Sunday, February 25, 2007
Solving time: mid-high 20's
THEME: "Comic Relief" - All the long theme answers begin with the last name of an OSCAR (67A: With 56-Down, start of eight answers in this puzzle) EMCEE, e.g. 15D: Birding capital of New Zealand (2006) (Stewart Island) - the parenthetical year(s) after the clue = year(s) that the OSCAR EMCEE in question, in this case STEWART, hosted the OSCARs.
I own a book of David J. Kahn baseball crosswords, which I keep by my bedside and enjoy quite a bit. They are of medium difficulty and every one has a baseball theme and lots of baseball fill. Fun. Today's puzzle: not as fun. Or rather, very fun in parts, dismal in others - the bad parts are only partly blamable on the puzzle, to be fair. I have never been so stuck, with so much of the puzzle left open, on a Sunday before - not in recent memory, anyway; for a host of reasons, the earth was scorched from an epicenter somewhere around the area now occupied by DESSERTS (87A: Display on a tray) and extending out about an inch to two inches in all directions. So the problem had its center somewhere around the "Missouri" region of the puzzle, but ripple effects were felt all over. If I could blame one clue for the entire problem, what would it be? Hmmm, let's see. No, it's really a team effort, so here's the team:
24D: Company that merged with Lockheed in 1995 (2001, 2003) (Martin-Marietta)
88D: Transitional land zone (ecotone)
101A: Court grp. (NBA)
I have never heard of MARTIN-MARIETTA. Lockheed-MARTIN is a major employer in the area of the country where I live, and I know Steve MARTIN hosted the OSCARs, so the MARTIN part, no problem. The MARIETTA part ... ???? Nope, not in my ken at All. So why not just get the crosses? OK, the big problem there was that MARIETTA runs parallel for five letters with 73D: Western capital (1979-82, 1984) (Carson City) - which I swear I only just now realized was a theme answers! - and I couldn't see it at all. First, I didn't know if "Western" meant Western U.S. or "Western" the way most first-world countries are deemed "Western," or what. Second, and more importantly, is the tiny 101A: Court grp., which at three letters I thought was a cinch to be ABA. But no, it's a stupid trick clue (the kind that makes me say "@#$# you" out loud to no one in particular), and the actual answer involves basketball players, not lawyers. That one-letter mistake (A for N) took the N out of CARSON CITY, keeping me in the dark for minutes longer than I should have been. As for ECOTONE ... whatever! It's a word. I looked it up. But it sounds like a synthetic compound, or else a ringtone for your phone that plays sounds of the rainforest or something. Not thrilled about ECO (48A: "Baudolino" novelist) and ECOTONE being in the same puzzle, either. MARIETTA, ECOTONE, and CARSON CITY = a lot of empty neighboring squares = work for me. The little crosses and neighboring parallels were not self-evident, either. Did not know that CRIBs were defined by their mobility (83D: Mobile home?) - Oh, I just got it. You hang a "mobile" over a crib. Nevermind. Ugh. We have a mobile - why? - hanging from our hallway ceiling upstairs. There is no CRIB there. If you have ever watched MTV, then you know that CRIB is just slang for an ordinary, stationary home. So I was confused on many fronts. Then there was 83A: Abbr. after Lincoln or Kennedy (Ctr.), which seems fine when you look at it, but when you've got three blank squares, it's not so easy. Scratch that: when you have ONE blank square, it's not so easy - I had -TR and thought for many moments that the answer might be STR., as in "I live on Lincoln STR." Yeah, it was that bad for me. The worst answer of the night, though ... well, it was close. In second place, we have
9D: Florida's _____ Trail (Tamiami)
So much Florida geography this week! We aren't all retirees!! I've never heard of this so-called "Trail" and the answer reads like a cruel joke, in that it has recognizable Florida fill (MIAMI) inside it. I thought LA MIAMI .... but no. No No No. And the winner for worst answer of the grid:
94A: Code word (dah)
The very last square I filled in was the "D" in this answer, and I did so with absolute uncertainty. Ironically, my first thought was Morse Code, but wouldn't that be DASH? What is DAH?!?!?! The only good part about this answer is that it's one letter off from D'OH, which I know to be an actual word, and was what I found myself saying a lot while trying to solve this puzzle. DAH is how the DASH in Morse Code is written out in English. Because DASH is already taken??? It's a real word. It just Sux. The very worst part - and this wound is entirely self-inflicted, nobody's fault but mine - is that when I went to check my grid at the applet, I kept getting rejected, and I was certain the D in DAH was to blame, and I went over and over ways that I could make it different - then plugged in literally every letter in the alphabet into that slot. When that didn't work, it began to dawn on me that I might have other errors. But a scan of all the Acrosses turned up only valid fill. So I could Not get a grid accepted by the applet forEver. Eventually, instead of just checking all the Acrosses, I checked all the Downs, and found DEAR SSNTA instead of DEAR SANTA (11D: Opening in the North Pole?). Sadly, that wrong "S" gave me an Across of TSE, which is so Pantheonic that I hadn't blinked at it when I'd scanned the Acrosses earlier. The actual, weirder-looking answer is TAE (39A: Inventor's inits.). So I actually had the puzzle filled in correctly on paper, but wasted 20+ minutes trying to get my grid accepted by the applet because of a simple typo.
I'm running on too long this a.m., so just a few more quick observations before I close things out. Here's some stuff I liked:
- 4D: Popular Bach work for keyboard (1994, 1996, 1999, 2002) (Goldberg Variations) - This work sits near the top of my iTunes "Playlists," and it's beautiful - always nice to have a gigantic gimme in the puzzle. How many times does Whoopi have to host the OSCARs before people finally realize it's not a good idea. Four non-consecutive terms, come on! Nobody should get that many chances. To her credit, she made fun of herself very effectively on "30 Rock" lately.
- 29D: Words from Pope's "An Essay on Man" (1940, 1942-43, 1960-62, 1965-68, 1978) ("Hope springs eternal") - "... in the human breast." Another huge gimme, even before I knew the theme of the puzzle. Damn, HOPE hosted a lot!
- 43A: Ecdysiast Blaze and others (Starrs) - I just love the word "ecdysiast!" So much classier than "stripper."
- 23A: First mate's greeting? (Madam, I'm Adam) - easily my favorite answer of the night. Palindrome! I got it right away - one of the few harmonious wavelength moments I had all night.
- 52A: Year Constantine the Great became emperor (CCCVI) - I thought it was CCCIII, but whatever, I knew the century, at least, which really really helped take care of the "Oregon" section of the grid.
- 1A: Stick used to swat flies (fungo) - here I've been calling it a "fly swatter" all these years; what a chump - think of all the syllables I could have saved if I'd only known.
- 32A: Actors Max and Max Jr. (Baers) - pulled this from somewhere, but this last name is like LAHR (of Cowardly Lion fame) in that the only part that's solid in my head is the "R."
- 62A: 1970's HUD secretary Hills and namesakes (Carlas) - man that is a Long way to go for a CARLA.
- 65A: C8H8 (styrene) - ugh, chemistry. Not my strong suit.
- 97A: Old computer (Tandy) - A beloved actress ... and she can do your taxes!? I hate to tell you, though, that she's not just OLD, she's dead.
- 45D: Sirtaki dancer in a 1964 movie (Zorba) - way to hide the fat Greek guy inside a sultry Japanese woman (that's what a "Sirtaki dancer" looked like in my head before reality came crashing in)
According to this article, the ARAL SEA will kill us all (in fact, should have done so already). Good day.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld