WEDNESDAY, Aug. 1, 2007 - David J. Kahn

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Hard

THEME: BEVERLY (@#$#-ing) SILLS (21A: With 28-Across, a late, great entertainer) - theme entries aplenty relating to her opera career

What better way to ring in August than with a little Wrath of Kahn. I mean no disrespect to the recently departed Ms. SILLS (died last month of lung cancer, age 78), but I can't find my way around opera with a map and a guide, and so I was Slow today. If "Fresh Air" (NPR) hadn't rerun an interview with SILLS recently, this puzzle might have taken me even longer. I didn't know there was even a category called LYRIC SOPRANO (29D: with 39-Across, 21-/28-Across, for one - that is an instant nominee for ugliest clue of the year). So, the puzzle is fine - it's a very Kahn-esque puzzle (he does these little topical ones well - I own / enjoy his book of baseball puzzles, as I may have mentioned before). But as single-person-themed puzzles, this is the roughest one I've done in my blogging career (the Rita Moreno puzzle being the easiest, and most enjoyable, and Sidney Poitier ranking ... somewhere in between; actually, I think I may have enjoyed this puzzle more than the Poitier one, if memory serves). ANYway...

Theme answers

  • 17A: 1966 Lincoln Center role for 21-/28-Across (Cleopatra)
  • 11D: "La Traviata" role for 21-/28-Across (Violetta)
  • 48A: 1970 Covent Garden title role for 21-/28-Across (Lucia)
  • 58A: Childhood nickname of 21-/28-Across (Bubbles) - that is the best SILLS factoid of all, by far
  • 62A: 1955 "Die Fledermaus" debut role for 21-/28-Across (Rosalinde)
  • 38D: Stage wear for 21-/28-Across (costumes) - this one stands out like a very sore, profoundly lame thumb

Oh, there's also 40D: "Sempre libera" e.g. (aria) in the grid, though I have no idea if it's something Ms. SILLS ever sang or not. Why is there not a comma between "libera" and "e.g." in that clue, btw, as there is in 5D: Earl Grey, e.g. (tea)?

Hardest part of puzzle was NE, where brazen (wrong) entry of CCIII for (ugh) 9A: Early third-century year (CCVII) slowed me way up on VIOLETTA (no "V," no way to make much sense of name ... ISOLETTA? 16A: They make green lawns (rains) and 19A: Grind down (erode) look really easy in retrospect, but without CREEP (9D: Unlikely candidate for Mr. Right) or INDY (12D: May race, familiarly), they didn't want to show their faces. INDY also looks easy in retrospect. I was thinking the answer was something beginning in "I," ending in "Y," that was somehow short for the Iditarod. It's true.

Also had a bit of trouble in the NW, with the intersecting ARCANA (1D: Mysteries) and ANSE (27A: "As I Lay Dying" father). Plural ending in "A" + insane Faulkner name I can never remember = stall. Speaking of crazy names, it's a virtual pageant today, with the never-before-seen (by me) 26A: Silas Marner's adopted daughter (Eppie - !?) and the familiar and yet oddly-named 41D: Linguist Chomsky (Noam) accompany Mr. ANSE. Give me a nice, simple name like Linda EVANS (60A: "Dynasty" actress) any day - mmmm, her shoulder pads went on forEver.

Two cute "?" clues intersect in the SW - the good 44D: Flying home? (airbase) and the great 61A: Stretches out? (comas). Paul Ryan came out of his COMA today on my soap opera ("ATWT"). I really Really wish he were still in it. Another interesting pair in the puzzle are CROAT and SERB, both clued [Balkan native].

Lastly, I have never heard of "PIN money" (18D: _____ money). Money for bowling? Any other explanation will likely be dissatisfying.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


barrywep 11:14 PM  

Bubbles was a classy lady. My favorite tribute puzzle was Don Adams.

Orange 11:20 PM  

She sang it on The Muppet Show! I linked to a YouTube clip on my blog.

Rex, here's an explanation of pin money. Wanna know how I knew that. I Googled it. This seems like as good a time as any to present my hand-crafted, shiny list of the 10 Steps of Googling:

1. Fail to understand something.
2. Formulate your question.
3. Extract the key word(s) from your question.
4. Open a browser window or tab.
5. Type in the address bar, or access Google via any shortcuts available to you.
6. Type your key words into the little box near the top of the Google page.
7. Click the "search" button.
8. Read the brief extracts of text from the "search results" pages. Does anything look promising?
9. If so, click that link. Does it answer your question?
10. If yes, hooray! You have learned something. If no, click the "back" button and see if another link looks promising. Repeat as needed.

Perhaps this will be of use to others.

PuzzleGirl 11:57 PM  

orange: LOL (48-D)

PuzzleGirl 11:58 PM  

HOW did I know Beverly Sills's nickname was Bubbles?? HOW????

profphil 12:53 AM  


I too know nothing about opera except I know who Beverly Sills was and that her nickname was Bubbles. I liked the puzzle though because even without the specific knowledge re Beverly Sills and opera, I was able to complete the puzzle without Googling -- that's a good puzzle as far as I'm concerned, challenging yet doable.

I had Violette and ept instead of violetta and apt although I toyed with those and opted for ept over apt. I think I may be right.

profphil 1:07 AM  

My mother's friend used to admonish my Mom for not having pin money. Her friend had been setting aside money from her "allowance" as a housewife for years so that she could have money of her own (not her husband's) and spend it on what she wanted without her husband's approval. It also gave her security in case of an emergency.

profphil 1:20 AM  

I just Googled ept hoping it would be a word it is not so please ignore my ignorant comment.

GK 1:26 AM  

I love opera and other musical arcana in puzzles. For an opera enthusiast those were pretty easy theme answers, since Lucia and Violetta are the title roles of two popular operas (Lucia di Lammermoor and Traviata). Yes, Sills certainly sang Sempre Libera, an aria from La Traviata.

I think you would hate "Opera Quiz"!

Alex 1:30 AM  

Never heard of Beverly Sills, never heard her nickname. I've been to one opera in my life and it was so excruciating that I've unfairly decided not to give the genre a second shot (it was a college production of The Marriage of Figaro, I believe).

So, once I figured out that pretty much all the theme clues related to opera I just called it quits for the puzzle.

Anonymous 4:56 AM  

Alex - Nothing quite like proclaiming one's ignorance AND adding that one is proud of it.

Anonymous 7:22 AM  

Question for Rex: Shouldn't "factoid' mean resembling, but not really, a fact? (You wrote that "Bubbles" is an interesting SILLS factoid.) I thought the suffix -oid meant this (asteroid, ovoid, humanoid). I know that it's used on FOX News in the sense of fact-bit, but had always taken this to be further evidence of FOX's tin ear for truth.

Anyway, I loved today's puzzle. As someone who is severely sports-clue challenged, I liked a puzzle that made different assumptions about popular culture.

Liffey Thorpe

jlsnyc 8:13 AM  

hey, liffey -- this is strictly in the "fwiw" column, but my online dictionary (oxford amer.) defines "factoid" as:
a brief or trivial item of news or information. • an assumption or speculation that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact.
so it looks like the "tidbit" usage is acceptable.

cheers --


Howard B 8:18 AM  

Knew of Beverly Sills, but the rest of this puzzle, for me, was like trying to solve a puzzle where the theme answers are VEEBLEFETZER, QWYJIBO, and maybe X&EDOL#, just for variety. Opera kills me, and other than digging out CLEOPATRA (and perhaps SOPRANO), every step of the way was a struggle.
As with many Kahn puzzles, this was expertly constructed, with challenging clues even for the smaller fill - I'm not a constructor, but I can appreciate the work. However, the theme was way outside my knowledge, and I just felt satisfied to solve it.
Anyone else on that wavelength? Or any opera devotees that found this one easier or more enjoyable?

Also, I should legally have my name changed to 'Bubbles'. Gave me a chuckle, as I never would have believed that was the right answer to that clue until I had almost every letter in place.

Anonymous 9:07 AM  

Opera: Musicals for the hearing challenged.

I too got the mystery star from the clue BUBBLES....And then guessed my way through the Wagnarian names.

I was not as good as guessing my way through names like RITT, MILTON, and ANSE.... especially when starting with ERAT, and then trying AMAT, but not getting AMAS without cheating.

jlsnyc 9:23 AM  

bubbles -- ok, or "howard" if you prefer... -- i count myself as a music lover and opera appreciator. for my money, opera -- when well-produced [well-acted, well-sung, well-directed, well-designed...] -- makes for a deeply satisfying musical/theatrical experience.

yep -- i enjoyed this puzzle, and your solving time was still 3-4x faster than mine!



Wade 10:31 AM  

I hope recent events don't result in Italian and Swedish cinema themed puzzles--they're bound to produce a bunch of vowel tossups that instinct and crossings can't help a country boy through (as with Rosalinde/Rosalinda today). I'm with barrywep--let's stay on the Don Adams level. Right, chief?

Jonathan 10:35 AM  

The term "pin money" goes back to the 14th century. It refers to metal pins produced by a monopoly under grant to the British crown. The pins were so costly and scarse that they could only be sold the first two days of the year. Husbands gave their wives money to buy all the pins they would need for the year. The term has continued as a annual stipend a husband gave his wife as a personal allowance.

Spencer 10:57 AM  

Jonathan, do you have a reference for that "factoid" about pin money? The link that Orange provided cites first use in 1697. I no longer have online access to the OED, or I'd check there.


Sue 11:42 AM  

The OED gives this definition for pin money: "An annual sum allotted to a woman for personal expenses in dress, etc.; especially an allowance settled upon a wife for her personal expenditure."

The first citation is from 1542: "I give my said doughter Margarett my lease of the parsonedge of Kirkdall Churche … to by her pynnes withal."

It seems to me that the term "pin money," implying money that a woman need not account for, was still pretty common a couple of decades ago.

ayoung 11:48 AM  

FYI--the role of Cleopatra was Sills' signature role in Handel's Julius Caesar. What fun to have a theme that was right up my alley.

Anonymous 12:26 PM  

I suppose pin money is now defined as the stuff one extracts from an ATM?

Alex 1:06 PM  

I didn't think I was so much taking pride in my ignorance of opera. Just acknowledging it.

Heck, I even said my rejection of the genre based on a single very amateur performance was unfair.

Matt M. 1:20 PM  

Toughie for me today, too. I also, mysteriously, knew BUBBLES. Let me also say that I hate such clues as "Early third-century year" or "Year in which somebody did something that not many of you know or care about". I, unlike Green Genius, much prefer the Sun's approach: "XXIII times IX".

jae 1:35 PM  

I did a lot of guessing and inferencing on this one. In the end the only error I made did not involve Ms. Sills. I thought it was NORM Chomsky. Thinking this was a common mistake I asked my wife, a language major with graduate courses in linguistics. Told her it began with N and she said "Oh, you mean NOAM." Apparently not a common error!

Anonymous 1:42 PM  

This was my first attempt to solve an NYT puzzle online. I solved it against the clock, though I didn't see the clock making any counter-moves. I thought I had it, but no, I was rebuffed, and so had to resumbit it, switching various ending vowels (E's to A's, A's to I's, etc.), until my solution was accepted.

Then for the ego-ripping, soul-destroying revelation: I was more than 11 times slower than the best solution, clocking in at 22 minutes, 11 seconds.
The agony! (and cleopatra.)

jlsnyc 1:48 PM  

dear anon (1:42) -- take heart! those first two "solvers" were actually doing typing practice. right now, the first legit time is the one submitted by "sarameon" at 3:17.



Fergus 1:50 PM  

Rex, the print edition (National) does have a comma between "Sempre libera" and e.g. just to satisfy your burning curiosity. This discrepancy raises a vaguely interesting question about the mechanics of information transfer at the publisher's quarters.

I can never remember ANSE either even though I read the fooking book. Not a big fan of Faulkner's, though respectful of his art.

This was a bit of work today, but since I've started reading the obits more frequently these days I knew more about Beverly Sills than I did a few weeks ago. Despite opera ignorance there was just enough other stuff to fill in all the references. Still managing to keep up a long streak without seeking any outside references. Just the thought of getting outside hints sort of undermines the pleasant Xword trance, which is what draws me into this form of entertainment. Don't mean to impugn any Googling, or smugly parade my recall of ARCANA, this just happens to be my NOMINAL attempt at persistence and discipline.

Regarding the EPT comments, there was a great 'New Yorker' Shouts & Murmurs piece a long time ago where the author payed with all the words that are usually used in negation. In other words the author used words like EPT to describe someone dextrous, and wrote PLUSSED to describe clarity, as opposed to NONPLUSSED's confusion. It was a great piece of writing, and I've never been able to find it again.

Orange 1:53 PM  

Anonymous 1:42 (hey, type a name for yourself next time, if you don't mind)—It's not as bad as you think. The fastest legitimate time on the online applet is 3:17, so your multiple's closer to 6 than 11. (They're working on eliminating those cheaters who solve offline and then type in their answers, but new ones pop up like Whack-a-Mole heads. They can't get preemptively whacked, alas.)

Alex, I'll bet that other anonymous commenter is the only one who thought you were claiming to be proud of not being into opera. Everyone else probably thought that commenter was a twit. My first opera experience was a Chicago Lyric Opera production of Turandot. Terrific costumes and drama! I don't know that I would have enjoyed it without being able to read the supertitles with the translation of the sung lines, though.

annielh 2:03 PM  

As a music major in college I had the opportunity to see Sills in three operas. Her 'mad' scene in Lucia was unforgettable. Quite an experience and a memory to always have with me.

Matt 2:14 PM  

Pardon me if I'm being daft but I just don't get "comas" for "stretches out" -- is it simply implying that being in a coma is like stretching out for a long time?

Anonymous 2:21 PM  

matt --

stretches = periods of time
out = unconscious

profphil 2:36 PM  


Thanks for the apt comment about the inept use of ept. As to finding New Yorker articles they released a set of all the New Yorkers on CD Rom or some such technology. There must be a way of accessing it.

Fipper 3:24 PM  

even though i heard of the names beverly sills and bubbles separatley, i concur with profphil. i also don't know jack about about opera but i was able to finish this puzzle without googling. (hey, that's a word i would like to see in a puzzle.) that is what separates a great from a good puzzle.

Fergus 3:55 PM  

My search at the New Yorker archive came up without what I was looking for -- maybe Ms Orange could suggest some refined delving tactics ... ?

green mantis 5:56 PM  

I was pretty pleased with my ability to get most of this puzzle even with my incredibly anemic knowledge of opera, but I screwed up with the ebay clue when I had "id" at the end. Suddenly decided "bid" had to be happening there, turning Rosalinde into Bocalinde, because I didn't know what bleaches textiles, and so ended up with "usebid," which I was prepared to protest colorfully, and a German opera character that for some reason was a Spanish/Italian name meaning something like "hot lips."

Orange 6:43 PM  

Fergus, why, certainly! I Googled plussed ept "new yorker" and came up with this copy of Jack Winter's "How I Met My Wife" (July 25, 1994, New Yorker). It looks to be retyped (probably in flagrant violation of copyright), as it's got "weildy" instead of "wieldy" and other typos, but the gist of it comes through clearly. Most entertaining!

Aaron 7:06 PM  

anon 2:21, thanks. i was still unclear about how coma might be a verb. "why, i oughta coma you clear through next week!"

Cea 8:17 PM  

Hi folks. Been lurking for a while, and posting for the first time today. The phrase pin money is definitely in use in the land of the cheque, which is where I grew up, although GRE threw me for ages. Give me an A-level any day. But I did have a number of false starts. Soprano looked like soloist at first, and ignite has six letters too. Coma is seriously clever.

Better opera than baseball or American football, in my book.

Anonymous 9:25 PM  

matt m. --

When you get a SUN clue such as XVII times DVI, do you convert? or do the multiplication in Roman numerals?

OK, OK, I'm kidding.

Fergus 10:31 PM  

Orange, you're incisive. There is an art to 'search.'

The very early post about Google mechanics seemed intentionally frivolous when I read it late in the morning in California. (Distracted by a the whale that came to the harbor to load up on anchovies.)

But you found the exact article I had been looking for with a much better verbal algorithm than I had tried. Thank you.

I would encourage anyone who might be getting into the more difficult forms of crossing words to read this article (in conjunction with your recent instructive book, of course), for a great primer in comprehending language indirectly.

Howard B 10:32 PM  

janie -
Maybe one of these days I'll give opera another try - I've watched a couple of PBS showings a while back (with subtitles), mostly unsuccessfully.
I admit when it comes to that sort of thing, I'm less cultured than yogurt, and I'm not proud of that. But at least the puzzle opens a little window into that world, even if it's via Googling and Wikipedia lookups.

Anonymous 2:46 PM  

I do not have thie clues in front of me, but what's up with COMA as the solution to, I belive, 'delay'.

A COMMA may be a delay, but not a COMA

Anonymous 9:26 AM  

Coma can be a delay for the person that is in it. Imagine if when you went in a coma Reagan was President and you awoke in 2007 you be delayed in being around.

Just imagine how delayed you be if you decided to read up on 3 presidents.

Rex "Pin money" is another way of saying seed money, or the phrase mother used to say, "Save your pennies for a rainy day"

Others believe it was money that girls in the 1950's would save thier allowance to buy pins to use for hemming and sewing thier clothes. Apractice that has diminished over time.

nar 10:08 AM  

Two cents from a loyal lurker from 6 weeks out - I enjoyed this one. I don't know opera from diddly, but it was kind of nice to rustle around in my subconcious and see what popped out (Bubbles, Lucia, Violetta...). Plus, my grandmother was trained as an opera singer and did the crossword every morning - she would have loved this puzzle.

WWPierre 7:19 PM  

profphil, I think EPT needs to be recognized as a word. What else could be the logical opposite of INEPT?

Like Nar, I am not an opera buff, but I seem to have gained enough knowledge of the subject by osmosis over the years that I was able to solve this in the course of drinking less than 2 cups of morning tea.

PIN money? Any young lady venturing out in search of adventure of an evening is wise to have cab fare home pinned to her underwear.

Orange said:

"Alex, I'll bet that other anonymous commenter is the only one who thought you were claiming to be proud of not being into opera. Everyone else probably thought that commenter was a twit."

Perhaps so, but I prefer to think he just had his tongue firmly in his cheek.

My compliments Mr. Kahn, this was up there with your best.

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