WEDNESDAY, Jan. 10, 2007 - Curtis Yee

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Solving time: 14:43


You can probably tell that something is wrong. How in the world did it take me that long to solve a HOMER-SIMPSON-THEMED puzzle?? I can't tell you how ecstatic I was when I finally pieced together the [Speaker of the quip] answer - had the -MPSON ending and was thinking "SAMPSON ... EMPSON ... ?" Then saw and / or got (I forget exactly how things went down, so excited was I) the "H" and "M" and presto, HOMER SIMPSON, and then I was off to the races. I had solved pieces of the puzzle to that point, and so I just went to the "quip" clues and started typing my way across, very confident that whatever the "quip" was, it would come to me quickly, and it did. It appears to be from "Lisa's Substitute" (season 2, Way Back When), which is the episode where Lisa develops a massive crush on her substitute teacher, Mr. Bergstrom (voiced by Dustin Hoffman), who fills in for Ms. Hoover when she goes on leave because she thinks she has Lyme's Disease. I'm actually not sure I (or the internet nerds whose sites I just trolled) have the episode right, but I knew this quotation (it's on many, many "Homer Simpson" quotation pages out there). I was even wearing my "I Am So Smrt" Homer Simpson gray hooded sweatshirt (image pictured) while solving this puzzle. Total serendipity.

And yet ... I had my worst Wednesday ever. And yet ... if I had just stopped and thought for a second and been methodical about things, I would have solved it much more quickly. I can tell you that I had the grid filled in and there were fully FOUR answers of which I was unsure, THREE of which interconnected! So of course I spent my time fretting over those three ... when the single letter I had wrong was in that fourth answer (which intersected with a word I thought I had right). So the bad is: I flailed around and basically drowned. The good news: the life preserver was like 6 inches from my hand, and if I'd just turned the right direction, and not panicked (as drowning people tend to do), I would have been saved. Lesson. Stay calm, and focus your attention on the Wrongest-Feeling words, checking crosses that you "know" to make sure you in fact KNOW them. Because for all my frustration and exasperation, I had just a single square wrong, and I actually knew how to fill it correctly, but was too flustered to realize it. Good, if humiliating, practice.


43A: Grain bane (ergot)
38D: Director Browning (Tod)

My wrong letter was the "O" - I had an "E," then an "A," then my brain ran out of options (memo to self - next time, try all the vowels [moron]). If you had given me a multiple choice question and it had looked like this:

Q: Who directed Freaks?

a. Tad Browning
b. Ted Browning
c. Tod Browning
d. Todd Browning
e. Phyllis Diller

I would totally have known the answer. TED was what I put in absolutely unthinkingly (bad way to do anything); man's name = Ted. But TAD!? What was I thinking? He's not a @#$#-ing extra in Beach Blanket Bingo! TAD!? Dear god. ERGOT is infuriating to me, but mostly because I just did not know it. Never heard of it. Gets over a million Google hits, and Sandy knew it (I mean, when I gave her ERG_T she knew it, which is more than I can say for myself, clearly). I found this site of a mycologist who really really really loves his fungi. Did you know there is such a phenomenon as ERGOTISM (looks like a typo of EGOTISM, which is a typo he in fact makes on his own website!), caused by the eating of ergot-affected grain? Causes horrible physical symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, but also, it seems, hallucinations. He goes on to suggest (apparently others have done so as well) that the victims of the Salem witch hunts were affected with ERGOTISM. He writes:

All of the accused had similar symptoms: manic melancholia, psychosis, delirium, crawling sensations of the skin, vertigo, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. All of these are symptoms of ergot poisoning, and it is likely that at list [sic] the initial hysteria was started by Claviceps purpurea [a species of ergot] infecting the grains of rye.
I have no idea what kind of scientific or historical validity this claim has, but it made for fun reading. I felt pretty ERGOTISTIC after "completing" this puzzle. Then I breathed it out. I keep that little red Anger book by my bed for a reason.

