Saturday, December 2, 2006
Solving time: 51:34
I have it on good authority that Bob Klahn is "pretty much the hardest there is," and after last night's 15-round bout with the Saturday puzzle, I'm inclined to agree. I won the bout, in a split decision, but it was something of a Pyrrhic victory. I'm bruised and bloodied, and partially BOWed. It's especially humbling to look at a completed grid that has just slapped you around for something close to an hour and realize "wait a minute ... this doesn't look that hard. What the hell just happened?" I respect a puzzle that can beat me up with minimal esoterica. There are about three answers here that I think are a bit out-there, but that's not very many for a Saturday.
Blogger is fritzing like crazy again - I'm currently composing this entry using two browsers simultaneously. I feel, therefore, that today, I will be brief, if only to keep from smashing my computer (luckily, all humanity besides myself is currently out of the house, so if I do lose it - no witnesses but the animals).
15A: "The Green Hornet" trumpeter (Hirt)
I have got to get my hands on episodes of this show, because between HIRT and KATO (the Hornet's manservant?), it's all up in my puzzle on a routine basis. I was very grateful for this tiny 4-letter gimme (a gimme only because I've seen it twice in other puzzles recently). There were, let's see ... about six true gimmes in the puzzle, all of them sadly short. I got 51A: Actress Petty of "A League of Their Own" (Lori), 45A: Alexander Pope's "Solitude," e.g. (ode), 21A: Battle of Endor fighter (Ewok) ("Nerd!"), 46A: Unlocked? (bald), and 25A: Anita Loos's autobiographical "A _____ Like I" (Girl) with no problem, though I got that last one only through inference, not from any great familiarity with the literary corpus of Ms. Loos. You'd think with six gimmes in a Saturday, you'd be on the road to victory, and not hell.
37A: Saxophonist great, familiarly (Trane)
This is what I'd call a near-gimme, as the first thing I thought was TRANE ... but then I reflected on my appalling ignorance of jazz and hesitated a bit. Finally, as I had almost nothing entered on the entire grid, I put in TRANE, just to feel a sense of accomplishment. Luckily, I was right. I don't have any Coltrane handy, so I'm going to put on Dexter Gordon. . . there we go. Haven't blogged to jazz saxophone before. It's kind of nice. I don't feel nearly as murderous as I have lately.
26A: Lots (a good many)
Straightforward. Eventually I had AGOOD-, so how hard could it be to fill out? Very, when the only phrase your head can possibly imagine going there is AGOODDEAL. Not sure which sounds more priggish and old-fashioned - think I'd call it a tie - but -MANY is at least as common, if not more so, than -DEAL. So I ended up playing my own private, sad (though mercifully Mandel-free) version of Deal or No Deal? The only thing keeping me from writing in DEAL was 27D: Kind of bean: I had a 4-ltr word ending -UNG, and -DEAL would have given me DUNG, which is not a bean I'd eat. I knew it had to be MUNG, and yet ... A GOOD M-, A GOOD M-, A GOOD M-; I said it aloud and still couldn't find the right phrase. So implausible, and yet true.
18A: Roosevelt Island locale (Antarctica)
I had only one thought upon solving this: "Mae West was imprisoned in ANTARCTICA!?!?!" (see 53A here)
19A: Boxer on the cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (Liston)
Can you find him? I think he's on the far left there. I love this answer for two reasons. First, I love any time I learn some new piece of pop-culture-y trivia. Really, if you haven't guessed by now, the pop culture references in NYT puzzles are my bread-and-butter, so the more I know the stronger I am. The second reason I love this answer: it crosses with 1D: Name shared by a Grace and a Muse (Thalia). So what? you ask. What's so meaningful about that? Well, let me put it another way: LISTON gets crossed in the head by TH ALI A.
47A: Hybrid women's clothing (skorts)
First thing I thought of was PANTSUIT, for some reason. Then I thought SKORT, but not imagining a plural, I abandoned it for a while. There were two others that I knew and abandoned (34A: Light housecoats (dusters) and 34D: Toaster setting? (dais)) - and somehow all of these answers connect, in my mind, to my friend Shaun (female). How? Well Shaun owned at least one SKORT. I know that I learned the word in the 90's sometime because I probably commented, "What the hell are you wearing? I can see up your skirt, but this time it's just no fun." OK, fine, but where do DUSTERS and DAIS come in? Well, they don't, exactly, but the reason I would not enter either one was because of the evilest clue/answer in the puzzle (for me, a non-card-player): 36A: Third highest trump in card games (basta). I wanted DAIS so bad, but that would have put (rightly, it turns out) an A in the second position of the trump answer, and I knew that there are no five-letter words for a playing card that have an "A" in that position: the only candidates, in my feeble mind, were THREE, SEVEN, EIGHT, and QUEEN. Clearly BASTA was not on my radar, which is why this intersection on the grid, where NE divides into SE and SW (always bad when someone stops in the middle of an intersection!) was the last thing in the puzzle to fall. Oh, right, how does this connect to Shaun? Well, in searching for BASTA after completing the puzzle, I came across a page detailing the game of "Ombre" (card game with trumps, like Spades or Hearts) that is played in Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock." Shaun studied Restoration and 18th-c. literature in grad school, so when I think of Pope (like it or not, Shaun), I think of her.
28A: Musical notation pioneer (Guido)
25D: English composer of the opera "The Perfect Fool" (Gustav Holst)
47D: GE Building muralist (Sert)
12D: One making excuses (Alibi Ike)
Well here's an interesting cast of characters, only one of whom (HOLST) I was familiar with before this puzzle (though I have a nagging suspicion that I have seen SERT lurking in a corner of my crossword before). I will confess now that I did not know HOLST was English. I knew he wrote "The Planets," and that is that. I probably heard GUIDO's name once while listening to lectures on early music (part of a great set of lectures on CD that my mom once gave me). Didn't help me here. My favorite of this little posse of relative obscurities is ALIBI IKE. I Like ALIBI IKE. Holy moses it's the name of a movie about baseball... hang on ... it's a Ring Lardner short story-turned-1935 movie starring Olivia de Havilland! Description, from imdb:
Rookie pitcher Francis "Ike" Farrell comes seemingly out of nowhere to help the Cubs go for the pennant. His idiosyncratic ways, which include excuses and alibis for everything, drive his manager and fiancee crazy in this baseball farce.And thus the United States survived the Great Depression with a smile. I do think that ALIBI IKE needs to be remade as a modern kid ("this century's Dennis the Menace") who weasels his way out of blame for the increasingly criminal things he does. "That hobo was dead when I got here, ma. Honest!"
52A: Park Avenue retailer? (auto dealer)
50D: Grand finale? (dee)
54A: Not the biggest thoroughfare in town (stop street)
Curse all of these answers! I entered that SW corner (eventually), with the front ends of three of the 10-ltr crosses in place, but only solved one of them. Had the AUTO- in AUTODEALER and the STOP- in STOPSTREET, and thought it looked like some kind of car theme was going on, but damned if I could figure it out. I have never heard the expression "stop street," and as of this second don't know exactly what it means. Turns out to be very banal and obvious: "A street intersection at which a vehicle must come to a complete stop before entering a through street" (freedictionary.com). But even when I had the whole puzzle filled in, I couldn't figure out the logic of AUTODEALER or DEE? There are auto dealers on Park Avenue? And what the hell is a GRANDDEE? Of course a "Park Avenue" is a make of AUTO (a Buick) and DEE is the @#$#-ing last letter, or "finale," of "grand." Doesn't help much to discern the logic After the puzzle is over. That's all; I'm off to smoke an EL ROPO (39D: Cheap cigar, slangily) over a tasty meal of SWISSCHARD (5A: Leaves for dinner), followed by a WINECOOLER (16A: Mixed drink?) and AMARETTO (33D: Alabama slammer ingredient) in quick succession - "sweet liquor eases the pain."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld