SATURDAY,Nov. 8,2008-B. Walden (Ostrava tongue / Meshed person / Jaculates / Base off the coast of Brest for France's nuclear submarines)
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
This puzzle might actually be "Challenging," but as Byron Walden puzzles go, it's slightly easier than normal. Since it ended up being easier than I expected, I dialed back the difficulty rating a notch. Byron's puzzles are almost always dazzling while also being almost always brutal. They have the kind of difficulty level that can make you cry (inside, if not outside), but the kind of intricacy and beauty and cleverness that make you (or me, anyway) enjoy the pain. I always feel like, "OK, that hurt, but it was worth it." Kind of like childbirth, I'm guessing. (I'm kidding - no angry emails!). I remember trying to do a Byron Walden tree rebus once (where entire tree names, e.g. ELM, ASH, etc., were crammed into individual squares, but in no particular pattern) and practically whimpering in frustration by the end - but I had to find all the trees! They were so pretty. What I'm saying is, I don't mind suffering for a work of art.
The darkest torture chamber of the day was the SW corner, where I just flailed around like a dying fish. I got the lovely Claire MCCASKILL (31D: Missouri senator Claire) right off the bat, but her next door neighbor? Total mystery. Is ILE LONGUE really a place? Sounds like Shangri-La or the Chateau d'If (which I just found out is real ... I thought Dumas made it up!). Crap, that ILE must be really secure. I can barely find any pictures, and Wikipedia doesn't even seem to know if it's a true island or a peninsula (first paragraph says one thing, second another). Anyway, never heard of it, making the SW a bear. Every Across answer south of KNARS (49A: Bumps on a trunk) was befuddling. Don't know what a "chuckwalla" is (54A: Relative of a chuckwalla => IGUANA), don't understand what the "?" is doing on 58A: Fastener that's actually easy to pick up? (lug nut), and LEHIGH is not high on my list of "College sports teams I recognize" (60A: The Mountain Hawks of the Patriot League). I think I broke this corner by guessing that "Meshed" was a place and not an adjective in 44D: Meshed person (Irani). Sadly, "chuckwalla" makes me think of this:
And to my great shame, [Bumps on trunks] makes me think of this:
Yesterday we had the intersecting 15s INSTANT MESSAGES and KARAOKE MACHINES. Today, more technology with CLOSEDCIRCUITTV (36A: Feeding tube?), but then bam, the puzzle goes old school and hits you with the (singular!?) FEDERALIST PAPER (8D: Writing of Publius). I especially like CLOSEDCIRCUITTV. Nice, odd letter string there at the end, with the "V" crossing a double-V in the equally technological TECH SAVVY (14D: Like computer programmers), another fantastic answer.
This puzzle is odd in that it offered me an unusual number of gimmes ... but then turned around and took that advantage completely away by having at least a dozen answers / clue terms that I didn't know at all. I wrote in TRES immediately, as I own that album and listen to it not infrequently (26A: "_____ Hombres," first Top 40 album by ZZ Top). The next gimme was also musical: YIPPY (45A: "_____ Ky Yay" (1998 country song)). Everyone but Everyone should have been able to fill that one in. Unless you have had no exposure to old westerns AND have never seen "Die Hard." What are the odds? Other gimmes for me were perhaps not gimmes for everyone. I wrote in FATHA (52A: Nickname in early jazz piano) with no crosses. FATHA Earl Hines shows up in the puzzle an awful lot, such that his name pretty much lives near the forefront of my mind with the 200-300 other crosswordy answers that are likely to come up in late-week puzzles. EDWARD II (59A: Christopher Marlowe play) I got easily. I teach that play from time to time, so I had an unfair advantage on that one. OWE was clued in a very standard way (57D: Come up short), so I got that with no crosses as well. Good start, right? Well, yes. But then:
- 38A: Used a thurible on? (censed) - uh ... thurible?
- 46D: Many a Carl Czerny composition (etude) - uh ... Carl?
- 34A: Predecessor of Gregory XI (Urban V) - popes, great...
- 39A: 1942 Eleanor Powell musical set at sea ("Ship Ahoy") - the 40s, musicals, the sea ... all non-specialties
- 27A: Side dish popular at New Year's (pea salad) - this is the first I've heard of this
- 61A: Beverages similar to kvass (rye beers) - never heard of either
- 22A: Ostrava tongue (Czech) - no idea where Ostrava is
- 10D: Snow-_____ (winter vehicle brand) (Trac) - But can you hunt moose from it?
- 18A: Tree that yields a chewable resin (mastic) - wow, no way. Very cool word, though. I like that MASTIC is part of MASTICATE, the fancy word for "chew."
- 29D: Plum, for one (drupe) - wow, that's one homely word. Never heard of it, and wish that were still the case.
- 4D: "Politics _____ beanbag" (Mr. Dooley maxim) ("ain't") - have you ever done the really tough cryptic puzzles from another country - say, Britain? I had that same "!?!?!?!?" feeling reading this clue as I do occasionally when doing NZ cryptics with my wife. "Honey, does *any* of that make sense to you?"
So life was tough today. And yet - and this is the fabulous thing about crosswords - even with all that ignorance on my part, I got through the puzzle, no errors. Oh, it just dawned on me - is the LUG NUT clue funny because you don't actually have to "LUG" said NUT? "Easy to pick up"? Wow, that's bad. Not as bad as the word "Jaculates," but bad nonetheless (24A: Jaculates => HURLS).
- 1A: Saw in the dark? (dreamt of) - I was sure - SURE - that this was going to have something to do with snoring.
- 16A: Gimcrack (trifle) - "Gimcrack" and "Jaculates" are pretty much the Alpha and Omega of vocabulary words (with Alpha being best and Omega being nearly unutterable)
- 19A: Laser paper option (matte) - I just stared at the phrase "laser paper" for a while. "So ... it's paper ... made out of ... lasers? How is that ... paper?"
- 20A: Pliny possessive (mea) - see also his close cousin MIA at 30A: Nowhere to be found, for short
- 23A: Innovation of the Paleolithic period (axe) - cool clue for basic word
- 9D: Presenter of bills (ATM) - yucky clue. "Presenter"? "May I present ... Andrew Jackson."
- 21D: With 50-Down, like the children in "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (all / snug) - mixed feelings here. That poem has such a strong childhood resonance for me that I can't help but love it. And yet, I'm painfully aware that they were ALL SNUG IN THEIR BEDS. Feels weird to cut the phrase off at SNUG. And yet, it's perfectly accurate, as clued.
- 24D: Stretch in the salt mines (hard day) - great clue / answer. I was thinking literally at first, but then the metaphorical meaning leapt forth.
- 53D: Israeli city whose citadel was built by the Ottomans (Acre) - important in the history of the Crusades, which is how I know it.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld