Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Midnight to 4 am at sea / THU 12-15-11 / South-Sea House essayist / Trademarked sanitary wipes / What Cowboy legend Tom Landry sported

Constructor: Jim Hilger

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TOP / SIDE / MIDDLE / BOTTOM — solver must supply TOP, SIDE, MIDDLE and BOTTOM as the first word for the answers along the TOP, SIDE, MIDDLE and BOTTOM of the grid, respectively

Word of the Day: Key FOB (28A: Key ___) —
A key fob is a generally decorative and at times useful item many people often carry with their keys, on a ring or a chain, for ease of tactile identification, to provide a better grip, or to make a personal statement. The word fob may be linked to the low German dialect for the word Fuppe, meaning "pocket", however, the real origin of the word is uncertain. Fob pockets (meaning 'sneak proof' from the German word Foppen) were pockets meant to deter thieves and a chain was used (called a Fob Chain) to attach to items, like a pocket watch, that you would place in them. (wikipedia) (never heard of this ever) (this definition is terrible)
• • •

Typically, I started sluggishly and then caught onto the theme (much later than I should have), and then tore the puzzle apart. Finished with a pretty ordinary time, somewhere in the mid-6s. I knew TOP was involved very early on (with BANANA), but 1D: Writing in a box didn't confirm anything. I had BA- and couldn't do anything with it. Also, I figured HAT was the complete answer for 7A: Bit of dance attire for Fred Astaire, so getting that answer did nothing to advance my understanding of the theme. Same with ROAD. I was like "yep, the way less traveled is a ROAD. That's what Frost said ..." I hit 39A: Midnight to 4 a.m., at sea (WATCH), and thought that *that* was a theme answer [it was only at this point in my write-up that I realized MIDDLE was involved in the theme—didn't see it. Just though EAST and AGED had really, really bad clues]. "Must be [something] WATCH. Maybe FIRST WATCH. FIRST would go with the TOP from BANANA ..." Not until I hit on SADDLE did I realize what was going on. From that point out, all the peripheral answers were a cinch. Sped right around the grid, finishing up in the SW corner. Theme is clever—seems like something that someone must have done before, but I guess not. Theme density is Really impressive. Oh, and I never saw the "Notepad" and really don't think there should've been one. Unnecessary.

Theme answers:

  • 1A: Company's numero uno (BANANA)
  • 7A: Bit of dance attire for Fred Astaire (HAT) 
  • 10A: Elite (TIER)
  • 1D: Writing in a box (BAR)
  • 23D: Drug drawback (EFFECT)
  • 38A: Oil source (EAST)
  • 39A: Midnight to 4 a.m., at sea (WATCH)
  • 41A: In the 40s? (AGED)
  • 53D: Tire part (WALL)
  • 13D: Way less traveled (ROAD)
  • 33D: One way to ride a horse (SADDLE)
  • 63D: Brandy cocktail (CAR)
  • 67A: Often-flooded locale (LAND)
  • 68A: Hit a low point (OUT)
  • 69A: Starfish or sea cucumber, e.g. (FEEDER)
Trouble spots, trouble spots. Pre-theme-understanding, I just died in the west. Threw down "VOLARE" with ease (24D: 1958 hit that won the first-ever Grammy for Song of the Year), but then went with ADDICT at 25D: Rehab candidate (ABUSER). My answer is better. Way better. But anyway, the point is that I got nowhere. The other big sticking point was SALT TALKS (29A: With 30-Across, they started in 1969). Couldn't get TALKS. Knew there had been "treaties." Thought maybe there were TESTS. SALT TESTS. That was my answer. Like H-TESTS or A-TESTS or whatever letter the crossword is using this week-TESTS. I guess I can take some solace in the fact that, in some tenuous way, I was in the ballpark. SALT TALKS did deal with nuclear arms. But anyway, TESTS was wrong, and it took a whole lot of TACO SALAD to show me the light (10D: Dish often served in a shell).

  • 17A: Arsenal, so to speak (REPERTOIRE) — dang, that's a hard clue. I had most of the letters in this answer before I could figure out what was going on.
  • 19A: Opening word of many an Italian letter (CARA) — and now a brief message from Jay and the Italians ... I mean Americans.

  • 46A: ___ verte (green earth pigment) (TERRE) — ungainly, weird clue. "TERRE verte" simply, literally means "green earth." Pigment? Dislike.
  • 53A: Trademarked sanitary wipes (WET ONES) — cool answer. I'd have replaced "Trademarked" (odd) with "brand of," or maybe put "brand" on the end. Sounds more natural.
  • 66A: What Cowboy legend Tom Landry sported (FEDORA) — iconic. I started paying attention to professional football in the Landry era.
  • 18D: Capital whose name comes from an Algonquin word for "to trade" (OTTAWA) — Got it off the first "T" and felt pretty damned good about myself. OTTAWA also falls within the alphabetical parameters (A-C) of World Capitals That I Know So Far.
  • 47D: "Star Trek" helmsman (MR. SULU) — love the MR. part.
  • 54D: "The South-Sea House" essayist (ELIA) — come on. An "essayist" in 4 letters? Bush league. Old school bush league.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Patrick Blindauer's "Musical Puzzlefest" (his latest suite of interconnected crossword puzzles) is available starting today. From his website:
It gives me great pleasure to announce my 3rd annual interconnected suite of crosswords, available for $9.95 via the PayPal button marked "Musical Puzzlefest" on the right. The puzzles will be released on December 15, and each one will lead to a larger puzzle, which leads to the final answer. Send me the correct final answer by February 15 to be entered in the drawing for prizes. 
The Puzzlefest will have a musical theme this time around, and the difficulty level increases from Monday NYTimes level at the beginning to Thursday NYTimes level by the end.
 To order, and for more information, please go to

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