Sunday, January 28, 2007
Solving time: untimed, but fast
THEME: "Having Pull" - all theme answers are things that may be pulled
Where was A FAST ONE? ONE'S LEG? MY FINGER!? This theme was cute, if awfully simple. The only real puzzler was 81A (THEME): It may be pulled (client's case file), and even that was inferrable with a handful of crosses. Still, discovering what could be pulled next was enjoyable, and after Saturday's puzzle, I was glad to have the level of difficulty lowered considerably. My favorite theme answer was 49A (THEME): One may be pulled (starting pitcher), which reminds me that baseball season is Just over the horizon (when I can begin to erase the memory of last year's abysmal and colossally disappointing World Series). My friend Matt got Red Sox tickets yesterday, so even though the opponent is lowly Kansas City, I'm very psyched. Never been to Fenway, despite having adopted the Red Sox as my team in the early 80's (when I lived in Central California). After the Super Bowl, the only thing worth noting, sportswise, is the NCAA basketball tournament in March. Then it's glorious April, with opening day and springtime and sunny joyous American love for all. I have no idea why I'm writing about sports right now. Oh, themewise, I also liked OLD SWITCHEROO (35D: It may be pulled), though the clue should read [It may be pulled, with "The"]. "Hey, you pulled OLD SWITCHEROO" makes no sense, unless you are imagining the phrase being uttered by an ESL (3D: Immigrant's class: Abbr.) student or Borat or someone else with an aversion to definite articles.
6D: Yellowish shade (ochre)
38A: Neutral shade (linen)
"What are 'The Colors of Nausea?'" The first of these looks like it's spelled wrong, and I had no idea the latter "color" was a color at all. Thought it was just a very, very hard-to-care-for fabric. LINEN is over in the Portland, OR portion of the puzzle, and borders / intersects some iffy fill. Not fond of either 29D: Abbr. of politeness (pls) - seriously, who writes this? Someone who really hates vowels? - or 30D: Gradually slower, in mus. (rit.). Abbr. next to Abbr. = lazy and ugly. I also don't think much of 44A: Cookout staple (steak) - I don't know what kind of "cookouts" you're going to, but that's pretty high-end fare. Hands up if you had the "K" (from SRI LANKA, 5D: Country that styles itself a "democratic socialist republic") and wrote in the far more plausible and democratic FRANK, as in FRANKfurter, Beans and FRANKs, etc.?
45A: _____-mo (slo)
Here is some tired fill that I would really, really like to see go on a long, long vacation. It should be in the Pantheon, but I just hate it too much. Two other, less groan-inducing bits of Pantheonic fill can be found at 107D: Petrol brand (Esso) - although ESSO did sort of make my wife groan, as in 'ugh, not again' - and the very high-end 119A: Grasshopper stage (imago) - "high-end" because it's a fancy word that has managed to become a crossword staple without becoming a crossword whore (see SLO).
71A: Stu of early TV (Erwin)
61D: Pulitzer-winning Sheehan (Neil)
Usually, when names I don't know cross one another, it's bad, bad news. But here, the "I" that joins these two guys was pretty obvious, saving me the "which vowel goes here" heartache that often attends intersecting stumpers. I don't know Stu ERWIN, but I damn sure know the other TV clues in this grid. 87A: Half of a 1980's TV duo (Allie) was one I got right away. I enjoyed that show in a comfort-food kind of way. I think 90% of that show was shot on that one cheap set that seemed to include the entryway, the stairway, the living room, and the kitchen. How did all those people share that tiny space? One of the daughters looked vaguely like Debbie Gibson, and the other was more reminiscent of Tiffany - these are the categories into which one might have divided girls circa 1986. I forget which of the grown-ups was Kate and which one ALLIE, but I have always had something of a crush on Jane Curtin, despite her work on some pretty hateful shows (see "3rd Rock," e.g.). Tina Fey is my new Jane Curtin. But I digress. The other great TV throwback was 39A: Half of a 1970's TV duo (Starsky). I never watched "STARSKY and Hutch" (on too late for 5-year-old me), though I have a strange desire to Netflix the show, since I am a big fan of crime fiction in general, especially that of the period between when Reagan did his last movie (1964's The Killers, hot!) and when Reagan became president. I am currently working my way through "Kojak" - I'm five eps in and he has yet to suck on a lollipop or say "Who Loves Ya, Baby?" - and I've got "The Rockford Files" waiting in the wings. One more campy TV answer: 26D: Linda of soaps (Dano), which, very sadly, I knew instantly.
92A: Fireplace receptacle (ashpan)
Now comes the part of the show where I talk about words I don't know. Had ASHCAN here, 'cause I knew that was something, but ASHPAN feels awfully made up. British? Sandy hadn't heard of it, and she's Kiwi, which is almost British. Speaking of British, went to see The Queen last night, and it was fantastic - one of the best-made films I've seen in a good, long while. And I managed to enjoy it despite the fact that apparently people are raised in barns these days and think chatting with their spouses during quiet moments of the film is OK. Where was I? Oh, words I don't know. How about 118A: Syrian leader (Assad)? Is that a guy's name? Yes, Bashar ASSAD is the leader of Syria, indeed. Why did you all make his name cross FATWAS (95D: Mullahs' calls) and THEISM (96D: Basic belief), and then, worst of all, have it sitting on top of SMOKE (122A: Content of some rings). There's an entire season of "24" plotted out in this one square inch of grid. Try a little sensitivity ... or Try a Little Tenderness, whichever. More trouble: I just told you all (recently) that I get all the ADEN, OMAN, ASSAN, OREN, OREM, ORAN, etc.-type answers confused, constantly. And then today I had to fight my way through not one but two of them: 37D: Gulf of _____, off the Horn of Africa (Aden) and 120A: Arab league member (Oman). If I see "Gulf" or "Horn" or "Cape," I know I'm in trouble. But in today's case, crosses took care of all the vowel ambiguity that normally plagues me with these answers. Speaking of geographical ignorance, a river clue held me up for a bit (one of two minor sticking points in this puzzle): I knew that 53D: Köln's river started with RH-, but to ignorant me, that meant RHINE or RHONE. Didn't know I'd be faced with the German spelling of the former, RHEIN, but pieced it together eventually. I still have no idea how BEEF can be an answer for 70D: Kick. Had to ask my wife what kind of "literary monogram" EAP (113D) was (Poe, duh). If I'd ever heard of LITTLE ME (84D: 1962 musical co-directed by Bob Fosse), it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I wanted to squeeze ORPHAN ANNIE into those last two squares. For all I know, LITTLE ME starred NIA Long (111D: Actress Long), of whom I'd also never heard. I have a vague feeling, though, that I have blogged about never having of heard of this same actress before, which would mean that I've heard of her. My instinct is to say that there's only one actress named Long, and her first name is Shelley, but my instinct also tells me that I have written those very same words before. Weird.
Final thoughts: Didn't know that LBJ was a VIRGO (89A: Lyndon Johnson, by birth), and can't say that I really care. Don't know if it's good or bad to see the "H-added" spelling of SENHOR/A again (34A: Lady from Ipanema) - I'm going to say good, as I got it instantly, and like the song "Girl from Ipanema." Not sure how I feel about ERRATA (9D: Text miscues) and SERRATE (77A: Saw-edged) being in the same grid - little too much ERRAT. As with DANO (above), I am mildly embarrassed that I got TEEN IDOL (106A: Tiger Beat topic) almost instantly (with just the "T" in place). I've never even read that magazine, not once, I swear. I can't see the title Tiger Beat without picturing Leif Garrett, for some reason, although the phrase TEEN IDOL is more apt to make me picture Shaun or David Cassidy. Lastly, I want to give a warm welcome to OSIER (6A: Wicker willow) - one of my favorite "learned-it-from-the-crosswords" words and by far my favorite basket-making material - way better than that cheap RAFFIA crap.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld