Thursday, May 1, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "GROSS" (38A: "That's repulsive!" ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme) - a rebus puzzle where the word "ICK" is hidden inside 9 squares throughout the puzzle
If there had been one fewer ICK, and the ICK in 59A had intersected the second ICK in 35D, this would have been an architectural marvel, with something very close to symmetrical placement of eight ICKS. As it is, it's still impressive - it's just that the ninth ICK looks a little lonely when you highlight them all in the grid (as I've done on my paper). He's down there at the end of BREAD ST[ICK] with no one to play with.
I get questions all the time from beginners who want to know "How am I supposed to know when a puzzle's a rebus?" My answer is, first, check the date - if it's M or T, almost certainly not; W, very low likelihood; Th, definite possibility; F, very low likelihood; Sat, almost certainly not; Sun, possibility. That's just how the NYT rolls. I know when I'm dealing with a rebus because I'll get in a corner and either nothing makes sense, or answers I *know* just don't fit (this happened today with 6D: _____ and snee => SN[ICK]). Otherwise, there is no sign, no hint, no trick. Once you open your mind to the possibility, you'll be surprised how able you are to sniff them out.
Theme answers (aka "The ICKS")
- 17A: Club founder and president in an 1836 Dickens novel (Mr. P[ICK]W[ICK])
- 4D: Boonies (st[ICK]s)
- 6D: _____ and snee (sn[ICK])
- 18A: Field goal attempter, once (dropk[ICK]er) - wanted this to be GUS.
- 11D: Hysterical hen of fable (Ch[ICK]en L[ICK]en) - I would have spelled this LICKIN', as in "Finger LICKIN' Good!"
- 36A: Handle (mon[ICK]er) - this is one of the few places the puzzle begins to creak under the weight of the theme. MONICKER is acceptable, but I've never seen it spelled that way. Preferred spelling: MONIKER.
- 35D: Awkward situations, informally (st[ICK]y w[ICK]ets) - my favorite theme answer, easily
- 41A: 5th Avenue alternative (Sn[ICK]ers) - I thought this would be a car, but I clearly got the candy bar confused with ... this:
- 53A: Century, e.g. (Bu[ICK]) - they make a "Park Avenue," not a "5th Avenue."
- 59A: Crispy appetizer (bread st[ICK])
- 56D: Amusement park purchase (t[ICK]et)
- 61A: Easy winner in bridge (qu[ICK] tr[ICK])
- 58D: Eat without enthusiasm (p[ICK] at)
- 52D: Quiz show gizmo (cl[ICK]er)
I have a bunch of frowny-faces and question marks on my puzzle paper, indicating stuff I simply didn't know. Foremost among these answers is UREY (54D: 1934 Chemistry Nobelist Harold). That's ... rough. Most people in 1935 probably couldn't have named this guy. Yeesh. Further, I did not know TISCH (48D: Former CBS chief Laurence), though the name rings a bell, and at any rate is far more familiar than UREY. Also did not know 14A: Ex-Dodger manager Walter (Alston). Before my time (i.e. pre-Lasorda). Dang, he managed a Long time ('54-'76). How did I not know his name? The foreign language portion of the exam was a little heavy today, with some rarely seen pronouns like ESA (22A: Spanish pronoun) and CHE (63A: What: It.), and a passel of French words in the far NE (today, the Québec portion of the grid): ACTE (10A: Part of une piece de theatre) and CHEZ (16A: Word in a French party invitation). Lots of abbreviations today, too, which may be another consequence of such an ambitious theme. No matter. It was worth it - overall, a worthy Thursday construction.
- 1A: Unicorns and griffins (beasts) - wanted BEASTS immediately, but then thought "Nah, too easy."
- 15A: What SSTs crossed: Abbr. (ATL) - as in, the ATLantic. Wanted IDL at first ... wrong ocean.
- 20A: Oregon Trail fort (Boise) - the old state switcheroo. Here "Oregon" = Idaho. See also 30A: City on the Arkansas (Tulsa), where "Arkansas" = Oklahoma.
- 28A: Perceived to be (seen as) - astonishingly hard for me to parse. I had SEEMED, but that SEEMED wrong. MINOR (21D: College student's declaration) helped me sort things out.
- 46A: Free _____ (1850s abolitionist) (stater) - not sure how I knew this so easily. I guess having an American historian around the house helps sometimes.
- 47A: Sir Thomas who introduced the sonnet to England (Wyatt) - right over the plate for me.
- 57A: Plaything for a kitty (spool) - I imagine this would suck for kitty were there no string on it. Although ... my cats play with twigs, pieces of wadded up paper, the dog's tail, etc. so maybe a SPOOL alone would work just fine.
- 9D: Draper's offering (cloth) - another one that was surprisingly hard for me to get. I was imagining a much fancier term.
- 10D: When repeated, antiaircraft fire (ack) - cool comic book sound effect.
- 13D: Cornell of university fame (Ezra) - you should also know ELIHU Yale and Big Bad Leroy Harvard (OK, so his name was John).
- 25D: Arctic castoffs (bergs) - first thought: the Inuit elderly? Doesn't someone/thing have to be doing the "casting?" Is God "casting" the BERGS into the ocean?
- 31D: Noon service, to ecclesiastics (sext) - and my medievalist training comes in handy yet again. Surprisingly useful, my eight years in grad school.
- 36D: Ones graded E-8 in the Army (msgts) - wow, that is one ugly military abbreviation.
- 46D: Chest: Prefix (stetho-) - got hung up here with STERNO- ... sternum, sterno- ... makes sense to me.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld