WEDNESDAY, May 2, 2007 - Richard Silvestri

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy (with a few obscure words)

THEME: New York, New York, New York - "NY" added to ends of three familiar phrases to create new, odd phrases, which are then clued

[updated 10:50 a.m.]

This has to be the least imaginative theme I've seen this year. The only reason this puzzle took me as long as it did (and it only took me about 6-7 minutes) was because I lost time imagining the theme was more complex than it was - and because a couple of the theme answer crosses are crazy, made-up looking words. The theme clues / answers are as follows:

20A: Coin thrown for good luck? (fountain penny)
38A: Result of sitting on a court bench too long? (basketball fanny)
51A: Bugged Bugs? (hot cross bunny)

For no good reason, I had FOUNTAIN PENNE for a while - I think that between the time I read the clue and filled in the answer, my mind had invented a whole new and much better theme involving pasta. The fact that the answer PASTA (57A: Edible shells) appears in the grid only confirmed the rightness of this theme in my mind. Yes, the puzzle was So Easy that I had worked my way all the way to the SW corner, with only a few bare patches left behind, before I'd even fully grasped what the alleged "theme" was. I spent many seconds wondering what kind of PASTA could be involved in BASKETBALL-ANN- (that last letter is blank because I couldn't remember how to spell SLYER (33D: Less straightforward); thought it might be SLIER). Finally got HOT CROSS BUNNY, then thought, "Well, this is stupid, BUNNY doesn't even rhyme with PENNE." That's when I reread the PENNE clue and realized that it asked for a coin, not pasta - so PENNY. Then I reread the BASKETBALL -ANN- clue, put the "Y" where it belonged, and easily got FANNY - that "F" is the first letter in the puzzle's most insane word, FICHU (40D: Woman's shoulder wrap). All that, and I was still well under 7 minutes. No real aha moment, no sense of accomplishment, nothing. And for this lame theme I had to endure some very unpretty non-theme fill, like:

12D: Taiwan Strait city (Amoy) - I'm sure I've seen this in some crossword somewhere, but as Asian cities go, this is super obscure. Speaking of Asia, we also have 34A: Kurds and Nepalis (Asians) and 36A: My _____, Vietnam (Lai).

42A: River to the Rhine (Aar) - I'm sorry, I know this is a real river and everything, but whenever I see it, I can't help but feel that the constructor just didn't try hard enough. It's like throwing in the towel, this answer. Only good thing: it sounds like the noise I make when I see it.

53A: Arctic bird (skua) - I have a feeling I've complained about this before. I'm sure it's a fine bird, and it's got a "K" in it, so it can't be all bad. Still, it reeks of desperation to me, especially when it stands out like a sore thumb against the heaps of banal fill (SAGE, NUNS, OKIE, OBESE, etc.)

43A: Feed for livestock (silage) - again, I'm sure this is very valid; I've seen it before. It's just an ugly word - or rather, it's obscure, and yet not interesting, so ... meh. If SILAGE got you something great, OK. But when SILAGE really gets you nothing but the "I" in FICHU (!?), then no. No. Actually, I blame the generally horrible BASKETBALL FANNY for the whole FICHU / SILAGE fiasco (as it will now be known). If you're going to give the grid over to a grid-traversing answer, it better be a good one, and BASKETBALL FANNY is pathetic. BASKETBALL FAN is barely a phrase. It's totally arbitrary, no more a phrase than any other fill-in-the-blank FAN would be.

And I'm not too fond of DOSING (46D: Plying with pills) or STAGER (35D: One putting on a show), either. And FLARE (30D: "Accident ahead" indicator) crossing AFIRE (29A: All lit up)? Is that supposed to be cute?

Even the subtheme didn't grab me, and normally I enjoy subthemes, especially when they are about classical literature, as this one is:

13D: Answer to the riddle of the Sphinx (man)
21D: Before Oedipus, who could answer the riddle of the Sphinx (no one)

The Riddle = What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?
(morning, noon, evening = metaphors for stages in one's life, i.e. "three legs" = walking with cane ... or so I think)

Random stuff, some of which I liked OK

6D: Dudley Do-Right's home (Canada) - I got the first three across clues, bam bam bam, and then proceeded to get nearly every Down cross off those three answers, including this one, the longest of them all. A most excellent way to clue Canada - much better than [Anne Murray's home] or [Bryan Adams's home].

25D: Storybook elephant (Babar) - ah, more cartoony goodness. Sahra has some BABAR prints on her wall. We bought her a book called something like "BABAR Goes to the Museum" and there's a fabulous big poster that goes with it where all these famous paintings are redone with elephants in place of people.

44A: Neurotic TV dog (Ren) - ah, still more cartoony goodness. Actually, I never liked "REN & Stimpy" - too gross-out, too bodily-function-oriented. But in the puzzle, I like REN just fine.

48D: Cousin of a mink (otter) - very cute animals. There is a viral video going around (extremely popular) of otters holding hands ... just floating there, on their backs, holding hands. It's so cute it's disgusting.

26D: Subject of Fowler's handbook (usage) - mmm, persnickety language stuff; very exciting stuff for this OED NERD - 23A: Work started by London's Philological Soc. and 24A: Geeky guy.

I had two misfills along the way, one good and one great. First, I had NECK for 55D: Mane site (nape), and had already built ACME off the "C" before I realized NECK was wrong - ACME ended up being 63A: Pinnacle (apex). Second, bigger mistake was entering BIANNUAL for BIENNIAL (8D: Like House elections) and never ever catching it, even though it left me with INRU for 18A: Concerning (In re:) and AFURE for AFIRE.

Wow, I finished my blog entry the night before the puzzle's publication date. Must not be that tired. I'm still abuzz over the performances on "American Idol" earlier tonight. It was, no joke, Bon Jovi night. Painful as that may sound, there was some decent singing to be heard. Tonight was the first time I voted all season long: for Lakisha (finally singing well again), Melinda (duh, she rules) and my new boyfriend, Blake, who totally dismantled and reassembled "You Give Love a Bad Name" and made it sound like something it has never been: a good song.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I meant to comment on 48A: Scott Turow work set at Harvard ("One L") because its history in the grid is interesting ... to me. I feel like I used to see ONE L all the time. It was borderline Pantheon material. But I don't think I've seen it much, if at all, in the entire time I've been blogging about the NYT puzzle. Has its shelf life expired?

PPS The first time I saw TRIO (1A: Rock's Green Day, for one) clued via the band Green Day, I liked it. Today, I tolerated it. Next time ... who knows? What about Dixie Chicks? Stray Cats? Dolly Parton, Linda Rondstadt and Emmylou Harris had an album called "Trio" - see, even within the world of music, there are so many other ways to go. Mix it up!

32 comments:

profphil 1:15 AM  

Rex,

Just did the puzzle, taught late tonight and did the puzzle to unwind once I got home and decided to check your blog, thinking why bother he never posts the night before. Great surprise. Fichu... What was that? I say Feh to Fichu.

And the theme what is a hot cross bunny? I know it's hot-cross bun with a ny added for bugs bunny but hot cross? Cross or hot for bugged but Hot-cross? Uh, NO. The others at least made sense. What's with obese showing up practically in every puzzle this week. I love animal clues and know a lot of inane animal minutia but skua is one I don't recognize either. Better watch more of Nature.

Took a while for me to understand how test , which I filled in, fit the clue: part of a battery. Then had an aha: battery of tests. I also had on hold before I realized it was oncall. Thanks for the early posting and for a fantastic blog.

Norrin2 7:03 AM  

I thought this was super-easy for a Wednesday, but didn't realize how many really obscure words were in it till you pointed it out.
And "viral video"? Is that going to delete the contents of my hard drive? Those otters better be pretty darn cute if that's going to happen.

Howard B 8:22 AM  

I dunno - the two related Down clues relating to the riddle of the sphinx were cool, and something about 'hot cross bunny' makes me chuckle. I'm picturing a 'Peeps' candy bunny with a dollop of icing on its head, wearing a Jack Nicholson-esque angry(cross?), insane grin.

Or perhaps I should just cut down on the morning coffee.

Oh - FICHU was pretty evil, I agree.

Orange 8:36 AM  

Speaking of evil, I think I'd rather see the incredibly dull [Chou En-___] than a reference to the My LAI massacre. One look at the gruesome photo on the Wikipedia page shows why.

Scott 8:37 AM  

For those of us in Wisconsin, SILAGE is hardly obscure. It's what you put in your SILO, which has shown up in the puzzle more than once in the last few weeks.

I appreciated the crossing homonyms EAVE and YVES. I quit French when I realized two completely different spellings could be prounounced the same way. This has never compelled me to quit English, however.

I suspected HOT CROSS BUNNY was a pun to precious for the Warner Brothers gang to pass up. Sure enough, it was the title of a 1948 cartoon which surely must be in the PETA hall of fame. Enjoy it here: http://video.aol.com/video/hot-cross-bunny/1800693

Alex 9:00 AM  

Yep, an easy one. The only hassle was the southwest corner because I couldn't complete this:

---CROSSBUNNY. I've never heard of a hot cross bun. Looking it up I see what they are and I've seen them before (don't think I've ever had one though), I just had know idea what they are called.

For some reason it took me a while to get from "Edible shell" to PASTA but once I did that area fell.

Since FICHU is obviously not a real world (all the Google hits must be Will Shortz or Robert Silvestri plants) I would never have solved it but fortunately all of the crosses were rock solid (particularly the final boggling U.

Wendy 9:02 AM  

I'm with Scott; I loved SILAGE. I have an agricultural client so this was a gimme and fun to see. I'm not wild about these "themes" that make weird new expressions out of other words, though. And I'd like to see a moratorium on OBESE. It's never clued the same way, but enough already with the body type TREND! I SMITE OBESE! And for that matter, LITHE (not making an appearance today, but on others). SKUA was completely out in left field for me. Kind of like it though.

Rex Parker 9:05 AM  

"Viral video" = spreads like crazy, not crashes your computer.

And Scott, yes, sorry, for got to add that SILAGE is obscure ... to non-farming non-heartlanders. And it's not really obscure. It's just not common. Is there a word for something that's in-between?

Forgot to mention that TEST for [Battery part] made me stop short as well. Had to get three letters before I saw what the clue was getting at.

Orange, your My LAI Massacre comment made me laugh. Does that mean I'm going to hell?

rp

Rex Parker 9:06 AM  

SILAGE = SINUS + SLUDGE. Let us never speak of it again.

rp

JC66 9:10 AM  

Great rant.

Orange 9:28 AM  

Alex, you never had a book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes? There's a pointless, British-sounding "Hot-Cross Buns nursery rhyme.

Yes, Rex, you're gonna fry. But you knew that already, right?

rock rabbit 10:18 AM  

Since no-one else has come out in defense of SKUA, here goes. SKUA is an awesome word, and an awesome bird! Much more interesting than its hackneyed cousin ERN(I)E, and the old flightless standby crossword bird, emu (ugh). Skuas and jaegers are mean, lean scavenging machines. Pelagic pirates. I think of them as the bratty little brothers of the majestic albatross.

barrywep 10:40 AM  

Boy Rex,
You were really in a pissy mood. Maybe you need a good night's sleep before blogging. I thought the NY theme was perfectly fine and the theme entries mildly amusing. I thought it was a good Wednesday puzzle. That said, the SILAGE/FICHU crossing did bug me.

mmpo 11:21 AM  

Does no one else know the little round about hot cross(ed) buns?
Hot crossed buns (mi re do)
Hot crossed buns (mi re do)
One a penny, two a penny (do do do do re re re re)
Hot crossed buns (mi re do)

Dip into the fountain and buy yourself some breakfast.

As for BASKETBALL FANNY, that could be part of a clue for the ubiquitous OBESE.

FICHU. Sheesh, what's the big deal? I don't think this is any less obscure than cravat or ascot.

I thought this puzzle was much easier than Monday's or Tuesday's puzzles, though on the bottom third, I did lose my momentum of instant recognition of every clue. Still, it took me about twice as long as Rex to finish--and playing against the clock made me jittery. If I do go to a tournament one day, it won't be to compete with the speedy solvers!

The usually SAGE NUNS OGLEd the OKIE's BASKETBALL FANNY. "OOH," gasped sister ETHEL. Then, quickly, "um, let's get some PASTA."

mmpo 11:26 AM  

Oops, I failed to notice that at least one other person knew the hot-crossed buns song. I didn't know the second verse.
At my house, my mother liked to buy the Pilsbury orange rolls.
The Pilsbury doughboy has a BASKETBALL FANNY. (I'll stop now.)

Linda G 11:35 AM  

Ooh, I was far kinder than Rex, and even amused by the cluing of NUNS as (creatures of habit?).

I'm with Howard on the riddle of the Sphinx cluing. Thought it quite clever and very pleased that I knew it.

Rex, I loved your pasta theme. That takes the award for the best wrong theme ever, which WAY beats the award for best wrong answer.

campesite 12:04 PM  

I fell asleep doing this puzzle when I was held up by the silage/fichu crossing (obscure to this non-aggie male who doesn't know a fichu from a shawl) and had never heard of hot-cross buns (but now I have a song-thanks!).
For some reason I liked the 'neighbor of an Arkie' clue, and, like Linda, the NUNS cluing as well.

Anonymous 12:09 PM  

Is Alexander (in the Fanny and Alexander poster) wearing a fichu? Coincidence?

Alex 1:14 PM  

I don't specifically recall ever having a book of Mother Goose rhymes but I probably did at some point. Either way, that particular song is unfamiliar to me.

Reading the Wiki page on hot cross buns I see they have a religious history so I'm going to blame my ignorance on my atheism. I have a good theoretical education on religion but not much familiarity with the specific rituals (I just learned a few years ago that there is actual ash involved with Ash Wednesday).

mmpo 1:56 PM  

Ash Wednesday, let's see...I'm sure it must have something to do with getting ready for baseball season...

Orange 2:31 PM  

mmpo, you think the ascot's as (un)familiar as the FICHU? Thurston Howell begs to differ.

CrsWrdLvr22 2:54 PM  

I had FountainHEADS in at 20A - Heads, you win/good luck and all that jazz. Took HotCross Bunny to give me my "hah" moment and put in pen-ny.

In general, the puzzle stumped me for the first quick read of the acrosses, but the downs came more easily. (Even fichu - I'm a big reader of historical fiction, and many a female character has worn one.

-Mary Rose

Wendy 3:00 PM  

Alex, now I don't feel so bad ... some years ago I moved to an area that apparently had a higher percentage of practicing Catholics than I was used to (that would be Akron), so when my boss arrived in the office after lunch - and a stopover at church - during the first Ash Wednesday I worked there, I told him he had a smudge on his forehead. To use that old hackneyed expression, "was my face red" when I was informed that this was not dirt but an age-old religious practice, followed by seeing numerous others with the same smudge as the day wore on. The perils of a heathen upbringing.

Ultra Vi 3:52 PM  

Rex,

I rather enjoyed your mighty rant.

This puzzle was eminently gettable but full of unattractive little pockets: SCAB. HATE. SMITE. Alimentary CANAL. BALLOONS (depending on what exactly is ballooning...). OBESE. FANNY...again, depending.

OK: NERD OGLED NUNS in FICHU.

profphil 3:55 PM  

Wendy,

I had a similar experience in Law School on Ash Wednesday. The woman sitting next to me had ashes on her forehead and I made the motion that she should wipe off the smudege on her forehead. She wiped it off and then realized that she made a mistake as it is supposed to come off naturally. After class she yelled at me for telling her to remove the ashes. She thought I was playing with her. I explained that I'm Jewish and did not realize it was Ash Wednesday. She did not believe me and pointed out that a third of the class had ashes on their forehead too and what did I make of it. I did not notice and was just oblivious to my surroundings. It took her a long time to come around.

Kitt 7:38 PM  

Fichu, Fichu, Fichu = Bleck!

My word for it was "shawl" which messed up a bunch of other things.

I rarely complain....but I really didn't like this theme.

With all due respect to Richard (and I've never constructed). Hope tomorrow is better!

Thanks, as always, Rex.

I know I usually post later in the day....not sure if anyone reads it anyway.

mmpo 10:33 AM  

Orange, thanks for the pic of Thurston Howell. Cute. Our Jr. High School band teacher had us wear orange ascots with white shirts (the school colors were orange and black--fight back!).
I meant that I don't think fichu is all that obscure and I don't really get this massive uprising against such a nice, precise little word (not really the same as a stole--my first impulse--or a shawl, and more specific than scarf).
Also (Ultra Vi), personally I rather like seeing SCAB in these puzzles once in awhile. I agree that it's ugly, but call a scab a scab, I say. What I mean is that I'm glad the Reagan (and subsequent) years were not successful in washing this word from the language.

Anonymous 6:31 PM  

Hi Rex:

Pass me the whip, please, I wish to flog a dead horse...

No problems w/theme -- IMHO I have seen many that are inferior to this.

Also thought you might be being a little too harsh in your condemnation of the crosswordese...I could rebut each instance you cite but...nah.

FICHU or whatever it was does indeed suck, and I hear ya on that one...

Pen Girl :)

Karmasartre 1:17 PM  

From six weeks in the future:

Okay. SILAGE and FICHU. At least I don't know how to pronounce them and hope I never will.

"The Riddle = What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?
(morning, noon, evening = metaphors for stages in one's life, i.e. "three legs" = walking with cane ... or so I think)" ---

In some Emo Phillips routine, he poses this riddle to a would be slayer to save his life. The WBS provides the above answer, to which Emo says "No, you fool. it's a donkey: it starts out on four legs, then I rip two of them off, then I glue one back on at night!"

Back to then.....

Anonymous 9:26 PM  

From 6WL in San Diego:
I saw a neat riddle in Parade this Sunday (6/10) that would be a great clue to 32 down. "Word that sounds great to the person who says it, but terrible to anyone who hears it uttered."

Waxy in Montreal 10:23 PM  

Six Weeks On -

Fichu, eh? (or huh? for you not from Dudley Do-Right's home). Funny but the first entry I made was for 40D but it was "stole". Must be my age showing...

Also, had 66A, Battery component, as "post" for the longest time.

And anytime I hear a reference to 32D, "bingo" in this context, I can't help but think of Bill Murray KOing the obnoxious insurance salesman in "Groundhog Day" with one punch after being bingoed. Skua'se me!

jae 11:34 PM  

6WL also in San Diego
Second day in a row I got hung up. This time it was SW. Breezed through the top 2/3rds and then, before I got the theme, I put in BOTHEREDBUNNY. Unfortunately, this me took a while to undo. Knew SILAGE, did not know FICHU but got it throught the crosses.

Saw the Simpson episode where meh came up last night. Homer is trying to get the kids excited about going to Blocko World and their response is meh. Bart says something like "you heard us, meh, thats m-e-h!"

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