Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Weasley family owl / WED 11-2-11 / Elegantly dressed bloke / 1970s-'90s film company / Grammatical infelicity / Apple communication tool

Constructor: Barry Franklin and Sara Kaplan

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SPLIT INFINITIVE (37A: Grammatical infelicity ... or what 17-, 23-, 48- or 60-Across is?) — theme answers (all clued as [See 37-Across]) are all infinitive phrases that mean "to SPLIT"
Word of the Day: TOFF (40D: Elegantly dressed bloke) —
n. Chiefly British Slang
A member of the upper classes, especially one who is elegantly dressed: "champagne, once a raffish drink suitable for toffs and weddings" (Ian Jack).

[Probably variant of TUFT, a gold tassel worn by titled students at Oxford and Cambridge.]
• • •

I had no idea what this theme was about until well after I was finished. Thus, it wasn't that fun to solve. And yet, once I figured it out, I had to admit it was pretty clever—nice repurposing of the central phrase, with a different meaning of "SPLIT" evident in each theme answer (though SHATTER is a bit of a stretch for "SPLIT"). I'll spare you the lecture on SPLIT INFINITIVEs and whether they are indeed infelicities (OK, short lecture: they aren't). It was frustrating to try to solve those theme answers when they had no clue. I think that's where the "no fun" part of my assessment comes from—filling in unclued phrases whose shared trait is impossible to see (at first). I'd have parts of the phrases and think "???" — e.g. "TO GO FIFTY ... FIVE? What the hell?" Got the theme answers almost entirely from crosses. With the puzzle offering near-zero assistance with the theme answers, this one should've been harder than usual, but my time says otherwise. Maybe I just lucked out in guessing RIGATONI (9D: Pasta variety) off the final "I." If that hadn't happened, the whole thing could've taken me a minute longer. Anyway, this is an "admire-it-after-the-fact"-type puzzle, and as such, it's fine.

RASPY (9A: Like E.T.'s voice) is not a word I associate with E.T. It's a word I associate with smokers. But I guess his voice qualifies. Weird to see ORION clued as a bygone film company (49D: 1970s-'90s film company)—seems a very Saturday-type clue (though I managed to remember it and get it with just a couple crosses, so maybe it's more obvious than I think). Just sent my SPIRO Agnew watch to the repairman, so he's fresh on my mind (32D: Vice president Agnew). Had the weirdest malapop* ever when at 34A: Clingy wrap (SARAN). Had the -AN and thought "AFGAN?" Yeah, it's the wrong spelling, and AFGHANs aren't particularly clingy, but that didn't stop my brain from thinking it. Anyway, it was SARAN, of course, but then bam, not a minute later, there's AFGHAN after all (46D: Crocheted item).

*["Malapop": when you want a certain answer that ends up being wrong, only to find that that "wrong" answer actually appears elsewhere in the grid.]

  • 28A: Provider of a jawbone to Samson (ASS) — this makes it sound like the ASS just handed it over ...
  • 58A: Where the brain resides, slangily (ATTIC) — never heard this expression, though it wasn't hard to piece together.
  • 6D: Weasley family owl in Harry Potter books (ERROL) — read 'em all, but still somehow can't seem to remember ERROL.
  • 16A: Apple communication tool (iCHAT) — i don't CHAT, so, like ERROL, iCHAT frequently eludes me.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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