SUNDAY, Nov. 5, 2006 - Derrick Niederman

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Solving time: 45:36

THEME: "Missing Links" - Theme answers are clued with familiar two-word phrases with a "_____" in between; answers are a chain of words linking one word in the clue with the other. E.g. 59A: Orange _____ Bowl (JuliusCaesarSalad) => Orange Julius, Julius Caesar, Caesar Salad, Salad Bowl.

Don't like fussy grids, and this one is very fussy. Too many little words, too many nooks and crannies, corners with little narrow one-square-width openings that are hard to work your way into. I did, however, like this theme, which is odd because usually I don't like theme answers that are, well, fussy, like this one, where middles of long answers are dependent not on the clue itself but on words in the grid that are built off the clue. I do wish the theme had been more elegantly expressed. I thought at first the answers were all going to be two-word phrases, like 25A: White ____ House (Christmas Tree), and would thus look like ordinary fill in many ways [also loved that the White House has a Christmas tree, the ceremonial lighting of which is a TV staple every year]. Many answers were like this, but others, like the "Orange ____ Bowl" example above, were longer. That's fine, I guess, but then there's 98A: e ____ Bay (G-Strings UpSet Back), which has two problems, or at least inconsistencies. First, eBay is not a two-word phrase (neither, by the way, is 106D: Buck ____ eye (Private), the answer to which, by the way, should have been NAKED). Second, UP functions as a single word in the phrase STRINGS UP but as the first syllable in a compound word in UPSET. They aren't terrible, these anomalies. In fact, I guess they aren't anomalies. The theme just involves linking parts of phrases with other phrases, and "part" is broadly construed. OK. Not sure why I wanted greater elegance and a higher degree of constructor difficulty, but I did. Still, as I said, I really enjoyed the process of figuring out the theme answers (though it was slower going than I would have liked).

Saw Flushed Away yesterday with Sahra after her karate practice. The movie was recommended to me recently by Someone I Know, and it turned out to be a pretty good recommendation. The story was pretty dumb, but everything involving music was seriously entertaining, and the animation was astounding (though I'm getting used to that by now). There are recurrent singing slugs in this movie, which function something like a Greek chorus, and somehow I Never got tired of them. There's also a Tom Jones impersonation, hilarious if cheaply JINGOistic anti-French comedy, and Ian McKellen as a Creepy Toad who keeps his Many tadpole offspring in jars of, er, water, I guess, around his compound (though it felt not paternal but ... more like when Howard Hughes went crazy and began saving his urine in jars around the house). I was somehow a little bit attracted to the female lead in this movie. She was a rat. In my defense, I think my attraction was based largely on her British accent, which reminded me of my lovely wife's pseudo-British Kiwi twang. Yes. Yes, that's a plausible excuse.

27A: Moved to and fro (wigwagged)

Yuck yuck yuck. This gets 10,300 Google hits, where ZIGZAGGED gets over 200,000. For good reason. Nobody says WIGWAGGED. Nobody nowhere notime. A WIGWAG is a railroad crossing signal with pendulum action, which must be where the ridiculous verb comes from. These signals have not been used in new installations for over 60 years (alternating red lights became the new, presumably more effective norm). Now that I know the word is based on an actual piece of machinery, and isn't just rank silliness, I feel a little better. But not much. Is this where the term "To Wig Out" comes from? I lived in a dorm called WIG once. I assume it was some rich donor's name.

39D: Singer Mann (Aimee)

LOVE her. Own many of her albums. She used to be the singer of 'Til Tuesday, which had one major hit in the 80's called "Voices Carry." Her solo work is fantastic. I highly recommend I'm With Stupid and Bachelor No. 2. Mann is married to Michael Penn (at least she was last I checked), who is the brother of the other famous Penns, including the one that died recently of a heart attack at the very early age of 40. If that is depressing, so is Ms. Mann's music. But it's gorgeous and moving and not mopey and annoying. Listening to "I've Had It" right Now. Mmmm, soundtrack-y.

42A (THEME): Double _____ play (CrossWord)

Tee hee! Good one! Very meta.

53A: Ultrapatriot (jingo)

Perhaps it seems obvious to others, but I've never thought of this as a stand-alone word. I know JINGOism and JINGOistic, but I don't know that I've ever heard anyone called a JINGO (sounds like a racial epithet, somehow). Here is the definition from the OED:

3. A nickname for those who supported and lauded the policy of Lord Beaconsfield in sending a British fleet into Turkish waters to resist the advance of Russia in 1878; hence, one who brags of his country's preparedness for fight, and generally advocates or favours a bellicose policy in dealing with foreign powers; a blustering or blatant ‘patriot’; a Chauvinist.
The term "Jingo" seems to have gained its modern meaning from a very specific music-hall song of the late 19th century that supported Britain's going to war vs. Russia. Lyrics: "We don't want to fight, yet by Jingo! if we do, We've got the ships, we've got the men, and got the money too." No relation to the popular party game JENGA.

69A: Bruin (UCLAn)

I know a number of people who have attended UCLA. I nearly went to grad school there myself. I have not heard a student or grad of that university referred to as a UCLAN (if, as I assume, it is meant to be pronounced "Yoo'-klan" - which makes me think of one of my favorite baseball players, and favorite baseball names: Kevin YOUKILIS!! He is a dead ringer for one of those thick-necked, badly shaven, cigar-chewing construction workers in old Bugs Bunny cartoons, specifically "Homeless Hare"; or one of the cheating, thuggish ball players from "Baseball Bugs"). Maybe it's meant to be pronounced letter by letter. There is a reason that people from UCLA are referred to as Bruins. I mean, you don't call a USC student an USCAN. It's Trojan. Bruin. Wolverine!

76A (THEME): Easter ____ bunny (Seals Off Key Chain Saw Dust)

Very nice - my problem here was that I am apparently exposed to too much contemporary, pseudo-hip-hop slang, and so when I had OFF ___ CHAIN, I thought for sure that the link was THE, as in the expression "OFF THE CHAIN," which succeeded "OFF THE HOOK" as a way of denoting that a party or game or other event was most excellent indeed.

95A: Skater Slutskaya (Irina)

Started with ELANA here and then corrected myself as needed. She has the word SLUT in her name. I just felt like pointing that out. Makes me giggle.

106A: Alternatives (Plan B's)

Though this probably isn't that clever or unusual, I love it ... although it's one of those phrases that sounds odd pluralized, like it should be PLANS B, like COURTS MARTIAL. Speaking of PLAN B, it is the name of an semi-apocalyptic novel by the late, great writer Chester Himes. Himes ditched the US in the 50s to live in Europe where, as a disaffected African-American, he had much more success and experienced much less day-to-day racism than he had in the States. Strangely, his success in France with his crime novels about Harlem detectives Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones ignited his American popularity, and his books came out in mass-market paperback editions here through the 1960s. His final, posthumously-published novel, Plan B, (fore-?) told of a society where racism could be overcome only by (very) violent rebellion. "Can't we all just get along?" Apparently not.

114A: Thickening agent (agar)

Thank god for this solidly Pantheonistic word, because it was about the only way I was going to weasel my way in to that troublesome SW corner, where 114D: Fleet of ships (argosy) was hiding behind the (wrong) ARMADA, and obscure legalese - 116D: One who suspends an action, at law (abator) - intersected numismatics - 134A: Like the 1915 San Francisco Mint $50 gold coin (octagonal). This corner is also about to teach me what a "bola" is: 115D: Bola user (gaucho). Ooh, the definition is cool (from Wikipedia):
Bolas (from Spanish bola, "ball", also known as boleadoras) are a throwing weapon ... made of weights on the ends of interconnected cords, designed to capture animals by entangling their legs... Gauchos use bolas to capture running cattle or game.
Here we see someone lovingly fondling GAUCHOS' bolas. Which one(s) will (s)he choose?
10D: Where streets meet: Abbr. (COR)

Ew, this one stinks. COR, I'm sure. Who abbreviates a street corner "COR?" This answer can only be INT for INTersection. COR is forced horridness.

13D: Contents of some patches (pawpaws)

As far as I know, the PAWPAW patch is a mythical place from some nursery rhyme I can't identify. So let me see what I've been missing... OK, so they are some kind of fruit, and seem particularly popular in Australia. This man, from Perth, seems to love his pawpaws quite a bit - maybe even more than the person pictured above loves his/her bolas.
16D: Darns (sews)

Maybe I would like the Sunday puzzle better if my printer didn't make everything so tiny. Numbers on the grid are hard to read, and lowercase "rn" can Easily look like an "m," which is what happened here. So, because I had ZIGZAGGED instead of WIGWAGGED (see above) I initially had SEZS here, and could not figure out what kind of dams those could be. Were they the kind of dams that held back water? Were they animal mothers of some kind? No, no. I just couldn't read the damned cramped type. "Darns" = SEWS = Monday puzzle stuff.

64D: "The Thin Man" pooch (Asta)

"Arf! I'm back! Arf! I'm everywhere! Arf! You thought you'd take me for a "ride in the country" and that would be the end of me? Arf! Stupid human! You can't kill me! I'm ASTA! Arf!"

126D: U-shaped river bend (Oxbow)

This was tricky, as I had the very reasonable-seeming ELBOW there for a good long time. The only thing I know about OXBOW is that there was an "Incident" there, once, I think, in a novel or movie.

127D: Civvies (mufti)

This makes me laugh because there was a mythical group around the five-college campuses called MUFTI whose sole purpose, it seems, was sticking enigmatic bumper stickers all over campus without being detected. Legend had it that the only way to become a member of MUFTI was to catch a member of MUFTI in the act of MUFTI-zing college property. I never saw the draw. Why natural selection didn't kill them off I'll never know. For all I know they still exist. Or else one very lonely professor continues to propagate the myth of their existence because particle physics or Peloponnesian History has long ceased to give his life its needed sizzle.

131D: When repeated, a top five hit of 1968 or 1987 (Mony)

OK, since you mentioned 1987 (year I graduated from high school), I am required (by my own set of internal laws) to comment. As I understand it, Billy Idol lost his virginity (possibly in the back seat of a car) while this song was on the radio, and that is why he decided to cover it later in his life. It is not my favorite Billy Idol song, but it'll do when no other Billy Idol song is around. "White Wedding" is very nice, but my favorite may be "Dancing With Myself," which, despite the fact that the title may in some way contain a not-so-thinly veiled reference to masturbation, is (coincidentally) the opening musical number in Flushed Away. You may now all admire the fabulous symmetry of this puzzle commentary.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

3 comments:

Stephen 1:03 PM  

When I think of pawpaw, I think of the song "Bare Necessities" from Disney's Jungle Book, with these lyrics:

Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear
Try to use the claw
But you don't need to use the claw
When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw
Have I given you a clue ?

Rex Parker 1:17 PM  

Stephen,

That may be the best comment ever left at this site. I must find that song now. Excuse me.

RP

Orange 3:09 PM  

1. Rita the mouse/rat had such fetching pants, a can-do attitude, the voice of Kate Winslet, and boobs unlike any rodent I've ever seen. Of course you liked her.

2. Never seen WIGWAGGED before, but it's in the dictionary, ergo fair game for crosswords. Doesn't mean you have to like it, but nobody's going to apologize for it, either.

3. I'm sad to say that I've heard the phrase "by jingo" in a Raffi song. Do not seek this song out—it's not an earworm you want to have, trust me.

4. The bola and pawpaw pictures are perfect together!

5. This diagram shows how oxbows form in rivers.

6. "Dancing With Myself" is the boy version of "She-Bop."

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