Thursday, May 17, 2007

An Unqualified Success

I know Orange and Rex have talked about a file they have where they keep their favorite puzzles throughout the year. I’ve never had one – until now. But I am going to have to start a favorites file so I can put this one in it. This was one heck of an entertaining puzzle.
Friday Sun crosswords don’t usually have a theme, so you know before you start that the fact that this one does means it’s not going to be a simple theme. And it’s not simple, but it’s very satisfying.
But first, our ever popular 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.

Unqualified by Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon. The title is the same as the clue to 7 Down, which also informs us that it contains a hint to this puzzle’s theme. The answer is NO IFS ANDS OR BUTS -- which means Lee and Nancy have deleted the letters I-F or A-N-D or B-U-T from the themed entries.
Let’s start with the IFS.
1A: Order at a pub (GET ALE). Before the no "ifs" policy went into effect, this was GET A LIFE.
21A: Autobiography by the three men in a tub? (WE OF BATH) Still literary, I suppose, but it used to be the WIFE OF BATH from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.I've read "The Canterbury Tales" a couple of times and I love it --get a good translation if you're not fluent in Middle English. You'll never see the sacred and the profane commingle quite as freely as they do in this book where members of all levels on mideival society on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral amuse (and shock and titillate) each other by telling stories. The Wife of Bath (who is aptly titled, she's been married since she was 12 to five different men, and she's actively seeking number) tells of a knight who rapes a maiden and as punishment has to find the answer to the question "What do women want?". Eventually he finds an old hag who promises she can tell him the answer and she does (and no, I'm not going to tell you what it is, let the Wife tell you). But he has to marry her and she asks him if he wants her to be old and faithful or young and beautiful but untrue. The knight wisely says "You decide, I'll be happy either way." And because he was willing to let her make the decision she became young and beautiful and faithful.
The great thing about the Canterbury Tales is the way the tale-tellers personalities come through even 600 years later. The Wife of Bath is plainspoken, coarse even, but she has some very progressive ideas about sexual equality. Here are a couple lines I highlighted in my copy of the Wife of Bath's tale.

"After drinking, my thoughts turned to Venus, for as surely as cold causes hailstones, a liquorous mouth makes a lecherous tail."

"The covetous man is poor, for he desires more than he can have. But he who has nothing and covets nothing is rich. . . The poor man as he goes along can sing and play in front of thieves."

Now on to the Ands. 46A: What you might do to help a friend with pressing needs? (BRING IRON). If your friend had cattle-marking needs you might bring him a BRANDING IRON.
53A: Nanoseconds (TIME BITS) originally TIME BANDITS, the movie masterpiece directed by Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam. If you haven't already seen this movie, do so right after you finish reading "The Canterbury Tales." You'll be hooked from the moment that white horse comes charging out of a little boy's closet.

And that just leaves the BUTs. They are 31A: Loses ones head big-time? (PANIC TONS) which before it lost its but was PANIC BUTTONS, and 69A: Headline after Kennedy gave up on his presidential run? (TEDOUT) -- BUTTED OUT.

There has been some debate in the crossword community as to whether one loses some puzzling enjoyment when solving for time as opposed to savoring a particularly clever clue or two. I can see both sides, but I was solving this one for time, and though I enjoyed it very much as I was doing it, there were a couple of the themed words that I did not reconstruct until after I finished the puzzle. And then they gave me a laugh then. I think most people once they finish a puzzle they're finished with it. If a puzzle is still bringing you fresh chuckles after you've completed it, that's a lot of bang for your buck.
My only complaint about this puzzle and it is a minor one is that it would have been even more elegant if all the ifs, ands and buts had been together instead of broken up, as they are here: IF-IF-BUT-AND-AND-BUT.

Let's look at some of the other entries of note.

15A: An atom of it has 79 protones and 118 neutrones. (ORO) If it was earlier in the week, they'd just say "Spanish for gold" but because it's Friday they make you work a little harder for this three-letter word by using the Spanish spelling of protons and neutrons.

18A: Singer with the #1 album "Between the Lines" (IAN) That's Janis Ian, and you're forgiven if you didn't know that. It came out in 1975 and contained the song "At Seventeen," probably the most depressing top 40 hit ever.

19A: Wettish, in a way (DEWY) Boy, dewy ever like the word "wettish"!

20A: Silk ingredient (SOY) I got this with no letters in place, even though it is a little tricky. I'm a recovering vegetarian and I've consumed a lot of soymilk. Hell, I even know that Silk means comes the first letter of soy and the last three letters of milk.

Hey, there aren't any IFs in this puzzle but there are a couple of FIs at 25A: "Shrek" ogress (FIONA) and 9D: Credentials (BONA FIDES)

28A: Insect trapper (AMBER) Amber is a fossil resin that can indeed trap insects as well as spiders, frogs and fruits. Most of the world's amber is 30 to 90 million years old, and an insect's only hope of immortality.

38A: Coll. major (ECON) for Economics. Exterminators major in D-Con (sorry).

41A: City near Keoladeo National Park (AGRA) This one threw me cuz Keoladeo sounded Hawaiian, so I was thinking OAHU. Again, earlier in the week it might be clued as "Taj Mahal location."

Look who's back, it's SAM I AM (at44A) who made an appearance in yesterday's Sun puzzle. How many times do we have to tell you, we would not, could not in a box, we would not, could not with a fox, we do not like green eggs and ham.

62A: Citrus fruit similar to a grapefruit (POMELO) Actually, it might be more accurate to say a grapefruit is similar to a pomelo, since the grapefruit is a hybrid between an orange and a pomelo.

68A: Winning trio (ENS) Three Ns in "winning"

5D: Research that can't be done on-line (LEG WORK) Great Google-proof clue.

10D: Frank (RED HOT) Yep, I saw this was six letters and was sure it was going to be "candid." Nope, it's a good old-fashioned hot dog.

11D: Canning tool? (AXE)

22D: Alley of Moo (OOP) At first glance, that clue looks like we're back in Seuss territory, but we're actually in comic strip caveman Alley Oop's hometown.

57D: PATH part (PORT) Note to George Stevenson of the New York Sun, this is an example of what I meant when I said that a lot of puzzles are Empire-State-centric. PATH stands for Port Authority Trans-Hudson, not something that a reasonably well-informed South Carolinian or South Dakotan could be expected to know.

56D: 1997 Babe Ruth Award winner (ALOU) Common baseball-crossword surname, really obscure clue. The Babe Ruth Award (for MVP in the World Series) was discontinued in 2002 -- which I guess means David Eckstein gets to keep the trophy forever now.

55D: Night line deliverer (LENO) Night line not Nightline (That would be ABC-TV)

52D: Winter parade honoree, for short (ST PAT) Most people don't think of Saint Patrick's Day as a Winter holiday, but since St. Patty's Day is March 17th and Spring doesn't begin until March 20th (or occasionally the 21st) technically it is.

A great puzzle like this makes the weekend that much longer, but a new Sun puzzle will be out on Monday, we'll talk about it here and I hope to see you then.


Rex Parker said...

Did not like this puzzle so much. Seen the IFS ANDS BUTS thing before, even if the answers here are mildly clever.

And yes, MEDIEVAL ... literature (esp Chaucer) rules - if you can get into / past the language.


Norrin2 said...

I keep waiting for the day when you and I get excited about the same puzzle. I guess I'll just have to keep waiting.
Your boy Quarfoot kicked my arse in the Times today, and it was weird cuz I got Antietam and Racecar and Roevwade, in fact that whole northwest section right off the bat, and then became hopelessly mired in the rest of it.
Norrin2 (My nome de crossword)

DONALD said...

Sun puzzle shone today, a welcome breath of fresh air after the claustrophic DQ.

Referring Sun Times solvers your way!