Saturday, December 30, 2006
Solving time: untimed (fastish)
Still jetlagged. Watched two full hours of TLC's "What Not To Wear" last night, and I'm still not sure why. Inertia? Got up at ridiculously late hour, and am just now getting around to blogging today's puzzle, which I did in bed last night. Puzzle was slightly easy for a Saturday, with no real killer areas. In fact, nothing stalled my forward progress until I hit the NE, where a couple of the longish down clues eluded me and I had to wait patiently for answers to reveal themselves. All in all, a very enjoyable experience, with some fantastic fill that I've never seen before. We'll start in the southeast, which I finished first, and in as fast a time as I've Ever completed a quadrant of a Saturday puzzle. For posterity's sake, I need to mention the weird death trinity that's all over the news in these final hours of 2006: Gerald Ford, James Brown, and (newly added) Saddam Hussein. I have nothing to say, except that, as far as these particular contestants are concerned, in the categories of "Ways I'd like to die" and "People I wish I'd known," Hussein places Dead Last.
42A: "_____ Bayou" (1997 Samuel L. Jackson film) [Eve's]
Just the sight of the year "1997" freaks me out, both because it was a horrible year in my life for reasons too horribly personal to get into, and because in 36 hours it will be 2007, making 1997 seem like ancient history. I remember when decades seemed like huge swatches of time, but I submit that there has been hardly any substantial change in taste / fashion in the past decade. Everyone has a cell phone now, and iPods are insanely popular, but other than that ... styles are only slightly different. It's like we're asymptotically approaching the End of History. I demand more historical change. Where's my jetpack!?
Where was I? Oh, right, Samuel Jackson. I - like most of the world - never saw this movie, but I remembered the title, which made this answer a gimme and provided a massive gateway into the SE - as big a gateway as a four-letter answer can open. The "V" helped. I believe that I filled in the entirety of the SE quadrant, including all three 9-letter Acrosses, in about 30 seconds. Many nice things about this quadrant, including the stacked business-speak of 49A: Business letter abbr. (enc.) and 53A: Subject preceder (in re:), and the double-z goodness of 56A: Last N.L. pitcher to win 30 games in a season (1934) [Dizzy Dean], the clue to which functions as a nice mini-lecture. I doubted the rightness of DIZZY DEAN a few times, when I couldn't make the Down cross at the first "Z" (37D: Financially struggling) form any kind of reasonable answer. With just -EZED at the end of an 8-letter entry, I started thinking that the answer must be IN THE RED (which would have fit and been an awesome answer, frankly), but that conflicted with the "Z," which sent me searching for DIZZY's brother's name, which my brain couldn't turn up (Paul, nicknamed "Daffy"). Eventually worked my way through -EEZED words to get SQUEEZED, which is a wicked long one-syllable word.
Lastly, re: the SE quadrant, I like that 59A: Didn't stir at the right time? (overslept) is counter-echoed (yes, that's a word ... now) in the NW by 17A: Revelation (eye-opener), a phrase I hear every week on one of my yoga DVDs, at the point when I "sit back on your heels, coming into a toe stretch ... if this is an EYE-OPENER for you," you can wuss out and point your toes straight back behind you and Then sit down on your heels. I do not wuss out. OK, seriously, where was I?
34D: Cry while shaking (It's a deal)
28D: Childish retort (Does too!)
13D: Surfing mecca (Internet)
I want to call attention to a few trends in cluing and filling, trends that are starting to become a bit well-worn and tired. I love the cluing on IT'S A DEAL, but that phrase has shown up, either exactly in this form or slightly modified (or partial), at least a couple of times since I began this blog. Long answer, lots of common letters, so I see the appeal. And the misdirective cluing helps, but still, I'm putting that phrase on notice. It seems that every week brings some new variation on the "childish retort" clue / answer (ME TOO, AM SO, DO NOT, DOES SO, etc.). I don't dislike this convention, but it's becoming a bit ... common. Speaking of common, I want to suggest a moratorium (which I just learned how to spell properly) on allegedly cute or wannabe tricky "surfing" clues for INTERNET or other web-based answers. No one is fooled anymore. "Surfing mecca" : "INTERNET" :: "Pig's digs" : "STY" - that is all.
54A: Seat of County Clare (Ennis)
58A: Nonplus (addle)
60A: One who doesn't go past a semi? (loser)
These three answers, neatly stacked at the bottom of the SW quadrant, were squirmy and elusive ... eely, even. I had crossword stalwart YSER (51D: North Sea feeder) anchoring them all in their final positions, and I was pretty sure about 55D: Québec's _____ d'Anticosti (Ile), which gave me their penultimate letters, and still I couldn't polish them off. The LOSER answer dawned on me, but seemed awfully lame. "One who doesn't go past a semi" is someone who has WON a good deal more than she has lost. But the "O" in LOSER gave me a terminal "O" for 35D: Console maker, and NINTENDO presented itself almost immediately. ADDLE was difficult for me, as "Nonplus" is so often used to mean "not affect at all," when it really means to perplex of befuddle such that one is at a loss for words (non-plus = Nothing More to say). ADDLE suggests mental fog, not just a lack of things to say. But whatever ... the biggest problem for me down here in the SW was ENNIS, which I simply inferred; it's the name of one of the best known and prolific comics writers at the moment, Garth ENNIS. He wrote a recent Ghost Rider mini-series, which I thought was OK.
1A: Gross measure? (ick factor)
This answer makes up for the rather banal answer right underneath it (15A: Modern conversation starter (cell phone)). Of course I Googled "ick factor" immediately, wondering how in-the-language it was. Seven of the ten hits on the first page of the search involved sitcoms: specifically, either "Friends" or "Sex and the City" (ugh). Here is an interesting write-up about the phrase from ABC NewsRadio (NOT the sitcom "NewsRadio," strangely, but rather a division of ABC - Australia):
Presented by Kel Richards ["Kel," HA ha - please see fabulous Australian sitcom "Kath & Kim" to find out why I am laughing]
William Safire, in The New York Times, recently reported on the rise of the expression “the ick factor”.
He quotes a film reviewer as saying that ordinary movie-goers are put off by the ick factor in some Hollywood products. While the The Wall Street Journal says that for home-screening colon cancer testing packs to become widely used, customers have to overcome the ick factor. The word ick is first recorded in 1935 – although the variation icky seems to go back to at least 1920. It seems to be related to mean words such as “sick” and “sticky”. At first the ick and icky group of words seemed to that which is overly sweet and sentimental. But over time this meaning broadened until these words came to mean, simply, “in bad taste” or possibly “gross” or even stomach wrenching. And now it seems that the ick factor has become the new way of naming that which we don’t like.
The crazy first four letters of ICK FACTOR spawn a bunch of interest crosses, with the former Sri Lanka (2D: Orange pekoe source, formerly (Ceylon)) and slang for a thief (3D: One to watch for in a pinch? (klepto)) bookended by a pair of Icy Answers: 1D: Cold spell (Ice Age) and 4D: Weddell Sea phenomenon (floe).
22A: "_____ Ramsey" (1970's western) [Hec]
14D: Refuses to deal with (boycotts)
These two cross at the "C," which was, I believe, the very last square I filled in. "HEC Ramsey" is about as obscure a movie title as I have ever seen in the puzzle. Perhaps that's because it's NOT a movie, but a TV ... let's call it a "series," though it ran irregularly, in episodes ranging in length from 90 minutes to 2 hours, for a total of only 10 "episodes." HEC is short for HECtor. Apparently the show was a mystery / western hybrid, with a special focus on early forensics (fingerprinting and the like). The show starred Richard Boone as HEC, with Harry Morgan as "Doc" Amos Coogan - just before he got the role of a lifetime as a different kind of "Doc" on "M*A*S*H."
As for BOYCOTTS - I was kicking myself at the end of it all, because I thought the idea of a word starting "BOY" - that was not a compound word or phrase like "BOY Scout" or "BOY band" - was absurd. Can't think of Any word that starts BOY... oh right, that. BOY disturbed me so much that I started thinking 18A: Ridiculous (nutty) was wrong - I've had trouble with variations on this word before, most notably in the great NUTSY debacle of Nov. 3, 2006. Maybe NUTSO was right. Or NUTTO. Criminy, you could make up any random suffix and attach it to NUT and it might be in the language ... somewhere. But no, NUTTY was right. And in the end, with the exception of the tricky and somewhat dated TABSET (33A: It makes stops along a line), the NE was in the end little more than a sheep in wolf's clothing. Speaking of wolves, our Frontier flight from Denver back to Philadelphia had "Lobo," the grey wolf, on the tail fin (and on the .... ailons? What do you call the little fins on the ends of the wings?). Sahra got me a wolves calendar for Xmas. She knows how much I love wolves, especially those of the were- variety. "Lobo" helped us escape Denver Just ahead of the second snow storm in less than a week. I better call my snowbound family and make sure they're OK.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld