's _____ Vanilli (Milli)
OK, if I must be reminded of the 90s, this is the way it should be done. If you're going to go dark, go very, very dark. So dark that it's Funny. Allow me to remind you that Milli Vanilli won the Best New Artist Grammy in, let's see ... 1989? (won it in 1990 for the year 1989, yes). Also nominated that year: Indigo Girls. Who did I start dating that year?: the sister of one of the Indigo Girls. It's true. Didn't last, or end well, but it's a nice little bit of trivia for the future Rex Parker bio (unofficial versions of which are surely already in the works).
63A: Classic rock group with a name from Greek myth (Styx)
O yeah. The late 70s and early 80s I am happy to remember. And the mythology theme (ERATO, THEBES ... uh, XENA) continues. There are two great moments in the history of the song "Sailing," by Styx. First, Cartman's version. Second, the use of the song at the school dance at the end of the pilot episode of Freaks and Geeks, one of the very greatest shows ever to be canceled (or should I say NO GO) after just one season.
2D: "For Lycidas is dead, dead _____ his prime": Milton (ere)
A thousand ways to clue ERE, and these guys decide to go through Milton. God bless them.
18D: Dungeons & Dragons creatures (orcs)
22D: "The Simpsons" bus driver (Otto)
Two gimmes, one right after the other. The fact that these two were gimmes tells you just about everything you need to know about Rex Parker (and his early and late nerdiness).
29D: Asian oil capital (Baku)
I had Bali here for a while, temporarily forgetting that that is a tourist resort, not an oil town. I have never heard of Baku. It sits in the part of the world about which Rex knows least (Russian Asia). BAKU is the capital of Azerbaijan, and it lies on the western side of the Caspian Sea. It is also the home of Aku, Dark Lord and nemesis of Samurai Jack:
Procter & Gamble brand (Gleem)
I just now guessed that this is a toothpaste, but I was thinking initially of household cleaners and air fresheners and other things that depressed housewives use in their futile-yet-never-ending War on Germs. This product falls under the "wacky spelling" category of brand names, which I hate so much. I want my teeth to GLEAM. GLEEM suggests they will give off some weird, radioactive glow. Good for Halloween, bad for ... well, every other situation one might find oneself in.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld