TUESDAY, Jan. 23, 2007 - Timothy Powell

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Solving time: 7:10

THEME: THE - compound words have "THE" inserted between their word-parts, and the new phrase is then clued, e.g. 17A: Supply weapons to a committee head? (arm the chair)

Ah yes, the always dynamic "THE." Really, all themes should involve shoving definite articles into weird places. I was not feeling this theme. In fact, honestly, I didn't get the theme, exactly, until I began typing this entry. The first theme entry I got was 11D (THEME): Criticize a bakery dessert? (pan the cake), which I thought was a play on CAKE PAN, not PANCAKE, and so I thought there was some compound word reversal going on, instead of the far less dynamic "THE" insertion. This may (partially) explain my first major problem solving the puzzle.

63A (THEME): Donate to Eve? (spare the rib)

If you are Adam, yes. Otherwise, no. The phrasing just was not intuitive at all. In fact, it's WEAK (30A: Wimpy). I was busy getting the crosses, hoping a phrase would come into view, but for some reason "THE" was not part of my thinking until very late. Didn't know a crucial Down cross, 50D: Tweed twitter Thomas (Nast). As of this second, I have No Idea what that clue means. I know NAST from Condé-NAST Travel; NAST is also something my sister and I would say about anything disgusting. My NAST knowledge ends there. NAST ran through my second major problem solving the puzzle.

54A: The "magic word" (please)

Yeah, it looks obvious, but I had just the "P" and immediately wrote in PRESTO, a word I finally ditched only after I saw that 55D: Start of the año nuevo was obviously ENERO, not ONERO. I AIN'T (49A: Isn't misused) too proud of this mistake, which resulted in my solving time's being NOT SO HOT (42D: Just O.K.). PLEASE intersected a host of answers I didn't know, not just NAST, but SAL (45D: Erie Canal mule) - still don't know what this means - and ARTIE (35D: Howard Stern sidekick Lange) - the only LANGE I know is LANA, and I don't think her last name has an "E" on the end. While we're in the middle of this puzzle, I would like to say how much I dislike the awkward clue 44A: Magi's origin, with "the" for EAST. If you're going to go the "with 'the'" route, the payoff better be good. Here, it is not. And the third and final stumbling block in today's solve...

31D: Grand _____ (wine designation) (cru)

Not only haven't heard of it (or maybe heard of it, then forgot it somewhere in time), but took far too long to get the "C" - the cross is 31A: Purchase for a beer blast and the only word I could come up with was KEG, and even after I was staring at _ASE, I hesitated many seconds before coming up with the rather banal "C" for CASE. Oh, and I had CRA instead of CRU because I misread the tense of the across clue, 41A: Be delayed, and so had RAN LATE instead of RUN LATE. (Side note: I am already running late this morning)

There were a few other tricky parts of the grid. 59D: Algerian city (Oran) is always tough for me, as I routinely get ORAN and OMAN and ADEN and AMMAN and other Middle Eastern (or Middle-Eastern-sounding) places confused. Speaking of the Middle East, If I hadn't had AQABA (52D: Jordanian port) in a puzzle just last night, I would have taken considerably longer in the SW, since, when you see "Jordan" in the clue, and you have an answer that's five letters, starting with "A," you want AMMAN (if you want anything). Clue from last night said that AQABA was in fact Jordan's only port. Good to know (it's on the Gulf of AQABA, by the way, which is also good to know, and easy to remember). Also had OSKAR (46A: Heroic Schindler) in a puzzle last night (or was it in a recent NYT? I forget), which was lucky, as I don't think I'd known or even thought about the "K" spelling before then. SWAMI (1A: Hindu master) makes me think that there should be an entire subsection of the Pantheon reserved just for Eastern Spiritual Leaders: SWAMI, IMAM, LAMA, GURU. I think that the only reason anyone outside of North Carolina knows about ELON (28D: North Carolina University) is because it appears in crosswords, making it very promising Pantheon material. Speaking of Universities, I start teaching again at one today - and despite the fact that there has been considerable grade inflation nationwide since the time that I graduated from my ALMA (3D: _____ mater) mater, I can assure you that no one in any of my courses gets an EASY A (24D: Expected grade in a gut course). Had never heard of the phrase "gut course" until just now. Thought it might have something to do with biology or anatomy. Something about the ERRATA (10D: Printing after a printing) / TRACTOR (21A: Deere product) crossing is making me happy. Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the venerable Pablo CASALS (22D: Cellist Pablo). Jackie Kennedy once invited him to play at the White House. Whereas I think the last people invited to play this century's White House were probably ... oh, let's say, Brooks & Dunn.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Shaun 10:14 AM  

You must have learned about Boss Tweed, Thomas Nast, and Tammany Hall in high school and then forgotten. I'm not sure I could string all those proper names together in a factual sentence, but I know they all relate to each other. And, you should know, Nast was an editorial cartoonist.

