*MALCOLM X EULOGIST DAVIS* - SATURDAY, Jun. 28, 2008 - Byron Walden (JANISSARY COMMANDER / 2005 REALITY SHOW HOSTED BY FABIO)
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
Byron gave me a heads-up yesterday that today's puzzle was going to be one of his. I can't decide if knowing is a good thing or a bad thing. Usually, his puzzles are far more challenging (and far more entertaining) than your average puzzles, so I can easily psych myself out if I know a puzzle's by him (see also any puzzle by Bob Klahn). On the other hand, if I go into the puzzle prepared for serious war, and the puzzle is at all tractable, I get this great feeling of power, bordering on elation. Maybe this is how Genghis Khan felt. I don't know; I haven't seen the movie yet (largely because it hasn't been released). The point is, I made short work of this puzzle (well, shortish). I was prepared for far more resistance than I got, and yet ... it was still thorny enough to be a proper workout, and (mostly) as inventive and clever as I expect a Byron Walden puzzle to be.
First bit of traction was in the NE, where the disturbing PLEA (24A: Video from a kidnappee's family, e.g.) gave me the "A" that confirmed my improbably correct first guess of SASHAYS for 14D: Steps lively. Guessed AGO (11D: Long _____), which gave me the (always handy) AGORA (16A: Heart of ancient Athens), and then there was a brief pause, for which I'm grateful. Saturdays should not allow you to blow through a full quadrant of the puzzle with ease. PROTEAN went down first, though I forget why - I know about Proteus from my eternal grad school studying. I read about a lot of gods, and he was in there somewhere. Shape-shifter. Oh, maybe I guessed ATH (21A: Letter getter: Abbr.) off the "H" - my distaste for this Abbr. has been covered elsewhere. This allowed me to get the real gem of the NE, and possibly of the whole puzzle: 12D: The "I" of Elizabeth I? (Royal 'We'). Man, that's some good cluin'. Eventually, the identically clued HARPS and YOYOS fell into place (10A and 18A: They come with strings attached), and finally I was treated to a most ridiculous little word, which I claimed (aloud) was not a word at all, or at least shouldn't be: HAYS (10D: Makes bales, say).
I bounced around this puzzle a lot - much more than usual. I had pieces of the puzzle done in three different quadrants before I started knitting them together. Was helped enormously in the SW by OSSIE (60A: Malcolm X eulogist Davis), who was the plausible Davis that could have gone there (the fact that 37D: Storage rooms was a plural helped confirm one of the S's). Had a weird experience in the NW, where I wrote in MUMMIES for 1D: Corps of corpses, but then misread my own "U" as an "O," which allowed me to get ONION ROLL (15A: Piquant base for a sandwich), which then allowed me to backtrack and change MUMMIES to ZOMBIES. The best (i.e. worst) answer up there is MR. ROMANCE (17A: 2005 reality show hosted by Fabio), which raises/lowers the reality show bar in the puzzle to new highs/lows. And I thought we'd topped/bottomed out at "Date My Mom."
What was most nutso? (Besides HAYS, I mean) Well, there was ALCIDS (8D: Auks, puffins, and related birds), which I didn't know despite having just written a little chapter about crossword birds like the AUK. Ravens and bluejays are corvids. My bird taxonomy knowledge ends there. Let's see ... oh, I know so little about both weaving and mining that I had to run through half the alphabet to figure out the letter at the intersection of LOOM (4D: 1785 invention of England's Edmund Cartwright) and BEAM ENGINES (19A: Steam-driven devices that pump water from mines). Don't read historical novels (unless they are by Sir Walter Scott) and so EUGENIA whatsherface (41D: Southern historical novelist Price) was unknown to me. Guessed her off the initial EU-. Didn't know 51A: Item called a geyser in Britain (water heater), but it was easy to infer with a few crosses. After 9D: Owen _____, rebel in Shakespeare's "King Henry IV" (Glendower) and 34A: "Where's my serpent of old _____?": "Antony and Cleopatra" ("Nile"), I thought I was going to get the Shakespeare trifecta at 61A: Will work? - but sadly, the Will in question was George: 61A: Will work? (op-ed essay). I own his baseball book, "Men at Work." I heard him talk about his son recently and it was remarkably touching. I somehow doubt he would approve of the style in which I write this commentary, though he does strike me as someone who might enjoy a crossword puzzle now and again.
- 1A: Holder of many a sandwich (Ziploc bag) - gorgeous! The spelling on ZIPLOC alone is pure deliciousness. Love how this sandwich-related answer sits atop the other sandwich-related answer, ONION ROLL.
- 22A: "Lost" actor Somerhalder (Ian) - words can't explain how little I care about this show. To me, it's the "Seinfeld" of the 21st century, in that many of my friends love it, but the appeal is lost on me.
- 25A: Coming right back at you? (echoic) - like HAYS, this has a high "WTF!?" factor.
- 39A: Heart failures? (reneges) - had NO idea this could be a noun (just as I had no idea HAYS could be a verb)
- 43A: Doesn't need more seasoning (tastes OK) - god I love this. Ridiculous, bordering on silly, yet admirably daring and undeniably entertaining.
- 46A: Eponymous oilman Halliburton (Erle) - do we need "eponymous" here? And you thought the only ERLE in the world was Mr. Gardner...
- 49A: Janissary commander (Aga) - Take that, BEY and DEY! I should keep a running tally of who's winning the AGA / BEY / DEY wars.
- 55A: Change at the top? (new do) - almost as good as TASTES OK.
- 3D: Ruthless type (piranha) - didn't see that coming.
- 5D: "All Eyez _____" (1996 Tupac Shakur album). Here's a cut, featuring crossword stalwart Dr. DRE (if you want to skip the epic video silliness and get to the song, move forward to the 1:20 minute mark):
- 6D: Start of some blended juice names (Cran) - I had this in a puzzle I was constructing once. It was booed out of the room by reviewers. I still have a certain fondness for it.
- 57A: Ingredient in a mojito highball (spearmint) - I don't care how painfully hipster / touristy these drinks have become; they are Delicious.
- 24D: Unit that's larger than 19 trillion miles (parsec) - damn ... that's big.
- 27D: San Diego-to-Seattle rte. (I-Five) - I spent many a day on this "rte" every summer of my life from age 10 to 16. Lived in CA, had relatives in OR and WA. Our summer vacations were all about the I-FIVE.
- 28D: "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" instrument (celesta) - how did I know this? I can't even picture a CELESTA at the moment.
- 30D: 100 aurar (krona) - !?!? At least I knew KRONA was a unit of currency.
- 38D: Anthony Hopkins role in "Shadowlands" (C.S. Lewis) - never saw it, but how many answers start with "CS?" (not many)
- 48D: Beau-_____ (French in-law)(frère) - one of my first entries. What else could it be but SOEUR ... ?
- 53D: Manx relative (Erse) - A contracted English version of "Irish"
- 56D: Century starter in the papacy of Gregory I (DCI) - YOTP!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of Crossworld