MONDAY, Dec. 11, 2006 - David J. Kahn

Monday, December 11, 2006

Solving time: 4:46

THEME: Rita Moreno answer to 59A: Star born on 12/11/1931

Happy 75th Birthday, Rita Moreno! What a great idea for a puzzle - if I were she, I would be blown away with honor (if that's an expression).

Today's puzzle = The Wrath of Kahn, Part II (see Part I, yesterday). But this time, less wrath, more pure puzzle pleasure. An amazing SEVEN symmetrically arranged theme answers, including a 15-letter answer across the middle. This is my favorite Monday puzzle of all time. Or of all time since I started writing this blog. I have very strong feelings about the long theme answer - ELECTRIC COMPANY (36A: Album for which 59-Across won a Grammy, 1972, with "The"). It's the children's show to which I am, by far, the most deeply attached. That show represents a time when TV didn't hate kids (so much) and the people at the CTW believed that learning could and should be fun and that the best way to reach kids is Not To Insult Their Intelligence. Rita Moreno! Bill Cosby! (see 38D: Comedian Bill, informally (Cos) - nice touch! He even intersects ELECTRIC COMPANY!), Morgan @#$#-in' Freeman as Easy Reader! Crazy skits and kids in ridiculous outfits dancing and singing about the "CH-" sound. Occasional appearances by Spiderman. And then their own homegrown superhero, Letterman! THE Letterman! So much fun for a kid's brain. This kid's brain, anyway. I learned to read and count and love TV from watching the ELECTRIC COMPANY. My mom loves to tell the story of how every time I heard those kids shout "Hey You Guys...!" (at the beginning of most episodes), I would come Running from wherever I was in the house and stand, close and unblinking, right in front of the TV set, and would remain standing for the whole half hour unless my mom physically backed me up and sat me down. This is when I was 2, 3, 4 years old. Everything I Need To Know I Learned From The ELECTRIC COMPANY. In fact, this blog, now that I think of it, is deeply indebted to the ELECTRIC COMPANY. Why? Because the very idea that being intellectual and being fun and irreverent might go together - I got that from ELECTRIC COMPANY (Not "Sesame Street," which, no offense, I thought was a show for slow kids). You can take your fun seriously without compromising the fun - all with a spirit of inclusion and freedom and liberty and justice for all. If anything about the 70's was worthwhile, it was the ELECTRIC COMPANY (see also "Schoolhouse Rock"). Sincerely, Ms. Moreno, wherever you are, Happy Birthday, and thanks for the inspiration.

22A: Having a ghost (haunted)
24D: Phantom (specter)

Is there a theme here? A subtheme? These two 7-letter answers, which kiss each other in the upper center of the puzzle, are just two examples of the fabulous long(er) fill (6+ letters) in this puzzle (nice to see on a Monday). I especially like CARHOP (7D: Server at a drive-in) and DEARIE (47D: Little loved one) because they feel like visitors from another era. I'M LOST (46D: "This is not making sense to me") is great, though not apt for this reasonably easy puzzle. The symmetrical long Downs STATE TREES (3D: Ohio's buckeye, California's redwood, etc.) and HEAVY LINES (29D: Map borders, usually) play nicely off one another, both because they are twin 5+5 / adj + pl. noun answers, and because they sound like they could be the names of some indie rock band and its debut album (whether the band would be the TREES or the LINES, I don't know).

Speaking of musical acts, it's good to see rap stars L-RON (53D: Scientologist _____ Hubbard) and T-NUT (57D: Carpenter's metal piece) out promoting their new album, RARIN' (48D: _____ to go (eager)). Look for it in stores tomorrow.

STUFF I DIDN'T KNOW

Always bad not to know stuff on a Monday. Never heard of TEMA (35A: Melodic subject, in music), which I'm guessing is just some foreign word for "theme." You know, I think that's it for today. Not bad. Actually, I probably inferred and / or never looked at T-NUT. Don't know that I could pick one out of a line-up.

Along with TEMA, we get some other nice Classical Music answers here, including 53A: Milan opera house (La Scala), 54D: Opera set in the age of pharaohs (Aida) [presumably not these pharaohs], and 32A: Debussy's "La _____" (Mer) (which I think I'll put on ... now). Wow ... AIDA and LA SCALA intersect in this puzzle, and AIDA opened the 2006-07 season at LA SCALA just four days ago! Niiice.

[late addendum: this breaking AIDA news is awesome! Thanks to Andrew for pointing it out. See also these pictures from opening night.]

57A (THEME): Play for which 59-Across won a Tony, 1975 (The Ritz)

The only one of the theme answers I'd never heard of (well, I've heard of The Ritz, but usually in relation to hotels, I think). Oh, but I do know the song "Puttin' on the Ritz," of course. The Taco version. Whatever happened to Taco? While I'm sure Ms. Moreno was Fabulous in "The Ritz," It's hard to believe she could ever top her work on THE MUPPET SHOW (25A: TV program for which 59-Across won an Emmy, 1977). That's a pretty high bar.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

10 comments:

Orange 1:54 PM  

My mom was amazed at how I sat transfixed in front of Sesame Street. And I was not a slow child...not that there's anything wrong with that.

Do you have The Electric Company on DVD? There's a woman on the show whom I don't recognize, but good gravy, those are some short, short skirts she wears! Why don't I remember my dad wanting to watch the show? (Probably because he wasn't home on weekdays and VCRs didn't exist yet.)

Chris 2:52 PM  

Last night was the first I'd ever heard of the Electric Company (aside from an actual electric company). I assumed it was a disco album or something. Guess not.

Rex Parker 3:02 PM  

Either you are very young or very old. There was very funky music on "The Electric Company," but not disco, that I remember.

DA 5:27 PM  

Keep up the stellar blogging Rex, and you never know - the Times may run a tribute puzzle to your Highness in 38 years' time.

Howard B 6:00 PM  

I alternated between Sesame Street and the Electric Co. as a kid - gave me that ever-so-important well-rounded preschool background which is vital to get into the best kindergarten.

Ah, who am I kidding? I just toddled around and occasionally tried to eat non-edible things, just like everyone else.
Right? *crickets* Right?!?

Spiderman... Nobody knows who you are! (That's all I can remember without actually going and looking it all up).

Rex Parker 7:25 PM  

When I see a puzzle wherein HARVEY PEKAR crosses KELLY CLARKSON, then I will know that the constructor is at least thinking of me, if not paying tribute, exactly.

My prejudice against "Sesame Street," I regret to say, may have been based on the fact that the show used ordinary (Very ordinary) kids in some segments. I always felt like the muppets were kinda condescending to the clearly slow kids, who I'm sure didn't know it, but still, I felt bad for everyone involved, even at the age of 4. that's the main thing - I always found SS (unfortunate abbreviation!) condescending, where E.C. seemed pitched just Over my head, which made me respect it. Plus it was just a hell of a lot more fun. Seriously, I hated Big Bird. Still creeps me out. You're a grown @#$@#-ing bird, why don't you try taking care of yourself instead of whimpering and whining and getting lost and looking for Gordon and Maria to make it all better...

RP

Howard B 9:31 PM  

Quick recap (just got back from traffic hell and need to vent):

1) Agree on Big Bird, s/he is a tad eerie, and 2) for all Sesame Street's perceived shortcomings, I'd be willing to wager that Oscar the Grouch would whoop any character or cast member of the Electric Co. including Spidey, if it came down to it. Yoda teaches us all that you just don't mess with the little green guy - especially if he has some potentially explosive anger management issues.

Don't even get me started on the Count.

Anonymous 12:54 PM  

4D: One taking a big bow (bass fiddle).
4Down has 9 spaces and BassFiddle has 10 letters

Rex Parker 3:05 PM  

Anonymous -

You are referencing a puzzle from Sunday. This is the comments section for Last Monday. But regarding your question, or assertion: you are correct. And yet that is the answer... if you look at the grid and/or read the commentary, it should all be clear.

Linda G 2:05 PM  

This was quite fun -- happy belated birthday, Ms. Moreno. I can only hope to look that good at 75.

I grew up with the Mickey Mouse Club, so never had the pleasure of seeing EC. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through all of your comments. Sure I would have loved it.

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