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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lohengrin soprano / SUN 12-11-11 / Mario's dinosaur sidekick / Cactuslike plant of southwest / Vaquero's neckwear / Southern university whose campus is botanical garden

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "Taking Half-Steps" — rebus puzzle with "SHARP," "FLAT," or "NATURAL" found in 14 squares throughout the grid



 Word of the Day: OCOTILLO (119A: Cactuslike plant of the Southwest) —
n., pl., -los.
A cactuslike tree (Fouquieria splendens) of Mexico and the southwest United States, having clusters of scarlet tubular flowers.

[American Spanish, diminutive of ocote, a Mexican pine, from Nahuatl ocotl, pitch pine.]
• • •

I got pretty badly shredded by this one, though in retrospect my own denseness was as much to blame as the legitimate difficulty of the puzzle. It took me an Embarrassingly long time to associate the rebus with music. This was due primarily to my belief that 1A: Knives, forks and spoons must be [silver]WARE. Nevermind that I'd never heard of a [silver]TOP—as we all know, I've never heard of *lots* of things. Anyway, after that, even after running into what was obviously a [sharp] and even a [natural], I didn't think to go back and alter my understanding of 1A. I just plodded through the puzzle waiting for a pattern to emerge, and it was only after running into repeated [sharp]s that I realized I had all the rebus answers I'd ever have. I then played "which of these things is not like the other?" and [silver] lost. By this time I'd lost untold minutes roaming around an astonishingly patchy grid — cluing was pretty tough in general, and when you don't know where / what the rebus squares are, difficulty increases quite dramatically. Figuring out the music thing helped a lot, but I still finished with the worst time I've had since Kevin Der's Chinese zodiac puzzle last year ... or whenever that was. And yet I'm currently sitting at 6th on the leaderboard (!?!?!) and only 29 online solvers have managed to finish the puzzle in the first 90 minutes, so it looks like I'm not the only one getting battered. Good to know.


Theme answers:
  • FLATWARE / FLAT TOP
  • NATURAL HABITAT / NATURAL CAUSES
  • PENCIL SHARPENERS / JEW'S HARP
  • OF LATE / FLATTERER (hardest one to get by Far—if you haven't figured out the theme yet) 
  • RAZOR SHARP / SHARP SET
  • PRETERNATURAL / ALL-NATURAL
  • KEEP A SHARP LOOK-OUT / SHARPEIS
  • HYPERINFLATION / FLATLY
  • NATURAL LAKE (?!) / NATURAL SELECTION
  • FLAT-EARTH SOCIETY / FLAT CAR
  • FLAT FEE / FLATTED NOTE (I do not like this— "flat" should not be allowed to come from music at all; for the sake of elegance and consistency, all rebus-containing answers should be *non*-music related) 
  • CARD SHARPS / SHARPIES
  • SHARP OBJECTS / SHARPTON
  • NATURAL BORN CITIZEN / NATURAL GAS
Aside from my difficulties simply grasping the damned theme, I had especial trouble with the Spanish corners of this thing—CORONADO (22A: Spanish conquistador who searched for the Seven Cities of Gold) was completely blocked to me because of my stupid blind belief in [I GOT a secret] and OCOTILLO was completely blocked to me because it's f&$*ing insane. Who knows that word!? Dear lord. I think the only reason ALETTE follows directly on the heels of OCOTILLO is to make OCOTILLO look reasonable by comparison. "Yeah, we know you're already mad about OCOTILLO, so we're just gonna give you ALETTE now and hope you get over it quickly." ALETTE ... man, that is up there among the stupidest things I've ever seen in the grid. I'd like to buy a vowel, please. Two, actually: O and U. Then I can make "ALOUETTE" and sing a nice French song to distract myself from the #&!@iness that is ALETTE.

Bullets:
  • 53A: Radiohead frontman Yorke (THOM) — it's him or McAN.
  • 63A: Southern university  whose campus is a botanical garden (ELON) — Thought this was UTEP, back when I thought the [Wrinkly-faced dogs] were PUGS.
  • 100A: Goddess with a headdress depicting a throne (ISIS) — daughter is neck-deep in Egyptiana right now. She sculpted and baked sarcophagi today. Somehow the discussion got on to the Bible. At one point, she actually asked my wife the question: "Who names their kid 'ESAU?'" Then I tried to tell her, and got my birthright / blessing stories all muddled up, and so handed her "Who's Who in The Bible" from my ref. shelf. Also handed her R. Crumb's faithful but graphic "Genesis." Yes, I'm going to hell, I know.
  • 15D: Vaquero's neckwear (BOLO) — total gimme, one that helped almost Not At All in that sticky NE corner.
  • 31D: 2005 biography subtitled "The Making of a Terrorist" (OSAMA) — See also [Cruel Ugandan] (AMIN). HITLER still M.I.A.



  • 34D: Repeated film title role for Jim Varney (ERNEST) — speaking of evil white guy ...
  • 54D: Shapes studied by Dr. Watson and his partner (HELICES) — HELIXES sounds better. And looks better. The Pluralizing Committee should really reconsider.
  • 59D: Letter after pee (KUE) — KUE ALETTE, gentille KUE ALETTE / KUE ALETTE, je te plumerai. 
  • 66D: Mario's dinosaur sidekick (YOSHI) — Me: "LUIGI was a dinosaur?" Needed all crosses.
  • 79D: Former Connecticut governor Jodi (RELL) — come on. When do we have to know "former" governors of small states? Never. Never. That's when. RELL ALETTE, gentille RELL ALETTE ...
  • 82D: "___ Andromeda" (British sci-fi series) ("A FOR") — no hope. British?! At least it's not "former British..." I guess. No, wait. It is.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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