Friday, November 25, 2011

Trick-taking game / SAT 11-26-11 / Sambuca flavorers / 18th-century London political literary establishment / Target of criticism Vincent Bugliosi's 1996 book Outrage

Constructor: Brad Wilber

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none
 Word of the Day: KLABERJASS (27D: Trick-taking game) —
Klaberjass or Bela is a widespread international trick-taking card game that is most popular in Jewish communities. In its basic form it is a 6-card trick-and-draw game for two players using a 32-card piquet pack. // As in other point-trick games of the King–Queen group, players can score points for the "marriage" (bela) of king and queen of trumps. The distinguishing feature of Klaberjass is that the jack (Yass) and nine (Menel) of trumps are elevated to the highest ranks and highest card point scores. (wikipedia)
• • •

A suitably tough Saturday that ended up being less than satisfying because of several long answers I'd just never heard of, the most notable being KLABERJASS. I don't care how "widespread" wikipedia says it is, I'll eat my hat if most of you have heard of it before. Not some of you—this is an answer designed to delight the constructor and that minority of solvers who know and play and possibly love the game—most of you. If you've never heard of it, then no amount of crosses helps. You need them all, and when you finally get it, there's no joy, no wow, no nothing. Just gibberish. In this case, long gibberish. So I am stumped, and I learn a new word (I'll never need again), and that's something, but entertaining it's not. When I (finally) got CHAIR BED, I assumed it was a makeshift bed created by the pushing together of two chairs (1A: What might unfold when you have guests). I've never ever heard of a CHAIR BED. I wrote in HIDEABED right away. CHAIR BED? I can barely look at that answer. I checked, and of course CHAIR BEDs are actual things, in that you can buy them at K-Mart, but ugh. The less said about OOFY the better (28A: Rich, in slang). The one stumper that I feel bad about not knowing was KITCATCLUB (29A: 18th-century London political / literary establishment). The puzzle is generally well constructed (not surprising—Mr. Wilber's usually are), so I, despite my considerable ignorance, could still reach the finish line because of fair crosses.

One thing you'll notice in a low word-count puzzle (typically) is a preponderance of words ending -ER or -ERS. Most every point where the last letters of two words intersect, you will see an "S" or "ER" or "ERS." When you've got this much white space to fill, the stress starts to show first around the edges in this way. Now, to this puzzle's credit, it doesn't resort to really horribly made-up-sounding words, like RE-ICERS or something (I made that up, but I assume it's a legitimate cake-related word). You can hardly fault the intersection of BAD LOSER and BARTENDER. Still, I always notice the heavy padding of -ER and -ERS in low word-count puzzles. Once you dip into the mid-60s, word-count wise, the chances of your having a really compelling, scintillating, memorable grid diminish considerably. At those depths, even a superior constructor is only going to producer tolerable, passable work most of the time.

JUDGE ITO has the same number of letters as LANCE ITO (15A: Target of criticism in Vincent Bugliosi's 1996 book "Outrage"), I found out the hard way. I assumed [Bouillabaisse base, sometimes] was some kind of FISH for a while. That also hurt. CLAM BROTH seems arbitrary, but, I'm sure, accurate enough. Once I changed ETAS to ETDS, I saw ANISEEDS (17A: Sambuca flavorers), which was vital to my (finally) getting those long Downs in the NW. "ANIMAL FARM" in particular gave me fits. Completely forgot there was a Napoleon in that (3D: Napoleon is a commander in it). I lucked out in the musical realm—got Randy TRAVIS with no crosses and only a few seconds of thought / humming, and I'm not even a (modern) country fan (16A: Singer of the #1 country hit "Forever and Ever, Amen"). Also got HERB ALPERT off the -ERT (35A: "Whipped Cream & Other Delights"). Speaking of whipped cream and other delights, I've been eating chocolate pie every few hours for over 24 hours now, and putting whipped cream on and in whatever seems to warrant it. Especially coffee.

I just started watching "Friday Night Lights," so I have no idea who this AIMEE Teegarden person is, but once I had the -EE ending, guessing her name wasn't tough (40A: Teegarden of TV's "Friday Night Lights"). EVIE was slightly tougher, but the crosses helped me out (12D: One of the Wilcoxs in "Howards End"). Never heard of a LUNE, but, again: crosses. Had CAPE for [Bullfighting cloak], obviously (CAPA). Very fixable. Thought LES was the Fender of Fender guitars (LEO)—thanks a lot, LES Paul. CAMISOLE is not a particularly British word, so I don't know why "knickers" was in its clue (33D: Knickers go-with), but it's not like the reference was confusing.

Have a lovely day. I know I will. 42!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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