Sunday, February 18, 2007
Solving time: 21:10
THEME: "Magic words" - Theme is explained by 70A: Magic words ... or a hint to the other long answers in this puzzle ("NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T"); The word "IT" is inserted into and taken out of familiar phrases to make new, odd phrases, which are then clued, e.g. 25A: Einstein's asset (Great Brain) or 27A: Acerbic rock/folk singer (Biting Crosby).
I didn't enjoy solving this puzzle, though in the end I had to admire its cleverness as well as its architectural elegance, with the 21-letter explanatory theme answer (70A) running right through the center of the grid. I could see very early on that the theme had something to do with "IT," but it took me a Long time to get 70A, because of a mistake that I had early on, and actually never bothered to correct: 74D: Words with house or move (on the). I had IN THE (guess I saw the "house" but not the "move" part of the clue), which made 70A end -OWYOUDINT (I forget exactly how many of those other letters I had in place when I made the error) and I was thinking "is this some kind of horrible slang, some botched approximation of black slang, e.g. "O no you dint!", an expression of offended disbelief wherein DINT is a contraction of DIDN'T!?!?!?" So, as I said, I didn't get 70A until almost the very end. I just went around guessing theme answers ("put IT in or take IT out"). The whole experience felt slow, and clunky, and awkward. I got no kind of rhythm. There were times where I just stared at the grid and felt very much in free fall - THEN I spent 3-5 minutes searching for a mistake in the grid (two, it turns out - the one I already mentioned [DINT for DON'T] and another to be discussed below). And STILL my time was respectable. That is, no worse than my average Sunday.
104A: Person at court (baron)
How is this? Is this because a BARON has a court? Of his own? Like a king has a court? Or is he a person at a king's court? The "court" part of this clue seems arbitrary and off. I understand that a BARON may have a court of his own, but if you search "court" at the Wikipedia entry for BARON, the only word it hits is "courtesy," as in "courtesy title," as in a BARON without a "court" to speak of.
1D: Modern workout system (Tae Bo)
Really? Still? I haven't seen Billy Blanks on my TV screen in a while.
80D: Georgia and others, once: Abbr. (SSRs)
81D: Sen. McCarthy ally (HUAC)
It's getting very Cold War over in the "Carmel-by-the-Sea" portion of the grid. And very Abbreviated as well. Nice little sub-thematic juxtaposition.
43D: Boxer nicknamed "Hands of Stone" (Duran)
44D: Año starter (Enero)
What month was it when Sugar Ray Leonard made Roberto DURAN say "No mas!"? Was it, by chance, ENERO? No, it was NOVIEMBRE.
59D: First name in comedy (Whoopi)
Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you said "comedy."
34A: Graf _____ (Spee)
The Admiral Graf SPEE was a German battleship that served in the early stages of WWII. This answer is known to me Only from crosswords, and even then, not very well; I remembered that it was S-EE, but couldn't remember what letter went in that second place. So it's time to play "Better Know Your S-EE Words"
- SHEE = [Irish fairy people (Var.)]
- SKEE = [_____-ball, arcade game]
- SMEE = [Hook's helper]
- SNEE = ["Snick or _____": knife-fighting]
- SPEE = see above
- SWEE = [Popeye's Little _____ Pea]
- 61D: Hammer user (nailer) - true enough, but such a crappy word - one of the horrible "Odd Jobs" I like to gripe about - that it would not come to me even after I had most of its letters
- 99D: Beams (girders) - I have no idea why this answer took so long to come, as it seems quite ordinary now that I look at it. I just know that I took many, many passes at it before it came into view. I think I thought the word was a verb.
- 6D: French film director Allégret (Marc) - didn't actually give me problems because I never saw it. Good thing, because I have Never heard of this guy.
- 50A: Faulkner character _____ Varner (Eula) - sadly, I did see this one. No idea. Never heard of her (it's a her, right?). Why is that? Because I've read but one Faulkner novel in my entire life: As I Lay Dying - I don't remember the plot of that book, and I know next to nothing about the plots of his others. Best line from As I Lay Dying: "My mother is a fish." That is, literally, all that I remember about that book. EULA Varner is a character in The Hamlet, a novel which, I swear, I had never heard of until just now. It was made into a movie called The Long, Hot Summer in 1958, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and featuring Lee Remick as EULA Varner. If my cursory research is correct, EULA kills herself with a pistol. I guess I should have said "Spoiler Alert."
- 41D: Word in many a Nancy Drew title (Clue) - I was happy to see the "C" there and immediately entered the obvious CASE - forgetting, of course, that CASE was already taken by The Hardy Boys (one of whom was played on TV by Parker Stevenson, as I established in a recent entry and / or comment).
- 85D: Literally, "instruction" (Torah) - I'm embarrassed to say I had no CLUE about this answer, even with the "T" in place. Wasn't until I had the terminal -AH that it became obvious.
- 78A: Percolate (leach) - never in my wildest dreams would I have put these two words in the same universe. STEEP seems more closely related to both of them than they are to themselves, if that pronoun pile-up makes any sense. I think LEACH is how Robin spells his name. I would have spelled it LEECH on a spelling test.
- 125A: "_____ Dream" ("Lohengrin" piece) (Elsa's) - I blew an ELSA clue a few months back, so I sort of remembered her this time. Sort of. I should say that that ELSA clue, the one I muffed, resulted in an avalanche of hits to this website from people searching for her name. Common fare to crossword pros, a mystery to hacks (sadly, I'm still more latter than former).
- 38D: Dagger (dirk) - a perfectly good word that was stored away in my brain from my D&D days (circa 1981). Unfortunately for me, it was stored away so well that I actually couldn't retrieve it. It wasn't 'til I got AIKMAN (62A: 1993 Super Bowl M.V.P.) that the "K" dropped into place and DIRK became visible. I like that DIRK intersects 48A: The Henry who founded the Tudor line (VII), mostly because DIRK seems like a word that would have been in common parlance in that era. Unlike now, when it's best known as the first name of the NBA's greatest German.
- 22A: Sinatra's "Meet Me at the _____" (Copa) - My era = COPA Cabana. In the future, please clue this word via Manilow.
- 102D: _____ Society (English debating group) (Eton) - so, so, so many ways to clue ETON, and this is what you give me. A school, a collar, "The _____ Rifles," etc. I would have preferred them all.
- 123D: What barotrauma affects (ear) - aaargh. Simple little answer. Since a barometer measures atmospheric pressure, I figured barotrauma affected the AIR. I swear that it makes a kind of sense.
- 115D: Citation of 1958 (Edsel) - I'm guessing that the Citation was a make of car. I think Citation is better known as a racehorse. My god, how did I know that? The weird detritus that floats around in my head... Speaking of HORSES (109A: Engine capability, slangily (horses))... that's it, just that clue, right there. I got it fast, for which I was very proud of myself, considering I know less than nothing about cars (or other things that might have engines).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld