SUNDAY, Jun. 3, 2007 - Kelsey Blakley

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Job Descriptions" - famous people described by plays-on-words within common phrases

This puzzle was cute. Not scintillating or mind-blowing, but not bad. The theme answers are kind of ordinary. Hard to get excited by phrases like STOCK CHARACTER or COMPUTER ICON. But what this puzzle lacked in theme prowess, it more than made up for in unusual and vibrant non-theme fill. There are something like 10 answers I'd never heard of before - all of them Downs. Weird. O, wait, I'd never (I don't think) heard of TAP ROOT (21A: Parsnip, e.g.), and that one's an Across. Still this puzzle reads as if the constructor was leading with her Across clues, with the Downs coming later and involving odder letter combinations. Not complaining. The effect is enjoyable.

Theme answers:

  • 23A: Charles Schwab? (stock character)
  • 31A: Annie Oakley? (shooting star)
  • 50A: Leonardo da Vinci? (Master of Arts) - or, if you read it like I did, MASTER O' FARTS
  • 64A: Sigmund Freud? (Wizard of Id) - my favorite theme answer
  • 69A: Tiger Woods? (ace of clubs)
  • 84A: Benjamin Franklin? (lightning bug) - my least favorite? "BUG?" I had ROD.
  • 97A: Bill Gates? (computer icon)
  • 114A: Babe Ruth? (ballpark figure)
Speaking of "Babe Ruth," the Yankees and Red Sox are involved in another of their epic showdowns this weekend, which so far has involved, let's see, a ton of home runs, several hit batsmen, a couple ejections, a football-like takedown on the basepaths, and at least one concussion. Each team has won a game. People who downplay or dismiss or deride this rivalry simply hate Excellence - or America. Take your pick.

Featured ... Six?:

14A: Sarcastic comment of sympathy ("Boo hoo") - I love this one. I think I say this a lot, especially when Yankees or their fans complain about anything. The other great colloquial phrase in the grid: GOLLY GEE (86D: "Leave it to Beaver" catchphrase).

25A: Service group (tea set)

Part of what I like about the puzzle is the way that phrases can be parsed different ways once you plunk them down in the grid. I was transferring the answers from paper to computer, and when I got here, I thought "What the hell does TEASE T mean?" [What no one dared to do on the set of "D.C. Cab"?]. Also wondered, at some point, what a MODELT was (46D: Classic flivver - still wondering what a "flivver" is). See also ICE DIN (119A: Stranded by winter weather, perhaps).

15D: Where hens sit (on eggs) - I love how the right clue can make pretty much any old phrase work in the grid. [Where hollandaise sauce might go] would work too. My favorite snippet of ordinary language - one made excellent by its cluing - in the grid is 64D: _____ the dinosaur (extinction) [way of]. I went from "????" to "wow, that's good" in very short order.

90D: Welsh cheese dish (rarebit) - I have a collection of a comic called "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" by pioneering comics artist Winsor McKay. The comic ran about a century ago, and the premise was that each strip would involve ordinary folks in increasingly surreal events, until the final panel revealed that the whole strip was a dream brought on by the dreamer's having eaten too much Welsh RAREBIT the night before. It's one of the most impressive achievements in comics art that I know of. McKay is somewhat better known as the creator of the strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland."

104D: Tchaikovsky's middle name (Ilich) - I'm strangely proud that an answer like this has become a gimme over time, not because it's in the crossword so much, but because I've actually been trying to understand and appreciate classical music over the past few years. I should put on some Tchaikovsky right now. Let's see... Symphony #4 in F Minor. Yes, we'll go with that. Wanted something in A MINOR, just so I could pick up the 1A clue (Key of Beethoven's "Für Elise"), but this symphony is all I have handy. If I'd had Tchaikovsky's violin concerto handy, I could have picked up ARCO too (even though it's clued to a violist - 108D: Bowed, to a violist). I guess there's plenty of ARCO action in a symphony.

45D: Legendary Gaelic poet (Ossian) - Shouldn't this read [Alleged legendary Gaelic poet]? The Ossian controversy was a very big deal in the 18th and 19th centuries, when people could still get exercised about literary matters not sponsored by Oprah. James Macpherson claimed to have translated a cycle of poems from ancient Gaelic by a poet named "Ossian," but the authenticity of the claim was doubted by many, including Samuel Johnson. Still, Macpherson's work was exceedingly popular, and influential on both literature (Scott) and music (Schubert).

The Great Unknown:

  • 82A: Author/journalist Fallaci (Oriana) - OK, I very very vaguely know her, but not enough to get this answer without several crosses
  • 13D: Overlapping fugue motifs (stretti) - first time I've ever seen the word
  • 51D: Faux gold (ormolu) - I know I've seen the word before, but I could not have told you what it meant
  • 53D: Agnostic (nescient) - having had some Latin, I guessed this word, but holy crap I have never seen it written down before. I inferred it from PRESCIENT (an actual word).
  • 59D: Common muscle protein (myosin)
  • 62D: Nutritionist Davis (Adelle)
  • 65D: Japanese porcelain (imari)
  • 73D: San _____, Argentina (Isidro) - inferred it from place name in CA (San Ysidro)
  • 81D: Hungarian spa town (Eger) - ?? ... ?
  • 85D: Tony-winning Verdon (Gwen)

Lastly, there is some nice pairing at the bottom of the puzzle. First, I like that ARIL (102A: Seed cover - old skool krosswordese) is followed immediately in the Across column by ARIEL (105A: Cartoon mermaid). Just add "E." And then there's the unintentional homophonic near-synonymity of DOTTIE (117A: Country singer West) and IDIOTIC (118A: Nutty) - also in successive Across clues. Nice.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

21 comments:

jlsnyc 9:57 AM  

sweet puzzle -- but maybe the theme would have had more impact (felt a little less forced?) with fewer entries in a 15x15 daily format. dunno. a fun (and sometimes sunday-worthy challenging) solve regardless. bravo kelsey blakley.

loved that "rarebit" strip. wow!

thx --

j.

aussiejohn@comcast.net 11:34 AM  

i love your comments! will shortz is very creative as an editor but he is so boring!
my wife and i met him at a borders in nyc where he was touting a new crossword puzzle book. have you ever met him?

Wendy 11:37 AM  

Oh god that RAREBIT strip is priceless. Now I'll be waiting for my opportunity to use such expressions as "I mean what I say you cheap bleached scarecrow" and "keep off the street; you scare people." I have my own rarebit issues, actually ... when I was very (too) young to deal with it my parents sent me packing to summer camp in North Conway, New Hampshire. My security blanket was a stuffed Peter Rabbit which might have been problematic on its own, but the cook diabolically served welsh rarebit on a rather too frequent basis and the camp sadists who could see how sensitive I was would torment me with predictions of my poor bunny ending up in the mess someday. Clearly I was scarred for life by this ;) Thanks for the mondo laugh, Rex!

Caren 11:39 AM  

Tchaikovsky is my favorite, and I love the violin concerto. Heard Joshua Bell play it live at Tanglewood a few years ago -- heaven on a stick with a crossword puzzle and a glass of wine on the lawn!!!

Anonymous 11:51 AM  

I was rather irritated by STRETTI actually, because what it really means in music is overlapping entries of a theme (not necessarily a fugue) *in quick succession*--generally in contrast to much more leisurely entrances earlier in the piece. This is generally something that happens towards the end of a piece, building momentum to a harmonic climax.

Also, I suppose a LEER could be a contemptuous expression, in a way, but that is certainly not how most people would define it.

But I rather liked ARIL--nostalgic for the Maleska days, I suppose!--even though I couldn't remember it right away, and I was nicely stumped trying to remember what "lutrine" meant (OTTER).

Being a northwesterner, I am not familiar with FRITO PIES, so that took me a while!

Rex, you missed another clever pair: RECTO (upper left) and FOLIO (down right).

Anonymous 12:26 PM  

Model Ts were called "flivers" because they rattled and vibrated so much (but, alas, did not "hum").

Could "Ice Din" be "Iced In?"

Anonymous 12:31 PM  

Thank you for the gratuitous Mr. T pic and holarious alternate clueing. Gotta admit I was looking forward to a Ch-ch-ch-chia pet pick as well.

Karmasartre 1:16 PM  

Some connections with "GOING TO FAR" (the puzzle on the bottom of the page). Both puzzles have "ADIEU" answers, JOB DESCRIPTIONS has "MANIAS", GOING TOO FAR has "MANIA".

I know I should learn the "Ab Fab" names, but I don't. I have an aversion due to my disappointment at tuning in BBCA and getting the "Ab Fab" (or an ad for "Fab Abs") rather than he brilliant "LIfe on Mars" or "Coupling" or "Waking the Dead".

The jury is still out on EXCELLENCE and AMERICA: they both have alot of explaining to do....

Anonymous 1:18 PM  

Hi Rex:

Really liking the new *condensed* blog.

Looks like I panicked for nothing.


Keep it real,

Pen Girl :)

Fitzy 1:30 PM  

The Cutty Sark suffered terrible fire damage this week! What a shame... I wonder how much will be salvageable... and here it showed up in our puzzle today...
see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/05/22/nsark22.xml

Anonymous 5:12 PM  

"People who downplay or dismiss or deride this rivalry simply hate Excellence - or America."

Or, perhaps, they acknowledge that the significant concentration of wealth lured from the savings of taxpayers (whether fans or not) into the pockets of the owners of that small group of megacorporations know known as that segment of the entertainment industry called "Professional Sports" could, in some small way, be more useful if applied to healthcare or education.

Wendy 5:31 PM  

I just discovered that Winsor McKay's animated films are compiled on a dvd that I can get from netflix!!! I'm very pumped. Btw, others who like their animation at a high level of accomplishment should rent The Triplets of Belleville. Awesome flick, just saw it last weekend.

DONALD 6:49 PM  

Wendy

I believe your fears were unfounded due to all indications being that rarebit is not rabbit at all, but various cheeses. However, your story reminds me that in my childhood, my sister had a pet rabbit -- at the end of dinner one evening, my father announced that what we had just dined upon was that particular pet rabbit (which indeed, it was). My sister immediately voided the unwittingly-consumed repast at the table evoking my father's uproarious laughter!

Wendy 7:14 PM  

Donald, uh, interesting father you had there ... yes, having to consume RAREBIT at least once a week for an entire summer I knew that rarebit wasn't rabbit but that didn't stop me from wallowing in misery at the inhospitable environment of teasing I had to live in. Now, maybe if they'd put the usual beer or ale in it I wouldn't have cared one whit and spent my exile in childhood drunkenness. (But even if I had thought the two were the same, I doubt I'd have expected a non-food rabbit to end up in an actual dish ... then again, stranger things have happened.)

Fitzy 9:32 PM  

Yes, "The Triplets of Belleville" is a fun animated movie... though seriously marred by the scene in the beginning where the men in the audeince turn into monkeys and attack Josephine Baker for her bananas (and more???)...what a shame... because of the inclusion of that sexist & racist scene I won't be able to share that DVD w/ my daughter...

reb_daniel 12:55 AM  

I hope I wasn't the only one who had lots of deliciously nasty possibilities come to mind with 75A -- George Bush or Dick Chaney, once -- though the actual answer, Yalie, was far less interesting than some that I had thought of....

Another assonance to point out, that also pairs nicely with a mis-parsing. We have Orals and Urals, and then in 52A Anodal, which I mis-read as An Odal (perhaps short for odalisque? or a punk yodeller?) Then one could weave an interesting story about what the Odal did that was oral in the Urals.

KingRoper 11:49 AM  

I can't believe that you don't know who Gwen Verdon was... possibly the greatest dancer in Broadway history. Muse and wife of Bob Fosse, star of shows including Damn Yankees (and film), Sweet Charity, Chicago, Can-Can, Redhead... there was no one like her.

DONALD 7:44 AM  

kingroper

Right you are! Caught "Chicago" with Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera back when, and a second time when Liza Minnelli joined Gwen Verdon in the show!

From the old school -- no mike needed and could hold the stage without a drop of scenery or another soul!

judgesully 3:04 PM  

I know that this is late but could not pass up the opportunity to comment once again on the classic parochialism of the Boston-New York crowd. How utterly boring to constantly be deluged with this drivel! No, I do not hate either excellence or America, just the pretentiousness of the land east of the Hudson.

cornbread 1:13 PM  

the dallas editor has this puzzle themed, "dinner theater." whatever...

some great words in this one. loved nescient, recto, ormolu and of course the phrase, "master o' farts."

jae 2:52 AM  

Dinner theater was the theme a week ago or so? I liked the novel cueing for OBOE 79d. Thought I'd seen just about every way to clue this. Apparently not.

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