Friday, November 30, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium
Henry Hook has a great crossword constructor name, in that his last name is vaguely synonymous with "theme" (which most crosswords have), and it's also associated with pointy painfulness - particularly (if you are a fish) a pointy painfulness you did not see coming. Whenever I see his by-line, I know that some amount of struggle lies ahead, and that the struggle will (likely) be worth my while - that it will tax my brain in pleasurable ways. This puzzle did not disappoint. It was Friday-tough, and yet there were hardly any esoteric answers in the whole thing. There's a joint in the NW that's a bit tricky if you don't know (or don't pick up on) the crossword-common ABIE (30A: Mr. Levy of 1920s Broadway fame) or the mildly exotic EMS (25A: Bad _____, German resort), or (like me) you have never (or barely) heard of the ODER-NEISSE Line (3D: _____ Line (German/Polish border)). Other than that, all the words and phrases are reasonably to completely ordinary. And yet they are lively.
I wonder if R. CRUMB (41D: Fritz the Cat illustrator) ever drew a strip about CLERGYMEN (40A: Cloth workers?) who CROSS DRESS (58A: Undergo a change of habit?) because they think they LOOK BETTER (1A: Show signs of improvement) that way? R. CRUMB is one of the two or three most important comics artists of the 20th century, and his influence (a fearlessness with taboo subjects, a hyper-observant eye for detail, the use of arrow boxes to direct the reader's attention around the panels, etc.) can be seen All Over most non-superhero comics. See especially Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (my favorite book of the past ... well, many years) or anything by Lynda Barry (whom I Adore - several pieces of her original artwork adorn the walls of my home).
Who fell asleep on the keyboard when they were assigning CLAES Oldenburg his name (43A: Sculptor Oldenburg)?
I realized while doing this puzzle that when the white part of the grid gets out to 5x5 or larger, the puzzle gets a Lot harder for me to solve. I feel like I'm just swimming in open space, and tentative answers look much more pathetic, and much more doubtful, when they're so painfully exposed. It's like I get puzzle-agoraphobia. Hence, today, the NW and SE were notably harder / slower than the other parts of the puzzle (particularly the other corners, which I locked up in no time).
In the SE, I had DENT for 39A: Minimal change (cent), which, as you can see (I hope) makes total sense. Sadly for me, that one little mistake was positioned right at the gateway to the SE, and so I hobbled along, trying to get any kind of purchase. Oh, what's worse: I flubbed the Other gateway to the SE. Confidently wrote in EASY AS PIE for 32D: "Nothing to it" ("Easy as ABC") - then wrote in AND for 53D: Clause connector. Considering that that made three strikes, I should have been out, and I was, for a bit, until somehow, from one "K," and a "P," I got BOOKKEEPER (56A: One who's happy when things look black - a devilish clue). After that, no problem.
Here's how the puzzle started:
First answer: 11A: Second in a series (beta)
Second answer: 13D: "I did it!" ("Tada!")
Third answer: 11D: Department (bureau)
Fourth answer: 16A: 1,575-mile river known to some locals as the Zhayyq (Ural)
The hardest part of the puzzle, for me, was the NW, where I went into a complete freefall with everything above EMS and west of ESTEE (6D: Name on a bottle of Beyond Paradise) completely blank. I had the very close DO YOU THINK? for a while at 17A: "Well, duh!" ("Gee, ya think!?"). Aargh. Wanted EPEE for 1D: Olympics item ... or the winning word in the 1984 National Spelling Bee (luge). In fact, once I let go of EPEE and guessed LUGE, everything finally started to fall. My earlier guess for 2D: Civilians eligible to be drafted (One A's) turned out to be right, and every other answer up there ended up being quite ordinary, although UNDERSCORE (15A: Indication of stress) made me snarl in frustration - very fair clue, but ... [slams head on desk repeatedly] ... couldn't see it couldn't see it couldn't see it ... until, of course, I saw it.
- 23A: Sci-fi author McIntyre (Vonda) - Never read her, but I knew this once, as I have friends who are fans
- 32A: Holders of big pads (easels) - not sure what the "PADS" are here ... oh, of paper? Hmmm.
- 46A: Game craze of the late 1980s and '90s (Tetris) - big when I was in college. Never played it myself.
- 51A: Island nicknamed the Gathering Place (Oahu) - never saw the clue; tore the SW up too fast.
- 12D: Greenland colonizer (Eric) - the Red? Good clue. I wanted ERIE for about half a second, thinking there was perhaps some part of Native American history I had missed completely.
- 14D: Pianist Templeton (Alec) - ALEC wants entry to the Pantheon; this ALEC is new to me.
- 21D: Visual PC-to-PC files (PDFs) - ooh, good one. I had PEGs (as in JPEGs) at first ... yes, it's a bad guess.
- 24D: Classic Packard model with a numerical name (one ten) - well, without the "numerical name" part, I'd have been lost. Had the "O" so new ONE was involved. Not too hard to piece together the rest.
- 26D: Pompadour, for one (Madame) - Had this ending in "U" for a while (from my CLAUS for CLAES mistake), making the right answer Very hard to see.
- 29D: Tentlike dwelling with a conical roof (yurt) - HA ha. "The Yurt" was some kind of structure on the campus of Pitzer College. Maybe still is. Hippies...
- 38D: Hybrid fruit (ugli) - also (as I may have told you) the acronym for the Undergraduate Library at UMich (and perhaps elsewhere).
- 39D: Where cooler heads prevail? (crisper) - "PREVAIL?" Over ... ? It's a daring clue, I'll give it that.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld