¡Guten morgen! My name is Kenneth Shinozuka, and I am a novice crossword puzzler who has come to share his love of the “x-word” through the all-new Popular Discourse New York Times Crossword blog. A bit of background on me:
- I started solving crosswords in the summer between ninth and tenth grade because I was bored out of my mind and what could possibly make you less bored than sitting in front of a newspaper for hours, trying to recall a proper noun that you vaguely remember reading about several years ago?
- I took a break from crosswords after my subscription ran out the next fall. Fast forward about two and a half years later to January of this year, when I heard that my friend was being a deadweight loss to his Econ class by solving the New York Times daily crossword under the false pretense of taking notes. High school, coupled with standardized testing, had taught me a few more proper nouns and some fancy-schmansy vocabulary to boot, so I found that I could now solve a Friday puzzle if I really put my mind to it (and my friends’ minds too, since I would always have to consult them at least once).
- I’m unafraid to admit that I usually refer to my friends Mr. Google, Mr. Merriam Webster, or even Mr. Rex Parker (though I only check his blog if I’ve finished a puzzle but an unknown error is remaining) whenever I’m stuck on a puzzle. In fact, as a novice, I don’t think that I’ve ever solved a Thursday or harder without some outside assistance.
With that in mind, let’s dig into Sunday’s crossword!
Solving time: 2 hours and 13 minutes (AAAAAAAHHHHH! WTF THAT’S WAY TOO LONG FOR ANY PUZZLE, EVEN A SUNDAY), which makes this puzzle hard as ORES for me.
Puzzle quality – in honor of the CAT meme clue (39A: Subject of many an interesting Internet meme):
Theme: Hey, you know how the suffix -TION or -SION sounds like the word “shun”?? What if we just add those suffixes onto some proper nouns and idioms? Great and original idea for a puzzle, right!?
Theme answers include:
TRICKY DICTION (25A): “What’s involved in a tongue twister?” (TRICKY DICK + TION = wait for it… wait for it … TRICKY DICTION! At first I thought that Tricky Dick referred to a sexual disorder that you might want to solve with some Viagra, but then I discovered that Tricky Dick is a moniker ascribed to President Nixon. Who knew! Evidently not I.)
DIRT PORTION (32A): “Very, very top of the earth’s crust?” (DIRT POOR + TION = DIRT PORTION! Somebody who is dirt poor might be shunned by the rest of society, which is the only deeper link that I can find between the puzzle’s theme clues and its title besides the obvious homophones).
STRAW MANSION (49A): “First home of the three rich little pigs?” (You get the hang of this, but STRAW MAN + SION = STRAW MANSION).
SWEET ‘N’ LOTION (87A): “Two things the candy lover took to the beach?” (SWEET ‘N LOW + TION = SWEET ‘N’ LOTION. But but but “sweet” isn’t a plural! You can take “sweets” to the beach but not “sweet.” Boo. The Sweet’n Low, for anyone who didn’t get the reference, refers to a brand of artificial sweetener.)
BASE TENSION (105A): “What an overbearing sergeant causes?” (BASE TEN + SION = BASE TENSION. We count in BASE TEN, and as such, each place in a number is ten times the place to the right of it. The hundreds place, for example, is ten times the tens place, which is ten times the ones place. Fun fact: That’s how the dec- prefix (dec- meaning ten) in “decimal” is derived.)
BONUS TRACTION (116A): “What improved tire tread produces?” (BONUS TRACK + TION = BONUS TRACTION. I can imagine myself saying that a tire might have “bonus traction.” I can’t imagine myself saying any of the other theme answers in real life.)
SPACE JUNCTION (4D): “The cantina in “Star Wars,” e.g.?” (SPACE JUNK + TION = SPACE JUNCTION. The cantina is a bar on the planet Tatooine that gets featured in Star Wars IV: A New Hope. I have no idea why the constructor, Sam A. Donaldson, decided to classify the bar as “space junk,” though.)
COLLAR STATION (59D): “Where they sell accessories in a pet shop?” (COLLAR STAY + TION = COLLAR STATION. Excuse me for being sartorially and culturally jejune, but what on earth is a collar stay!? According to Wikipedia, it’s an accessory placed inside a shirt collar that ensures that the collar “lies flat against the collarbone.”)
Thought of the day: “If the weather RAINed ON a STRAW MANSION and SWEPT it away, then the DIRT PORTION of the home would be AWASH IN OOZ[ing] mud.”
How I thought I’d feel about this puzzle:
How this puzzle actually made me feel:
In general, I’m opposed to a crossword where you know definitively from the get-go that you can put “TION” or “SION” at the end of each theme answer. That makes the puzzle less challenging. But that means I should have had an easy time with this, right!? Right!? NEIN! The UR (upper-right) and the LL (lower-left) of the puzzle probably cost me about an hour’s worth of solving time.
Let’s start on the UR. The “AND” in “AND SO DO I” (11A: “Yeah, same here”) is completely and totally unnecessary. The fictional peoples of Gridland who utter these expressions in crosswords usually say “AS AM I”/”AS DO I” or “SO DO I,” without the “AND.” Apparently the fickle citizens of Gridland have added sophistication to their crosswordese. The Gridland-ers have also failed to recognize that, in the real world, people used to say “Odsbodikins” or “Odd’s bodkins” or “Odds bodkins,” not “ODS BODKINS!” (15D: ‘___ bodkins!’) In fact, Mr. Google informs me that the NYT crossword is the first credible and widely-read source to spell the phrase with one D and one I. The Gridlanders deceive us once again with their unconventional spelling choices! The phrase “ODS BODKINS!” was a “mild oath” that the British would utter in the 1700s, which is around the time that Will Shortz was probably born. (That would explain how RARE and archaic his vocabulary is). In other words, it’s an expression that neither you nor I would ever say in our daily lives. And finally, who is Dorothy SAYERS (14D: Mystery writer Dorothy)!?! The length of her Wikipedia page does indicate she’s quite famous. But given that I didn’t know until two days ago that Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte Brontë and not Jane Austen, I wouldn’t trust myself when it comes to understanding literary references. I also had LES instead of UNE as the answer to 28A: Alternative to “la,” which hindered my progress on this section.
Onto the LL! Who is Rossano BRAZZINI (93D: “South Pacific” star ___ Brazzini)? Do you know? I certainly don’t! Then again, I haven’t even seen “Wicked,” so I’m not exactly an expert when it comes to Broadway. (However, I did actually see “South Pacific” back when I was in seventh grade, so it’s a shame that I couldn’t get this clue). Even though I’m an Oscars buff and I’m actually familiar with the movie REBECCA (91D: Daphne du Maurier novel made into a Best Picture”, I couldn’t seem to call it to mind until I had all but two of the letters. The fact that I had written SORE instead of RARE (91A: Still quite red) didn’t help matters either. I cheated and looked up some Morse Code tables to find out that three dots translated into ESS (114A: …, to Samuel Morse), which helped to lift me out of the rut that I was mired in. My cousin (who had the patience to deal with me as I solved this crossword) suggested COATROOM as the answer to 119A: Something you might have a handle on, but I think the phrase that Samuel Donaldson had in mind – CHATROOM – is even better.
Some other clues that caused me to STAY MAD (24A: Doesn’t cool down) as I begrudgingly solved this:
- WONT (8D: Custom) is already a fairly archaic word that usually means accustomed. I’ve never heard its alternate definition, which is customary behavior, until now.
- Never before had I heard the term or seen any kind of “soap ON A ROPE” (17D: Like some soap). Mr. Google tells me that it’s literally just soap attached to a rope. You learn something new every day with the crossword.
- More proof that Will Shortz and Samuel Donaldson are both at least a couple centuries old: the usage of the word ESSAY (36D: Will work) to signify an attempt or effort has got to be super outdated, or at least very formal.
- The answer to 98D: Proportionate should almost definitely be TO SCALE, not IN SCALE. I’ve never heard the proposition in placed before the word scale.
However, there were some clues that I enjoyed:
- A TO B looks ugly on the grid, but its clever clue – 86A: The first step – kept me thinking for quite a while.
- I usually get the ALI answers in crosswords right off the bat, but I didn’t this time thanks to the interesting cluing – 31D: Who said “If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize.”
- 83A: Polish site was an ingenious clue for NAIL. For the longest time, I was trying to think of historic Polish landmarks when the answer I needed was just NAIL polish all along.
- NOT UP TO IT is a great, informal four-word clue for 12D: Too tired for the task, say.
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld