Thursday, May 1, 2008

Friday, May 1, 2008

Title: Weekend Warrior
Author: Byron Walden
Theme: None

When I open up a Weekend Warrior and see that it's by Byron Walden, I just know I'm in for a treat -- a tough, clever puzzle with lots of juicy fill and more than a few smiles. And this puzzle certainly fills the bill. Byron has a well-deserved reputation for constructing very difficult puzzles (ask anyone who was at ACPT 2006 -- I swear people are still grumbling), but I generally don't find him as difficult as some. Perhaps because of our similar ages and math/computer backgrounds, I tend to run on a similar wavelength. This doesn't mean I find his puzzles easy. Believe me, I don't. But they don't chew me up and spit me out like some others (I'll forego names for now... they'll show up here soon enough).

But, you know what? I don't think I realized until I prepared to blog this puzzle what really makes Byron's puzzles amazing. It's that every entry is notable! There are virtually no ho-hum clue/answer pairs, and because of that any that do occur become notable due to their rarity. This means more work for me, but I'm not complaining. Just noting that you can expect a longer-than-usual entry here.

So, with plenty to talk about, let's get to it.

Sunny Spots:

Many things to love here. Topical, in-the-language phrases; cool and/or misleading clues; evocative images. Here are some of the highlights for me:
  • 15a Bass relative (CELLO). Love the musical clues. Nice fish misdirection as well.

  • 16a Friendly reassurance to a timid child. I had YOU'LL BE OK to start, but I like the answer, I WON'T BITE, even better.

  • 18a: Treatment for gray hair (BLUE RINSE). Great, topical phrase.

  • 22a: Benefits by knowing (HAS AN IN WITH).

  • 28a: Inclinations (BENTS). I have a bent toward liking this clue. Not at all obvious, but so fitting once it appears.

  • 37a: Slinky motion (PROWL). I was trying to picture how a Slinky moves and trying to come up with a verb to describe it. Nice misdirection here.

  • 44a: Berkeley, for example (STATE SCHOOL). I love this. "State school" tends to evoke a school of lesser reknown, and yet here we have one of the more prestigious universities in America which happens to also be a state school of California.

  • 56a: What players should do (GET TESTED). Wow! A day after unhooking bras and already we need to get tested? Another edgy clue from the Sun that wouldn't see the light of day in the New York Times. "Player" here referring to people who "play the field".

  • 57a: Equivocate (HEDGE). As a noun, hedge is pretty boring; as a verb, sparkling.

  • 4d: Tina in "Napolean Dynamite", e.g. (LLAMA). If you haven't seen this movie, you need to. It's way off-beat, and funnier each time you watch it. Vote for Pedro!

  • 14d: Woods game. I know we were supposed to think of Tiger Woods and golf (which I did); then I tried to picture games played in the woods (hide-and-go-seek, perhaps?). Turns out the answer is much more "gamey": DEER MEAT. Of course, I've never actually heard anyone refer to deer meat as "deer meat" -- it's always "venison".

  • 28d: Fleck with a pick (BELA). A gimme for me. I've seen Bela Fleck live, and even though I'm not a huge banjo music fan, it's worth the price of admission just to watch Victor Wooten, who is one of the best bassists on the planet! If you follow no other link, do yourself a favor and check out this solo of The Beatle's "Norwegian Wood". And if you like that, here's one more for your listening pleasure.

  • 31d: Bar code? (LAW). "Bar" as in lawyers. Nice.

  • 32d: 80's TV character with the given names Jefferson Davis (BOSS HOGG). I wasn't a huge Dukes of Hazzard fan, but kudos to the implicit Zs.

  • 33d: St. Lawrence River racer (ICE CANOE).


  • 1a: Floor covering? (SPILL). What a great way to spice up an otherwise bland fill entry.

  • 6a: Staunch (ROCK SOLID). Self-descriptive. A rock solid clue/answer pair.

  • 17a: One who is often praised (ALLAH). Hopefully, having ALLAH in a crossword is not like having Muhammad in a comic.

  • 19a: Cameron Diaz's film debut (THE MASK).

  • 21a: Product introduced in 1912 by Lionel (SLOT CAR). Lionel is well-known for producing toy trains, so this is not so much of a reach.

  • 24a: A musing sound (HMM). This is about as pedestrian as this puzzle gets. And I still like it.

  • 25a: Defib pro (EMT). An immediate gimme. You gotta have a couple of these to get the puzzle going.

  • 27a: German admiral who lost WWI's Battle of the Falkland Islands (SPEE). I couldn't have answered this question in a trivia contest, but once I had SP_ _, I knew the answer was SPEE. Must be harbored in the deep recesses of my brain, but I'm not sure whether it's from crosswords or some other source.

  • 32a: Phoenician double-deckers (BIREMES). I knew "triremes" from the original Sid Meier's Civilization game, so "biremes" wasn't too much of a stretch.

  • 35a: In contact with (AGAINST). Perfectly reasonable clue that is nowhere near how one would expect "against" to be clued.

  • 36a: Animal named by the Nahuati (OCELOT). Appearing in the second puzzle in a row. See yesterday's blog for the cute picture.

  • 38a: Zaxxon company (SEGA). I used to work in a video arcade/pizza parlor in the late 1970s/early 1980s, so I remember Zaxxon, which reduced this clue to "name a video game company in 4-letters". Piece of cake.

  • Double "Sarkozy" Alert!! French president Nicolas Sarkozy gets a double dose in this puzzle. Sarkozy married his girlfriend, singer Carla Bruni, in February in the ELYSEE (42d: Where Sarkozy can get cozy) Palace in Paris. Now he is Carla's MARI (39a: Nicolas Sarkozy, to Carla Bruni), which is "husband" in French.

  • There is also the combination of 40a: Exit line (BYE) and 11d: Exit lines? (OBIT). See how a simple connection elevates the ordinary into something noteworthy.

  • 43a: Fair type: Abbr. (SCI). We all remember Science Fairs, don't we? I had no idea where this clue was going until I had the crossings. Then it made me smile.

  • 48a: Wheel runner (HAMSTER). I couldn't for the life of me parse this to figure out what they were looking for. And yet, once you have the answer, it's so obvious.

  • 50a: Hot and cold (STREAKY). Shades of gambling here. Like it.

  • 51a: Pool variety (ONE POCKET). I started confidently with EIGHT BALL here, as it's the only one I could think of that fit the spaces. And I've played one-pocket, too. Very strategic game, and a lot of fun if you like pool.

  • 53a: Nay sayers (ANTIS).

  • 54a: Fizzle (GO NOWHERE). I really wanted "PETER OUT", but it didn't fit.

  • 1d: Criticize severely (SCATHE). I'm not used to seeing this a verb, but I like it. Next puzzle I don't like is going to get scathed.

  • 3d: Superlatively phat (ILLEST). Yo yo yo! A little gansta argot to keep the puzzizzle phresh.

  • And the 5d: Winner of dual Worst Actress Razzies for "I Know Who Killed Me" goes to... [drum roll please]... Lindsay LOHAN, who won Worst Actress, Worst Supporting Actress (twice, once for each of two characters), and Worst Screen Couple (for the same two characters). Her mother must be so proud.

  • 6d: Some sweaters (RIB KNITS).

  • 7d: Temple player (OWL). What a terrifying mascot. If you're a mouse.

  • 8d: Dionne Warwick to Whitney Houston (COUSIN).

  • 9d: Short-changed oneself, maybe? (KNELT). I can't decide if this one's super clever or a total stretch, and I'm frankly leaning toward the latter. When you kneel down, are you "changing" yourself to be shorter? I suppose. Kinda sorta.

  • 10d: Detroit brewmeister Bernhard (STROH). I don't drink Stroh's, as my tastes lean more toward the darker ales, porters, and stouts. But any beer clue is okay by me.

  • 12d: Axle insert (LINCH PIN). I wouldn't have known to spell this with an "I", but there you go.

  • 13d: "Things are looking bad" (IT'S A MESS). Another nice phrase.

  • 20d: Ring thing, sometimes (SIGNET). This is one of those clues that could mean almost anything. There are so many different meanings for "ring". Do people still wear signets on rings, or is that a thing of the past?

  • Speaking of the past, 23d: Auxiliary of the past refers to an past-tense auxiliary verb. Namely WAS.

  • 27d; Pollute (SOIL). Another answer that's more often clued as a noun than a verb. But pretty straightforward, none-the-less.

  • 29d; Further Seems Forever genre (EMO). If it's a genre in 3-letters, it's probably either SKA or EMO.

  • 30d; Solipsistic sort (EGOIST). I wanted this to end in -ER, but of course it's not that predictable.

  • 34d: Division subdivision (REGIMENT). Part of the U.S. Army troop hierarchy.

  • 35d: Ran in (ARRESTED). Book 'em, Danno!

  • 37d: Lady Vols coach Summit who is the winningest NCAA basketball coach ever (PAT). You've heard of John Wooden; you've heard of Bobby Knight; you've heard of John Thompson, Rick Pitino, and Mike Krzyzewski. Women play basketball, too! Get to know Pat Summit.

  • 49d/39d: Volatile place to move oil (SPOT MARKET).

  • 40d: Took a punt, say (BOATED). Nice football misdirection here.

  • 44d: Author buried on the Phillips Academy campus in 1896 (STOWE). Interesting trivia. Makes me wonder whether Byron perhaps attended Phillips Academy. Wouldn't surprise me.

  • 45d: PC fixers (TECHS). I really wanted PR MEN here, thinking it was referring to spinning things to be "politically correct".

  • 55a/46d: Black box location (CRASH SCENE). A little morbid, perhaps. But okay.

  • 47d: Syllogistic segue (HENCE). "Syllogistic" means "logical". Nice clue.

  • 41d: Teamwork? (YOKING). As in a team of oxen. Gettable, but I have to say I'm not crazy about this one -- seems just a little too forced.

  • 52d: "___ thy fair light had fled": Shelley (ERE). I didn't know this, but what else could it be?

Suns of Bitches:

The beauty of the difficult clues is that they are all "gettable" from context and from the crossings. That's the mark of a quality puzzle. Here are the few nasty spots for me:

  • 26a "Christ Stopped at Eboli" actor ___ Maria Volonte (GIAN). Not a name I knew, but it felt plausible enough after it fit. Nice to see Christ and Allah to sharing space.

  • 30a: "___ to Abelard" (Pope poem) (ELOISA). This was nowhere near my wheelhouse; I got it purely from the crossings. On Monday, we had ELOISE, now ELOISA. Here's an excerpt from the poem:
    Alas, how chang'd! what sudden horrors rise!A naked lover bound and bleeding lies!Where, where was Eloise? her voice, her hand,Her poniard, had oppos'd the dire command.Barbarian, stay! that bloody stroke restrain;The crime was common, common be the pain.I can no more; by shame, by rage suppress'd,Let tears, and burning blushes speak the rest.
    Pretty brutal!

  • 2d: The Bronx's ___ Bay Park (PELHAM). This may be a gimme for New Yorkers, but I had no clue. Luckily, it's a common enough place name, and the crossings were not ambiguous.

All in all, a very pleasant puzzling experience. Hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

Thanks for listening.

- Pete M.


Jeffrey said...

I lean towards "stretch" regarding the KNELT clue as well. The syntax is just so strained, to my ear. Would {Red-changed one's hair, maybe} work for DYED? I did like the SPILL clue, though.

Pete M said...

I actually think your "red-changed" clue makes more sense (if "red-changed" were a word), since dying ones hair actually is a change. Moreso, certainly, than kneeling is "changing yourself to be shorter".

ehicks77 said...

rock solid effort, I'd say. Enjoy your blog..keep it up. but yoy don't seem to be googlable as yet. Can you fix that?

Howard B said...

Between SPOT/MARKET, ELOISA, RIB KNITS and BLUE RINSE, that's plenty of stuff I'd never heard of in one puzzle - plenty to make this one a heck of a challege.
Me = chewed up, spat out. Not complaining though, it was a rough ride but a fair, worthy challenge.

Keep on blogging!

Joon said...

loved this puzzle, but i knew i was going to well in advance of doing it, because i peeked ahead and saw that it was a byron (and i knew it was going to be a WW).

i'm pro-YOKING but anti-KNELT. i wanted it to be something involving changing one's shorts.


the only time i've heard DEERMEAT is in the discussion of clint barmes's bizarre deer meat-related injury from a couple of seasons ago. i guess it's DEERMEAT before you cook it, and venison afterwards.

ELOISA was nasty to me, but for a different reason. i put in ELOISE right away. (abelard and heloise were famous medieval lovers and writers... he was discovered by her father, who castrated him. then he became a monk. not sure whether this was before or after he wrote the major theology text sic et non.) i didn't even think about the A until i realized that DEERMEET wasn't quite right. do deer meet in the woods to play games? they might.

i liked GETTESTED. edgy, but also a public service announcement. of course, the number of "players" who will actually be able to complete a byron walden weekend warrior is ... well, not to perpetuate a stereotype or anything, but i'm guessing it's not large.

Pete M said...

@ehick77: There will be a time delay before Google (and other web crawlers) pick up on our existence. I've done what I can, but it will still probably be a few weeks before we're solidly on the map.

Thanks all for the kind words. We're in this for the long haul.

- Pete M