Sunday, January 21, 2007
Solving time: a lazy half hour (on paper, in bed)
THEME: "Kareem of the Crop" - familiar phrases that contain words beginning with R-blends (e.g. Pr-, Dr-, Br-, etc.) have those words changed to non-R-blend homynyms, creating odd phrases, which are then clued, e.g. 24A: James Stockdale as running mate? (Perot choice) - so Pro-Choice becomes PEROT CHOICE
So nice to have an easy puzzle to meander my way through after suffering through Hard and Hardest on Friday and Saturday. I did not grasp the real complexity of today's theme until well after I had completed the puzzle - as I was doing it, I just thought the theme answers were clever little puns. I was hoping, from the puzzle title, that the theme was going to have something to do with puns on basketball players' names or sports stars who take Muslim names or something, but alas, no. Just the R-blend silliness.
Speaking of basketball players' names (how's that for a segue?), we went to another performance of our local Philharmonic last night and had the genuine privilege of seeing Wu Man play Tan Dun's Pipa Concerto. Tan Dun is best known for writing the score to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (for which he won an Oscar) and for writing and conducting (!) the recent Metropolitan Opera premiere of The First Emperor, starring Placido Domingo. How do basketball stars fit into any of this, you ask? Well, here is an excerpt from the program notes on the Pipa Concerto. After explaining that the Pipa Concerto constitutes a reworking of material from Tan's 1994 Ghost Opera, the program continues:
The Concerto is a thorough reconsideration of the earlier work. It had called upon the string players to perform also on gongs and water bowls and the pipa player to play also on the bowed gong, tam-tam, Tibetan bells, and paper. At various times they also vocalized lines from Shakespeare or a Chinese folk song. It is an overtly theatrical piece of chamber music in five movements.The pipa itself looks like a cross between a banjo and an oar. Then cross that with a cross between a fraternity paddle and a dragonfly. The concerto began with a collective foot stomp from the orchestra. So hot. There was so much string plucking and sliding and note-bending goodness, and the piece managed to achieve this awesome fusion of traditional Chinese (pentatonic ... sound? I think ... Andrew?) and Classical European sound. The string plucking (from all the strings in the orchestra) is so intense that the piece has a collective orhcestral retuning Built In To It, i.e. in the middle of the piece, the principal violinist stands up and briefly retunes the orchestra to the pipa's A (I believe). You can read about this wild concerto here. I have been to three concerts this season, and the two pieces that have most blown me away are not available on any recordings (that I can find): this one, and Golijav's "Night of the Flying Horses." Maybe I should write about puzzle now. GOLIJAV would make good x-word fill, by the way. And if you live in Spokane, you can see the Spokane Symphony play "Night of the Flying Horses" this Friday (along with Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" - how could you not go?).
The Concerto, on the other hand, is cast in four movements (in a slow-fast-slow-fast pattern), playing only their own instruments, though occasionally stamping a foot or shouting "Yao.”
26A (THEME): Terse account of what happened at the Raptor Petting Zoo? (Falcon caressed)
Ah, 80's TV. Not what immediately came to mind. First thought: "uh ... school field-trip turned bloodbath?" I was thinking Jurassic Park raptors, not your less lethal (to human beings) avian raptors. This NW corner fell pretty quickly despite a couple of missteps: I had WALKMAN for DISCMAN (4D: Sony introduction of 1984) - a stupid mistake, though 1984 seems Awfully early for a DISCMAN - and I had nothing for REDISTILL (19A: Raise the proof?) until it was practically on top of me: RED IS what now?
14D: City on the Seine (Le Havre)
Very proud of myself, getting this off of the "V" alone. Helped that HAVRE was on my mind, having been an answer in a recent puzzle which then became one of the two or three most Googled clues in the history of this website: I won't write it out verbatim here (for fear of drawing Googlers here and not the proper puzzle) but it involved a college town in Montana of that name. Wicked obscure. This answer runs through SEVE (31A: Golfer Ballesteros), which is one of the few sports clues that I know my mom would have gotten. She had something of a crush on Senor Ballesteros back in the day (the day being the 80's). Yes, she was quite a fan of SEVE, and Tom Selleck, but thankfully not, as far as I know, Claude AKINS (39D: Claude who starred in TV's "Lobo").
OK, I have to run to go shopping with my wife. I'll finish this up in the early afternoon.
[I'm back - updating blog]
Wow, four hours at the mall is like 348 hours anywhere else. Drudgery. Luckily, Sandy found what she needed, so it was worth it. We also went grocery shopping. You can see that I am sapped of energy as I am telling your information and yet have nothing snappy to say about it. Back to puzzle.
41A (THEME): Girl who wears hair clips in nonstandard ways? (barrette maverick) - Of all the theme answers, this took me the longest, by far, to get. Got BARRETTE quickly, but not fully understanding the theme, I couldn't figure out how BARRETTE could be a pun on anything. The MAV- made me think the word MAVEN was involved, but no. Right now I am just guessing that BRET MAVERICK was the name of the title character in a Western TV series from the 60's - hang on while I check ... and I'm right. James Garner. I wonder if my mom had a crush on him, too. He's a handsome guy. Never saw him in "Maverick" (little before my time), but I Love him in "The Rockford Files." Just bought the first season on DVD. It's true.
48A: Like a crow or lark (oscine)
The only word in the puzzle that I had never heard of. That's pretty good for a Sunday, when normally there are a handful of words / phrases that throw me. Sandy didn't know this one either, and she's something of a bird person, so I deem this bit of knowledge pretty obscure. Not as good a word as PORCINE, but it's nice in its own way.
50A: Half of a longtime country duo (Naomi Judd)
I had NAO-, and instead of thinking "well, there's only one word in my entire vocabulary that could be" (NAOMI), I thought "Something's wrong." So I left it and came back to it, eventually solving it from the other end. The Judds kind of freak me out - something in the way they look, especially together. I can't say that I have ever heard them sing - my hand is quick to the dial / remote. NAOMI JUDD intersects my most embarrassing flub-up. I thought I'd be cool and try to fill in an answer without looking at the clue. At 41D I had --J-V- and blithely wrote in DEJA VU (Actually I had what I thought was a "B" in the first position, but it was a badly written capital "B" that looked like a "D"). Eventually I looked at the clue: 41D: "Here's a pleasant surprise!" and thought "I ... guess that's equivalent to DEJA VU ... seems like a stretch ..." It was a stretch. Such a stretch, in fact, that it wasn't right at all. The answer was BY JOVE, which is itself kind of weak. BY JOVE is equivalent to "Here's a pleasant surprise!" only if said while wearing a monocle in the conservatory in 1893. BY JOVE, it turns out that OSCINE isn't the only word I didn't know. BY JOVE intersects two more: 47A: Poet/novelist Elinor (Wylie) - an anagram of my cat's name - and 63A: Historic Irish city (Tralee). Why is it any more "historic" than any other Irish city? Is this the place where Puff the Magic Dragon lived (before he moved on up to a land called Honah-Lee)?
77A: Alternative to Rover (Rex)
Never get tired of seeing this baby in the grid. Don't care that the only time my name makes it into the grid is by way of reference to a dog. Still feels good. Might have to nominate REX for the Pantheon next year. Other potential candidates for next year that make an appearance in today's grid include ESAI (49A: Morales of "NYPD Blue") (he demands a recount for this year), ECLAT (43D: Ceremonial splendor) (which here intersects Pantheon member 52A: Impetuous quality (Elan)), TSE TSE (42D: Fly from Africa), ERIN (40A: "_____ go braugh"), and ESTOPS (5D: Impedes legally), inter ALIA (7D: Inter _____).
My best mistake (as opposed to my biggest) came at the bottom of the puzzle. I spent many seconds pondering how DANKE could be an appropriate response to 102A: Jive, e.g. If you think someone's full of it, you ... say Thank You ... in German ... to that person? Something had to be wrong, but all of the crosses checked, except - it turns out you don't spell ERIC Heiden's name with a "K" (88D: Olympians Liddell and Heiden). Problem solved. The fact that I once edited an encyclopedia finally came in handy, as I had 85D: Clavell novel set in Hong Kong (Tai Pan) dead to rights, though I'd never read the book. Had never even heard of the book until I had to proofread the encyclopedia entry. Bring on your Clavell Clues, Puzzle Gods - or clues about 95 other popular contemporary writers. Actually, if I remember correctly, I paid way closer attention to the early-alphabet entries; by the time I got up to John Updike, I was pretty much just phoning it in.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld