Sunday, November 19, 2006
Solving time: about 40 min (explanation below)
THEME: "What's More" - theme answers are familiar phrases that have "er" added to make modified phrases, e.g. 38A: Stalwart plumber's credo? (The Show, er, [shower] Must Go On)
I tried to solve this last night while sitting in front of Taxi Driver, which I hadn't seen in years, and so I kept stopping to watch (it was on AMC, so slightly edited, but not much - my wife had somehow never seen this movie and was engrossed, by which I mean she did not fall asleep even though the movie went past 10pm). Being distracted by the movie also made me totally lose focus in the far North of the puzzle (discussed below), where I stared at near-blankness for what seemed like forever (reality = 10-15 minutes) because no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times I went Through The Alphabet, I just could not see what turned out to be a very ordinary, obvious answer. So I started doubting perfectly correct crosses and ended up with the inky mess you can see on my grid. And it turns out that only one of the words up there is particularly obscure or difficult. Ugh. More on Taxi Driver later in the commentary.
As far as the theme: Not sure how I feel. It's not terribly complicated. I think I would have loved it, actually, if all of the ER's had been medial; if the theme is "WHAT'S MORE," then there should be MORE after the ER - and yet 17D: Rooster? (Chicken Broth, ER), 23A: 33.8 ounces? (American Lit, ER), 52D: Like some C.S.I. evidence? (Caught in a fib, ER), and 83A: Oddly colored shoe? (Olive loaf, ER) all have their ER's at the end. I just this second realized that the ER might be simply the -ER suffix associated with comparative adjectives, e.g. fastER, longER, strongER - where I'd been thinking all along that it was the sound of hesitation in speech, used when one is thinking of what to say NEXT. Hmmm. My way is better, but the simple -ER suffix way seems to have been what was intended. I don't really get what's clever about it, but whatever.
1A: Most distant (iciest)
1D: Eastern inn (imaret)
The yin and yang of my puzzle solving experience are encapsulated here within these far northwestern crosses. ICIEST was a bold initial and correct guess, whereas IMARET ... is still not in my vocabulary. I would like someone to write a poem in which IMARET is made to rhyme with IN A PET (84D). By the way, IMARET means "an inn or hostel for pilgrims in Turkey."
7A: Big Twelve team (Kansas)
21A: Philippine port (Il Oilo)
Ah, the icy North, or "Calgary," of this puzzle. When I see "Big Twelve team" I think GIMME! But because I had Taxi Driver on in the background, and, more importantly, because I had that final "S" in Kansas first, I assumed (ASSumed) that the answer was a plural and was therefore the team name, e.g. Longhorns, Jayhawks, etc. Since neither 7D: Light (kindle) nor 9D: Harmful (noisome) would come to me, I had the following for 7A: "_ A _ S A S" - which, when you look at it, when I look at it now, screams KANSAS. But I believed the answer to be a plural, not a state name, and so I tried to remember all the teams in the Big Twelve, blanked on half, started throwing in teams from the SEC for some reason ... disaster. Even after I got the "N" from NOISOME, I was still lost. Still not sure how I finally got the initial "K" to come into view. The whole experience might have been considerably shorter if it hadn't been for the wretched IL OILO, an answer which, when you Google it within quotation marks, yields only 156 hits. You heard me: ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-SIX. That's a "port" that BARELY EXISTS!!!! EL PASO gets 19.7 MILLION hits. LA PAZ gets almost 4.4 million. IL OILO, I repeat, gets 156, or .000156 million. Whoops, it just went up to 158 somehow! "IL OILO: A City on the ... Grow!" [late addendum: Iloilo is ONE WORD and it's a Philippines province. It's still terribly obscure by N. American standards, but not 156/158 Google hits obscure]
16D: John of "Freaky Friday," 1977 (Astin)
OK, I don't know who this is, but I do know that Jodie Foster was in Freaky Friday, just as she was in Taxi Driver a year earlier. Watching her scenes in Taxi Driver last night was a lot of fun. She was an astonishingly good actor for being, whatever she was, 13? 14? She doesn't have that many scenes, but the one scene of her and DeNiro in the diner having breakfast - where he tries to convince her that she needs to be "saved" from prostitution, while she pokes holes in his logic, in between playing with her peanut butter sandwich and switching in and out of different wacky sunglasses - is enough to see how talented she was. I like that she was tough and mature, but in this very limited way, where she couldn't quite disguise the fact that there was an actual (allegedly) 12-year-old girl behind the street-smart facade. In that one scene alone she seems to be 20 one moment, 10 the next. Great, great (if disturbing) stuff.
13A: Last of the Minor Prophets (Malachi)
Had the first three letters of this one and then just guessed - correctly, it turns out. I have no familiarity with the "Minor Prophets." I'm shaky enough on the Major Prophets as it is. But I do know something (however limited) about 1980s horror movies, and I know that the leader of the Children of the Corn was named "Malachi" (in the movie credits, it's spelled with a penultimate "A," but so what). I never saw that movie, or its sequels, because even the cheesiest horror films scare the hell out of me. But I appreciated the Children of the Corn ads for their camp value.
95A: Karate teacher (sensei)
Sahra was awarded a Yellow Belt by her SENSEI this past Friday after passing her test, a moment that made her light up like a Christmas tree.
114A: And others (et alii)
Well, yes, technically, but who writes / says ET ALII? It's ET AL., right? They mean the same thing, the latter being simply a conveniently shortened version of the former. Since this grid is mostly free of obscurities and Forced Fill, ET ALII is perfectly palatable to me, as archaisms go. Tastes a hell of a lot better than IL OILO, I'll tell you that. The part of my brain that does cryptic crosswords wants to clue ET ALII in a way that exploits the happy conjunction of Greek letter ETA and Roman numeral LII.
73D: Film company (AGFA)
Rejected corporate catchphrase #483: "AGFA - it's Pig Latin for 'Fag!'"
104D: Captain of the Nautilus (Nemo)
I love me some Captain Nemo. Screw that clown fish, this is the real Nemo. I had to write an article on "Revenge" once, and Nemo was one of my primary literary examples. Here's what I said:
In Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the mysteriously vengeful Captain Nemo [...] chooses an alias that in Latin means "no one"; Edmond Dantes [The Count of Monte Cristo] and Gully Foyle [The Stars My Destination] take on new names; and Batman struggles to conceal his real name. Part of this name-hiding is strategic, but symbolically it represents the powerful capacity of the quest for revenge to overcome and change the very nature of the avenger.In Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, we know that Nemo is vengeful, but against whom, and why, we have no idea. Apparently the original manuscript had Nemo as a Polish nobleman who wanted revenge against the Russians for the death of his wife and child during the Polish insurrection of the 1860s - but the publisher nixed that idea, and Nemo's motivations remained hidden (though we do know he lost his family). The sequel to 20,000 Leagues, entitled The Mysterious Island, reveals Nemo to be an Indian prince whose anger is fueled by the British conquest of India. He builds an electric submarine, the Nautilus, and travels the world "battling injustice, especially slavery" (Wikipedia). He is a great, imperious, enigmatic character, and one of the models for the antagonist in the greatest revenge movie ever made, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. "Khan!"
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld