Friday, December 21, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium
Patrick Berry is one of the best constructors on the planet, and this puzzle shows why. Normally, when I look over a puzzle after completion, I search around for the most interesting clues and answers, and then annotate and categorize them, giving me a kind of outline for my write-up. Today, as I went over the puzzle, I found myself marking nearly everything. "How am I going to write about all this?," I asked myself. So, in the interest of fairness to all clues - and maximum puzzle coverage in limited write-up time - my entry today will be one long bulleted list.
But first, a brief introduction: Not only does this puzzle hold up well to close scrutiny - I think it actually starts looking better and better the more you dig into it. There are lots of cool echoes, parallels, and assorted thematic connections between and among answers in the grid. There is a striking evenness to the puzzle, with the difficulty level calibrated similarly for all areas of the puzzle. All parts required some thought and effort, but none were excessively easy or excessively brutal. In short, this puzzle was SMOOVE.
Let's get ready to Rumble....
- 1A: Musical genre that uses a flatted fifth (be-bop) - and the puzzle delivers a quick jab to my chin. I gaped at the clue, thought "... mambo?" and moved on.
- 28A: Member of the 500 Home Run Club (Sosa) - there are a few potential candidates, but this one is Always the most likely. First entry in the grid. Crossed it with CASA (22D: House on a hacienda), crossed that with ART (31A: "Science made clear": Cocteau), and I was off.
- 5D: "Travelin' Thru" singer (Parton) - gimme. Wanna make me happy, put Dolly in the puzzle. Also picked up another folk/country answer easily: 12D: "Man of Constant _____" (old folk standard) ("sorrow"). Anyone who saw "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" should know this. Hell, I never even saw that movie, but I can still see George Clooney on stage "singing" it. Oh, I also like that PARTON is in a grid with PARDON (46A: Sentence ender). Rhyming!
- 29A: Cannibal of Anglo-Saxon legend (Grendel) - the first of several answers in the puzzle that seem at first to be people but end up being animals / monsters. See also TOTO (47D: Oz visitor) and, one of my favorite answers of the day, GENTLE BEN (41A: Seven-foot star of 1960s TV) - I spent many seconds trying to remember the name of James ARNESS. Good thing my brain wasn't working. As for GRENDEL, I always thought "cannibal" was a word for people who eat people. Is a Great White a "cannibal?" At any rate, GRENDEL is from "Beowulf," which also, I'll have you know, features a BARROW (21A: Grave mound). Again, nice connection.
- 54A: Van _____ ("Jump" band) - children of the 80's, rejoice. Your toehold has arrived. Other gimmes for me included TNT (52D: "We Know Drama" sloganeer") and UVULA (15A: It vibrates during snoring). NADER was easy to pick up, as I voted for him once, and DENTON (30D: University of North Texas home) was easier than it would have been, if only because I once co-edited a collection of essays on Raymond Chandler once, and it was published by Studies in the Novel, which is based at the University of North Texas in DENTON.
- 45A: Films that require a lot of shooting? (oaters) - ooh, I love this word. Learned it from crosswords. It's pretty Pantheonic. The puzzle was otherwise mercifully lite on the crosswordese. VISA (37A: You may need it going in) and HESSE (26D: 1946 Literature Nobelist) are both reasonably common, and we just saw CAEN (6D: City largely destroyed by the Normandy campaign), but other than that, the puzzle is startlingly fresh.
- 16A: Novel that nobody reads (audio book) - great clue.
- 19A: Multigallon container (gas tank) - tricky, vague clue.
- 23A: Endearing, as a smile (winsome) - this came to me almost instantly. Why? I love the word. "Her WINSOME smile drew him in. He ROMANCED (10D: Worked one's wiles on) her for a nearly a year before finally proposing. They then went to the ALTAR (38A: Union station?), where they each said 'I DO' (8D: Witness statement)" - notice how I skillfully sidestepped ASPISH, STALEMATE, SKEWER, and CAPTOR in that marriage narrative. People like a happy ending.
- 24A: King's successor as S.C.L.C. president (Abernathy) - no idea, but had the ABERN-, so really, what else could it have been?
- 27A: Shrink (cower) - fortuitous error here: my first entry, when I had no crosses, was LOWER.
- 47A: Their work stinks (tanners) - And TANNERS around the world collectively say, "Aw, c'mon! There's gotta be a better way to get us in the puzzle."
- 49A: What a lack of evidence of forced entry might indicate (inside job) - had the -OB and got it instantly. Reminds me of Spike Lee's "Inside Man" - fantastic movie.
- 55A: Orthodox Church council (Holy Synod) - had the -OD and knew I was dealing with a SYNOD. Later on, I guessed at what four-letter word needed to precede it.
- 4D: Sucrose polyester, more familiarly (olestra) - fake fat. This has been in the puzzle before, a number of times. Expect to see it again.
- 11D: Longtime NBC sports exec (Ebersol) - had the -SOL, got it easily. Hey, he is married to Kate. Or is it Allie? I get them confused.
- 20D: One of Ferdinand II's kingdoms (Aragon) - I had ARABIA at first, HA ha. I love when I can look back on my wrong answers and laugh.
- 25D: "Wild Thing" band, with "the" (Troggs) - thought this was the answer, but it looked so silly with the two "G"s that I couldn't commit to it until it was mostly filled in.
- 37D: Bonus Army member (veteran) - No Idea. At one point, not really paying attention to the clue, I figured the answer had to be VATICAN.
- 39D: Cabin addition (lean-to) - this is pretty common fare. I never really picture it, though, so the "cabin" part threw me for a tiny bit.
- 40D: Heel bone, e.g. (tarsal) - here, the puzzle gets anatomical on you. It's zigging and zagging all over the place. Perfect action for a Friday. On Friday, I want my puzzle to thrash like a dying shark. Only ... without the dying, suffering animal. Be nice to sharks. They get a bad rap.
- 42D: Bridge declaration ("Land, ho!") - and I leave you today with my favorite answer - one which made No sense to me until after the puzzle was done and the tertiary meaning of "bridge" popped into my head. Before that I was thinking. "Wow, bridge is an even sillier game than I'd imagined."
EJC on yesterday's puzzle: