September 09, 2009


crossword 14:37
puzzle -12:00 or so

did i step into a time warp? this week's episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "This Isn't Gonna Work," was supposed to be a first-week-of-the-month puzzle, but i found it more difficult than a typical NYT saturday despite catching onto the theme pretty quickly. maybe that was matt's way of (over)compensating for the fact that we had an extra day to solve it. anyway, here were the theme answers:

  • [Take over Jason Kidd's position in a basketball game?] is BE THE POINT.
  • [How Gordon Brown might label one cowardly member of the opposition?] is A TORY MOUSE.
  • [Where doctors ably patch up accident victims?] are SKILLED ERS.
  • [Request that someone consume a certain letter on a birthday cake?] is "CAN YOU EAT E?"
  • [The last letter in a mythological hero's name?] is the S OF HERCULES.
  • [The logistics of issuing debt?] is IOU'S PROCESS, and this one took me forever to get. like, at least eight minutes.

the contest instructions tell us: This week's contest answer word is five letters long and it's what's missing from this week's puzzle. of course, you've figured out that LABOR has been dropped from six phrases, sometimes with a change in the word breaks, to create these phrases: BELABOR THE POINT, LABORATORY MOUSE, SKILLED LABORERS, CAN YOU ELABORATE, LABORS OF HERCULES, and LABORIOUS PROCESS. and in celebration of labor day, that's the answer to the puzzle.

why did it take me so long? well, almost all of the puzzle was pretty hard, i thought. there were tons of factual clues that i just didn't know. among them:

  • [Quintana ___ (Cancun's state)] = ROO
  • [___ de Goree, Senegal] = ILE
  • [Crustacean larva] = ZOEA. this is a word that i know from scrabble (and its plural, ZOEAE), both because it's got the Z and because it's a vowel dump. but in scrabble you don't have to know definitions.
  • [The Downward Dog is done on it] = MAT. wrestling? yoga? wiping your feet?
  • ["Confuse-___" (Monty Python sketch)] = A CAT
  • [Neighbor of the Arctic Ocean] = KARA SEA
  • [___ Verde County, Tex.] = VAL

that's a lot of stuff (much of it geographical), but the part that killed me was the SW corner, where all of the things i don't know and clues that didn't help me came together. ROO and ZOEA i've already mentioned. 39a, VIPEROUS, was not a word that came to mind easily even with many crosses in place. the long down theme answer ... well, let's just say i didn't like it. i figured out that it was going to be laborious something, but PROCESS seems pretty arbitrary. i had DETAILS at first even though ERRS and OR SO really looked right. the clue for INCL, [At no extra charge, in ads], did not lead me to the answer and i'm looking askance at it even now. the clue for VERIZON, [Sprint finisher, they hope], seems like a pretty big stretch.

i could go on, but almost every clue in the puzzle was harder than it needed to be, so i won't list them all. i generally like hard puzzles, but i don't like feeling stupid on puzzles that are supposed to be easy, so this one definitely rubbed me the wrong way. since matt started his current difficulty scale, the first-week puzzles have all taken me 3-4 minutes. this one, 15 minutes. so i gotta ask... was it just me?