49D: Home of Lafayette College (Easton)
55A: Writer Santha Rama _____ (Rau)
71A: Barcelona babes (nenes)

Here is the ERGOTIC fill that caused me to freak out (metaphorically speaking ... sort of). Never heard of it, never heard of it, never heard of it. The last one is, I'm sure, very, very obvious to all Spanish speakers / professional solvers. This amateur solver thinks a NENE is a Hawaiian goose ... and he is RIGHT. Irony: I've been listening every day to a podcast called "Coffee Break Spanish" (out of Glasgow, which makes for awesome listening, as I try to decipher Spanish in between trying to decipher Glaswegian). We haven't gotten up to the NENE part of the lesson plan yet, apparently. EASTON is a place I made up to get through this part of the puzzle. "EASTON ... that sounds like it could be a place." It actually sounds like a made up college town, like they have on TV shows where every teen on the show grows up and has to go to college in order for the show to keep running, so at least one of the kids (the smart one) leaves town for college, possibly in a town called EASTON. I shouldn't hate this part of the puzzle as much as I should admire my own Educated (read: blind and desperate) Guessing ability. I got it all right (despite spending minutes and minutes trying to "fix" it after having my grid rejected by the applet). As for RAU, whatever. I'm not even looking you up .... OK I lied, I looked her up. Not sure whether to stress the fact that she was a leader in the Indian women's rights movement, that she was the International President of Planned Parenthood ... or that her name yields just 14,600 Google hits. [Rex Parker] gets 1.7 Million, for god's sake. OBSCURITY, thy name is RAU (actually, RAU Wattles, it seems - how unfortunate)!

23A: Choreographer Twyla (Tharp)

Ah, one of the more famous non-graduates of my alma mater (she left school to become, well, a legend). She wrote a book on creativity and discipline that is truly inspiring. Love her. Go Sagehens! Chirp, chirp!

65D: Charon's tool (oar)
66D: Tussaud's title: Abbr. (Mme)

I got super-claustrophobic in this tiny little SE corner with its single, narrow entryway. And I began to panic when I could get neither of these. Now, how is that possible? I teach Dante's Inferno nearly every year, and Charon is a prominent character in it. And MME Tussaud's? Who hasn't heard of the wax museum bearing her name? For some reason, I thought I was being asked about political figures in both instances - in my mind, "Charon" was an Israeli P.M. and "Tussaud" was a Haitian dictator. I had EMP. for MME. for a short while. And then I realized who Charon was, and everything fell into place.

Other Things I've Never Heard Of:

  • 24D: When doubled, a former National Zoo panda (Hsing) - Edumacated Guess
  • 72A: Largest lake in Australia (Eyre) - thank god I'd heard of EYRE's Rock ... oh, weird. It's spelled AYER's Rock. HA ha. Well, good thing I didn't know that.

  • 35D: "The Sopranos" restaurateur (Artie) - given the puzzle theme I think ["The Simpsons" restaurateur] would have been a better clue - with a different answer:

  • 68A: Circular seal (O-ring) - OK, I knew this one, in the end, but ... well, I would say I inferred it more than I knew it, technically. I was picturing all kinds of seals, including circus seals, before this one fell into place
  • 53D: Ingrid Bergman's last film "A Woman Called _____" (Golda) - Meir, I presume. NEV-er heard of it.
Sandy and others would officially like to challenge the "common" part of 61A: Common spread (oleo). It may indeed be "common" for people to eat what was FORMERLY called OLEO, but as it is not at all "commonly" called OLEO in this century, well, you know how I feel. I was happy to see another food-word-no-one-ever-says in the upper part of the puzzle, though. Though it is possibly the most obscure word in the Northern part of the puzzle, AGAR (7D: Food thickener) was the only word I got on my first pass through there. God bless crosswordese.

Lastly, a bit of cheating, I think. Can you have NINE (60D: A round of golf, informally) and O'NINE (13D: Cat-_____-tails) in the same puzzle without violating some repetition rule? Always like to be reminded of this hot piece of weaponry, though. You find a Lot of interesting things on a Google Image search of [Cat o nine tails], let me tell you - not all of it suitable for children. My favorite image, though, is this one, which makes a bid for Worst Movie Promotional Art Ever. Enjoy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


xw4e 10:18 AM  

Get used to ergot. It is almost a pantheon word.

Rex Parker 10:37 AM  

I understand that ERGOT has been in puzzles before, but not in any I've ever solved (that I remember - certainly not this year), and therefore PANTHEON status is Way out of its reach. I will just tuck it away somewhere and hope I don't forget where I put it.


Anonymous 1:01 PM  

Hi Rex:

Ergot is (I'm guessing) most widely known for its use in the production of LSD.

(LSD too appears in puzzles once in a while, as you may have noticed. IMHO neither LSD nor ERGOT are worthy of the pantheon however).

Also, Artie was Marge's ex-boyfriend, Artie Ziff.

Pen Girl :)

Howard B 5:08 PM  

One of these puzzles where random junk kind of bubbled up from my subconscious to help out. I actually entered HSING into the puzzle void and didn't realize until after finishing the puzzle that I had known it from somewhere. Weird. Eerie. Weerie. Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling, was it? Or was that Sing-Sing? No, that's the prison. One of these years I'll sort out the dusty attic of my memory banks.

Of course, that whole bottom-left corner with GOLDA, KNOPF, etc was just brutal. I'm rather lousy at acting, movie, and company names.

Forgot the Homer quote, but remember it now - I think you could just about make a small book of various puzzles based on those alone. The Forbidden Donut of Puzzling, maybe.

Wendy, of Akron, home of the Rubber Bowl 6:43 PM  

That OLEO thing - in my house growing up there was a caste system of sorts wherein the adults could feast on butter while the kids got oleo. Don't ask. Anyway I have a hatred of that word to this day, and I agree that no one would call it that now. Next time I go to the grocery store I'm going to look to see if margarine packages even mention the word.

Andrew 7:28 PM  

The so-called theme for your puzzle is not a quote from The Simpsons. Homer's famous line is, "Just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand!" which is from the Lisa's Substitute episode.

Andrew 7:31 PM  

I don't understand this part.

"35D: "The Sopranos" restaurateur (Artie) - given the puzzle theme I think ["The Simpsons" restaurateur] would have been a better clue - with a different answer."

Your picture of the restaurateur is of Luigi.

Artie Ziff went to the high school prom with Marge.

Orange 7:38 PM  

Well, Andrew, he did say "with a different answer."

Why do Disco Stu and Artie Ziff reside in the same spot of my brain?

Rex Parker 7:44 PM  

Yes, Luigi, hence "with a different answer." DIFFERENT means "not the same as," hence NOT "Artie."

Why do hundreds of people appear to believe that Homer did indeed say this line?

You are right, though, about the quote from Season 1 - it is the one you cite. Is the quotation in the puzzle from season 9?

Anonymous 7:47 PM  

Amy said:

"Why do Disco Stu and Artie Ziff reside in the same spot of my brain?"

Hey Amy: Get outta my head! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!

(Or maybe great minds just think alike. no attention to this...).

Pen Girl :)

Rex Parker 7:56 PM  

Answer: they are minor characters with similar hair, e.g. the white man's 'fro. This is because both characters are From The 70s (Artie does appear in the ... present at one point, but we are introduced to him in the early 70s high school flashback ep.

xw4e 8:02 PM  

OK Kiddies it's time to finish your homework, take a bath, get in your jammies, kiss mommy goodnight, and go beddy bye. Nite nite y'all.

Andrew 8:07 PM  

It's not a line from the show, as far as I can tell. Someone misquoted Homer's line and that gets picked up by people who don't know the show and don't do independent research.

I have an official magnet with the correct quote on it - it's from this excellent set:

Anonymous 8:47 PM  

A loss of elasticity in an o-ring was one of the prime factors that led to the Challenger crash in '86. Richard Feynman was appointed to a commission to investigate why the Challenger crashed. He found that it was apparently way too cold when the Challenger took off and had a famous demonstration during a public press conference where he placed a rubber o-ring similar to the ones found in the space shuttle in a glass of ice water and showed that at low temperatures the rubber doesn't function the way it should. He had some badass, understated quote that went something like, "I think this demonstration is of some relevance to the issue at hand." I always think of this story whenever I see o-ring in a puzzle, and it's always a gimme because of that.

Orange 9:06 PM  

I forgot to say this about TOD: Given that it's not a Friday or Saturday puzzle, and there are a zillion easier ways to clue TED (famous Teds) or TAD (as in "a bit") without resorting to a not-terribly-well-known director, it's gotta be TOD. There's got to be a reason to use a less-known "celebrity" earlier in the week, and generally the reason is that there's nobody more famous with the name.

C zar 9:07 PM  

Cat'O-NINE-tails and NINE. Not happy about the repetition. Spent a bunch of time thinking "this can't be right." I've never wasted so much time on such obvious clues.

- Stu

Rex Parker 9:45 PM  

I don't know re: TOD. I mean, they went pretty down-market to get ARTIE, which could have been clued somewhat (much) more easily by reference to ARTIE Shaw.

Plus, you are making a logical point, as if somehow my brain was capable of thinking Logically at that point, when I've clearly pointed out that I was in la la land.

As for O-Ring ... see, it just makes me think of a ... different kind of Ring, a kind that could Never Appear in a NYT Crossword.

RE: NINE / O'NINE - If only NEIN had been in the grid...

Must find out about this "Simpsons" quotation issue... I need an episode reference, please! Curtis! Help a brother out.


Anonymous 11:18 PM  

It seems Andrew is right. The quote should read: "Hey, just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand." You can check the episode at snpp.

i wonder why they misquoted the line? space issue?

Anonymous 5:07 AM  

We get one crossword a week in the Cambodia Daily over here in Phnom Penh. So always a bit behind your comments.
Nenes: Catalan for girls - Spanish is ninas...
Incidentally, Alain Delon is a brand of cigarettes out here, although the Cambodians pronounce it Lang Dlong.

Rex Parker 8:46 AM  

Woo hoo, Cambodia! My Reach is Worldwide!

Thanks for the language lesson and the awesome Alain Delon info.


Rooster 6:36 AM  

Yup, you have conquered the Indochine...
I stumble badly every week as a Brit: no clue about baseball, basketball and US foodstuffs/tax systems - thank god for your blog - but pointless European languages and rough-as-pants faux-French cigarettes? Now you're talking.

kb 1:30 PM  

ARTIE Shaw?? zzzzzzz. Better yet, who could ever forget ARTIE Johnson on Laugh-In? The old pervert on the park bench with Ruth Buzzie, or the palm leaf-parting Kraut who's only funny line was "Veeeeery Interesting.... but stinky"

Rex Parker 1:35 PM  

ARTIE Shaw is a famous bandleader, whereas ARTE Johnson spelled his name like that.


Linda G 7:02 PM  

True confession time, and I'm ready for your wrath. I have only seen one episode of The Simpsons, and it was in an honors class I took five years ago.

So, I didn't "know" the quote (wrong as it was), but I was able to guess because it sounded like something Homer would say. And I had enough of the downs to be able to fill in the blanks.

In my defense, we haven't watched television for more than 10 years. Nothing personal against the show ;)

Learned about ERGOT and the whole Salem witch story in a class on Drugs and Human Behavior. Didn't remember it for the puzzle, but I got an A in the class.

Thank you, Anon, for clearing up the NENES mystery. It should have been clued as a Hawaiian goose, even though I didn't see any when we were there.

michael 4:43 AM  

a "round" of golf is eighteen holes, not nine. golf snobs don't even like playing nine holes. they consider it only half a game. i'm guessing, but "round" probably refers to around the golf course, which is the way courses were originally designed, with nine holes leaving you way out on the course.

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