I'm always intrigued by the holes in your vast body of knowledge -- Grand Cru and Gut Course seem very everyday to me. Maybe I drank a lot of fine wine and consquently needed easy classes in college. I think you hear "gut course" with respect to classes usually taken by student athletes, if that gives any further clue to its origins.

Rex Parker 10:17 AM  

What does the "twitter" part of the Tweed / NAST clue mean????

Anonymous 10:48 AM  

Nast was a political cartoonist who brought Boss Tweed down with his exposure of the political corruption during Tweed's regime. So, he "twitted" Tweed.

As for Sal the mule, I learned this song in like the third grade.

"I've got a mule and her name is Sal,
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.
She's a good old worker and a good
old pal, Fifteen miles on the Erie
Canal..etc". The chorus is "Low bridge, everybody down, low bridge, for we're coming to a town."

I want to tell you I really enjoy
your blog, I find your observations witty and trenchant.

Orange 11:10 AM  

When I was in school, we called 'em blow-off classes, but I never see that term in crossword clues for EASYA.

I traveled the same "PRESTO! Wait. ENERO doesn't start with an O" path.

Thanks for the picture of Wimpy, especially since it's Tuesday.

Anonymous 11:23 AM  

I am all atwitter with anticipation awaiting your correspondents' definition of "twitter" which is not even close to what I mean by "atwitter". Thanks for your good work. It has not gone unrecognized here.

Rex Parker 1:04 PM  

What's most annoying about the whole Tweed thing is that I have blogged about Tweed, and about NAST, and yet nothing about the way this clue was written jogged that (sad little) part of my memory.


Anonymous 1:28 PM  

I remember the 'OSKAR' Schindler clue from a NYT Puzzle I did recently, narrowing it to either last Tues or the Thurs. 1/11 puzzles.

Anonymous 1:29 PM  

The noun twit means to taunt, tease, ridicule, reproach or upbraid. So
Twitter of Tweed is someone who
did the above to Tweed.

Twit is also an insignificant person.
Twit is also used to mean an excited state, or a dither, giving rise to atwitter, meaning excited or aflutter.

My sense is that the clue referred to the caricature of Tweed by Nast as an object of ridicule, the first meaning, rather than someone who put him in an excited state.

Greg 4:34 PM  

Am I the only one that thought CUTEY was particularly odd? I see now that it has dictionary approval, but I've literally never seen it used in lieu of CUTIE.

Cory 5:06 PM  

re: Sal:

go to grade school in western new york state, take a canal boat field trip, pass under a bridge, sing the song, pass beneath a good dozen more bridges... always ducking... always singing... always able to remember that song.

Howard B 9:50 PM  

I only know 'gut course' from puzzles as well, for what it's worth. It does seem to be one of those terms for which there are a metric ton of local, regional, and other slangy terms floating about. I had heard of them as "easy As", or even "cupcake classes" from someone in college.

Why, oh why didn't I take that 1-credit 'Volleyball I' class instead of Compiler Design, Calculus and all that other stuff? I could be on a beach somewhere now...

citygirl 10:38 PM  

I thought "gut course" was totally out there--what does that even mean really?? who uses this term?

rex, I suck at crosswords and I get as far as wednesday before I break down in tears and hide under my covers. You amaze me. AND reading your blog helps me understand the minds of these puzzle makers a little better. A little better. Not a whole lot better. But that's something, right?

Rex Parker 12:07 PM  

Well, at least I amaze *somebody* besides my dog - who is amazed almost solely by my powers to make food appear in her bowl, and to transport her to the woods. My wife Sandy runs into serious trouble around Wednesday as well. Typical, so don't worry. You will break through that wall eventually - only to find another, harder wall. And so on.


Chris 12:44 PM  

At the beginning of every semester, people frequently ask for "gut courses" on my school's message board. I had no idea what it meant either, so I asked. The best definition I've heard is that it's a class so easy that you can forgo studying, go with your gut instincts, and still get an A.

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