Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

Title: Big Ten
Author: Patrick Blindauer
Theme: A large 'X' (i.e., Roman numeral 10) made of black squares and Xs.

The first obvious thing to notice here is that the crossword does not follow all the standard rules we've come to know and love. Specifically, American crosswords generally are not allowed to have uncrossed letters or less-than-3-letter fills. This puzzle clearly has four uncrossed single letters in the center. Now, before you cry "foul", keep in mind that the uncrossed letter rule is there to keep the puzzle fair -- it gives the solver two chances at each letter so a single unknown answer can be worked around (this is why we get so picky about two obscure fills crossing; it offends our sense of fair play). This puzzle, however, is not unfair in this regard at all. In fact, all of the unchecked letters are the same, and they're all part of the larger, fairly obvious, theme. So in a sense, they really are checked, since you can deduce them from the theme itself. Therefore, I totally support the bending of the rules in this case.

Having said that, I can't say I'm a big fan of the theme. I think my problem with it stems from the apparent disconnect between the simplicity of the theme itself, which is very transparent and enables one to fill in 12 Xs very quickly during the puzzle's solving, and the difficulty of the remaining fill. I felt like it was an early-week concept shoe-horned into a late-week implementation.

But enough rambling, let's look at the fill. Hell, let's go numerically today.

  • 1a: Artist featured in a 1979 Pulitzer-winning book (ESCHER). I love Escher's work. Very nested and mathematical.

  • 2d: Johnson, e.g. (SEXPERT). Very nice.

  • 5d: Nations Unies members (ETATS). French for state.

  • 7a: Attempted assassin of Ford (Squeaky FROMME). I got this one right away. It was a while ago, but it's a hard name to forget.

  • 7d: Making out (FARING). My first guess was FACING. I figured it was a British term for necking. Maybe it is, but it wasn't the answer.

  • 8d: Cambodian currency units (RIELS).

  • 9d: Suburb of Paris (ORLY). If you know the airport, and you should, then it's not much of a stretch to assume it's a suburb, too.

  • 10d: Kingston Trio hit of 1959 (MTA). "Did he ever return? No, he never returned, and his fate is still unlearned." I should have gotten this one sooner, but I couldn't remember the name of the song.

  • 11d: '70s TV costar of Abe Vigoda and Jack Soo (MAX GAIL). He played Wojciehowicz on "Barney Miller". Good stuff.

  • 13d: Boxer Griffith and others (EMILES). Plural names are never desirable, but are often necessary to complete a fill.

  • 14a: It makes short hops (AIR TAXI). This is not the kind of fill you expect to see two days running. Very coincidental.

  • 15d: More sore (IRATER). 17a: Lotion that straightens curls (RELAXER). 22a: One who waits in ambush (LIER). I don't want to be a point-out-the-obviouser, because that would be unnecessaryer than just being a leave-well-enough-aloner.

  • 18a: "The Bottle ___" (short story by Robert Louis Stevenson) (IMP). We just had an IMP puzzle in the NYT yesterday.

  • 20d: Its members played a lot of Ms. Pac-Man as teens (GEN-X).

  • 21a: Early TV offering (GMA). Wow, do I not like this clue. First of all, I had no idea what GMA meant even after I solved it. Now I see that it's short for "Good Morning America", so the clue makes sense. But TV is a very poor abbreviation indicator, since it's a more common "word" than television.

  • 23d: Evil spirits? (ROTGUTS). Love this one! Rotgut booze is bottom-shelf stuff that gets one drunk, but is not at all pleasant (either during or after imbibement). Very nice clue.

  • 25d: "A Raisin in the Sun" actress (RUBY DEE).

  • 28a: One of the Bunker brothers (who were famous for their closeness) (ENG). Chang and Eng, the famous Siamese twins.

  • 29d: Web-based service with millions of users (GMAIL).

  • 32a: "Doctor Frigo" author (Eric AMBLER).

  • 33a: "Pressure's off!" sloganeer (GAS-X). This is from their web page: Gas-X® understands that when you suffer from gas it can be uncomfortable. What's even more frustrating is that it can consume your mind, distracting you from what you are doing - making you feel helpless. Or, you could just let it go...

  • 34a: Picture of health? (X-RAY). Cute, but really easy.

  • 36d: Cleaver (MEAT AXE). MEAT AXE feels like a made-up word.

  • 37d: Handyman (MR FIXIT). Excellent.

  • 38d: Cyclops and others (X-MEN). With the X in place, what else could it be?

  • 39a: Preachy person (DIDACT). Cool, vocabularic word.

  • 40d: Amulet word used as the title of a 1970 #1 album for Santana (ABRAXAS). With "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va".

  • 42d: Like some tissues (TWO-PLY). This one didn't parse easily for me when I was looking at T_OPL_.

  • 43a: "Dagnabbit!" (NERTS).

  • 46a: New York City Marathon founder Fred (LEBOW). No clue.

  • 47a: Half-___ (Starbucks orders) (CAFS).

  • 48d: Ready to be polished, perhaps (FILED). As fingernails.

  • 50a: Twist pioneer many years after Chubby? (ERNO). Very tricky clue for ERNO Rubik, of cube fame (which you twist to solve).

  • 52a: Easy tasks (PICNICS).

  • 53d: Cutlet? (SNIP). Yeah, okay.

  • 55a: Auction to recoup funds from a delinquent (TAX SALE).

  • 57a: NBA point guard Nick (VAN EXEL). Nick has bounced around several NBA West teams including the Lakers, Nuggest, Mavericks, Warriors, Blazers, and Spurs.

  • 60a: Crystalline overgrowth (EPITAXY). Brutal.

  • 61a: Financial dot-com (E-TRADE).

Patrick Blindauer is a constructing genius. This I know. But for me, this puzzle felt a bit forced, and I'm just not seeing the payoff. The large X was readily apparent from the get-go, the remaining Xs fell almost immediately, and the remainder of the time was spent slogging through aftermath detritus that certainly held a few gems, but which overall felt a bit more like a chore. Your mileage may vary, but it wasn't one of my favorites from my friend PB2.

Thanks for listening.

- Pete M.


Joon said...

my mileage definitely varied--this certainly was one of my PB2 favorites.

Janie said...

and i pretty much haven't met a pb2 i haven't liked! i was slow coming to see the theme and had a happy "aha" when, after noting all those "x"s, it *finally* dawned. i kept waiting for the names of universities to appear...

>...British term for necking

that would be (and i love this word) "snogging." "shagging" (another great briticism) is the word for close encounters of the most intimate kind.



Joon said...

everything i know about britslang i learned from harry potter. well, except "shagging." that would be austin powers.

Howard B said...

Seems like LEBOW caught a lot of people off-guard here. I had heard of him, but the one that nailed me was MAX _AIL. I couldn't quite parse the clue for the GMA crossing, so it took me a bit to take a stab at the G. Quite a few other proper names that were a bit more gettable with the crossings.
Fun stuff, other than that. Always like puzzles that bend some sort of standard rule. Bonus points for the Ms. Pac-Man reference in the Gen-X clue.

Jim in NYC said...

Wonderful puzzle. Amazing X's.

Congratulations on your 10/11 appearance in the Times, Pete. Fine puzzle too.

Can you give us a sidebar or something with updates on the status of the Sun puzzle? I've run out of freebies and I can't find any way to get access to the puzzles for 10/13 on. Thanks.