TUESDAY, Jul. 24, 2007 - Bruce Adams

Monday, July 23, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "-IES" - Familiar phrases ending in "S" have penultimate letter doubled, and then "IE" sandwiched between the double letters and the final "S," resulting in absurd phrases, which are then clued, question-mark style

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Angry rabbits in August? (hot cross bunnies)
  • 25A: Hens at the greatest altitude? (highest biddies)
  • 42A: Cat lady's mission? (keeping tabbies)
  • 55A: What a Chicago ballpark bench holds? (White Sox fannies) - that one's pretty good

You can tell a theme sucks (as I've said many times before) by how difficult it is to explain. What the hell is this so-called "theme?" Cutesy long E sound? Two problems here, beyond the general ridiculousness. One, there are two -NNIES words, and only one each of -DDIES and -BBIES. Either one of the -NNIES should have been dropped, or one of the others should have been doubled. I'm just sayin' - a little elegance would be nice, especially if your general premise is this loopy. Second, all the phrases are noun phrases, except KEEPING TABBIES, which is a verb phrase. Yuck. Can I get a little parallel construction up in this @#$#@$?

ESPERANTO (1A: Language in which plurals are formed by adding -oj) over COUTURIER (15A: Christian Dior, e.g.) is nice, but completely unexpected on a Tuesday. That's Friday stuff right there (I had BRAND NAME, at first, for COUTURIER). You rarely see 9 over 9 in a Tuesday. Impressive. I had real trouble getting into that NW. Well, small trouble. But trouble, nonetheless. ECHO saved me (1D: Greek nymph who pined away for Narcissus - hurray for my semi-Classical education). Most of the fill is fairly standard stuff. I did not know (or reforgot) 25D: 1944 Chemistry Nobelist Otto (Hahn). Ditto 38A: Whence Goya's duchess (Alba). ANNULI (11D: Tree rings) makes sense, Latin-wise, but I don't think I've seen the term before. Me and flora ... we're not close. More Latin at NISI (7D: Not yet final, in law) - which I inferred because ... well, it's Latin alright, so it's recognizable as a word in some language. That is all it had going for it. APICES (37D: Zeniths) looks nuts. I had APEXES. The AEROS (33A: Houston skaters) get more puzzle action than any minor league team in the history of sports, let alone hockey. GO SEE (27D: "Take a look!") is iffy, but I'll allow it. There is a very beautiful comic about NAT (58D: Rebellious Turner) Turner's Rebellion by Kyle Baker - one of the greatest things in comics art from this past year. I like the positioning of ABE (41D: Face on a fiver) - ABE was tall, but ... ABBE (standing right next to him) is taller (38D: French cleric).

I'm off to make a further dent in the damned Potter book. Sahra finished The Prisoner of Azkaban today. By herself. She's in Indiana visiting relatives, and she called me, and after she described the pony ride on Seeker or Changer or Chaser or whatever her horse's name was, the only thing she wanted to talk about was Potter. She's 6. Say what you will about the HP books - they have single-handedly made my daughter leap from good to great reader in about two months. Rowling has created a powerful (and, I'll go out on a limb and say, enduring) mythology - marketing alone can't get books in a kid's head the way good writing can.

Enjoy Tuesday - I'll be advising another dining hall full of gremlins (I mean incoming students).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

44 comments:

profphil 12:23 AM  

Rex,

Shouldn't it be "annali" for tree rings and not "annuli"? I assume that since each ring is a year of growth, annal-i makes more sense.

Orange 12:25 AM  

Reforgot is the best roll-your-own word ever! It looks like some variation of escargot. And trying to remember ("to member again"?) obscurities you have forgotten and reforgotten, of course, is a big part of crosswordia.

Orange 12:27 AM  

Profphil, you should have Googled it. Then you would see that annulus more generally means a ringlike structure, and is derived from a Latin diminutive of ānus!

profphil 12:32 AM  

Thanks. You are right. I just Googled it. As the across was sports related and I am Athletically-challenged to say the least, staffs made as much sense as stuffs. Although, come to think of it I do have some recollection of stuffs being used as a basketball term and should have given it a bit more thought.

Anonymous 12:55 AM  

Otto Hahn was indeed the 1944 Nobel laureate in physics; but he never should have been, since he stole the work of his co-worker, Lisa Meitner, when she fled the Nazis and wound up in Sweden without her notebooks. Hahn headed up Hitler's research effort for a German atomic bomb. After the war, he spent the rest of his days denying his connection to the Nazis.

Anonymous 7:18 AM  

I think Will Shortz missed an opportunity in cluing 17-A. Since hot cross buns are traditional Easter fare (think crucifixion/cross), the clue should have been "Angry Easter rabbits," or maybe "Doubly angry Easter rabbits" (hot, cross). Oh well.

Liffey

Anonymous 7:40 AM  

Apologies for double posting. I agree with Rex that today's theme isn't perspicuous, but I think something like "making fun with plurals" or even "plural funnies" rather captures it, and includes 1-A (plurals ending in -oj)as well as the oddball "annuli" and "apices", neither of which I much liked until I saw them as somehow theme-connected. A stretch, I admit.

Liffey

Wendy 7:43 AM  

Rex said: //The AEROS (33A: Houston skaters) get more puzzle action than any minor league team in the history of sports, let alone hockey.//

If you really want your head to explode, consider the restraint that was used in not cluing this as Akron's minor league [AA] baseball team ;) And hey Rex, I'll be at Jacobs Field tomorrow night for the Indians-Red Sox! I'm very excited.

That's awesome about Sahra reading Azkaban by herself at her age. No small achievement. #7 is sitting here mocking me; I'm trying to finish up what I was already reading so that I can give it my full, preparing-to-be-devastated attention.

I tried doing the downs first today and it really made solving the stacks easy. Thanks for bringing the pictures back, btw! When not there, they are missed.

Anonymous 8:45 AM  

Horse at a track is a NAG? I thought a nag was a horse that "ain't what she used to be", so I looked it up.
1. A horse, especially:
a. An old or worn-out horse.
b. Slang A racehorse.

These seem like antonyms to me and that #b. would only be used by a sore loser. Has anyone heard the term "nag" used to describe a racehorse? I haven't.

Dan 8:51 AM  

I actually thought today's theme was really nice. From the first entry you could figure out how it was going to work, and while I'm generally the first to complain about lack of parallelism, the fact that they're all [letter + S] -> [double letter + IES] is good enough for me. (The fact that the N gets doubled twice seems awfully nitpicky.)

Very familiar original phrases and entertaining well-clued altered phrases. It would have been extra-nice if the fourth also made an animal, but I'm not complaining.

Anonymous 9:13 AM  

21A - Hard-to-miss hoops shots

I had 'LAYUPS'. 'STUFFS' is awful fill in my opinion. Unless I'm missing a double meaning its not even really accurate...when I think of a 'stuff' in basketball I think of a blocked shot.

Maybe I'm missing something...

Alex 9:20 AM  

Hey wendy, hope you get to it soon before someone completely spoils it for you by mentioning the scene where Harry and Snape...

I found this to be the hardest Tuesday in a long time.

A couple months ago HOT CROSS BUNS appeared in a theme answer. I wonder if that makes it the longest reused phrase this year? Back then it was the first time I'd ever heard the phrase so it wasn't so difficult this time though that was the last one I got.

I would have preferred that "Fannies" be changed to fit the animal theme of the other three (BUNNIES, BIDDIES, TABBIES) so then the theme could be summarized as "Phrases are made plural turning them into comments about animals."

Rex Parker 9:56 AM  

But it's not just "double-letter plus IES" - the "S" is part of the original word. You don't KEEP TAB on something, nor does one ever speak of a HOT CROSS BUN... and yet you couldn't very well have HIGHEST BIDS, plural. So you can see the problem (I hope).

Jim in Chicago 10:19 AM  

I also found the theme answers to be uneven. HOT CROSS BUNNIES make my laugh out loud, and I'm really quite taken with "WHITE SOX FANNIES", the other two leave me cold as I felt the author was really stretching. I actually got COUTURIER right out of the box (once I figured out how to spell it), but had a terrible time with ANNULI. Other than that is was just pretty much working my way through it.

Wade 10:42 AM  

I used to work for the law firm here in Houston that represents the Houston Aeros. Every once in awhile a desperate email would go out trying to get someone to take a set of tickets the client had generously given us.

BTW, does anybody know the answer to the question I posed yesterday about closely recurring answers (most recently, OPIE, and it looks like NAT is having a bit of a recurrence, though that may be coincidental): Does Will Shortz set it up that with a set of puzzlemakers ahead of time, or do the puzzlemakers get together and coordinate it among themselves?

barrywep 10:45 AM  

So now Rex wants elegance? I thought he just wanted hot babes and political correctness for stepdads?
Seriously, I thought this was a pretty good theme for a Tuesday. If it was Thursday I'd be more inclined to agree with Rex.

Anonymous:
As a track habitue I can confirm that nag is a general term for a racehorse, especially when you bet on them and they lose (which is most of the time).

Alex 10:46 AM  

While certainly much less common, I don't have a problem with "keep tab." I wonder if it is a regional usage (like in my neck of the woods growing up everybody says pop and "on accident," both of which drive much wife nuts). In running phrases through my head I find some I automatically go to "keep tab" while others automatically go to "keep tabs". Seems to depend on the singular or plural nature of the thing keeping tab.

I seem to naturally go like this:

I want you to keep tabs on expenses this month.

I want the accountants to keep tab on expenses this month.

Anyway, if it's wrong, it is wrong in a way that matches my use of the language.

Keep Tab = fine with me

Hot Cross Bun = Maybe you generally only see it plural but surely it is possible to have just one.

The other two are obviously fine in singular form.

jlsnyc 12:07 PM  

here's a dialect-free version of "camptown races." (dialect-free so children can better understand the language.) remember? "...bet my money on the bob-tail nag, somebody bet on the bay."

nag, nag, nag

;-)

janie

crossnerd 12:23 PM  

Ha. I'm glad you don't like the "theme" today either.

Good luck with the HP book! If you don't hurry, Sahra'll get through the series before you. :P

Orange 12:40 PM  

Ooh, Barry, it looks like you're itching for a fight. Tossing around the phrase "political correctness" so often seems combative, and here's poor Rex, just trying to stand up for good stepparents everywhere. If you're there to take care of a child when she's sick, you're not a faux parent. If you're an adoptive parent, or a parent who has used donor gametes or a gestational surrogate, or a lesbian or gay man who didn't gestate your child, you're still a real parent.

Rex, there can certainly be more than one highest bid if two or more items are being auctioned off.

crossnerd 12:52 PM  

Also re: Barry...

Hot babes can be elegant. Elegance totally has a place in the Parkerverse.

campesite 1:04 PM  

I think Hot Cross Buns are elegant too, in a Hot Babes way. Alex, for me this answer fell quickly only because of the discussion in this space a few months ago. Did the subject of Esperanto come up here as well?

Anonymous 1:22 PM  

Never heard of the word biddy before. Apparently another definition of it is a fussy old woman...reminds me of this guy who blogs crosswords.

Eric 1:50 PM  

After getting "Hot Cross Bunnies" but before knowing the them, I thought 25a might be "Highest Fryers." Alas, it didn't fit, but maybe someone can work that into a future puzzle.

Orange 2:31 PM  

What everyone is thinking re: anonymous at 1:22: "Oh no, you di'n't!"

Or, if they agree, "Oh, snap!"

Anonymous 2:34 PM  

Wade:

I'm a little too lazy to check but I could swear "HISS" was in it yesterday as well as today

Anonymous 2:38 PM  

not as lazy as anticipated:

HISS

Mon: 22D
Tue: 36A

Flailer 2:41 PM  

Anyone else think that KEEPING TABBIES was kinda sexist? I mean, anyone besides those who think "hot babes" is a totally appropriate compliment.

hobbyist 2:47 PM  

I don't think Rex is an old biddy or a faux pa. Anonymous 1:22 deserves a resounging hiss. I like his whines and slants and his column.

Fergus 2:54 PM  

Any comment on RUR? An actual stage play?

And Mensa-eligible shouldn't be SMART. There are many terms for that ilk, but in the five letter category I find GEEKY, NAIVE, TRITE or even CRASS to be more fitting.

Doo-dah; I remembered the Camptown Races featuring a hob-nail nag, but I've never been too good with lyrics. Only just recently found the correct opening words for "Honky Tonk Women" after decades of blithe contentment with gibberish.

Orange 3:05 PM  

[Cat lady's mission?] for KEEPING TABBIES? That didn't bother me as much as calling women both hens and BIDDIES.

Fergus, we read R.U.R. in high school—Czech writer Karel Capek, "Rossum's Universal Robots," the coinage of the word "robot." No idea when the last time it was produced on stage was.

frances 3:07 PM  

Fergus--

RUR is the title, and stands for Rossum's Universal Robots, a play by the Czech writer Karel Capek. It was written and performed in Czech in 1921; subsequently translated into English and presented in London in 1923. All preceding is from Wikipedia. Since the 1920's, as far as I can tell, the play and its author now have their only existence as filler in crossword puzzles

flailer 3:11 PM  

orange-- indeed, hens & biddies is icky, but those connotations are part of the words, not part of the cluing, right? "cat lady's mission" to me implies that all we ladies have but one mission in life: to find and keep a man. THAT isn't inherent in any of the words clued; it's simply a basic assumption necessary to get the answer. feh.

Fergus 3:17 PM  

That 1:22 did seem snide, and if it was said in jest, that wasn't clear.

And on the subject of Reforgetting. There are so many stages between vivid recall and complete oblivion, but not so many good words for them. I recently cited something that I hadn't forgotten, I just hadn't remembered that it was something I knew. There are a couple of unfinished volumes of Proust on my shelf. Perhaps I'll find a bounty of shadowy terms for quasi-memories lurking on the fringe of consciousness?

jae 3:48 PM  

RE: memory -- there is actually a whole body of research in psychology on the "tip of the tongue phenomena" aka "feeling of knowing." Google either phrase for more info.

Wendy 4:44 PM  

A cursory web scan shows that R.U.R. was produced in Slovakia earlier this year and a college in Maryland was auditioning for a production of it. So I guess it does get some attention still, although I've never seen it anywhere in my travels. Was the story any good, Orange?

green mantis 5:20 PM  

Well, this puzzle's got to get a few points for inspiring so much spirited discussion, right? I, persistently easy to please, was happy as soon as "hot cross bunnies" hopped into view. There's something about the image of angry rabbits--potentially homicidal rabbits, perhaps--that fills me with joy.

I would paste a picture or a link to a killer rabbit now if I knew how. Orange?

Orange 6:15 PM  

Wendy, I...don't remember. Old-fashioned science-fictiony drama...not sure I'd like it today. BTW, Akron gets a shout-out in this week's Ben Tausig crossword (which I wrote about today).

Mantis, once you've Googled your way to a killer rabbit picture, you can Google your way to HTML code how-tos. I'm partial to this one, particularly with the Customer Action Shot showing a baby being menaced by the bunny.

Anonymous 6:25 PM  

Green Mantis,

The bunny that loses the fight with the hot crossed bunny may find itself in this book: The Book of Bunny Suicides: Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don't Want To Live Any More (2003)

I saw it at a bookstore once. Wrong wrong wrong, but funny. That book emotes similar feelings to when you watch the movie Bad Santa starring Billy Bob Thornton.

green mantis 7:31 PM  

I hate it when I can't do things. It's like cartwheels and the violin.

I found a great picture of a satanic killer bunny and it's locked forever in my bad-bunny-loving brain. And on my screensaver.

Things I CAN do: make a mean ghetto surprise dinner out of any three ingredients left in the pantry; spell Champs-Elysees backwards while drunk; parallel park like a god.

Chris 9:03 PM  

Did someone say bunny suicides?

green mantis 11:57 PM  

Wow, so much gruesome bunny goodness packed into one day. Mantis overcome.

Tangent: do any of you know Miffy? Favorite weird Japanese-ish bunny character of all time. I'm thinking of getting her tattooed on my...something.

Karen 7:49 AM  

Flailer, I don't see your point...the cat lady (by which I assume a woman who owns multiple cats, not a she-cat) cares naught about humans, male or female. And to make matters worse, the defn for tabbies includes 'a domestic cat, especially a female' and 'a prying woman'. Maybe you've been reading too much Harry Potter critiques this week?

Anonymous 10:16 PM  

Just to clear up. The comment at 1:22 (my comment) was said in jest. I do love Rex's blog and would not know what to do without his amusing and helpful commentary.

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