WEDNESDAY, Jan. 3, 2007 - Kim Seidl

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Solving time: 5:57

THEME: Game Pieces, I think - Theme answers begin with board game pieces: TOKEN (20A), MARBLE (32A), PAWN (41A), DIE (52A)

It took me a long time to figure out this puzzle's theme for some reason, but who cares - I posted my Fastest Time Ever for Wednesday, and am currently at #29 on the leaderboard (out of 219 solvers) at the Times site, which is ... insane, for me. Never happens. I was several minutes ahead of my average for a Wednesday, I crushed my normal competition, and my name now sits among names of people who are Way Better Than I Am. I'm in full Tournament Mode now. Two-and-a-half months to go. I'm expecting my ACPT registration material in the mail any moment now. C Division, here I come (reality: I will get stomped by much better solvers, but I'm enjoying exuding fake bravado at the moment)!

6A: Nascar's Gordon (Jeff)

How well were things going for me last night? Well, for example, the second clue I looked at was a NASCAR clue (ugh) ... and it was a gimme! I believe there are only about three imaginable NASCAR clues in the known universe that are gimmes for me, and this is one of them. In fact, this is the first answer I filled in. Thank you, NASCAR. There was also one real sport referenced in the grid today: 5D: Slalom alternative (downhill).

37A: Nancy of "Access Hollywood" (O'Dell)
40A: Do, for example (note)
43A: It should be low on a diamond (E.R.A.)

These are the answers that cross the Western Plains of this puzzle, and they were all very elusive, for different reasons. In the first place, "Access Hollywood?" Look, there's lowbrow - of which I'm generally a fan - and then there's Nobrow, or Unibrow, or in my case, Furrowedbrow. I knew a Tara and a Bobby O'DELL growing up. I am familiar with the Farmer in the DELL. My old crappy crash-prone computer was A DELL. My DELL knowledge ends there. And my "Access Hollywood" knowledge ends where it begins, which is nowhere. I only just now figured out what 40A was getting at - First thought "Do" was a verb, then thought it was a hairstyle; only now figured out that it is what the answer says it is: a NOTE (e.g. a deer, a female deer). I object to the baseball clue here. "Should" be low? The pitcher would like it to be low, I guess. But it's not an absolute. There's nothing in the rules about its being low. Batters don't want the pitcher's E.R.A. to be low - and there are several pitching stats more important than E.R.A. Cork SHOULD NOT be in your bat, pine tar SHOULD NOT be on your pitching hand, but an E.R.A. can be wherever it wants to be, and the game goes on and there are no rule or propriety violations. "Should" shmould. If it weren't for the fairly easy Down clues here in the West - 32D: "Haystacks" painter (Monet) and 33D: Really go for (adore), I could have stalled very badly. As it was, I just stumbled a bit. It did take me a while, though to figure out the whole first half of the long 34D: Inhibitor (retardant).

1D: Sudden burst (spate)

So tricky for such an innocuous-seeming clue. I had _PA___ and boldly (wrongly) entered SPASM. Only got to SPATE on the clean-up (you know, when you go back into a patch of the puzzle that you've "solved" without looking at the crosses, and fix it). This morning, I noticed that my wife had a very different wrong SPA- answer in the same spot: SPARK. SPATE is the most apt word of all the words in question here, but ... I can't visualize a SPATE, which makes it unlikely to rise to the forefront of my mind. I'm sure SPATE has a physical form, but to me, it's just an abstract term.

26D: Handy (utile)

O my wife did not like this word. Really really didn't like it. She kept repeating it, derisively, as if it were the most contemptible, preposterous word on the planet. In fact, before settling on it, she asked "UTILE's not a word, is it?" I was sorry to inform her that it is, in fact, a word. Not a good one, but a word nonetheless. IKON was similarly dissatisfying to her (30D: Sacred image: Var.). Not sure why that was easy for me. Maybe because I had the -KO- and the spelling seemed familiar, probably from some Greek something I came across somewhere (not that I can read Greek at all). I like the friction of IKON against FATWA (29D: Islamic decree) against CIAO (35D: "Bye"). Lots of good exoticism. Actually, there's French and Italian and Hebrew (EZRA's Hebrew, right?) and Latin all over this puzzle. Oooh, and Brazilian (PAULO, 14A).

53D: The Soup _____ (Nazi)
54D: Shrek, for one (ogre)

Speaking of compelling grid friction, these two stand scarily side-by-side at the very bottom (deepest pit of hell) of the puzzle. I object to the Seinfeldian frame of reference here, and the smug certainty (probably warranted, sadly) that Times solvers will know and enjoy remembering the Soup NAZI. I prefer remembering Michael Richards's racist tirade, but to each his own. Wife - who's getting pretty opinionated about the puzzle, I'm realizing - accused the OGRE clue of being "unimaginative" based solely on the fact that she had seen OGRE clued almost exactly the same way (via Shrek) in her book of NYT puzzles that she's working currently working her way through. My only question: if you decide that the bottom of the puzzle is hell, so bad that you would put a NAZI and and OGRE there, why would you also put the A-TEAM down there (48D: Starters)? Yeah, they blow lots of stuff up, but they're the good guys. Who else is going to rescue your daughter from the lair of a drug kingpin who is secretly being funded by government officials? No one, that's who.

10D: Rosie of "Fearless" (Perez)
49D: Head of costume design (Edith)
36A: Dark genre (noir)

Hot Movie Answers! I never saw Fearless, but I did see and enjoy Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, which features a very memorable opening dance number by Ms. Perez (she's good as Mookie's baby's mama, too).
EDITH Head (great clue by the way) was only the most famous movie costume designer of the middle of the century, nominated for 34 Academy Awards (won 8 times). I don't think a costume designer has ever done more for an actress's image and career than EDITH Head did for Grace Kelly - Head designed costume for Kelly's roles in her two most iconic movies: Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. Man those movies are good. NOIR is my favorite genre of all time. I'm directing a graduate student's Independent Study on Film Noir this coming term, which is more fun than work for me. Speaking of NOIR, Edith HEAD designed costumes for Ingrid Bergman in Hitchcock's awesome noir flick Notorious (1946). I haven't even mentioned Frances Farmer, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland - the whole elegant look of the mid-century female film star is basically Edith HEAD's doing. God bless her. And God bless America.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

NY SUN Solving time: 8:09 - KETEL ONE eluded me to the very end, which seems impossible, but it's true. Also stared at the single box where LAW and SOWED cross for many, many seconds, finally getting the "W" only after plugging in every previous letter in the alphabet.


Wendy 10:39 AM  

Under the heading of "where's the consistency?" you'll note in re: my rant of the other day about [SEW a needle pulling thread instead of SOL or SO as the note is called] that today they're reversing themselves and using the actual spelling of the note (DO) instead of the word association (DOE). What up with that? I know, I should let it go. But it still rankles.

Also noted that the first clue and last clue had to do with "green" things. Thought that might be significant, but didn't really seem to be, in the end.

xwords4ever 12:21 PM  

Does your wife also dislike "futile"? It is almost an f-antonym of "utile", don't you think?

Rex Parker 12:30 PM  

Green things? O, right, SALAD and ECO. And Shrek, I suppose. Or very old MARBLE CAKE.

Wife will have to tell you about (F)UTILE. I don't like the word (UTILE), but I just let it pass without comment. Most of the time.


Martin 11:04 AM  

The western plains had me tripped up too. I couldn't get it to fall until I changed RANT to RILE, filled in AIL and finally got MARBLE CAKE. And I didn't get the theme until I read your post.

Linda G 5:54 PM  

This is the first Wednesday puzzle I've completed without googling anything -- AND I actually saw the theme PDQ. I feel good (break into song here, James).

Thanks to my 7-year-old great-niece who ADOREs him, JEFF was a gimme. EDITH was superbly clued.

In the future (actually today, February 14), I have a couple of blanks that just aren't clicking. One more shot at it...

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