SUNDAY, Dec. 10, 2006 - David J. Kahn

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Solving time: 42:59 (grrrrrrr...)

THEME: "Putting on Heirs" - Familiar phrases with SON added to create new phrases, which are clued fairly straightly, e.g. 74A (THEME): Newly mortared bricks and stones? (virgin maSONry)

[typo on the grid: 96A and 99D cross at an "A," not an "S" (thus CARIBBEAN SEASON and AERIE)]

Talk about your Wraths of Kahn. . . Let's cut to the chase - if you had serious trouble with this puzzle, I believe that I can tell you where that trouble was located, within a one-inch radius on a printed grid. Don't believe me? OK, let me show you. Here, specifically, is the region of the grid in which you crashed, and possibly burned. Let's call it the "Nashville" region of the puzzle:

59A: Bluish gray (slaty)
61D: Yellow ball (yolk)
79A: Decrees (ukases)


"How did you know that, Rex?" How? Let's see: I have two eyes, a reasonably functioning brain, and, like you (in all likelihood), have never lived in Imperial Russia and am not prone to describe colors by slangily modifying the name of a color that was Barely A Color To Begin With.

"And now, 'Inside Crossword Puzzles' - with your host SLATY UKASES. Slaty?"

"Thanks, Rex. In today's puzzle..."

I spent eternity with the much more respectable SLATE as my answer for 59A: Bluish gray, and a big hole where the "K" in UKASES should have been, which gave me the mystifying EOL_ for 61D: Yellow ball. When you are certain that SLATE is right (what else could it be? SLATX? SLATY? SLATZ? Ha ha, those are ridiculous answers) and know of no letter that could conceivably complete U_ASES, tell me, what are you supposed to do!? Seriously, I was this close to putting a "C" in the empty box, imagining that maybe, possibly, in some as yet unimagined context, there was such a thing as a U-CASE (like a combo of U-TURN and TEST CASE - "in a move that has baffled many, the president has recently decided to issue several U-CASES as a means of realizing some of the primarily goals on his agenda"). I don't remember how I was going to justify EOLC at 61D. But come on, if UKASES can be a word, why not EOLC? "Excuse me sir, have you seen my EOLC? Little yellow ball, about yay big? Means a lot to me. My dad bought it for me in LVOV. From an ORACH farmer."

So I finally removed the "E" from the SLATE / EOL_ crossing and just stared down _OL_ for a while. Yellow ball, yellow ball. Then YOLK came to me, and I knew it was right even as I contemplated the atrocities that it created. How often are your missing letters @#@#$-ing "Y" and "K"??? Usually when there are confusing crosses that result in an open mystery square, you're dealing with one of your lesser vowels, or maybe one of the RLSTN gang. But "Y" and "K" - who would guess those, unless you were trying to be goofy and wrong? I should be grateful that a reasonable clue-answer pairing ("yellow ball" / YOLK) ultimately allowed me to solve the puzzle completely. Yet somehow gratitude is not what I'm feeling. What is with the horrible hedge words that have crept into the puzzle of late. Yesterday: NEWISH. Today: SLATY. Tomorrow? HUNGRYESQUE? (probably not - not really a Monday-looking word, that one). One nice consolation - it's as if the other side of the puzzle knew how I was feeling, as my pained entry of YOLK was echoed on the puzzle's west side by BAD EGG (46D: Dishonest sort). Also nice that UKASES runs straight through FIASCO (68D: Flop).

Man, is there even anything else to say about this puzzle? Yes. Yes there is.

21A: Horse ridden by Hotspur in "King Henry IV, Part I" (Roan)

Shakespeare is all up in this puzzizzle. Here, we see a very colorful clue that ends up at a rather ordinary answer. I like this way of livening up ordinary fill. It's no substitute for great fill, but I don't mind if my common four-letter fill comes with trivia attached. Other Shakespeare answers of note include two theme entries: 65A (THEME): Some of Shakespeare's income? (SONnet profits), and 117A: Advice to Claudius, in "Hamlet"? ("Watch your stepSON"). Nailed the first one, tripped all over the second [resisting making a joke that links "tripping" with "Watch your step...." ... ah, the urge is gone]. This is perhaps because I taught all the sonnets this past term, and have not taught Hamlet since I was a TA at the University of Michigan in the Shakespeare course of renowned Beckett scholar Enoch Brater. Best Braterism: when he taught Midsummer Night's Dream, he for some reason persisted in calling Titania "TITIANA." At first, Shaun and I (both TA's) thought it was a one-time quirk, but then he kept doing it. We were like "Should we tell him? He's been teaching Shakespeare for 25 years! He must know he's butchering her name." We just kept quiet and tried to keep from getting the giggles every time he said it. Didn't help that the mispronounced TITIANA basically has "titty" in it. Oh, while we're on Shakespeare, why not also mention 35D: Adequate, old-style (enow), which Shakespeare surely used ... somewhere. Yes. Here we go. From Henry V IV.iii. Henry, refusing to wait for more men, says to Westmoreland:


If we are mark'd to die, we are ENOW
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
They guy's like an inspirational quote machine.

32A (THEME): Rev. Jesse on Sundays (JackSON-in-the-pulpit)

Took me forever, as the only "JACK-" phrases I could dredge up were JACK-IN-THE-BOX, JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, and JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES. Even after writing in the correct answer, I was a bit confused, as JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT is familiar but unidentifiable to me. Turns out, it's a plant, which you likely know. This is what one looks like:

STUFF I DIDN'T KNOW

52A: Town north of Anaheim (Brea)

There are a million towns north of Anaheim. Seattle is north of Anaheim, for god's sake. If it weren't for the tar pits, I might still be puzzling this out.

53D: Pharaoh, for one (red ant)

So many potential answers sprang to mind. This was not one of them. THEM!
81D: Barrel-shaped marine mammals (eared seals)

What lazy jackass named these poor guys? Worse - their ears aren't even that prominent. Surely a drunken Australian is to blame.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There are some interesting pairings here. FIASCO (68D: Flop) and SNAFU (12D: State of confusion), though not exactly synonyms, complement one another nicely, and, as I've already said about FIASCO, seem to comment upon my solving experience. Ditto the "Meager" twins: SCANTY (104D: Meager) and SPARSE (82D: Meager), which describe the number of bright ideas I had about fixing the "Nashville" section of the puzzle (see EOSC, above). We got not one, not two, but three encore appearances: MOOCH (86D: Sponge) and TELE (128A: TV part) were both in Friday's grid, and WOE IS I (117D: With 37-Down, popular book on grammar) was featured a very short time ago as well. We also got RAD, clued thusly: 13D: Far out. This clue / answer pairing cannot become (more) dated fast enough for me. No one has said RAD since 1992, and no one born after 1970 has ever said FAR OUT in anything but an ironic fashion. Andrew can help me with the mathematical language, but these two sets (people who say/said RAD, people who say/said FAR OUT) are almost, if not entirely, non-overlapping. Discrete (not discreet). Which Crete? DIS Crete! Sorry, the discrete/discreet homonyms amuse me no end now, for reasons which are too elaborate to go into.

Lastly, I'd like to say (H)OLLA! to Pantheon members ARIA (64D: "Di quella pira," e.g.) and ETNA (113D: 10,900-foot European peak) and Pantheon aspirants A DUE (20A: To be played in unison), AERIE (99D: High point), and ULNAE (87D: Long bones). Notice how the Pantheon members judiciously avoid mingling with the likes of SLATY and UKASES. Image is everything. Oh, and someone call the Crosswordese Retirement Home and tell them that Ms. CARA (95A: Oscar-winning Irene) has gotten out again.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

25 comments:

Anonymous 11:39 AM  

Your reviews just keep getting better. FYI, "ukase" would be an old time (Maleska era) Pantheon member, if a Pantheon existed back then. It was pretty much a "gimme" for me. "Decrees" are almost always 'edicts' or 'ukases' or 'ordains.'

The "slate/slaty" thing got me too. I think the "y"olk was the last letter I filled in.

Dave

Rex Parker 11:46 AM  

Well, that's sad (for me), as I was around during the Maleska era and yet remember nothing of Mr. UKASE. I guess I wasn't so hardcore back then. Thanks for enlightening me, Dave.

Slatily,
RP

Anonymous 11:47 AM  

Bless your for explaining where the space was in 53D red ant. Redant? Is that like pedant? Also, close to serious embarrassment on this one, since I'm usually good on cars and Shakespeare. Never heard of an Eos, and was worried that Hotspur's horse had had a name like Trigger or Scout and I didn't know. Ax to grind on 117A watch your stepson, given that Hamlet was not, strictly speaking, a stepson.

Stu
Golden Valley, MN

Rex Parker 11:54 AM  

At least you understood the "Hamlet" quotation. At first I was like "... so they just added 'SON' to the end of a bit of advice... huh. Interesting." As if SON were just some diminutive that an old man would say to a younger one.

Also never heard of a Volkswagen EOS. There is a camera with that name, I think, but I didn't know there was a car.

That RED ANT thing took me forever, as I too stared at _EDANT for many seconds before going "dammit!" and filling it in.

Thanks for reading, Stu
RP

Orange 11:58 AM  

Did you see that scholarly article on the science behind creatures like the "Them" ants--the biomechanics of how they could move their giant, heavy exoskeletons, the inefficiency of the giant heart in a giant-tentacled squid/octopus trying to take down the Golden Gate Bridge, the relative strength and jumping ability of the Incredible Shrinking Man, and much, much more! Turns out the Shrinking Man could have safely jumped from heights far greater than his miniature stature without injury--if only '50s sci-fi filmmakers knew their relative physiology. You can probably Google it up somewhere—authors were at U of Chicago.

Titiana? Reminds me of the "Wayne's World" skit on SNL when they discussed the movie, Titanic. (Nice two-fer image choice to illustrate that section.)

Kahn's the one who made the infamous 2005 puzzle #5 at Stamford, the one with BATTUE BOY (as discussed in Wordplay).

Chris 12:49 PM  

Speaking of the mechanics/physiology of ants, I read an article in Science a little while ago about how ants keep track of distance. Turns out that they have an internal pedometer and they count the steps it took them to go from A to B, and then they just take the same amount of steps in the opposite direction if they want to go back to A. If you shorten their legs upon reaching B, they'll always undershoot A, and if you put them on little ant stilts upon reaching B, they'll always overshoot A. Ants are cool little creatures.

Howard B 1:04 PM  

I'd pay to see ants on little stilts. Really.

Kahn almost always throws in some really obscure words from the diabolical, dark depths of the dictionary (I'm trying to retroactively up my 5th grade English marks by using alliteration).

UKASE is one of those little buggers that's kind of like an oddly-shaped tool in the toolbox that doesn't seem to serve any purpose, until that once-in-a-lifetime situation where you absolutely need it. Learn it, loathe it. Maybe an anti-Pantheon is in the works? RIANT, ERUCT, some other doozies in there that still rarely sneak in could be candidates. ZYZZYVA should get a pass, just by virtue of looking so cool.

Rex Parker 1:18 PM  

UKASE was going to be my new ZYZZYVA ... but now I'm not sure it's arcane enough. When ZYZZYVA's your standard, really, how can any word be arcane enough? Only high-end Scrabble players and high-end entomologists know ZYZZIVA.

rp

Orange 1:42 PM  

I think any low-end Scrabble player who's flipped to the end of a Scrabble dictionary (or the last page of a regular dictionary—come on, you didn't leaf through the dictionary for entertainment as a geeky kid?) also recognizes ZYZZYVA, though not necessarily with any sense of what the word means.

Rex Parker 1:46 PM  

No, but I know a geeky adult who has been leafing through dictionaries for fun just this weekend. His name is Andrew. Perhaps he will share his findings with the class.

Never been much of a dictionary reader. I prefer ... narrative.

RP

Andrew 1:55 PM  

I think you mean that the sets are disjoint.

As a child I used to read the front of the dictionary; that is, the part before the letter A.

Much of the "yolk" photo is reminiscent of certain specialized mature films viewed for educational purposes only.

xwd_fiend 2:00 PM  

Hi, just a quick note from an xwd blogger on the other side of the Atlantic. This is the funniest crossword blog I've ever read. Keep up the good work.

your wife 2:30 PM  

I can't get past Chris's comment about shortening the legs of ants. How exactly does one shorten an ant leg? I'm imagining an evil Dr. with a very small pair of scissors. I'm sure if some scientist "shortened" my legs, I wouldn't make it back to point A either.

Wendy 2:33 PM  

Yep, now that I've discovered this blog it's a daily fix - you must have a blast writing this; I sure do reading it. I still haven't finished this puzzle - pronounciation is everything, for I just realized that "Celtic rival" 124D is a soft instead of hard C, finally yielding NET. Diabolical! If it's any consolation, I drive a Volkswagen, and I couldn't come up with EOS either. That company is having a devil of a time choosing names that anyone would want to say they drive. Eos? I think not.

Andrew 2:40 PM  

Speaking of Dis and Dat:

On "30 Rock" in the dressing room of Tracy Morgan's character there's a poster for one of that character's movies called "Who Dat Ninja?"

Another one is for "Black Cop, White Cop" ("One does the duty. One gets the booty.")

Wendy 2:53 PM  

Another nominee for the Pantheon - SNL. Sick of it! No matter how they clue it.

Rex Parker 2:57 PM  

These are by far the best comments for any single day in my blog's history, and not just because several of them single me out for praise. If you do indeed enjoy reading, then by all means write Comments more often. You all are making me laugh out loud a lot today. And I thought Orange's ant musings were out of left field - who knew what erudite discussion they'd generate? Thanks.

Yours, in EOS (nearly as bad as TOUAREG - now there's a fearsome crossword answer)

RP

Orange 2:58 PM  

Andrew, of course one reads the front matter of a dictionary in one's youth. That's where they put the good stuff on etymology, Indo-European languages, pronunciation, and usage.

Orange 3:00 PM  

And the "Biology of B-Movie Monsters" article is here. A must read!

Chris 3:26 PM  

Howard -

http://www.newscientist.com/data/images/ns/av/dn9436.mpg
http://www.newscientist.com/data/images/ns/cms/dn9436/dn9436-1_650.jpg

We can work out a price later.

Hopefully those don't require a subscription.

Rex Parker 3:54 PM  

I think if I had to choose, I would be the ant on stilts. Yes. That seems an easy choice. Better "Stilts" than "Stumpy."

Howard B 9:31 PM  

Woohoo! I want to stand cheering on the sidelines, and hand that ant a little tiny cup of Gatorade as it runs past. Thanks Chris, I owe you, let's see... 75 gherkins and 1 zyzzyva.

And the Biology of B-Movie Monsters is impossible to stop reading once you've started. How can I watch 'Them!' the same way again?

Oh, I wasn't really trying to lump that Z-word with the more commonly used obscurity, just exaggerating for effect. As a one-time, low-end online Scrabble player (and geeky kid), I admit to recognizing that word through dictionary diving before I ever really touched a Times crossword.

Anonymous 9:24 AM  

How long before the lawyers for the New Yor(Je)rk Times shut down this blog for copyright violation?

Any over/unders ?

My guess is 6 weeks.

Rex Parker 9:53 AM  

Dude, I've been doing this longer than six weeks.

If the day comes when some suit somewhere decides I'm trouble enough to need to be forcibly shut down ... I gotta say, I'd be a little flattered.

RP

Anonymous 3:56 PM  

hey you guys - I can't get back to the page before - what's with Pharoah & redant?!!! I got it - but I'm clueless.
I thought I'd say it before anyone else did..

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