Saturday, April 14, 2007
Relative difficulty: Easy
Buenos días. Just got up after traveling all day yesterday, so don't expect much. Flew Cancun to Philadelphia to Syracuse, and after it looked for a bit like we were going to be so delayed in Cancun that we'd miss our connecting flight, miraculously (in a way I've never seen in the States), the stated 1hr+ delay evaporated and we left only a little late and actually got into Philadelphia early. I spent most of the day as I did most of my days in Mexico - nose-deep in Maura Jacobson puzzles (from her New York Magazine puzzle omnibus #1), devouring Sunday-sized puzzle after Sunday-sized puzzle. Jacobson's puzzles are fun, and good vacation fare: reasonably easy (so you can do them while half-drunk and mildly sun-addled), but with lots of little thorny parts that seem to come out of nowhere and bite you, so you won't get bored. I should get to today's puzzle ... I'll provide more details of my trip as they seem relevant. And I will definitely write a mini-essay on in-flight crosswords, sudoku, and other puzzles in the coming week some time.
I like that on my first day back on blogging patrol, I get a puzzle by the author whose name is most pirate-like. Having just returned from the Caribbean, the coincidence seems appropriate. The Caribbean had pirates once, right? It has parrots, that's for sure - and whose shoulders would parrots sit on if not pirates'? Hey, "parrots" and "pirates" ... sound alike ... OK I'm clearly out of practice at this witty observation thing. I'm sure things will improve.
You all seem to have enjoyed yourselves while I was gone. I hope it was fun, because my second reign of tyranny begins ... now.
1A: Dessert preference (à la mode)
4D: Kids' concoctions (mud pies)
Nice intersection here in the NW. I prefer my pie with whipped cream, not ice cream. I ate so much pie in Mexico that I don't even like to think about it. My gigantor family was at one of those all-inclusive resort-type dealies where food is just ... there. As much as you want of an insane variety of foods, three times a day. I am a bit heavier than when I left, and if it hadn't been for pilates classes every morning and yoga classes every afternoon, I'd be another 5-10 pounds heavier, easy. No MUD PIES, though the kids did do a lot of sand piling, and some of the desserts I didn't eat sure looked liked MUD PIES, though in a few cases I would substitute a far grosser word for mud. I didn't eat those.
14A: They're clean (non-users)
17A: Proof provider (acid test)
Another nice NW juxtaposition. Presumably NON-USERS would pass an ACID TEST if what they were Not Using was Acid.
19A: Spa employee, generally speaking (pamperer)
I got to know one spa employee in Cancun very intimately. His name was Fabian. My stepmom booked massages for the whole family the first day we were there, and though my wife, who loves me and knows what I like, was present for the booking, I still somehow ended up getting massaged by a man. Now everyone who reads this blog knows by now that it's very pro-gay and occasionally even flaming. That said, aside from occasionally hugging male relatives, I have zero experience being touched pleasurably by a dude. So there was mild trepidation. But in the end (!), my brother-in-law and I agreed, if Fabian wanted to touch us like that again, we would not be likely to say 'no.' He PAMPERED me good. The worst part was being face down for so long - the pressure on my forehead from the horrid face-hole became quite painful by the time it came time for me to turn over. The best part was lying there on my back at the end with a towel overy my face in utter quiet, and then suddenly hearing, Right By My Ear, in an alarmingly sexy and heavily accented whisper: "we are finished." I left money on the bedside table. Seriously.
20A: So-so series (octave)
A very, very nice misdirective clue. I was thinking "last year's World Series?" but no. "So" = a note on the scale, with "So-so" being G to G on a C Major scale (I think).
49A: Need for a quiet report? (silencer)
Great Clue, Deadly Clue.
21A: Benjamin's love in "The Graduate" (Elaine)
It helps that Dustin Hoffman literally shouts this name, repeatedly, in the movie's climactic scene (pounding on the glass wall looking down on the altar in the church where Elaine is about to marry someone else). A true gimme for anyone who's ever seen the (fantastic) movie, this answer was the very first thing I entered in the grid.
1D: Like some poetic feet (anapestic)
NOW we're talking. It's about time some of the non-iambic feet got some action. An ANAPEST is unstressed-unstressed-stressed, like the beginning of the theme from Rossini's William Tell Overture (or the word "seventeen"). ANAPESTIC is a great word, reminding me for some reason of both snakes and disease (see also SEPSIS - 42A: Toxic condition).
5D: Belgian port (Ostend)
I have to admit, I guess, to never having heard of this place before. It was the one true mystery answer in the whole grid (most of which was filled with common words, terms, and phrases). Belgium is probably the European country I understand least well of all.
7D: It's spoken in Stornoway (Erse)
"Stornoway" sounds Irish. Nope, Scottish. Sorry, Scotland - I know how you hate that Irish-Scottish confusion thing ... Holy Mother of Pearl - Stornoway is way the hell and gone out on the island of Lewis in the far NW of Scotland ("Outer Hebrides"). I've never gotten north of Aberdeen, myself. ERSE = Gaelic, in case you were wondering. Great, old-skool xword fill, like ESNE or ADIT.
8D: Classic novel with the heroine Alexandra Bergson ("O Pioneers")
A Willa Cather novel I've never read (making it like every other Willa Cather novel except "Death Comes for the Archbishop"). This one took me too long because I kept misreading the ending as -NERS instead of -NEERS, making me think only of "DubliNERS," which had to be wrong. And was.
9D: Novel price, way back when (ten cents)
Since I'm a big fan of disposable fiction, you'd think I'd like a reference to the dime novel, and yet somehow the phrasing on the clue and the wording of the answer both bother me. "Way back when"??? What the hell kind of vague, folksy cluing idiom is that? WHEN is right. WHEN? The turn of the 20th century is hardly "Way Back" in the scope of time, or even in the history of the novel as a genre. Plus, the phrase was never the "Ten Cent Novel" - it was the "Dime Novel." So I'm oddly disappointed.
15D: Rulers (straight edges)
I was very proud for getting this off of just the STR- and thus breaking the puzzle wide open. But then I immediately had this eerie sense of déjà vu, like I had seen this exact clue / answer pairing, possibly in this very same puzzle position, before. This took some of my elation away. If any of you had the same experience, please let me know.
27D: Gilda's father, in opera (Rigoletto)
There was no way in hell I was getting this based on any info in the clue besides "opera" - RIGOLETTO is one of those names floating around in my head for unknown reasons, so once I had a few crosses, it seemed a good enough guess, so I went with it, and ta da!
32D: Sinatra or Capra (Sicilian)
Whoa. Didn't see that coming. Is this by blood or by birth? Or both? Well, Sinatra was born in Hoboken, so I guess that answers that.
36D: "Fanfare for the Common Man" composer (Copland)
Like ELAINE, this one was a gimme, even though I've never heard (to my knowledge) "Fanfare for the Common Man" - I saw a great performance of "Appalachian Spring" performed by the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra the night Pope John Paul II died (total coincidence - just memorable is all). This puzzle ended up having a lot more musical answers than I'd noticed in my initial perusal of the finished grid. I might have delineated a kind of subtheme if I'd been observant enough. But I'm happy enough with this entry, for a first entry after vacation. Two complaints. The Rex Parker Variant Rule = only one "Var." clue per puzzle. This puzzle has two. So, frowny face. Also, this puzzle has a ridiculous number of ODD JOBS (i.e. nouns ending in -ER):
ANIMATERS (doubly offensive, as it's also a "Var." - 3D: Producers of some shorts: Var.)
REGRETTERS (27A: They'd like to take things back)
SIGHERS (32A: Some relieved people)
RECTIFIER (29D: Device for converting alternating current into direct current)
SENDERS (51A: Things are often returned to them)
Other than that, a nice, relatively easy way to ease my way back into blogging. I want to thank all my guest bloggers - Robert Loy, Colman deKay, Linda G, Howard Barkin, and Dave Sullivan - for their inspired, unpaid labor. I am most grateful, as are many readers, I'm sure.
See you tomorrow.
Signed (once again), Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld