Saturday, November 18, 2006
Solving time: I don't know ... 25-30 minutes, maybe.
This was slow-going, though in retrospect I'm not sure why. Maybe I spent too much time wrestling with tough parts instead of moving on and coming back to them. There's some fabulous fill in this puzzle, but overall I thought the cluing was off, or forced, a lot of the time, with not just difficult, but absurdly contrived clues to arrive at fairly ordinary answers, e.g. 15A: Grad school administration (oral exam) - yes, technically a department has to administer the exam, but ugh, the nominalization of that verb is so horribly ungainly and out of the language that there's no satisfaction in the revelation of the answer. Just a pained "oh. OK." (See also 34A: Able to draw (fascinating), Ugh). Saturday puzzles should be difficult, but I want to feel like my struggle was worth it - I want to say (in my head, usually) "Aha! Damn ... that's good." That did not happen much today (with some notable exceptions, detailed below).
Technically there is no theme today, though all three of the Very Long (15-letter) Down answers are geographically oriented in some way: 3D: Admiral Nelson victory (Battle of the Nile) (that was unknown to me - had to infer it from crosses); 8D: Scene of many demonstrations (American Embassy); and 12D: Earthquake Park setting (Anchorage, Alaska) - why would anyone go to a place named "Earthquake Park"? - that's like taking a drive down "Head-on Collision Lane." [to be fair, I'm pretty sure the Park commemorates the devastating earthquake of 40 or so years ago]
Saw Happy Feet yesterday. I do not recommend that you do the same. Unless your idea of a good time is a. listening to sexualized penguins sing sub-Moulin Rouge pop medleys, b. having scary animated predators lunge Directly At You over and over and over and over and over again, always with the accompanying cheap loud music explosion, or c. listening to Robin Williams imitate Mexicans and / or evangelical preachers.
1A: Interviewer in some mock interviews (Baba Wawa)
Great - this is what I'm talking about when I say that I want to go "Aha!" after struggling with an answer. Still, will there not be a lot of solvers out there going "WTF!?!?" after seeing this answer? The answer comes from one (albeit recurring) bit on one TV show from about 30 years ago! I know that Gilda Radner's imitation was very famous at the time. But still. And yet. Am I complaining or celebrating? Well, I get it, so I am celebrating. By the way, a Google Image search tells me that THIS is an "Inappropriate Mock Interview" - let your imagination decide why:
Not getting BABAWAWA right away really screwed my whole NW mojo. Other problems included the fact that I had the incorrect BIKINI for 1D: Clothing item with strings (bonnet) and the fact that I wanted 19A: Balmy (nuts) to be WARM, despite the fact that I'd seen "balmy" used as in the sense of NUTS in a very recent puzzle (maybe a Sun puzzle or an Onion A/V Club puzzle).
20A: Actress who made her big-screen debut in "Julia" (Streep)
Should have been a gimme, and the answer did finally come to me, without the aid of any crosses. I used to Love Meryl Streep, primarily for two roles that aren't that flattering. First, her role as Isaac's [Woody Allen's] ex-wife in Manhattan, where she plays an austere author who has left Woody for another woman - her book about their break-up is entitled Marriage, Divorce & Selfhood - awesome 70s title. (Isaac: "That book makes me out to be like Lee Harvey Oswald") Streep's deadpan delivery, utterly unflinching and believable, is the Perfect foil for Allen's neurotic schtick. Their conversations are some of the funniest things Woody Allen ever achieved on screen. Good comedy is good acting - it's not a separate talent (see also Judy Davis in The Ref). The other role Streep was Amazing in was A Cry in the Dark, where she played the very enigmatic and not terribly sympathetic mother who lost her baby in the Australian ... outback? She uttered the immortal line "A dingo took my baby!" which is one of the few Australian things that Americans are familiar with, besides Paul Hogan ("That's not a knife..."), the Crocodile Hunter ("Crikey, look at this little Sheila!") and ... Nicole Kidman? Yahoo Serious? Midnight Oil? INXS?
9D: Amble (mosey)
10D: Chain letters? (IHOP)
These, I like - plus, they helped me get all the NE Across answers by providing the first two letters of each. I initially had MNOP for IHOP, thinking that "chain" meant an alphabetic chain (a not uncommon crossword convention). But IHOP is so much better, if only because, as many of you know, IHOP is the closest thing I have to a Church. I look forward to going there on Sundays (or Saturdays) and Adoring the Pancakes, especially during this, the season of Thanksgiving (I was excited to see that there was an International House of Prayer, but then found out that there were no pancakes involved and quickly turned away). In fact, on my birthday (8 days left, people!) I plan to go to IHOP and worship like crazy. On today's grid, I eventually changed MNOP to IHOP after MOSEY would not be denied. Nobody outside of a Western movie MOSEYs, but it's still an awesome word.
28A: Rather, musically (poco)
28D: Cousin of an agouti (paca)
The "P" in these intersecting answers was the last square I got - and I got it wrong. Here's the thing: "Rather" is horribly misleading in that 28A clue. It means "to a certain extent," and yes, POCO, being "a small amount" or "slightly," is, to be sure, "a certain extent," but RATHER seems to me RATHER (which is to say, significantly) more intensive than POCO. There aren't many letters that could have gone there, and I certainly had "P" as an option, but having Never Heard Of either "agouti" or its alleged "cousin" the PACA, I had no help from the cross. So I guessed "V" - because VOCO sounded like it might be Something, musically, and VACA was, I believed, a cow, so could possibly be the cousin of some imagined French cow named the agouti. To quote yesterday's puzzle, SO IT GOES. Other answers I'd Never Heard Of: 30A: "Shake Loose My Skin" poet Sanchez (Sonia), 14D: Allspice and clove, e.g. (myrtles) (OK I've heard of MYRTLE but could not have defined it for you), and 57A: Longtime play-by-play announcer Chris (Schenkel) (still scratching my head over this one). Oh, and 56A: Enclosing rim in which a jewel is set (collet). Whatever. This is kind of a lot of obscurity, even for a Saturday. [late addendum: I am told by a reliable source that POCO is clued just fine, so ... I have to cop to Ignorance or Failure and Move On.]
40A: "... lived in _____" (a shoe)
31D: Resort site (isle)
The first and second answers I entered. Not sure why I was so certain about the first of these, or the second, for that matter, but thankfully I was. Other gimmes for which I was grateful were 26A: Souvenir shop staples (tees) and 22A: Inits. in a 1948 upset (H.S.T.) - though with that last one I was a little afraid that I was being asked to produce Dewey's initials, which I would not have been able to do. I know about the famous erroneous "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline from the opening credits of "Cheers." O wait, two more gimmes of note...
25D: QB Kosar (Bernie)
37D: Boomer born in the 1960's (Esiason)
If you have never followed American Football very closely, then these would be rough, I would think, especially the latter, with its (frankly) tortured cluing. I see how the cluer is trying to be cute and misdirection-y. "Honey, what do you call a baby-boomer who was born in the 1960's? Is there a word for that? ESPADRILLE? ESPANOL? ESTRADA?" What annoys me most is not the moderate obscurity of Boomer Esiason, but that the relevant fact in the clue ("born in the 1960's") is so completely arbitrary that it's meaningless. I guess the "QB" designation was taken by BERNIE Kosar (long-time Cleveland Browns quarterback). "Big Bengal" would have been better for ESIASON, and even that's pretty lame.
50D: Garland co-star of 1939 (Lahr)
Dammit I always misspell this guy's name thusly: LEHR. Always. It's ridiculous. You see "Garland" and "1939" in the same place and you know the clue is about The Wizard of Oz, and you see the four letters, and you think "Oh that Cowardly Lion guy ... I can see him .. Burr... Barr ... Behr ... LEHR! Yes, awesome." Wrong. LAHR. Bert LAHR, to be exact. That little vowel mistake kept the very easy 54A: Some cats (siameses) hidden from me much longer than it should have been. If I only had a brain (yes, that's the Scarecrow, I know ... he, by the way, was played by Ray Bolger, who went on to do two episodes of "Fantasy Island" and two episodes of "The Love Boat" - versatility, thy name is Bolger).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld