WEDNESDAY, Jan. 24, 2007 - Gary Steinmehl

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Solving time: 13:16

THEME: Desserts - all theme answers start with dessert names used in non-dessert contexts, e.g. 45A: Credit of a sort (brownie point)

This was not a good puzzle for me, as you can see my by Thursday- or Friday-like time. Did two Thursday puzzles (out of this book) just before I did this one, and both Thursdays were done in (much) better times than today's 13:16. What makes my slowness truly galling is that I know the answers - it's not like I got thrown by obscurity or ignorance. I got thrown by my inability to see the contours for the phrases - that is, to see where words in multiple-word answers began and ended. I was further thrown by my inability to see PIE as a name, let alone a dessert, despite the fact that not only do I know who PIE TRAYNOR (17A (THEME): Pittsburgh Hall-of-Fame third baseman) is - I can quote a "Simpsons" line with PIE TRAYNOR's name in it! I am currently cuing up "Homer at the Bat" (from Season Three) - nope, the quotation isn't there, though in that episode, PIE TRAYNOR is the third baseman on Mr. Burns's first proposed team of ringers for his Power Plant softball team. Hmmm, I'll try "Dancing Homer" (Season Two, when Homer briefly becomes the mascot for the minor league Springfield Isotopes) - I know the quotation is out there somewhere ... HA, YES! Stupid internet didn't have the quotation, but my beautiful, faithful DVDs and my ridiculous infinite patience have rewarded me with the quotation I was seeking! Homer is sad when Mr. Burns sits right next to him at the Power Plant-sponsored Family Night at the ballpark, figuring his good, beer-drinking time will be ruined. But then he and Burnsie start having fun, drinking, doing the wave, etc. Toward the end of the game, the Isotopes look certain to lose, and after watching a 'tope strike out (the second out of the ninth inning), Burns exclaims:

"Damnation! These banjos couldn't carry PIE TRAYNOR's glove!"

"Banjos," awesome. Burns's ridiculously old-timey speech gives me great pleasure. Now that I have confirmed that my memory is not totally faulty, on to the puzzle.

And back to PIE TRAYNOR. I can't tell you how long I stared at PIETR-YNOR and thought "PIETRO? Was there an Italian baseball player named PIETRO YNOR?" This was at the end of my solving experience, after I (supposedly) had the theme. Didn't see PIE. Instead, thinking it was some dumb-ass, made-up dessert like NAPOLEON (29A (THEME): The man from U.N.C.L.E. (Napoleon Solo)), I thought "PIETRA? PIETRI? PIETRO? Italian dessert?" I couldn't even see PIE, let alone PIE [space] TRAYNOR. All because _IDE_E CAMP (18D: With 53-Down, officer's helper) meant nothing to me. An officer is helped by a CAMP? RIDERE CAMP? SIDELE CAMP? Ugh. I don't even remember how I finally arrived at the correct AIDE DE CAMP. So, baseball and French, two things I know something about ... end up crushing my skull. FOYT (5D: Four-time Indy winner) always breaks me, too; I get the -OYT part, and then can never remember what the @#$#-ing consonant is. FOYT is a stupid, hick name. And the F-cross (5A: Easy mark, in cards (fish)) provided no help - not a term I've heard much, if at all.

30D: Infrequent: Abbr. (occ.)
32A: Turn-of-the-century year (DCC)

I had the final "C" of 32A, but not yet having AIDE DE CAMP - which provides the "D" in DCC - I couldn't decide what "year" the damned clue was talking about. Too vague a clue. Arbitrary, stupid clue. Worse, though, is OCC. I had O-C and just stared at it. When is OCC. used as an Abbr.? I know it's (probably ) short for "OCCasionally," but still, ick. I was starting to think that I'd spelled NAPOLEON wrong, and the first letter might be "A" ... that's how stupidly frustrated I got by this one square. Grrr.

9A: Pale hue (aqua)

I never think of AQUA as "pale," though I suppose it has legitimate claim to that designation. On the count of three, all crossworders everywhere will tell me the four-letter answer I instinctively entered here. One, two, three! ECRU! Is that word in the Pantheon, 'cause it should be. ECRU gave me the "E" in ELM (9D: Workable wood), though sadly the answer was not ELM but ASH. That whole NE corner might have been an utter disaster if TEN (23A: Perfect rating) hadn't bailed me out, giving me the terminal letter combination for the two five-letter Downs, 10D: "Indubitably!" ("Quite!") and 11D: Starving (unfed), both of which were very hard to see with just their final letters in place.

47D: Bewhiskered beast (walrus)
64A: _____ salad (tuna)
54A: California river named for a common sight in it (Eel)

With FISH and AQUA in the far north of the puzzle, these two southern hemisphere-dwellers continue our surprisingly deep nautical theme. We could even stretch it to include a first MATE (63A: Spouse) whose ship has SUNK (16A: Done for) off the coast of ELBA (38D: Site of a notable exile). The MATE ASKS (67A: Sets, as a price) for help via RADIO (65A: Dashboard feature), but in the end he is not SPARED (24A: Let go) from a briny death, and a ONE-WAY (49D: Arrow words) ticket to see PETER (48D: Fizzle out) at the Pearly Gates. Now that that little anecdote is over, I can tell you that I am from California, and I don't know that I ever saw a "river" in the state during my entire 12 years living there. Any "rivers" were usually (if not always) dry. River beds, not actual rivers. The fact that there are EELS anywhere in California comes as a total shock to me. As for ELBA, I like the tie-in with NAPOLEON at 29A. Nice.

Most of the rest of this puzzle was tractable. Liked seeing Rhoda's mom IDA (60D: TV's Mrs. Morgenstern) in the puzzle. Nancy Walker is perhaps best known, of course, as Rosie the waitress from the old "Quicker Picker Upper" Bounty commercials. Or is that the "You're soaking in it!" lady? No, "You're soaking in it" was from Palmolive ads featuring "Madge," played by actress Jan Miner. Commercials used to be so much better, somehow. Throw in Mr. Whipple here, and you have a holy trinity of 70's advertising.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Donald 5:44 PM  

It's like I have a twin!

Howard B 6:26 PM  

Don't know about anyone else, but NAPOLEON SOLO had me reeling for a while. Never, ever heard of this one, as TV trivia just isn't my strong point. In fact, it's not really even a point at all. I needed just about every crossing letter to get that. Same applies to IDA.
In fact, the whole puzzle had a sort of Maleskian* vibe to me.
Nothing wrong with the puzzle, just wasn't on my wavelength. If Napoleon didn't get you, it was Pie, if Pie didn't get you, it was Mr.Foyt.

* Maleskian - a cousin of Lovecraftian, with less tentacles and more SETAE.

Anonymous 7:13 PM  

Or FEWER tentacles. Jesus, why can't people get the difference between less and fewer?
Cranky, yes, well, I admit it.
I also despise the fact that LOAN has obliterated the use of LEND. Give me a loan. Lend me some money.
This, folks, is proper English.
And poor paragraphing, but I'm rushed. The Australian Open calls.

Linda G 8:07 PM  

Sadly, The Man from UNCLE isn't trivia to some of us. My mother and I SO had the hots for David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin. I found this puzzle pretty tough for a Wednesday. I have Will Shortz's Favorites, and I generally breeze through M-F puzzles. I'll keep at it -- I've only been doing these since September.

Howard B 9:02 PM  

Always interesting how each person brings their own expereiences, strengths and pitfalls to the puzzles (remind me to brush up on my historical and television knowledge). It all evens out by the weekend puzzles, however, where there is something to trap almost everyone.
Still, I'm glad I wasn't the only one who found that offering a bit tough for a Wednesday.

On a side note, thanks Rex. I owe you a pancake. However, I'm not easily offended - my grammar and writing weaknesses are further amplified when I try and respond to anything right after work or in the morning, including E-mail and blog postings.
That's my excuse, and I'm stubbornly sticking to it.

DandyD 9:19 AM  

hi Rex,
Discovered your blog a few weeks ago and absolutely love all your clever comments on the Sunday puzzles. Thanks for making the puzzle even more entertaining than it already is.

Anonymous 10:07 AM  


Rosetta Maranos 12:43 PM  

I get the NYT puzzle in the Seattle PI--it's always a month behind. I had the same problems with the "Pittsbugh 3rd baseman" and the "Man from UNCLE" clues, and to add insult to injury, the paper inverted the clues, so I was twice confounded!

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