SUNDAY, Apr. 15, 2007 - Brendan Emmett Quigley

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "Rube Goldberg Device" - long, long quip describing a complicated contraption

Happy Tax Day - lucky you, it's Sunday, so you've still got time.

The theme quotation is as follows:

23A: First you (PLACE CHEESE ON TO SEE-SAW)
29A: ... which ... (RAISES LIT CANDLE)
56A: ... that ... (HEATS UP TEA KETTLE)
63A: After a while the ... (WHISTLE JOLTS DOZING CAT)
76A: ... who ... (TIPS OVER AQUARIUM)
99A: ... which ... (FLOODS MOUSE HOLE)
110A: Next time ... (BUILD A BETTER MOUSETRAP)

I see that this is a Herculean feat of construction, and yet - it was not much fun to solve. I am familiar with Rube Goldberg contraptions, having played "Mousetrap" as a kid - there was a series of stamps put out by the USPS in the 90's (I think) honoring Rube Goldberg. But there is no "wow factor" (to quote "American Idol") in this quip, except, perhaps, for the final 21-letter punchline. Some of the phrasing in the quip itself seems a bit off. From a grammatical perspective, use of "that" and "which" in the cluing is inconsistent. Since they are all being used in (arguably) non-restrictive clauses, they should all be "which." Or so it seems to me. The "that/which" rule is my shakiest, and one I learned Very late (you know, for someone who teaches English). Plus "ON TO" instead of just "ON" felt weird. Further, "JOLTS" seems slightly off, and how in the world could you control for a cat to JOLT in the direction of an AQUARIUM, let alone knock it over? And yet, I understand that some concessions are typically made, and elegance lost, when constructing something so massive and grid-dominating as this theme. So, I don't know, 'B+' for effort and 'C' for execution. I will say, though, in this puzzle's defense, that it was harder than your average Sunday, which I appreciate, and it features consecutive across answers in the SE corner that read: "SEZ REX" - 108A: "_____ who?" and 109A: QB Grossman. SEZ REX would make a great new title for this blog, or a great new sign off: SO SEZ REX!

Some Enjoyable Stuff

11A: Two-seaters, maybe (maitre d's) - man, this took me a while. I was thinking of bicycles or horse-drawn somethingorothers. Even after I had it filled in, it took me a few beats to get it. "What the hell is a MAITRED!?"

11D: Classic setting for detective pulp fiction (motel) - I love all things pulp fiction AND all things MOTEL ... and yet, with the "L" in place, I couldn't think of a damned thing. BARS and CASINOS and THE MANSIONS OF RICH OLD DUDES are far, far more common than MOTELs, actually. The MOTEL is more of a staple of later (post-war) detective fiction, like Touch of Evil or The Rockford Files.

102D: Asking too much of someone? (usury) - great clue. USURY = also an occasional feature of pulp fiction. And Shakespeare plays.

96D: Pitching figures (ad fees) - "Pitch" in relation to "AD" is old hat, but something about the clue here impressed me as novel (perhaps the "figures" part, which adds to the whole basebally misdirection), and I don't believe I've seen the phrase AD FEES before. It all works. Making the old new. Nice.

93A: Ship-to-shore transport (dinghy) - also, what Archie sometimes called Edith (whose name kind of reminds me of another sitcom wife, ETHEL - 6D: "I Love Lucy" neighbor)

32D: Rock singer Reznor (Trent) - not a big Nine Inch Nails fan, but love the post-1990 pop culture quality of this clue. His last name would have made better fill, but this will do.

20A: Google's domain (the web)
45A: You may put something on it at a bar (the tab)
14D: Antitheft device (The Club)

Somebody knows what I like, namely: Definite Articles Aplenty. Like that they are also all two-syllable phrases ending in "B." There's another "THE" at 22A: Sailing (on the sea). Also, to go with THE WEB, there's 79D: Internet address suffix (.edu) and 111D: Link letters (URL).

Some Not-So-Enjoyable Stuff

19A: Quaint opening for a note (To sir) - Does "Quaint" now mean "so dated that no one born after 1970 would ever have heard such a thing?" The only thing that ever follows TO SIR is WITH LOVE. God I love that song.

65D: Lead character on TV's "The Pretender" (Jarod) - O my god does this @#$#-ing useless has-been character have LEGS (34A: Longevity)! I literally exclaimed profanity on seeing this clue: two words, directed right at JAROD. This was an answer in a recent puzzle. Hated it then, hate it now. I mean, look at him.


You want to hit him right now, don't you?

77D: Blend (immix) - o my god that has Got to be the silliest-looking word in the English language. Stick an "X" on the front and you've got yourself a nice palindromic rap star name.

41A: Music box? (CD case) - it's called a "jewel case."

28A: Bit of athletic wear (knee sock) - My athletic socks were knee-high ... in 1977. I guess soccer players wear high socks ... anyway, this answer was totally obscured to me because the "K" was a "P" / "R" for a good long while, as the only possibly answers I could come up with for 10D: Glimpse (peek at) were PEEP AT and PEER AT.

Some Stuff I Didn't Know

72A: _____ soda (sal) - W... T ... F? Had to look this up. Mineo. Bando. Pizzeria guy from Do The Right Thing - all better SALs than this one.

2D: 1977 biographical Broadway play starring Anne Bancroft (Golda) - Meir, I'm guessing. I had GILDA for a while, but then again, that whole NW corner was a mess because I had ADAGE and possibly AXIOM for 1D: Stock phrase (at par), and that really threw a wrench in the system.

76D: Mississippi senator Cochran (Thad) - wow that's a dumb name. I'm tho thad to thay that, but it'th twoo. Never heard of this guy. My nieces and nephew spent a good portion of my recent Mexican vacation spelling MISSISSIPPI really fast, over and over and over.

89D: Handel's "_____ Anthems" (Chandos) - composed for the Duke of Chandos. Go figure.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS if the grid is wrong today, I apologize in advance. NYT site kept telling me it didn't know who I was, then when I got in, the grid wouldn't come up for me. So I solved in Across Lite and screen-grabbed from there

28 comments:

DONALD 12:15 PM  

What a great read -- fantastic!

Linda G 12:20 PM  

Thank you (!) for explaining MAITREDS. Jeez, I looked at it forever and didn't get it.

Also had PEERAT for a while, but once I put BONNET in (good cluing), I knew I needed that K. There is no athletic wear that begins with RN.

I didn't find most of the fill that difficult, so I had a lot of correct letters in those long answers. Didn't help much, though. The only one that jumped out at me was BUILDABETTERMOUSETRAP.

SEZ REX -- I love it!

IMHO, if you're suffering from jet lag, it doesn't show in your blogging.

Orange 12:26 PM  

I love JAROD! C'mon, the messed-up childhood when he was stolen from his parents and raised by wacky experimenters? Who molded him into the super-genius who could pass for anything? Plunk him into a hospital, and he can save your life—he's like MacGyver, only much smarter. I'll bet he was really good at crosswords...

Better TRENT Reznor than TRENT Lott!

Alex 12:45 PM  

I too liked The Pretender, though I never saw any of the final season so I don't know if they wrapped things up.

I never filled in the NE corner since MAITREDS made so little senses. I had -AITREDS and -OTEL so knew that it was either MAITREDS or HAITREDS. Breifely considered that HAITREDS was a pun of some sort for HATREDS but decided it must be M. Since there was no way that MAITREDS is a word I decided it must be MATTRESS (which generally seats one or two). But the rest of the NE was so solid (I really liked Crack team? = DEA) I couldn't make it work.

So faced with nonsense no matter how I did it, I just left that square empty.

Wendy 1:17 PM  

Rex, I'm with you on the TO SIR. I too love that flick. Have you seen Martin Scorcese's film series on the blues; Lulu shows up in one of the episodes, singing with Tom Jones, Jeff Beck and Van Morrison, god can she still belt 'em. And she looks wonderful. It's in the Red, White & Blues episode that Mike Figgis directed.

Another slog through the quagmire; not as dire as last Sunday but still not fun. These gargantuan quips are just devastating to the solving experience. Like Linda, even when I had a lot of correct letters in the long answers, I remained 'clue'less as to where I was headed.

Susan 2:01 PM  

Well, I'm grateful for your blog, or I would be totally lost. But I had 11A as Waitress and waitresses seat and serve people at 2-top tables all the time. Wasn't sure what SEA meant for Crack team though......

Ultra Vi 2:06 PM  

REX SEZ this one was challenging, and yes, it was. I happened to love the long (and admittedly somewhat tedious) quote, though. Somehow it reminded me of something my dad would have gotten a kick out of. The one answer I stared and stared at was 41D: Music genre, briefly. I got CANDW which I figured was some new version of hip-hop or rap I hadn't heard of, but no, it's Country AND Western. Groan.

A little local diversion: I finished the puzzle over lunch from my perch in the 2nd floor of a bagel place overlooking Copley Square, site of the finish line for the Boston Marathon. Tomorrow is the marathon (and Patriots Day, giving MA residents an extra day to file taxes! ha!), and it was fun solving while looking out over the multitudes of very, very athletic-looking people wandering about. Someone noted that the Boston Marathon and the ACPT are two of the few places where beginners can run alongside the champs...or at least, trail along behind them.

Good luck to everyone running tomorrow!

alexwordnyt 2:16 PM  

First time comment - I track this blog often to "cheat" and enjoy the chat. I am an aspiring constructor, never been published (so you will appreciate where my comments are coming from!).

Very complex puzzle from Mr. Quigley. Clear indicator that if Mr. Shortz likes the theme, he will allow entries that would otherwise lead to rejection. SAW crossing SAW, and the multiple "THE"s were quite annoying. [THE WEB, THE TAB, THE CLUB, THE SEA]

Did like the final theme entry - also enjoyed MAITRED, very tricky.

AX

JC66 2:36 PM  

Maitred got me, too.

BTW, this puzzle was evocative of a Step Quote. Does anyone know what ever happened to this theme? I don't remember seeing it in a long time.

Norrin2 2:47 PM  

I liked this puzzle a lot, but then BEQ is one of my favorite constructors. "Maitre D's" made me laugh and that's one of the reasons I love crosswords.
The Rube Goldberg stamp was one of a series honoring the first 50 years of comic strips (1895-1945), also included were Gasoline Alley, Orphan Annie, Popeye, Blondie, Dick Tracy, Barney Google, Alley Oop, The Yellow Kid, The Katzenjammer Kids, Little Nemo in Slumberland, Bringing Up Father (Maggie and Jiggs), Krazy Kat (my all-time favorite strip), Toonerville Folks, Nancy, Flash Gordon, Li'l Abner, Terry and the Pirates, Prince Valiant and Brenda Starr.
If I remember correctly, there was some controversy about including Brenda Starr, not because it wasn't a great strip (which it was) but because its creator Dale Messick was still alive (she died in 2005), and the USPS has that rule against having living people on stamps. Eventually I guess they realized that Brenda and Dale were too different people.

mmpo 3:22 PM  

Which vs. that: I think the distinction, though useful, is one of those rules that grammarians made up after the fact to make these two relative pronouns...distinct. If you accept the run-on sentence, I think it's legitimate to opt for variety (which, then that) over adherence to a dubious grammatical distinction (which, by the way, I do choose to observe in my writing). What troubles me is the hyphen in the clue for MAITRED. What I understand is that the maître d'hôtel (not motel) seats parties of two, four or however many ones are in the party being seated. A two-seater (adj.) sports car, yes, but a seater of twos would be a two seater, no?
-Not Mrs. Thistlebottom
p.s. On the so-so series from yesterday's puzzle, it occurred to me that an octave is more an interval than a series. A so-so series, it seems to me, would be a scale (possibly a major scale with a flat seventh). But in both cases, if you don't fudge a little bit, you risk ruining the clue, so, hey, it's fine with me.

rock rabbit 3:26 PM  

Aargh! Two wordy comments lost to cyberspace, and I'm trying again. With PAGES instead of AIDES for senate staff, I had a dozing APE instead of a dozing CAT for the longest time....

rock rabbit 3:30 PM  

Well, I just can't let one of my lost comments go. Athletic wear: TUBE SOCK, yes. KNEE SOCK, no. A knee sock brings to mind parochial school wear, with white oxford blouse, plaid pleated skirt, and penny loafers or saddle shoes. How about cluing KNEE SOCK as "argyle item"?

rock rabbit 3:33 PM  

ps now that I know my comments are actually registering, I will add that I really enjoyed the Looney Tunes-ish theme. And Norrin2, thanks for the fun stamp info, Brenda Starr was my favorite childhood CEREAL FICTION (love that term, Rex)!

cara 3:41 PM  

I had an easier time with this one than most people... my dad is a master-solver and I sent the puzzle to him (because our last name is GOLDBERG and his father was REUBEN) and he's struggling. This is definitely a puzzle with "younger" cluing ... not to say that REX has lived AEONS! But I was also really really excited for this puzzle because of the Goldberg thing.

I think the most confusing part, that helped get the trick once you figured it out, was the lack of "the" in all the theme fill. But it's written like a recipe I guess.

As soon as I dropped the (first) U into the theme fill at 76-across I knew to look for a Q from Quigley, and that also helped me put in the J and the Z without doubting myself.

But anyway I am posting because I have a question: Is this an actual quote or just 'esque' ???

Anonymous 4:06 PM  

I believe that the quip refers to a favorite computer game of mine, "The Incredible Machine (parts one and two)."

Squash's mom 5:06 PM  

My son did an independent study of Rube Goldberg several years ago so this puzzle was a hoot. Has anyone seen that old Honda commercial that is reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg machine? It's pretty impressive. You should check it out on YouTube here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEF0cg1j35o

I never understood MAITRED or CANDW until I came to this blog.Thanks for that! I knew that HOTEL would not be seedy enough for a pulp fiction story, so I went ahead and put the M in there and hoped for the best.

THE CLUB brought up bad memories for me of not using it one night and having my car stolen. Never again.

I agree, KNEE SOCKS are what young girls wear with skirts, I had TUBE SOCKS in there for the longest time.

mmpo 5:14 PM  

Also having troubles posting. Here's the streamlined version...

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
The rest is an example, I think--an elaborate (and inventive) lead-in to the punch line.

mmpo 5:16 PM  

I first had KNEEPADS up there, but had to abandon that for ANOSE. I was tentative about KNEESOCK until crosses confirmed it.

barrywep 9:49 PM  

Not the first time I scratched my head and wondered what a MAITRED was.

M. Murphy 11:13 PM  

Your improvisation on "Thad" is hilarious. Thanks for linking to my Sox blog. I'm even blogging rain outs. Happy Patriots Day, tomorrow.

Fitzy 11:36 PM  

Had a lot of trouble w/ this one... but always got a kick out of Old Rube so that made this kinda fun...

I agree w/ Orange who wrote "Better TRENT Reznor than TRENT Lott" ... but Trent Lott could have been tied to Thad Cocharn in some way... to keep up
the Senate mini-theme...

Mentalfloss had a fun blog on contronyms / Janus words this weekend in case you missed it:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/5202

barrywep 12:16 AM  

Actually Trent Lott beat Thad Cochran for Senate Minority Whip this year.

Rex Parker 6:43 AM  

If only Lott had beaten Cochran with an actual whip ... that would have been memorable.

RP

Anonymous 12:19 AM  

Since no one else has mentioned it, I thought I would: Archie Bunker called Edith a dingbat, not a dinghy. (see your comment on clue 93A)

jae 7:51 PM  

One week later here. A hard one but not as hard as last week (didn't google). What made it hard for me was the third level of meaning for some clues, e.g 35d makeup test, 11a two-seaters, and the couple of answers I still have no clue about i.e. 77d immix and 60a sal. Also, I had taste instead of caste for 24d "class" for a long time, so the mouse trap theme of the quip wasn't really clear. After I finished I type maitred into google figuring it might be some kind of car I didn't know about. Google came back with "did you mean maitre 'd?" Yes, yes I did.

WWPierre 9:05 PM  

Loved it! My self esteem has returned after yesterday's debacle. Had to Google THAD. (Well, you can't expect a Canadian to be up on all the minutae of american politics, can you?)

I seldom complain about iffy clues or fill, given the intellectual elbow grease that must go into the construction, but "Glimpse" infers catching something out of the corner of your eye, while you deliberately PEEK AT something.

Northern California was just wrong! ADMIX would have been best, I would even have accepted INMIX with a mild quibble, but, (sorry Mr. Quigly) IMMIX?????? give me a break! INMIX, TOAD, and ONOS, while not great, would have been better.

I did think that the clue for MAITRED was nothing less than brilliant.

Perhaps I liked this puzzle so much because one of the things I do best is contrive wooden mechanisms; door latches, etc. (with wooden springs) If I ever get my web-site operating, you will see what I mean.

Anonymous 8:17 PM  

MRCC
Thanks for the C and W music genre; that really had me foxed!
Thad Cochran - Thaddaeus was one of the twelve apostles (Mark 3:18)

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