FRIDAY, Jan. 12, 2007 - Sherry O. Blackard

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:

... and such-'n'-such.

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)).

Ridiculous Fill

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!"
Is that it? It is - man, that's hardly any iffiness at all. Very, very impressive.

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!?"

Final Thoughts

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


Orange 11:42 AM  

One of my college roommates was a science geek who loved a grievous "joke" in which the punchline involved a pun on the dyne-centimeter unit. I think the centimeter was dying.

Flirting With Disaster is remarkably forgettable as a title. I, too, think of it as "that movie with Ben Stiller where the couple went to visit some relatives or something, what was it called?"

I didn't see the SROS clue as misdirective. Why, there's an SRO a few blocks from here, and the building does look rather cramped. Not to mention urban!

P.S. There's an applet option exactly for this—before you start, click the "check my answers" button instead of the "play against the clock" one. It won't record a finishing time in the "fastest" list.

Rex Parker 12:53 PM  

I thought SRO stood for Standing Room Only - what does it stand for here???!

HA ha, "Single Room Occupancy!" Well, that's new to me (clearly). Here I was imagining that the "cramped" part of the clue referred to people crammed into see, say, "Les Miz." I was going to dispute that all theaters (where you might see an "SRO" sign) are not "urban." Wow. Live and learn.

Erik 12:53 PM  

I posted this under the last puzzle, but it makes sense to leave it under the right day. I promise, I won't post again tomorrow:

Does anyone understand the theme clues from today's NY Sun puzzle? It's twenty numbers ("#1", "#2", etc), each of which somehow corresponds to a word... but I'll be damned if I can figure out the trick. Anyone see it?

Rex Parker 2:23 PM  

I had your problem. Once I finished the puzzle, I went to Orange's site, where she advised that you might want to click on the "Notepad" feature (in Across Lite) - if you do that, you will see the explanation.

Hope you didn't writhe around for an HOUR as I did - actually finished the puzzle, with 20 completely unclued entries - without ever knowing the "theme."


Orange 3:46 PM  

There's actually an SRO building in my neighborhood. It has the most wonderful name: Hotel Chateau. Completely apt, given the unscreened windows with curtains flapping out. Because I'll bet most French chateaux also do not have window screens!

xe4e 4:04 PM  

I only knew the expression "in the catbird seat" from Red Barber's (Sp ?) radio announcing of baseball games back in the day -- well before your time. But I learned on the Internet that Barber claimed he learned it from a poker player who trounced him good. A search on the term plus poker yielded this defintion: Catbird Seat - A position in high-low poker that assures a player at least half the pot.

Anonymous 10:30 PM  

OK but what about BIAS 24D
how is bias a kind of crime?
I can't believe that didn't make your bogus list.


Andy Bittman 12:53 PM  

nina is hirshfield's daughter...he usually hide her name somewhere in his drawings...

Six weeks behind 10:10 AM  

I thought the clue for "dogleg" (sharp turn)was bogus. By this definition, just about *any* turn might be called sharp.

It seems to me that a turn is sharp only if it is less than 90 degrees. But dogleg turns -- whether on golf courses or real dogs -- are about 140 degrees.

If giving directions for a true dogleg turn, you'd say "bear right", not "sharp right".

Tim Mitchell 2:55 AM  

I thought BIAS was pretty odd, too. Also, and maybe I'm just missing it because it's late, but what is 55D Like a line, briefly (ONED)? I'm sure I'm missing a space or something, but I'm not getting it.

Rex Parker 7:12 AM  

Ah, the parsing problem! I had that happen to me today (2/24/07). Anyway, ONED = ONE-D, as in One-Dimensional, [Like a line, briefly].


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