Friday, January 12, 2007
Solving time: 2:31!!! (just kidding - somewhere in the 10-15 minute range?)
THEME: A Night At The Opera (or, none)
I tend not to solve puzzles on the applet on Thursday and Friday nights. In general, I don't function well, mentally, after 10pm, so the whole release-time of the puzzles is a drag (I like to be in bed at 10pm - I would be So Thrilled if the Times could push back the release time even one hour, hint hint, wink wink, elbow elbow, nudge nudge). And since Friday and Saturday puzzles can be terrors, I like to take them to bed and work on them there, mainly because I don't like the idea of gnashing my teeth in my (home) office as time ticks by and my prospective sleep time gets shorter and shorter. It's also a nice way to relax and Enjoy the late-week puzzles, which tend to be worth enjoying. That said, I really really wish I had solved this on the applet, as I think my time would have been superfast (for me). I don't push forward quickly when I solve in bed. If I had been pushing, I'm sure I could have done this puzzle in under 10. It was delightful, but not hard. Very much on the easy side for a Friday. I'm going to type my grid into the applet just to double check that everything's right. So if you see my time there, and it seems super-fast, remember that it's fake. Admittedly fake (actually, I submitted the grid at just under 10 minutes, which may be wishful thinking, but it's not Terribly fake).
This puzzle looks daunting, with its 3 stacks of 3 fifteen-letter answers, and then another 15-letter answer cutting straight down through the grid - so much white space to fill in. But these types of puzzles don't give me nearly as much trouble as the ones with all the nooks and crannies that are hard to work your way into; plus, you can often get a 15-letter answer off of just 3 or 4 consecutive letters, which tends to open the whole grid right up. These kinds of puzzle seem like they are much harder on an a constructing scale than a solving one.
7D: Where "Otello" premiered (Milan)
24A: Verdi's "Un _____ in Maschera" (ballo)
57A: Longtime La Scala conductor (Arturo Toscanini)
49D: Cabriole performer's wear (tutu)
OPERA! OK, that last one is ballet, but still, it's in the musical performance realm. Some interesting things about this set of clues/answers: I was very proud of getting BALLO (not knowing Italian and never having heard of the Verdi work in question) with just one or two letters. The word, which means "dance" or "ball," is memorable to me because I publicly destroyed the Spanish version of the word ("baile") in a crime fiction course I was teaching once by repeatedly pronouncing the word like the English "bale" (it's properly pronounced something like "bye'-yay"). There was a chapter in Dorothy Hughes's Ride the Pink Horse that was titled "Baile," I believe - the whole novel was set in a U.S. border town - and after I had mauled the word a few times, a student politely if vaguely contemptuously corrected me. Memo to would-be teachers and other people who get caught out publicly in a massive error - admit your mistake good-naturedly and then move on. Do not engage in self-flagellation, do not get defensive or flustered. Laugh at your mistake and then plow forward as if your manifest ignorance were in fact no big deal. I've drifted away from the puzzle.
Oh, another thing: I got ARTURO TOSCANINI and one of his long parallel counterparts down there, 61A: Summer resort area famous for recreational boating (Thousand Islands), without ever seeing the clue(s). I was fortunate enough to somehow get 60A: It can take a lot of heat (cast-iron skillet) very quickly, and then I did some Downs (starting with the semi-gimme 43D: Grammy-winning Jones (Norah)), and by the time I looked back at those long crosses, they just sort of filled themselves in. I love that CAST-IRON SKILLET sits right underneath ARTURO TOSCANINI. Why? Well, look closely - ARTURO TOSCANINI is actually an anagram of CAST-IRON ... well, not SKILLET, but ... well, the following:
- CAST-IRON IRON TAU
- CAST-IRON RAIN-OUT
- CAST-IRON RIO TUNA
- IN A CAST-IRON ROUT
- I OUTRAN CAST-IRON
- CAST-IRON I.O.U. RANT
- CAST-IRON OAT RUIN
- AIN'T OUR CAST IRON?
- CAST-IRON U.N. RATIO
3D: "Do the Right Thing" pizzeria (Sal's)
18A: Old roadside name (Esso)
Gimme both of these! Especially the first, as I love that movie and have seen it many, many times. "Roadside name" = ESSO. Pure and simple. These answers were my first toehold in the puzzle. Didn't know the Jackie Wilson song (1D: "Am _____ Man" (1960 Jackie Wilson hit) [I the]) - wanted I YER or I HER, but once I got I THE, those 15-letter crosses came very quickly - first to go: 17A: Be in a very advantageous position (hold all the cards) - wanted IN THE CATBIRD SEAT, but it's too long and, well, just wrong. Slowed up a bit in the far NE, where SIRUP (13D: Some cough medicine: Var.) is spelled ridiculously and I forgot that eBay does things on Pacific and not Eastern time (23A: Deadlines on eBay are given in it: Abbr. (PST)).
OK, my first thought is that architecturally insane puzzles like this are Bound to have some ridiculous fill - how else are you gonna coordinate this many abutting (and intersecting!) 15-letter answers? So, I'm not faulting the puzzle - just pointing out the groaners that went into its making. It was worth it.
- 10D: Hot (ired) - this word is not a word until you add an "F" to its front end
- 31D: Transfuse (endue) - where you don't want to step at the dog park
- 2D: Cramped urban accommodations, for short (SRO's) - SRO is perfectly good, even Pantheonic, fill but this clue is misdirective in a very forced way. TTH! (Trying Too Hard) [I take it all back - I misunderstood meaning of SRO, thinking it short for "Standing Room Only" (theater sign), when here it refers to "Single-Room Occupancies," which are indeed "Cramped urban accommodations"]
- 22D: Falling-out (set-to) - ordinary fill, but the clue suggests not speaking to one another, while the answer suggests a rumble à la Jets and Sharks, as in "I SET my knife TO his throat, Maria!"
26D: Actor who roared to fame? (Lahr)
What's (not so) hilarious about this is that the last time he showed up in a puzzle, I wrote about how I can never remember his name, how I know it ends in -HR but I always want BEHR or BAHR, etc. And yet I still haven't learned my lesson, clearly, as I blanked on his name again. There is a movie that this used to happen with ALL the time when I was in grad school. I would challenge myself to remember its name, and yet never, NEVER, could I remember it. In fact, I'm only typing right now as a stall to give myself time to remember the name of the movie I'm talking about, because it's gone yet again. Want to say Living in Oblivion, but that's not it. It had Lily Tomlin and Ben Stiller in it and maybe ... what's her name who "stars" in the TV "hit" "Medium" ... nope, had to look it up: Flirting with Disaster. I guarantee you that I will forget this movie's name again by tomorrow. Why is Living in Oblivion so much easier to remember? - maybe because it's both less clichéd as a phrase and a better movie. LAHR, why won't you stay in my head, you lovable lion!
35D: Village, in Würzburg (dorf)
36D: Tennis star _____ (Anke)
37D: It flows in Flanders (Yser)
Behold, Western Europe in the far eastern portion of the puzzle! There is something to love in each of these answers. Dorf. Dorf! I got this only because of Düsseldorf, which I assume is a "village" in Germany or its environs. The only Dorf I know (you can see where this is going, right? ...) is a golf instructor.
Don't know what part of my brain ANKE Huber was hiding in - I initially spelled her ANKA, but that's pretty damned close for a first guess with no crosses. I'm not sure "star" adequately describes Ms. Huber, though her mom might disagree. When I read the clue [It flows in Flanders], I wanted to shout, "The blood of a true Christian!?"
You gotta love the NYT puzzle - where else is Verdi gonna rub elbows with "F Troop" (39A: "F Troop" role (Sergeant O'Rourke))? 21A: Physics units (dynes) might be a little tricky / arcane, but its pretty crossword-common and, as I've said before, I got an A+ in Physics in college, so the vocabulary has stuck around a bit, if the actual concepts / definitions / real knowledge hasn't. See also 34D: Kidney secretion (renin), which is from some long, lost bio class. With HONORS (30D: It's good to graduate with them) is an abominable Joe Pesci vehicle (redundant?) that I was stupid enough to watch on a mid-90s plane trip. Andrew can tell you how great its Madonna theme song was, though, I'm sure. Andrew does not live IN L.A. (53D: On Wilshire Blvd., say) but he sure lives near it. DOG LEG (21D: Sharp turn) is a word whose etymology I am totally going to look up later this week (when will my unabridged dictionary finally get here?!). I guess a dog's leg does have that pointy, reverse knee thing going on. I once co-taught a class with a short man, and as I am a tall man, some of the students took (very carefully and with much good humor) to calling us Mario and LUIGI (27D: Brother of Nintendo's Mario). I ... forget which one I was. From this pic, apparently LUIGI. I initially wrote in TNT for 42A: Old cable inits. (TNN), but AT THE LAST SECOND (8D: Almost too late), I realized my error and fixed it.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld