Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Solving time: 7:03
THEME: Dracula's least favorite ...
Happy Halloween! Today's puzzle was ... well, it was a little scary, although all the theme clues involved things that would repel Dracula, so the puzzle seemed to be trying to diminish rather than augment the fear (factor). Still, there were some scary words. EVIL-EYED (34D) is pretty spooky, and both SLITS (49D) and EXCISE (10D) can be horrific in the proper context. A SATYR (46A) isn't very scary ... unless he is an excited mood, and looking at you. An OCTOPUS will scare you if he's giant and attacking your submarine. I don't remember Disneyland's Enchanted TIKI Room (47D) as being very scary. The word SCAR is pretty scary (one letter away, actually) but it lies embedded over there in the not-so-fearsome ESCARGOT (39D). And then there's always ASPS (56D), but, alas, not On A Plane. ASPS are such frequent haunters of the crossword grid that they're about as scary as non-black cats. They should take some time off to plan their Next Big Thing, because their capacity to frighten (or even hold interest) died with Cleopatra. Give me VIPERS, COBRAS, SERPENTS, even BOAS, for god's sake. There are a TON of viable anagrams in ASPS, so I challenge constructors to use those, and give ASPS a rest. Then bring them back for Halloween 2026 and / or the Apocalypse, when we will be truly happy / horrified to see them. In defense of ASPS, however, this painting is Hot:
In honor of Halloween (my favorite time of year, if not necessarily my favorite day - the trick-or-treaters get ruder every year!), I will make all of today's pictures very scary.
1A: Clear of stale odors, maybe (aerate)
I would have liked AIR OUT here better. Don't you AERATE crops or fields or something? YES, you AERATE lawns, dammit, and presumably not to "clear" them of "stale odors" (from the body you buried there?). Want to AERATE your lawn? Find out how.
13A: Catastrophic (ruinous)
I had HEINOUS here, having come at the answer backwards (had the -NOUS first), which ended up being, yes, RUINOUS for me, time-wise (note the seven squares that I inked all to hell in the NW). This answer sat just underneath AERATE and atop 16A (THEME): Dracula's least favorite citations? (cross references), and I initially had Wrong answers for all three (with 16A I had the same solving backwards problem, so with -FERENCES in place, I prefixed DIF-). All this was compounded by my ridiculous entry of CHILLY for 1D: Frigid (Arctic) based solely on the "H," which I had from the (wrong) HEINOUS. So the puzzle was a little scary.
7A: Early Ford (Model A)
Knowing nothing about cars, I had MODEL T here. So, for my edification, and possibly yours, here are (Scary!) pictures of the (counterintuitively) earlier MODEL T (circa 1919):
And the more car-like MODEL A (circa 1928)
They're scary because they are from out of the past. Ghost cars! (OK, not as scary as The Ghost Whisperer or Ghost Dad, but I gotta work with what's in front of me)
23A: Cozy inn, briefly (B-and-B)
This little jerk is showing up far more often than he ought to. Twice in the past week. I'm sure a B-AND-B has been the site of more than a few horror movies, but I can't think of any to quote or grab pics from off hand. Imagine your own script.
26A: Historian Thomas who wrote "The French Revolution" (Carlyle)
I was thrown here by the slightly misleading "Historian." I was picturing some slightly portly, bespectacled, possibly combed-over, short-sleeve-button-down-wearing dork of a modern professor, or one of the more tweeded and pipe-smoking early 20th-century variety. Thomas CARLYLE was a Scottish essayist, satirist, and (yes) historian of the Victorian period. Unlike many things about this puzzle, Carlyle's writing was scary, in that his firm belief in Heroic Leadership gave philosophical underpinning to later fascist movements. Once he was a pal of liberals like John Stuart Mill, but towards the end of his life he was suggesting slavery never should have been abolished. Nice (and scary). The best, best, best fact about The French Revolution, if Wikipedia can be said to contain facts, is this:
After the completed manuscript of the book was accidentally burned by the philosopher John Stuart Mill's maid, Carlyle had to begin again from scratch.What the hell? Did she use it for kindling? "Blimey, this neatly-stacked pile of paper with ink scribbles all over it will make for a loverly fire. I could use a spot of tea just now, I could .... gov'nuh." I just want to know what happened immediately after Carlyle found out. I'm sure that was scary. For the maid. Here's a scary portrait of Carlyle by Whistler:
22D: Robert of Broadway's "Guys and Dolls" (Alda)
I think I knew that Alan Alda grew up in a stage-acting family, but lately I don't tend to pay close attention to what Alan Alda says unless I'm rewatching a 1990s Woody Allen movie or I happen across one of those PBS specials on how the brain works, which Alda hosts. Very cool. Anyway, Robert is Alan's dad. He has a very, very, very long list of movie and TV credits, to say nothing of the stage. For today, however, I choose to remember him thusly:
29D: "Miracle" team of 1969 (Mets)
52D: Home to the 29-Down (Shea)
See, this would have all worked out so much better, timing-wise, if the Mets had at least been in the World Series this year, as they were supposed to be. But instead, we get the Cardinals. And thus FOX gets an early Halloween scare when it sees its TV ratings plummet:
The Cardinals' five-game victory over the Detroit Tigers averaged a record-low 10.1 television rating and 17 share, Fox said Sunday. This year's rating dropped nine per cent from the previous bottom, an 11.1 for a four-game sweep by the Chicago White Sox over the Houston Astros last year.(thanks to Andrew for foisting that quotation on me, though I'm not sure of its source)
55A: Director Kurosawa (Akira)
This amazing director's career spans several decades (six of them, actually) and includes an astonishing variety of films, from adaptations of Shakespeare in Ran and Throne of Blood to the hugely influential samurai films Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, which provided the imaginative spark for so many American Westerns of the 1960s (and thus Clint Eastwood's early career). One of Kurosawa's greatest films, which is one of my, let's say, TEN favorite films of all time, is a little noir crime drama he made just after the end of WWII, during the American occupation. It's called Stray Dog and it is an astonishingly gripping story, as well as a melancholy assessment of all that Japan had lost and would continue to lose, culturally, in the grip of Americanization. It also features a very young and very sexy Toshiro Mifune, the Legendary Japanese actor, before anyone knew who he was. Please see this movie.
57A (THEME): Dracula's least favorite time? (Daylight savings)
[late addendum: reader "Andrew" claims that Daylight Savings (plural) Time is technically incorrect. It's in common parlance, however, and puzzles make use of colloquialisms all the time. It seems also that "Daylight Savings" - as a shortened way of saying "Daylight Saving Time" - is not uncommon. See this FOX News "article" (first and last time you'll hear me say that), which has "Daylight Savings" in the title, but "daylight-saving [hyphen!] time" in the body of the article. NPR slips up and uses both the "S" and non-"S" version in its discussion of Daylight Saving(s) Time. Curious.]
Now this is the best theme answer of the lot, because, since Daylight Saving Time just ended this past weekend, the clue suggests that we now have reason to fear a resurgence in Dracula's power. While there have been many powerful Draculas over the years, my B-movie predilections prevent me from honoring any one but the camp-tacular Christopher Lee.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld