Monday, February 12, 2007
Solving time: 3:50
THEME: "LAST DANCE" (64A: 1978 Donna Summer hit ... or a hint to 18-, 25-, 39- and 56-Across)
Today is officially my fastest solving time ever for an NYT puzzle. I shattered my previous record by something like 30 seconds. The top part of the puzzle felt a little creaky as I was doing it - I was having to jump around a lot, and a number of answers didn't come to me quickly. But by the time I hit the middle of the puzzle, I could do no wrong. I don't think I had to backtrack or correct anything in the bottom half of the puzzle. It felt magical. As I look at the puzzle now, I realized that there are several clues I never saw - thankfully, as they would have slowed me right down. They include 68D: Vardalos of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (Nia) [ick, even typing that title makes me cringe] and especially 46D: Navy building crew (seabees) - an answer I recognize but could not define. For some reason COPYEDIT (3D: Tweak, as magazine text) gave me a little trouble, despite that it's an activity I have engaged in frequently in my life. The answer that gave me the most trouble was 29D: Ohio college named for a biblical city (Antioch). ANTIOCH was pretty much the turning point, the line in the sand, the beginning of the end, whatever metaphor fits - once it fell, the rest of the puzzle didn't stand a chance.
This is a great Monday puzzle, and not just 'cause I smoked it. The theme is genuinely clever and elegantly expressed. The theme answers all feature DANCEs as their LAST element, though not only do the dances appear in non-dance contexts, but they are buried inside other words. Here they are:
18A: Sharp-toothed Atlantic swimmer (conger eel) => REEL
25A: Overabundance (plethora) => HORA
39A: Doohickey (thingamajig) => JIG
56A: All-time winningest N.F.L. coach (Don Shula) => HULA
If you look closely, you can see other dance words throughout the grid. ROUND (a form of dancing) can be found in GROUNDER (42D: Alternative to a fly ball), and one might dance in a HALL, which can be found in SHALLOW (2D: Not deep). The best non-theme dance answer, though, is surely A TEASE (11D: Relaxed).
Here's a subtheme: Japanese corporations!
9D: Big video game maker (Sega)
31A: Toyota rival (Honda)
26D: Tokyo electronics giant (Toshiba)
Lots of olde-timey movie answers in this one, including 17A: Film director Frank (Capra) - that did not come to me instantly, as it should have - 20A: Ron of Tarzan fame (Ely) - never saw it, which is good, because I blank on that guy's name like I blank on the Cowardly Lion actor guy's name - and 24A: Actress Gardner (Ava), who is ubiquitous. I was grateful for the "Simpsons" clue, 36D: Lisa, to Bart Simpson (sis), especially since you could have gone a million other ways on that clue. I don't think I've seen GAY clued as 41D: Not straight before. I mean, it's perfect, but I thought puzzles were iffy on direct references to homosexuality. Glad to see that's not (entirely) true. I can tell you that no one has ever called me TEACH (5D: Class instructor, informally) before; I'm not sure anyone has been called TEACH since "Welcome Back, Kotter" went off the air. It's very surprising that my time was so good (for me) considering I completely muffed the very first clue I looked at: 1A: "My Fair Lady" horse race (Ascot). I know nothing about "My Fair Lady" except 'enry 'iggins and "The Rain in Spain." Am I even thinking about the right movie? Anyway, I always get ASCOT confused with another super-common British horse racing answer: EPSOM.
67A: Tennis's Agassi (Andre)
57D: Huge hit (smash)
I just like that these intersect. I also like the Double Wonder-ness of these clues:
22D: Cry of wonder (Ooh)
12D: Musical Wonder (Stevie)
The music of Stevie WONDER (and Donna Summer, for that matter - love her!) will make you dance for sure, though probably not any of the dances featured in this puzzle. Hard to HULA to "Superstition," though "I Just Called to Say 'I Love You'" might work, I suppose.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld