Sometimes I think I could solve a puzzle faster if I wasn't timing myself and trying to go fast. Usually that's because I don't want to take the couple of extra seconds to step back and get the big picture (i.e. the puzzle's theme). That's certainly what happened today with Gary Steinmehl's Upscale Wordplay.
And I have mixed feelings about it. I feel kinda stupid that I didn't catch on to the theme until I was almost done, literally on the last letter -- the X in FAXEDDRINKS. On the other hand I feel the sort of awe that I used to feel years ago when it started to dawn on me that puzzles had themes. I used to sometimes just sit and study a completed puzzle marveling at how the constructors were able to do what they did. It seemed almost like magic and it got me hooked on crosswords for life. I don't often get that blown-away feeling anymore.
But I got it today. Even after I picked up on the theme it was another couple minutes before I realized that there was another level to this puzzle. Steinmehl hadn't just substituted one note for another, he'd gone all the way up the scale from do to do -- just like he said he would in the puzzle's title!
Here we go:
21A: Twirl members of the clergy? (SPINRECTORS) change the "do" in "spin doctors" to "re". I think I might have figured out the theme a little sooner if I'd gotten this entry sooner, instead of working from the bottom up as I did.
33A: Bartender's electronic transmissions? (FAXEDDRINKS) mi to fa. I don't have to keep explaining this theme to you, do I? Everybody probably got the theme way before I did. (My biorhythms must be off. Stupid biorhythms!)
41A: Baffle tennis great Rod? (PUZZLELAVER) and 52A: Capitol desperadoes? (DOMEBANDITS) I had both of these entries and thought, hmm, those are kinda odd, but didn't get any further than that.
Wow, what an elegant puzzle. Either that or a dense laver -- I mean solver.
All right, now I'm going to quit gushing like a schoolgirl about her first crush, and put on my critic hat.
Here are some clues that caught my fancy.
19A: River of Cairo (OHIO) If this had been 1A I might have filled in NILE, but as it was I already had the H and the I and went to Illinois instead of Egypt.
I must be pretty well pop-culturally well-rounded. I knew both the 1950's 11D: Greeting to Steverino (HIHO) and the more recent 1D: British sitcom with the theme song "This Wheel's on Fire," familiarly (ABFAB) as I'm a fan of both Steve Allen and Patsy and Edina.
Linda G's doppelganger makes one of her cameo appearances in 57A: Kate's role opposite Cate's Katharine in "The Aviator" (AVA) (Wow, there's a lot of Kates in that clue.) BTW, Ava Gardner has her own museum in Smithfield, North Carolina. Stop by if you're ever passing through -- and in the meantime check out the website.
13D: Where the wild things are (ZOOS). The word "Zoo" was in yesterday's and today's Sun puzzle. I'll be looking for it tomorrow.
2D: Midwife coworker (DOULA) Can't believe this vowel-ly word doesn't show up in more crosswords.
53D: Birthstone of Autumn (OPAL) Of course, what other birthstones in there (in crosswords)?
4: Swift weapon (PEN) as in Jonathan Swift and the mightier than the sword item.
31D: Prefix with penultimate (ANTE) a change of pace from the usual poker-centric clues for ANTE, and I love the word "antepenultimate". It means next-to-the-next-to-the-last, and I use it in conversation every chance I get which unfortunately, isn't often.
43D: Quod ____ de-mon-stran-dum (ERAT) At the risk of exposing even more of my ignorance, I couldn't figure out the reason for the hyphens. What's wrong with "demonstrandum"?
All right, that's all for today. Let's meet back here tomorrow for the antepenultimate Sun puzzle of the week.