Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: "WAR AND PEACE" (39A: Classic novel of 1,000+ pages ... or a hint to the word ladder formed by the answers to the starred clues) — word ladder goes from HAWK to DOVE. There's also a note: "When this puzzle is completed, the 10 circled letters, reazd from top to bottom, will spell a name associated with 39-Across"—that name: LEO TOLSTOY
Word of the Day: EVAN Lysacek (30D: Olympic skating champion Lysacek) —
Evan Frank Lysacek (... born June 4, 1985) is an American figure skater. He is the 2010 Olympic champion, the 2009 World champion, the 2005 & 2007 Four Continents champion, the 2007 & 2008 U.S. national champion, and the 2009/2010 Grand Prix Final champion. (wikipedia)
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One of the most interesting and clever word ladder puzzles I've ever done. Has a real sense of purpose, illustrates the central answer perfectly. The circles are ridiculous and unnecessary, but that does nothing to alter the basic integrity of the puzzle. Here is a 78-worder that actually has lots of interesting fill throughout. This is likely because there are no lengthy theme answers (besides the one), and though the word ladder is certainly a restriction, there is still the freedom to make the longer answers anything at all. Though there's still a lot of short stuff, there's *not* a lot of tired, dreadful short stuff. The longer answers are bouncy and the shorter stuff is solid. The only drawback (and that word may be too strong) was that the puzzle was so easy that I didn't even notice the word ladder existed. I read [Classic novel...] and, based on existing letters, knew exactly what I was dealing with. Had the whole thing done in roughly 3 and a half minutes with absolutely no idea of how WAR AND PEACE related to the circles (which I assumed were integral). Turns out it was the asterisked clues that were the important thing, and the circles a superficial afterthought (not very hard to find LEO TOLSTOY in your grid; you can find those letters, in order, top to bottom, in yesterday's puzzle, for instance). The note also seems entirely unnecessary, in that I don't need the circles to finish the puzzle, and while I'm no Encyclopedia Brown, I can sleuth hard enough to figure out that the circles, when taken in order, contain a name. And what's with the note's description of LEO TOLSTOY? "A name associated with ['War and Peace']"?! That implies the connection is much more tenuous than it actually is. "It's funny, I always associate LEO TOLSTOY with 'WAR AND PEACE'." "Huh. Interesting. Maybe that's because HE WROTE IT." What harm could there possibly be in just saying he's the "author of 39-Across"?
- HAWK / HARK / HARE (22A: *Storied also-ran) / CARE / CORE / COVE / LOVE / DOVE
- 5A: Prefix with "mom" in 2009 news (OCTO-) — easy, though wife was visibly stunned that this "story" was already this old.
- 14A: Tommie of the Miracle Mets (AGEE) — needed every cross. Just couldn't remember his name. Much harder AGEE than that author guy (whom I don't really know except by crossword reflex).
- 37A: Article in rap titles (THA) — wanted "DA" but that's absurd, obviously. I love that THA is now totally normal crossword fill.
- 42A: Columnist Hentoff (NAT) — I know the name very well, but not as a "columnist." The weird thing is, even looking at his wikipedia page, I have no idea *how* I know his name so well. I must've had to read some of his writing in college or grad school, but I don't know what.
- 52A: Brown in the funnies (CHARLIE) — mentioned him in my Comics class yesterday (first day of classes) while discussing the fact that the Sunday funnies are essentially a graveyard. When most of your comics are *at least* three decades old, and the author of your front-page, above-the-fold, lead comic has been dead for over a decade, you know you've got a nostalgia problem. [For a genuinely funny contemporary comic that should be in newspapers but isn't, see Kate Beaton's "Hark a Vagrant" (now in book form) which at least 66% of you will Love. Brontë soul with a punk attitude—specially designed for liberal arts grads and anyone who likes awesome]
- 59A: "Give me an example!" ("NAME ONE!") — I love this.
- 4D: New Zealand parrots (KEAS) — very close to my heart. Here's my nephew Rob (age 6, 2003) with a kea, in the Southern Alps.
And here's my nephew Ben—who is going to be an extra in "The Hobbit"—sitting smack in the middle of Hobbit country (age 8) (2003)
- 24D: Item in a thole (OAR) — I only ever see THOLE in the grid itself and part of me always thought it was really T-HOLE. Don't laugh. Are you laughing at me? Man, you're such a T-HOLE.
- 45D: Brand of movable collectibles (PEZ) — they do ... move ... I guess!
- 46D: Soda brand since 1905 (RC COLA) — that double-C is always an adventure. Makes me think soda will be Irish.
- 53D: Ranch in "Giant" (REATA) — do puzzles long enough, and you'll learn more about RI(E)ATAs than you ever wanted to know.
- 61D: Queen Wheat City of Oklahoma (ENID) — I have been singing "Queen Wheat City" to the tune of "Detroit Rock City" ever since I laid eyes on this clue.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld