THURSDAY, Apr. 5, 2007 - Mike Shenk

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Fake Autobiography Titles - Celebrity names have "I" added to their front to make new, odd phrases, which are then clued as possible autobiography titles, e.g. 17A: "A County in la Nazione: Autobiography of a 'Godfather' Star" (Italia Shire => I, TALIA SHIRE)

This theme was simultaneously complex and simple. Complex in that the clue has double reference - to the made-up phrase and the possible autobiography title - and simple in that all of the answers were easy to get, with one possible exception. The other theme clues and answers were:

  • 35A: "Mark of a Big Movie: Autobiography of a Western Author" (IMAX Brand => I, MAX BRAND)
  • 25D: "Sick Noggin: Autobiography of a Mail-Order Pioneer" (Ill Bean => I, L.L. BEAN)
  • 58A: "Unyielding Sweetheart: Autobiography of a Big-League Pitcher" (Iron Darling => I, RON DARLING)

OK, the first of those might be hard if you don't collect old paperbacks the way I do, and the last of those might be hard if you haven't followed baseball semi-closely the past 29 years the way I have. Still, the crosses were not that hard, so you could your way through the puzzle with little hindrance. Though not challenging, this theme was very clever and a lot of fun to flesh out.

I have to be quick about it today, as Sahra is home from school and needs some looking after. Plus, we leave for Mexico tomorrow and I have to deal with taxes, the house-sitter, packing, etc. I have an army of guest bloggers set to fill in for me while I'm gone. I'll announce the slate later today.

1A: Supreme leader (Ross) - great clue; I had to sit on it a few seconds before the answer came to me. Seems like it oughta be SUPREMES (plural) leader, but I guess she did lead one Supreme ... and also another. A stretch, but we'll allow it.

11A: "Top Gun" target (Mig) - "Gonna take ya Riiight Innnntooo theeee DANger ZONE!" I went to this movie on possibly the world's most hilarious double date (and possibly the only actual double date of my life). I had a sweaty-palms crush on a boring girl whom I could barely talk to, so somehow my best friend and I arranged that we would all three (along with another girl) go out to a movie together. So not a date, date, because I had no guts and would never have asked anyone out. But a de facto date. Anyway, it was fun in an entirely asexual way, we never went out as a group or as couples again, and 15 years later I found out that my best friend in high school was gay. At the time, I had no idea, but looking back: duh. I tried to look him up recently, but he has the world's most common name and ... I mean, a brilliant Chinese guy named [name withheld] who went to Berkeley ... yeah, that narrows it down to somewhere in the thousands, probably. Anyway, "Top Gun." Good times.

20A: "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." star (Nabors) - ah, the golden-throated dork. Golly, Sarge. I think I have an old Maxwell House coffee promotional vinyl album featuring Barbra Streisand and Jim Nabors... the question, then, is WHY do I have it? Seriously, I'd like to know.

50A: Airline since 1948 (El Al) - You should know this. If you want to have any future in crossword solving, you have to develop the EL AL Reflex. All airline clues are EL AL by default. The 1948 part here (a big giveaway) is almost redundant. Airline = El Al unless it simply doesn't fit or is clued to a country that is clearly not Israel.

57A: Bulldog booster (Eli) - Yet another Reflex you must develop. ELI is short for ELIHU Yale, the college's first benefactor. Read this if you like stories about the early 18th century that have Cotton Mather in them.

6D: Sister of Helios (Eos) - Goddess of the Dawn. Not Pantheon material, but she is occasionally brought in in specialized situations, kind of like a submarine-throwing left-hander. Pitch to David Ortiz, and then you're out of there. I swear that that analogy works, on some level.

1D: Pointer for gold seekers? (rainbow) - this took me a while; I couldn't unravel the questionmarkiness of the clue. I was thinking grizzled prospectors, not leprechauns. Also briefly thought this was a dog clue.

3D: Work of art (stabile) - honestly ... I don't know what this is!!! PIETA, yes, STABILE ... uh, no. I'll look it up now. Here is the definition:

type of stationary abstract sculpture, developed by the 20th-century American artist Alexander Calder and usually characterized by simple forms executed in sheet metal; the term, coined in reference to Calder's work by Jean Arp in 1931 (compare mobile), was later applied to similar works by other artists.

Ah, so it's like a MOBILE, only it doesn't MOBE. So it's STAB(I)LE. Gotcha. ARP is a good crossword name to know (often clued in reference to Dada). CALDER's not a bad one to know either (that's his STABILE, right).

39D: "Sidereus Nuncius" author (Galileo) - good example of how an nutso-looking clue can psych you (read: me) out. I had the GAL- part and was still flummoxed. I wanted it to be GALEN, but that wasn't long enough. GALEN? What the hell? I went for the much more obscure answer when the common was practically biting me in the nose. It happens.

40D: Countertop choice (granite) - so literal that I totally missed it. I was thinking AMANA or some other brand name, or possibly an appliance (considered GRINDER at one point (?)).

45D: Arctic transports (sledges) - Oh what fun it is to ride! Raise your hand if you had SLEIGHS. Here is Wikipedia's first sentence in the definition for "sled":

A sled, sledge or sleigh is a vehicle with runners for sliding instead of wheels for rolling.

Come on - they all mean the same thing? Can't we get rid of two of them, then?

47D: Oscar Wilde play (Salome) - also, Strauss opera based on that play. Nice write-up of the Salome controversy here. Salaciousness aplenty, including incestuous desire, lascivious dancing, and attention lavished on a severed head. Remains one of the few operas I really, really want to see.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


barrywep 11:18 AM  

An "ELAL reflex" (I love that term)in the generic sense is especially necessary when doing the excellent Peter Gordon edited puzzles in the NY Sun for reasons I have often discussed on the Crossword Fiend blog.

Rock rabbit 11:19 AM  

Raising my hand for "sleigh instead of sledge". In my mind, SLEDGE and HAMMER are inextricably linked. And besides, sledge sounds too much like "sludge" (ick... a mixture of slush and mud) which is what our sleds and skiis are running on now that its early spring.

Apparently, I still need to develop the ELI reflex. I had VET for bulldog booster....

Alex 12:18 PM  

Enjoyed the theme very much today. Even once I understood it several still required something but were gettable (and it was nice to be able to put an I into each starting spot).

Only major screwup was having I MAX B-A-D and somehow being certain that I've heard of MAX BEARD. Turns out I haven't and it took me quite a while to fix my mistake.

TAR didn't make sense for "biscuit or almond" but then neither does TAN. Though I'm sure I'm missing something obvious.

Rex Parker 12:20 PM  

I think "Biscuit" and "almond" are being referred to here as COLORS, hence "tan."


Wendy 12:20 PM  

Easy for YOU, maybe ... I know it's a bad day when I have such fill as COMPUP and KNEBDS. WTF? And yes, I had 'STANGS for TBIRDS. I will admit to it. And other niceties such as BAR for EAR as the site of a stud. God, I'm (not) good at this. Anyway, laughed all the way through the blog today; the guests will have a tall order to fill - mirth is my #1 daily need in order to survive life's endless BS. Almost more than the actual answers.

Have a great time. You will truly be missed.

Linda G 12:33 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ultra Vi 1:19 PM  

I, too, liked the theme and found that figuring it out early on made the rest of the puzzle fall into place (fairly) easily. NOT grasping themes early enough at the tourney was one of my major weaknesses.

I instantly knew SLEDGE (I don't know - to me a sleigh seems to be in a different category, like...bigger?) but struggled a bit further north, first having VALIANT in place of GALLANT [stouthearted] and so wanting [move] to VIBRATE rather than MIGRATE.

Wendy, hang in there! You made me laugh with your notion of STUDS at bars (my other weakness at the tourney)!

Alex 1:58 PM  

Ah, that makes sense on the TAN thing. Probably my white trash roots but for me a biscuit is a Bisquick drop biscuit and those pretty much stay white (at least the way my mom makes them). So I was thinking that TAN must be some category of food, maybe like TACK.

The may actually be synonymous but this is how I break them down in my own head:

SLED - Small, for individual (or a couple at most, personal use. Powered by gravity.

SLEIGH - For domestic use, larger with an actual seating area. Drawn by some animal (or even motorized).

SLEDGE - Pretty much same as a sleigh but intended for hauling or some industrial use.

So, get a horse drawn vehicle with runners and put a dating couple in the front seat and it is a sleight to me. Put a coal delivery in the back and it is a sledge.

mmpo 2:23 PM  

I had the entire puzzle filled out and still didn't get how ROSS could be "supreme leader." But it was either that or BAINBOW! I seriously looked up bain in the dictionary to see if this might be one of those strange puns. After all the clue ended with a question mark. Started to jot down some comments before blog was up, and...oh. Diana. Right.

And... the musical clues continue...I had LENTO in LARGO's place. That and SSN for "pay stub line" really slowed me down in the SW corner. But once Galileo moved in and displaced these two (I admit it; I broke down and Googled Sidereus Nuncius), and the SW corner fell quickly into place.

Stouthearted-->gallant? Are you sure about that? (OK, def. 2B at I too had VALIANT, as I'm sure many other people did. Good one.

Yes (raising hand), I had SLEIGH before SLEDGE (thought it referred to the "annual traveler"), but _AILEI ("Didn't let out of one's sight")wasn't going anywhere, so SLEDGE slid right into place.

Jim Nabors. Boy. When I was a kid, I just could not deal with the incongruity of Jim Nabors the stiffly formal (as I remember) baritone set against Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle. How could this be?
(Enter Jon Lovitz): "Acting!"

mmpo 2:27 PM  

Yes, my inner definitions of sleigh, sled and sledge are about the same as those posted by alex...(without looking them up)

Rex Parker 2:29 PM  

Alex - Well of course you thought of Max Beard. He was such a good dog.

rr- thanks for backing me up on SLEIGH. To me, sled is for people to go down snowy hills, sleigh is for Santa, and sledge is not word.

I'm not sure how to reply to some who really wants "move" to be VIBRATE and has a weakness for "studs in bars."


Rex Parker 2:30 PM  

How's this for alliteration?:

"Somewhere over the bainbow, bluebirds fly."

Anonymous 2:36 PM  

A sledge is a tool used to break a sleigh free from the ice.

Yellow Dog 3:04 PM  

Interesting that this puzzle made you think of a gay friend. I thought I noticed a tres gay mini-theme: Jim NABORS, Oscar Wilde, and beef-cakey "Top Gun" and RON DARLING. Maybe that's just where my mind goes in the spring.

JC66 4:07 PM  

If the Eskimos have so many words for snow, why not 3 for sled?

BTW, it would have been nice if Mike Shenk could have worked EGO into the grid.

PamJo 4:39 PM  

I think that "Supremes Leader" would have made sense too and would have been easier, but "Supreme Leader" works if you think of it as Diana as a Sumpreme and the Leader, not as the Leader of the Supremes. I do think it should have had a question mark after it.
I don't get the clue "A bicycle's built for two." Anyone?

JC66 4:54 PM  

pamjo, read the clue "a bicycle is built for two."

mmpo 5:49 AM  

Well, if the clue had been Supremes leader, it wouldn't have been tricky or misleading, and what's the fun in an obvious clue? And since adjectives in English (as opposed to Romance languages, say) are invariable and almost always singular, I say it falls well within the range of acceptable jostling of the language in the interests of making a good clue.

WWPierre 3:10 PM  

Nice puzzle. A two cupper, which I would have rated a bit more difficult than Rex's "easy" but I didn't get the theme until late in the session. The long answers were the last to emerge. Matter of fact, The connection between "I" and "Autobiography" didn't flash until after I was finished. DUH! I can see it would have been a lot easier if I had realized that earlier on.

I wanted TSAR for 1a, but saw ONTARIO right away. Knew what a STABILE was. (the actual definition of that word should be: "a Calder sculpture that doesn't move.")

My only familiarity with college football comes through the NYT x-word puzzle, so BAMA was a lucky guess, leading to TBIRDS

My initial wrong answers were IOS for EOS, TIE for EAR (stud's place) and NABOB for BARON. I had TAILED already, so SLEDGE was a gimme. The mental picture that suggested was of poor doomed SCOTT and his crew SLOGGING across Antarctica dragging their heavy SLEDGES.

I agree with Alex in the distinction between the various snow vehicles, however, when I was a kid, Percy Mclean, who lived across the road from us, used to deliver coal in a rubber tired wagon pulled by a team of Clydesdales. When there was snow, he switched to (what we called) a SLEIGH. There was invariably a string of school-kids hanging on behind sliding on the glassy track of the runners. I am sure if somebody called it a SLEDGE, though, that would have been accepted.

The cluing of TAN is my only quibble, except that I think it's possible to be GALLANT without being "stouthearted". MMPO is right on with her SUPREME comment, IMNSHO.

Has the Bill Clinton puzzle been blogged?

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