Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Solving time: 13:39 (!!!!!!!!!!?)
THEME: Portmanteau words
This puzzle-solving experience was HORRIBLE (for me). I mean, the puzzle was great at its core - loved the theme - but I spent about EIGHT MINUTES of my solving time staring at a mostly blank NW corner (which I'll call "Seattle"). Turns out I am not familiar with FOUR of the terms, which is quite humiliating in a Tuesday puzzle. "Seattle" was not Tuesday material, I contend. I ended up filling in jibberish and then looking up the answers. Failure. Abject failure. O well. Let's look at the problem:
1A: Blast maker, informally (H-bomb)
Fitting opening, as it became a metaphor for my puzzle-solving experience. The clue is fair enough, though solving it took me too long because the clue sounded too informal to be a nuclear bomb reference. "Maker" somehow had this ring of do-it-yourself, like a blast I might make. So I'm thinking TNT (my personal "blast maker" of choice) or ammo or some kind of gun or something. Wrong.
14A: Interstate interchange establishment (motel)
Well, this is obvious when you see it, but I could not for the life of me imagine what this was for a good long while. I was thinking of answers in the commerce field, for some reason. Interstate banking, the word "change" ... it all made me think finance. Once I just settled into a literal reading, I got it, eventually. My struggle is especially odd as I love all things motel, and have a mini collection of postcards and ashtrays from motels (only the ones with the old-timey phone numbers, e.g. KL5-0296).
17A: Former Portuguese territory in China (Macau)
OK, here is where the wheels come off - both my misfilled squares occurred in this one word. First, I did not know that that is how you spell "Portuguese" (2 u's?)!!! Then, I had no idea the Iberians had any real history in Asia. Macau turns out to be the oldest European colony in Asia, dating back to the 16th century. Ignorance, thy name is Rex Parker! I know what a "macaw" is ... but "Macau" is just a name I've heard before, somewhere in the back of my head, with no particular meaning. Also, I just learned, "Macau" and "Macao" are different spellings of the same place, and that place looks like this (see picture of Seattle, above):
3D: Like some stocks, briefly (OTC)
I know about OPP and ODB, but OTC is new to me. Means "over-the-counter," which you likely know if you have any financial savvy.
5D: Prairie grass used for forage (bluestem)
Somehow I got the French word for "wheat" ("blé") in my head, and so that third letter just wouldn't be anything but an "e" - even when any idiot could see that "u" is the only letter that could Possibly go in that position. Clearly I'd never heard of "bluestem," and neither my father nor my stepmother (still here) had ever heard of it either - though my father is a big bluegrass fan.
Portmanteau words tend to be ugly (26A: Bad economic situation (stagflation) and 48A: Seat-of-the-pants figure (guesstimate), for instance, are both answers that make my skin crawl), but the theme itself (portmanteau word), at 38A, runs coast-to-coast across the dead center of the puzzle - and I like that. I like theme puzzles to have structural elegance, symmetry ... some significance in the physical placement of the words.
66A: Big, tough cat (liger)
Really? I thought a "liger" was a nearly mythical animal, almost imaginary, and I had no idea that the liger had a reputation for toughness. For the record: male lion + female tiger = Liger.Female lion + male tiger = Tigon (which sounds like a laundry detergent, poor kitty).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS this has nothing to do with the puzzle at all, but it needs to be seen. This combination makes "ligers" and "tigons" seem quite natural: