Friday, February 23, 2007
Looking for LA TIMES answers? Go here.
Solving time: 14:44 (on paper)
THEME: Verizon (or, none)
Not a great time, but it took me only slightly longer than Thursday's puzzle, which is heartening somehow. Still trying to hone my paper-solving technique. Today's puzzle was odd for a Friday, in that it seemed somewhat easier than your average Friday, and the grid was not wide open the way Friday grids often are. I like 'em wide open on Friday and Saturday. Today's grid = fussy grid. Nooks and crannies: good in English muffins, not so good in my Friday puzzle. Still, this puzzle had merit.
Why am I claiming "Verizon" as a potential theme for this puzzle? Good question, thanks for asking. Here is why - they provide computer, television (this part's new), and telephone service, all of which are in some way, however tenuously, related to the following group of answers:
1A: Kind of blocker (spam)
14A: Conference intro (tele-)
12D: Show over (re-air)
52A: Pioneering 1940's computer (Eniac)
54A: Business card abbr. (ext.)
55A: Modern phone display (text message)
VERIZON was the most concise heading I could think of under which to bring all these disparate answers that somehow are related to each other in my head. VERIZON probably didn't exist in the days of ENIAC, but whatever. All these answers relate to electronic communication somehow. A TEXT MESSAGE in BROKEN ENGLISH (9D: Difficult means of communication) can be painful, especially if IT'S A LONG STORY (18D: "Too much to go into now") - those last two answers have 180-degree rotational symmetry, by the way - nice!
30A: It works as a translator (RNA)
Had only the "N" and knew this, but god knows why, as my knowledge of biology (beyond the rudiments) sucks. 10th grade Biology class threw this answer up at me, I'm pretty sure. One biological answer I never would have gotten in a million years (without crosses) was the horribly wrong-looking RETE (36D: Nerve network). I can barely stand to look at that "word," so wrong does it look. The "R" in RETE was the very last letter I filled in, Very Tentatively, and only because it made an actual word out of the cross - 33A: Splash guard (fender) - even though I have Never heard of FENDER in any context other than ... oh, wait, do the FENDERs go over the wheels of a car (or other wheeled vehicle)? I somehow always conflated the FENDER and the bumper, I think. They seem, however, to be the part of the body that forms the wheel well - adjacent to but not the same thing as the bumper. FENDER also makes guitars, an instrument favored by Freddie FENDER, I think.
38A: Head (lav)
6D: Like the Mikado and Nanki-Poo (oriental)
These answers are both disturbing, in very different ways. First, I hate all toilet-related imagery in my puzzle. I'm tolerant of lots and lots of dirty, crazy, even outright offensive stuff, as long as it doesn't involve the toilet. Does not pass my breakfast table test. Speaking of toilets, I can barely look at "Nanki-poo," for multiple reasons. You might have properly changed ORIENTAL to ORIENTALIST, in the sense of "at least vaguely racist caricatures of Asian people." My little college had a big kerfuffle over a production of "The Mikado" because some people (one professor in particular) found the play offensive and so did not want it performed on campus. She got a number of well-meaning liberal kids to agree with her. I always love the delicious irony of liberals advocating censorship. Anyway, it was the very early 90's, when "Political Correctness" was all still so innocent, somehow - the very phrase was not in the popular lexicon, and was used only (as far as I knew) among us bleeding-heart liberal kids as a way of checking our own self-righteousness. I still cringe every time I see / hear "P.C." or any of its variants (UN-PC, for instance, from a couple of puzzles back). It's become a meaningless term used by assholes who don't want to hear about anyone's problems (but their own). Some other ORIENTAL - ick, let's just say ASIAN - answers in the grid:
62A: Island shared by two countries (Timor)
63A: Eastern queen (Rani)
25D: Red River city (Hanoi)
Now back to good ol' American fill!
20A: Comment of abandon ("What the heck!")
37A: 1960's TV dog (Astro)
43A: High-waisted ... to the extreme! (leggiest)
[Actually, I repunctuated that last clue to make it sound like a Mountain Dew ad - sorry.]
These answers are all beautifully dated. WHAT THE HECK is a "comment of abandon," I suppose, if you are Elroy Jetson (owner of ASTRO). Most people nowadays would change either the last two letters of HECK to -LL, or the first two letters to FU-. LEGGIEST is hot (in an old-fashioned way) and just makes me wish there was more language from 1930's crime movies in the grid, like DAMES and COPPERS and GAMS.
There's some Old Skool crossword fill in today's grid, including ESME (58D: Salinger dedicatee) and CERF (21D: Early "What's My Line?" panelist) - Maleska-era gimmes. Shortz-era gimmes include PENH (2D: Phnom _____), RENEE (16A: Girl's name meaning "born again"), SFO (26A: W. Coast airport - though it coulda been LAX, I guess), and OSCAR (19A: 8 1/2-pound statue - timely, what with the OSCAR ceremony being held this Sunday). The deep SW of this grid had some iffy fill and cluing: 49D: No longer working for the Company (ex-CIA) seems like a jerryrigged term, but it gets nearly a million Google hits ... and I kinda like it, on further inspection. I do not, however, like ATOMS for 50D: Smithereens. I get it - very small particles. But would they really be used synonymously? Did people used to say "I'll blow this place to ATOMS!?" Maybe on that episode of "The Jetsons" where Elroy and ASTRO get heavy into drugs, causing them to turn to crime and hold an entire shopping mall hostage unless their ransom demands are met. ATOMS is just more in keep with the whole futuristic space theme of the show than "Smithereens." The SW is ultimately redeemed, however, by BEETS (48D: Common sugar source), which used to make me think of my wife, who is the only person I know who likes them. Now it also makes me think of Dwight Schrute, who owns a BEET farm with his cousin Mose. Since I like my wife and I like Dwight, I now like BEETS (the word, not the actual plant, gross).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld