Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Friday Sun

SPOILER WARNING: Don't read any further until you've done today's New York Sun Crossword Puzzle. New York Sun puzzles are every bit as good as the more well-known New York Times, and they're indisputably better in one way -- they're free. You can download this puzzle and join in on the fun here.

Letterbox Version by Francis Heaney.

I was all set to dislike this puzzle as soon as I saw the constructor’s name. I have a beef with Francis Heaney. It’s nothing personal, I’ve hardly met him and he seems like a nice guy. But he turned my wife off crossword puzzles, maybe forever.

My wife is one of the many people I know who would like crossword puzzles but all they know is the crappy ones in our local paper. I don’t know where they get these puzzles, but they’re Maleskaesque exercises in obscurity – no themes, no wit, no fun. My wife constantly beats me at Scrabble and Upwords, and she’s a great punster. I know she’d like Times and Sun-style crosswords but she’s reluctant to give them a try because she thinks they’re like the ones she’s already seen.

So, anyway, she accompanied me to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford a month or so ago. She wasn’t participating in the tournament, just going for a weekend getaway with the man of her dreams – me, of course. Once there, I found out that there was going to be an extra crossword event hosted by Francis Heaney and it was going to be filmed for a Discovery Channel special on words. I talked her into doing this one because it was not part of the competition and it sounded like fun.
It turned out the puzzle was about archaic words and about new words that no one has heard of – and oh man, was it tough. (You can try it for yourself here.) It was the only puzzle that weekend that I did not finish in the allotted time. I don’t know how my beloved did on it since she wouldn’t show it to me and didn’t want to talk about it either.

Now, I know this is my fault. I should have done my homework and known what we were stepping in. But I’d rather blame Heaney. And as I said I was ready to. I was going to pounce on the weakest clue in there and say it made me feel igry, which was one of the neologisms in that puzzle; it means 'painfully embarrassed for or uncomfortable about someone else's incredibly poor social behavior.'

But I can't do it. This is a great puzzle. Tough but great.

The theme is spelled out in 1A and 66A: all-inclusive (FROM ATOZ) Heaney has managed to get all 26 letters of the alphabet into eleven boxes by putting two or three together in one square. You'll have to put up with my penmanship again because this doesn't really look as impressive in Across Lite:
I got off to a good start on this one by knowing 17A: "V for Vendetta" collaborator (ALANMOORE). No matter how strict your definition of genius is, Alan Moore qualifies, and he has done most of his work in the comic book field. Sometimes I feel like all the great stories have all been written, and then I read Alan Moore and it feels like we've barely scratched the surface, there are untold billions of stories waiting to be told. A lot of Alan Moore's works have been turned into movies -- V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell -- but none of them did his work justice. (In fact, he took his name off all of them and wouldn't accept his share of the money.) Most people think his masterpiece is Watchmen, but I like Prometheus and Swamp Thing better. And he did the absolute hands-down greatest Superman story ever.

Anyway, I was able to get 11D: '90s cohost of "CBS This Morning" (ZAHN) off the first A in Alan and I was off to the races. Even though I don't know Zoroastrianism from Zen Buddhism, I was able to get 11A: Ancient Persian religious teacher (ZOROASTER). One of Zoroaster's other names was Zarathustra and "Also Sprach Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss was used in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" and as Elvis Presley's intro. There usually isn't more than two or three degrees of separation between man's highest aspirations and pop culture.

With the T in Zoroaster and an O from Alan Moore, I was pretty sure 12D: Where you might see a "Don't even think of parking here" sign was "Towaway zone", but of course it didn't fit. 30D was Superhero comic featuring Emma Frost and Cyclops and I knew they're X-Men, but Marvel publishes a lot of different X-Men comics -- "Uncanny X-Men" "Astonishing X-Men" "Ultimate X-Men" "X-Treme X-Men" and on and on. None of them fit either.

So I bounced around the board a bit, learned a little something about religious symbols: 45A: Religious symbol consisting of two combined letters (CHIRHO) (The two combined letters by the way are the first two letters in the Greek spelling of the word Christ and are meant to look like a cross.) I learned a little something about dairy products: 55A: Cheeses made from ewes milk (PECORINAS) (Pecora, by the way, is Italian for sheep) and about music 29A: He produced Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time" (DONWAS) (Remember, that's Was (not Was).

Once you figured out what was going on in the center, it wasn't that hard to finish. Granted, some of the themed entries were tougher (34D: Letters on Roman coins (SPQR) 38D: Polynesian language (TUVALUAN) than others (37D: Author who has used the pseudonym Newt Scamander (JKROWLING) and the ever-popular 33D: Endangered ox of Sulawesi (ANOA)


Orange said...

Lovely Jesus Presley!

JKROWLING should be a verb. jkrowl: To write a book in a café and become the first billionaire author.

Francis said...

But you have to admit, my tournament puzzle was anything but Maleska-esque.

Norrin2 said...

No, it was definitely not Maleska-esque. Thank goodness. His spectre does still haunt some newspaper's crosswords though.

And "jkrowl" probably is a verb, just not one you're going to see often. Now, "jkigry", meaning to feel embarrassment for the guy beside you in the cafe who thinks he's going to become a billionaire with that stuff he's writing, that's one you might hear more often.

Rex Parker said...

Loved: ALAN MOORE, ZOROASTER, PARTY ON, and REX. And the theme is indeed a sight to behold.

But I absolutely tanked this puzzle because TUVALU was not a country on my radar so I had something like TUVARIAN. Had CAR for GRR, COR for CDR, the mysterious CRENOA for GLENDA, even more mysterious PAINERS for PRUNERS. Then there was the fact I misspelled AXLES and ended up with not only AXELS, but ODE for OIL, MAL for MAE, and LEDA for LEIA. That's some kind of puzzle catastrophe right there.

Norrin2 said...

Don't feel bad, Rex. I had my share of shipwrecks too. (I know it doesn't look like it, but I did pretty up my puzzle before I posted it.)

DONALD said...

Would love to see the original -- must be a classic!

Great write-up!