4.24.2009

FRIDAY, April 24, 2009 — Robert H. Wolfe


THEME: Wy to go! — Words for various kinds of thoroughfares are abbreviated in otherwise familiar phrases.

I didn't like this one at all. The theme answers were really hard to parse — I had no idea what the theme even was until I was way, way deep into the puzzle, and when I discovered it, it seemed more annoying than clever. I had the entire puzzle done from NW to SE and couldn't make any sense of the theme answers. Finally had Every Single Letter in DR(ive) TO DISTRACTION, and realized that there must be abbreviations for various kinds of roads in the theme answers. The problem: there's nothing ... clever about the answers. No plays on words. Just ... abbreviations. And there's no consistency. Two of the abbrevs. (RD, ST) are used quite literally, one is used literally but inside a metaphorical expression (HWY), one is used purely metaphorically (AVE), and one (DR) is used as a verb when all the others are nouns. Two appear at the beginning of their phrases, three appear at the end. The whole thing feels pointless and messy.

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Speed? (burn up the RD)
  • 24A: Average Joe? (man on the ST)
  • 35A: Badly fluster? (DR to distraction)
  • 50A: Excessive charge? (HWY robbery)
  • 57A: Way out? (AVE of escape)
The "?" clues were exceedingly confusing, since there was nothing tricky about the clues. They were absolutely literal. Abbreviation is not a trick — it does not merit a "?". You aren't doing anything clever with the letters in the abbr. They're just ... there. But worse than the theme, for me, was the northern section of the puzzle, which is one of the ugliest (and for me, most difficult to solve) segments I've seen in a while. UNBEND NOU LARCH VINCE ... everything in that sequence is at least mildly unpleasant, but as a bloc — torture. Further, TEAR UP THE RD works just as well as (if not better than) BURN UP THE RD, and so I couldn't get into that section to save my life. Of all the VINCEs in the world, I get some ancient TV actor I've never heard of (7D: Edwards who played Ben Casey)? NO U ... speaks for itself (5D: _____-turn). LARCH is not a common tree to me at all (went with BEECH ... or BIRCH, I forget which) (6D: Tree with durable wood), and UNBEND (4D: Straighten), while not terrible, didn't spring to mind either. Never mind that I've never heard of the Jordin Sparks song "NO AIR" (14A: 2008 Jordin Sparks duet). Not my favorite "American Idol" winner. By a longshot. Where's my Kelly Clarkson clue!?

Crosswordese 101: Yoko ONO — almost as common as Brian ENO, which is almost as common as ELO. ONO (like ENO) did tons of crazy experimental stuff you've never heard of. She was also married to John Lennon. This means that she can be very easy, or she can be very hard, depending on what kind of clue the editor wants to throw at you. I once posted an album cover that featured her and John naked ("Two Virgins"). Caused an idiotic stir that resulted in my blog's getting flagged for "objectionable content." She is usually clued in relation to John, or "Double Fantasy," the 1980 album she and John did together. But then again, sometimes you see clues like ["Hiroshima Sky Is Always Blue" collaborator] (New York Sun, Dec. 28, 2005). Today's clue, 64A: "Walking on Thin Ice" singer, falls under the "obscure" category for me, so I had to wait to see if the first letter was an "O" or an "E" (as ENO's work often sounds at least as loopy as ONO's).

What else?
  • 4A: NCAA Mountain West Conf. team (UNLV) — More problems in the N. I wanted REBS (UNLV is the Running REBS). They were the main rivals of Fresno State, and I saw them play many times when I was growing up. Also entertained UTES up there.
  • 54A: "Power Lunch" airer (CNBC) — Mmm, "airer" ... love the crossword clue jargon.
  • 65A: Colchester's county (ESSEX) — Pure guess that paid off.
  • 10D: "Rob Roy" actor (NEESON) — Hey, I guessed the spelling right. For once.
  • 2D: The doghouse, so to speak (DISFAVOR) — Good, funny clue
  • 28D: Fan-shaped muscle (PEC) — I ... never thought of it that way. Maybe if mine were bigger ...
  • 37D: Billy Blanks's fitness program (TAE BO) — Some day, this will be the featured answer in Crosswordese 101.


  • 52D: Character-building gps. (YMCAS) — ??? I thought this was going to have something to do with character sets, e.g. ASCII.
  • 59D: "Annabel Lee" poet (Poe) — Another hint: if you want to do well at xwords, memorize everything you can about POE. He's $#*!in' everywhere.

See you all next week. PG and Orange have the weekend covered.

~Rex Parker

28 comments:

Matt said...

Have to disagree with you here (though that N section was indeed knotty)...while you may be right about the question marks, I thought the abbreviations were fun and enjoyed the puzzle.

PuzzleGirl said...

I wasn't as bothered by this one that much either. At first, I thought there might be rebus going on, but then figured out it was just abbreviations. But FIFE for "Marching band wind"? What is this, 1776?

I didn't consider Eno in place of ONO. I think because he's usually clued as a musician/producer, etc. and not simply a "singer." I could be totally wrong about that, but that's my perception and it worked for me today!

My favorite kids' show, iCarly, had an episode where the word "rue" was kind of a running joke throughout. I thought it was great that they were getting kids ready for crossword puzzles!

Orange said...

Usually when Rex is getting his rant on, I find myself disagreeing with him. But with the theme and the VINCE section, I concur.

I bought a Brian Eno tape in college and there was singing on it. The vocals can best be described as lugubrious. Or leaden. Or maybe soporific. Probably a good album to be high for, but I was listening to it straight so it was more of a sleepytime album. So I too waited for the crossing to settle the ONO vs. ENO dispute.

Joon said...

ha! i tried both BEECH and BIRCH. not to mention my first thought, EBONY, back when i had UTEP instead of UNLV. really tough section, especially with the mystery VINCE crossing the mystery duet. and hey, why wasn't RUES abbreviated? :p

on the other hand, i did kind of like the theme. couldn't crack it until i got all the way down to HW___, but after that it was kind of fun.

but i'm a little shocked that you didn't have anything (negative) to say about SOEVER. i did not like SOEVER, moreSO in such close proximity to SOSO.

Orange said...

Joon, I don't usually get too exercised about small duplications (unless I'm in a mood). I thought SOEVER was terrible until I looked it up in the dictionary and learned that it's one of those archaic or poetic/literary words, and the clue captures the meaning just fine.

garble said...

I'm with Rex on this one... Not my favourite LA Times by a long shot either. So-so theme, little really exciting long fill. And quite easy for a Friday. Exception as Rex said the N-central area. NOAIR, NOU (crossing NO's... not ideal but not criminal) were gimmes actually, LARCH not so bad. But VINCE, UNLV, and CCED got me bad with the parsing of 18A. The CCED was actually for the right reason though - went through CBED and CUED first...
On the plus-side the two 4X6's were very neat, and that's not as easy to pull off as it looks. Actually ONO was an easy for me (but I agree Rex, it's easy super-cryptic or a gimmee) but only because I remembered "Walking on thin ice" from a discussion on cruciverb

Gareth

Old Girl from Pgh. said...

Being waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay older than the rest of you....I actually knew Vince Edwards..a gimme! I don't agree with Rex about this one. I was able to finish in a tad over 20 min. (good for me) and enjoyed the "theme". Saw you all in Brooklyn in Feb. Hope to see you again next year!

Fred said...

I thought the theme was clever and I wasn't bothered by any of the things that irked Rex. I was actually surprised by his comments. But that's what makes horse racing...

Anonymous said...

I liked the puzzle. Vince Edwards as Dr. Ben Casey was the answer to Richard Chamberlain's Dr. Kildare. You liked one or the other. Depending upon if you liked brown vs. blue eyes.

Must agree with LARCH. Didn't know it was used for anything. But the bunches of needles are really cute when they emerge in the spring. It is a deciduous conifer.

Crockett1947 said...

Rex, in your Crosswordese 101 you mention ELO at the beginning and then had no discussion. Can you add some more comments to tie it together? Thanks.

Denise said...

Vince Edwards was George Clooney good-looking in a darker, more brooding way with VERY dark, heavy eyebrows and a gruff, but very sexy manner.

As soon as I did one abbreviation, I got the theme and the puzzle seemed easy.

Orange said...

Crockett, see my 4/19 post for a fuller ELO crosswordese discussion. I suspect Rex didn't want the blog to repeat itself and so glossed over ELO today.

Hey! You people are supposed to be reading every post and studying your Crosswordese 101 lessons. There may be pop quizzes, after all.

ArtLvr said...

I thought it was a clever theme/gimmick and got it quickly from HWY ROBBERY... Also, I finished in good time for me, remembering VINCE, etc.

I liked the trickiness of NO U-turn, but resisted LARCH for a bit -- it's not one I'd have considered a "durable" wood. Will have to look it up.

jeff in chicago said...

And now...

No. 1....

The Larch

(I give the puzzle a "meh" - not very satisfying for me.)

gjelizabeth said...

I live in California. Do we even grow LARCH here? I liked 21Down: FORGO, because of the FOREGOES discussion a few days ago. This helped cement the differences for me. I also am old enough to remember Richard Chamberlin and Vince Edwards duking it out for the doctor show ratings in the 60's. To expand on Anonymous' and Denise's comments above, Chamberlin's Kildare was the clean-cut blond good-boy doctor and Edwards' Ben Casey was the dark-haired rebel. I remember that one visual clue to Casey's rebel status was his white hospital coat, with a few dark chest hairs curling from the slightly opened neck. Kildare, in contrast was, literally, buttoned up. It's impossible now to convey how controversial those half-dozen curling hairs were at the time.
I liked the theme, found it tricky but , eventually doable.

Crosscan said...

I agree. Painful while doing it, no better afterward.

SethG said...

I liked the theme in theory, I just (really) disliked the implementation. Without the abbreviations the theme answers overall would be underwhelming. With them: same thing. Maybe if the abbreviations brought another meaning, like if ON THE PRAIRIE OWL becomes ON THE PROWL or something?

I used to kick it root down, but I've switched to like Tae Bo.

John said...

The puzzle was all over the place for me, at least thats the way I solved it.

The Larch. Sounds like something in a Monty Python Sketch, "Oh Shut UP! This is a Hold UP, Not a Botany Lesson!"

Lemonade714 said...

There are some advantages to age, as Ben Casey, was a fun memory, especially SAM JAFFE as Dr. Zorba, who with the drawing of the symbols "♂, ♀, *, †, ∞" on a chalkboard,intoned, "Man, woman, birth, death, infinity." at the beginning of every episode. It was also great that the show premiered the same time as Dr. Kildare. Richard Chamberlain and Vince Edwards were the Dr. McDreamies of their era.

Sandy said...

I Did Not spell Neeson correctly, and thus couldn't find a road starting with B to complete "B... Up Third." Sigh.
I had no idea people used larch for anything. Mmm, look at my new larch floors. Contemplated Beech for too long, because I don't know college sports to save my life.

Old Girl from Pgh. said...

And now for something completely different.........the......Larch...

Greene said...

Ugh. The only thing worse than doing this puzzle was making an error (ENO for ONO) and then having to go through all the clues once more to uncover the mistake.

Me no like.

Wayne said...

I did not enjoy the puzzle until I figured out the abbreviated clues. I kept thinking that "Walking on thin ice" was by the Eurythmics but then I did some googling and realized that "Walking on Broken Glass" was what I was thinking of. And, of course, it became an "Ohrwurm" which is German for "ear worm", something that gets stuck in your head and you keep singing, humming, thinking about it, etc.

I may be nitpicking but i've noticed a grammatical usage in today's and yesterday's puzzles which is irritating me. Today's clue, "one might be run before bedtime" (a bath) and yesterday's "one leaving a wake" (a hearse). Usually when "one" is used as an indefinite pronoun, it refers to a person (as in, "one never knows what will happen next"). A better way to clue these might be, "it might be run before bedtime". Am I wrong, or does anything go in cluing crosswords?

Orange said...

@Wayne, I love that Ohrwurm! I'm switching to the German from here on out.

The type of clues you list are examples of exceptions to the "clues and answers will always be the same part of speech" rule. One's a sentence and one's a word! In the NYT, I think such clues usually start with "it" rather than "one." I could be making this up. Anyone else know if the LAT usually uses "it" or if the NYT also uses the "one" version?

Orange said...

P.S. Of course, "one" doesn't just refer to a personal pronoun. It's also a pronoun that can apply to objects. "I have a car. Do you have one?"

Rex Parker said...

Tell me more about "one."

:)

rp

PS I had this dream where the Saturday LAT write-up was already up ... weird.

mac said...

Not a very enjoyable exercise early this morning, for lack of my dead tree NYT (I'm in NY, beautiful day, women giving birth on 5th avenue). This UNLV and No Air section was unfair. I was happy to meet Poe in the puzzle after reading the article George in NY recommended.
Sad, the Yankees lost.

housemouse said...

I'm not as enthusiastic about the "clever" (a.k.a. obscure) clues that so many puzzlemakers use. I don't have a home computer and I can't spend all day chasing clues around in Google at work. (I do puzzles on break.) Some of Dan's clues are so obscure that they make no sense until after I find the word.

To me, a crossword should be a test of vocabulary, not music or sports trivia or some obscure geographic area no one has heard of. I do wish that the puzzlemakers would throw those of us without easy access to Google a bone and include more sensible clues that at least fill in some of the spaces in the obscure ones. A fighting chance, IOW.