Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: The First State! (which is also, apparently, THE DIAMOND STATE) - four theme answers begin with DEL-, circled squares in middle of grid form a diamond shape that spells out DIAMOND STATE, and the theme is indicated by a clue in the far south of the puzzle: 70A: Capital suggested by the circled letters and by the starts of 17- and 63-Across and 11- and 29-Down (Dover)
I've notice a common pattern to my solving, especially in early-week puzzles. I start in the NW, like all right-thinking people, but then I tend to move across and down, to the point where I often end up in the ESE or SE before I really know what's happened. Then I end up sidling my way back across the grid, which feels awkward, as I end up coming at Across clues from their back ends. I think if I could drop into that western coastal section of the puzzle earlier - the Oregon / N. California section - I would have a more solid purchase from which to conquer the rest of the puzzle. But I always seem to get to that section last, or near the end. I feel like I'm always finishing in the SW or W.
In this puzzle there were no real obstacles. The theme covers a ton of square feet - 57 total squares, by my count - but it's all relatively easy to put together. My only problem was in the far west, where I finished the puzzle (yet again). I finished and yet couldn't stop staring at ONEG (35A: Universal donor blood type, for short). How in the world (I queried) is ONE G a "universal donor type?" I couldn't remember which "type" was "universal donor," but I was looking for some combination of A and B and possibly O, but when the O got in front of NEG, my brain went all hard-boiled on me and the only phrase I could see was ONE G. As in "How much will it cost for me to hire a torpedo to ice my husband?" "It will cost you ONE G, ma'am."
I looked it up - nothing. Many minutes went by before I realized that I had it parsed wrong. My wife, however, had trouble because 70A did not indicate state capital, and so DOVER made her think only of white cliffs and England.
- 17A: Special Operations group (Delta Force) - had to hack at this to get it to fall. I seemed to recall a movie with this name, something violent and Reagan-era. I was right. "They Don't Negotiate with Terrorists ... They Blow Them Away!" So this is where our foreign policy comes from! Awesome.
- 11D: TV angel portrayer (Della Reese) - I very confidently entered DELTA BURKE at first. Wrong bad TV show.
- 29D: Overdue (delinquent) - the first letter I got was the "Q" - from QTRS (51A: N.F.L. periods)
- 63A: Highly pleasing (delightful) - wow these last two theme answers are Snoozers compared to the first two.
Papa, can you hear me? Can you? If so, Please put a moratorium on YENTL, YENTA, YENTAS (44A: Busybodies) and all YENT-related words. Immediately. Thank you. In their place, you may substitute SHTETL. Or KVETCH.
I didn't know UPSALA (58A: New Jersey college until 1995) - what's the shelf life on marginal colleges? I mean, how much longer will it be legal to clue UPSALA via a defunct college? Anyway, the UPSALA / LUNT (60D: Fontanne's stage partner) area of the puzzle was the only real rough patch for me. I had a weird lot of trouble getting ROTS (71A: Fails to keep). I had RIDS, though I assure you, I didn't like it. I loved the attempt at a fake-out at 54D: Cuban export, where CIGAR would have worked as well as SUGAR (the actual answer). I direct your attention to two answers which seem to be appearing with greater frequency of late (not just in the NYT, necessarily, but in all of puzzledom): GINSU (33D: Supersharp knife) and ERNIE Pyle (47A: War correspondent Pyle). Pyle was killed on an island in the Pacific in 1944 (thus not in the ETO - 6D: Ike's W.W. II arena), so he never got the chance to cover Francis the Talking Mule during the latter's wacky stint in the WACS (8D: 1954 war comedy "Francis Joins the _____").
All you rap-hating suckas have to suck it up today: both NAS (37D: "Illmatic" rapper) and DRE (40A: Dr. _____ formerly of Death Row Records) are both in the grid today - a fine antidote to the pathetic POP STAR that is Britney Spears (46D: Britney Spears, for one).
- 14A: Baseball's Matty or Felipe (Alou) - it was funny to me when recently some solvers claimed never to have heard of these guy. Time was that you couldn't go a week without running into an ALOU. I have a strange affection for this baseball family now.
- 16A: Danish-based toy company (Lego) - never think of them as Danish. LEGOs are such a staple of the toy landscape in this country that I never considered that they might not have originated here.
- 21A: Food giant that owns Ball Park Franks and Hillshire Farm (Sara Lee) - weird; SARA LEE was clued via the companies it owned a year or so ago, and I think a retraction had to be issued because there was an error ... perhaps involving Playtex ... mind is fuzzy. Nobody Doesn't Like SARA LEE.
- 50A: Nun, in Nanterre (Soeur) - French for "sister," in case you were wondering. Few French words freak me out more than SOEUR. That vowel combination ...
- 53A: "The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" author (Aesop) - see ... this makes it sound like he wrote a short story with this title. He wrote fables. I'm always taken aback to see individual fables presented with formal titles like this. Not sure how they were presented when originally published (whenever that was).
- 55A: Takes to the police station (hauls in) - RUNS IN is the phrase I know best.
- 67A: Brooke's longtime rival on "All My Children" (Erica) - the puzzle rarely goes to soaps. ERICA is perhaps the best known soap character in recent American history (since Luke and Laura of 1980 "General Hospital" fame), as Susan Lucci became famous for her streak of not winning an Emmy for playing her (a streak eventually, mercifully, broken).
- 2D: Intestinal parts (ilea) - gross. I always want ILIA (insofar as I "want" anything to do with intestines).
- 13D: Jazzman Allison (Mose) - today's musical interlude.
- 24D: "Alas, poor Yorick!," e.g. (lament) - wow, this threw me. I know the speech well, but it took me a while to place it in the LAMENT category.
- 45D: 1773 jetsam in Boston Harbor (tea) - "jetsam" is a fabulous word.
- 61D: Publican's stock (ales) - goes nicely with TEA, in that "Publican" makes me think of Sam Adams makes me think of Boston makes me think of the first place Red Sox ... whoa, lost the thread.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld