FRIDAY, Aug. 10, 2007 - Patrick Berry

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

The top half of this was easy, while the bottom half proved ... less so. First answer I got was a total gimme, 19A: "The _____ the limit!" ("sky's"), which gave me the "K" that I needed to get the ALASKA part of ALASKA PENINSULA (6D: It separates the Bering Sea from the Pacific). Unfortunately for me, the PENINSULA part was far longer in coming. I had WATERWAY, and then I had nothing for a while. Thought about ALASKAN PIPELINE for a while, though that made no logistical sense. Anyway, ALASKA was enough to make short work of the entire top half of the puzzle.

14A: Wizards and Magic, e.g. (basketball teams) wasn't nearly as clever as it wanted to be, though I guess with Potter-mania still fresh in the air, it could have been construed as misdirective by some unwary solvers. I would never describe a BANANA SPLIT as "oblong" (1A: Oblong dessert), but I guess it's at least in the vicinity of "oblong" if you squint real hard. I am not old enough for 8D: Compartmentalized box's contents (pills) to be a gimme ... yet, though I got 17A: Suitable for hypertension sufferers (salt-free) pretty quickly. I have never heard of 9D: Two-time Pro Bowler Leon (Lett). I know of Ronnie LOTT, but not Leon LETT (who becomes the second LEON in the puzzle in as many days - weird). Other stuff up here that I didn't know includes the insane-sounding SMERSH (13D: "From Russia With Love" org.) and the sweet-sounding BABKA (14D: Sweet, glazed cake) - I had BUNDT at first, and that "K" was the last letter I filled in in the grid's top half; felt wrong, but KONG was the only answer that made any kind of sense for 21A: Skull Island denizen, for short (which at first I thought was a "Survivor" reference). Stuff I liked in the top half includes the cleverly clued ICE FLOES (10D: White sheets) and the fabulous Ms. ARETHA Franklin (26A: "_____ Now" (1968 R&B album)).

Transition to the bottom half was impeded by my not knowing PENINSULA, but also by my balking at GALLERIES (27A: Old masters reside in them). I put it in, then nothing in the crosses was coming readily, then I thought "masters" would have been capitalized if painters were indeed at issue. Also balked at PEAS (22A: Mushy _____ (British dish)) because I knew of no D.C. team whose name began wit a "P" (22D: D.C. players). Turns out sports weren't at issue; politics were (POLS). Once I worked the middle out and even got PENINSULA, the three long bottom answers still took time in coming. First to fall, strangely, was CAKES AND ALE (48A: 1930 novel that takes its title from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"), which I managed to pull off from the letter string -ESAN-. Eventually I figured out PUTTING UP A FRONT (45A: Hiding one's true feelings), but PIERRE L'ENFANT (47A: French-born architect who designed Washington, D.C.) is entirely unknown to me. With Wizards and POLS and now this architect guy in the puzzle, I say there's far too much D.C.-ness going on. That's not even counting the Supreme Court clue - 38A: Baker v. _____ (landmark Supreme Court voting rights case) (Carr), which I'd never heard of, and which crosses another proper name I did not know (35D: Jeremy _____, 1980s-'90s portrayer of Sherlock Holmes (Brett)), which normally I'd complain about, but to be fair no letter but "R" could have connected those two names.

Stuff I liked in the southern hemisphere included, let's see ... well, I like Scotland, so DIRK is good (43D: Highlands weapon). I like primates in space, so I'm pro-CHIMP (29D: Early "astronaut"). I like sports, generally, though the past two days have really pressed the limit of my sports tolerance (not my knowledge, mind you, just tolerance). After LETT and BASKETBALL TEAMS up top, we get 41A: Long known for playing football (Howie) - he's an announcer now for FOX's NFL coverage, I think - and LINE-UP, the clue for which I really liked (30D: It reveals who's on first), although now that I think of it, this answer isn't sports-related at all. It's more concert-related. Baseball LINE-UPs will tell you who's UP first. And second. And so on. HOFFA (41D: 1992 Nicholson title role) is not the first Nicholson role anyone is likely to think of, just like (ugh) GREEN TEA (27D: Ice cream flavor) is not the first, or second, or twelfth ice cream flavor anyone is likely to think of. Needed SORBET (44A: Gelato sans milk) to get the taste of that one out of my mouth. Never heard of SAKS (25D: "The Odd Couple" director) in a non-5th-Avenue context. Love MISS (37A: Overlook) over GENT (40A: Square dance partner). The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Linda G 11:52 PM  

I had a much easier time with the bottom half...and got PENINSULA but struggled to get ALASKA. We'd have made a great team on this one.

Anonymous 12:00 AM  

I got tripped up ob 44D "soft rock" = "sand". I wanted it to be "sard", which I know is a rock but had no idea how hard it is. Should have paid more attention to the quote-signs and looked for the trick. Also, it would have helped to know M. Lenfant's nom.

GK 12:06 AM  

I was sure the sweet glazed cake was BABBA, but baba au rhum (with only two b's) is saturated rather than glazed. This error gave me the amusing BONG, not exactly a denizen of Skull Island. Wouldn't you love to see "[blank] hits 4 Jesus" as a clue?

L'Enfant laid out the road system of circles and spokes at crazy angles in DC.

Karen 12:12 AM  

I filled it out the same general pattern as Rex, but different road bumps. My first thought for 'ice cream flavor beginning with a G' was Grapenut, which I've only seen in the Northeast.

I always get the James Bond and Max Smart enemies confused. SMERSH, Kaos; which sounds more ridiculous? And don't forget Thrush.

Chris 12:34 AM  

I know Leon Lett as much for his bonehead plays as his actual career. He also made the news for frequently failing drug tests. 12:37 AM  

I found you through ms orange and really enjoy reading both of your blobs after I have wireworked my way through the puzzle. I like your take better than ms speedo, as moi, she is not a speedo and gets nervous even thinking about speed. I prefer ruminating and digesting. Since I am 61, I guess I have earned the pleasure. Thanks for what you do so well and with such good humor and energy. C'est moi.

Alex 12:38 AM  

BASKETBALL TEAMS, ALASKA PENINSULA (I'll be there in just 7 days), and PIERRE L'ENFANT were all gimmes so the puzzle fell in an pretty organized fashion. Certainly my fastest Friday ever (about 15 minutes) and possibly the first time I've ever had a Friday accepted on the first DONE!

I agree that a LINE-UP does not tell you who is on first. It can tell you who is playing AT first or who is UP first but the line-up can only tell you indirectly who is ON first (because you can see their number and check the line-up for who has that number).

I'm most impressed with myself for guessing JAWBONE from just the N. Could easily have been HIPBONE or any other three letter bone. Also please with SALT FREE from the S.

My wife is a green tea ice cream fanatic so she was thrilled to see it in the puzzle.

Stephen 3:24 AM  

I don't eat ice cream much, but GREENTEA is the most recent flavor I ordered, at the Japanese restaurant.

liebestraum 8:35 AM  

I was ecstatic when I finished this puzzle in about 17 minutes. I initially thought Aleutian (something) was the clue about the Bering Strait, but quickly got Alaskan Peninsula when the cross at SKY's the limit came up.

I resisted GREEN TEA for the longest time. I'm just now noticing the green tea flavored drinks at the store. I have yet to see it as an ice cream - at least in my neck of the woods here in southeast Texas.


ayoung 9:17 AM  

Yesterday the Times was delivered without the puzzle so I had to go out and buy it. I was rewarded for my effort today because it was one of the few Friday puzzles that was easy. Did the top in a breeze with 19A the gimme which gave me 6D. Got L'Enfant because Joshua Bell, the violinist, was in L'Enfant Plaza several months posing as a busker, playing his 2-1/2 dollar Strad.

ayoung 9:52 AM  

Whoops, I meant 2-/2 million dollar Strad.

Jerome 9:59 AM  

RP said: "and LINE-UP, the clue for which I really liked (30D: It reveals who's on first), although now that I think of it, this answer isn't sports-related at all. It's more concert-related." Could also be TV related, although that might also be: what's on first.

Wade 10:02 AM  

I solved this one in just over 15 minutes, which is quite good for me on a Friday. Most of it fell very quickly, but I was stymied several tries by the short answers in the middle (had to keep messing around with SOAP, SAKS and SEAL--I had SOUP, OAKS, SCAR and various other combinations).

The Seinfeld rerun I watched last night was the "Babka" episode, which is the only place I've heard of that cake, so it was fresh on my mind.

Thanks, Chris, for the Leon Lett link and for awakening memories of the worst day in my life, in which Leon Lett plays a starring role. I'm a lifelong fair-weather Cowboys fan, and about the only bright spot in my early 90's, post-grad, underemployed life was the resurgence of the Cowboys. I spent Thanksgiving Day 1993 alone, feeling pretty pathetic but looking forward to the Dallas-Miami game. I remember Lett's bonehead play on that field goal like it was yesterday. My mood immediately plummeted, and I wound up drinking a whole bottle of nouveau Beaujolais and calling up an old girlfriend to chew her out for no reason.

Anonymous 10:10 AM  

Jeremy IRONS totally threw that corner off.

Jim in Chicago 10:18 AM  

I also completed this puzzle in about 15 minutes, which is certainly a Friday record for me. It wasn't the easiest going puzzle I've ever done, but steady work got me through it unscathed. I would have to mark this one "easy" for a Friday, finishing off a generally easy week. Maybe Saturday will be the killer.

barrywep 10:52 AM  

This puzzlereally shows how differing knowledge makes a big difference. Baker v. CARR was a gimmee. So was PIERRELENFANT (for whom L'enfant Plaza is named) because of the French hunt, but I thought his name ended in an E which slowed me down a little.
More Law/DC!

Rex Parker 11:21 AM  

In case my wife fails to mention it, she had BABBA / BONG instead of BABKA / KONG.

BABBA-BONG is now the official sound of falling into a crossword trap.

And as soon as I told her BABKA, she was like "Oh, there was a 'Seinfeld' episode about that." I wouldn't know.


karmasartre 11:21 AM  

It took me twenty-five minutes. I don't know how you people do it so quickly! Had FRED instead of MRED, giving me FOUSY, making me feel pretty MOUSY.

If the street grid pattern is odd in D.C., perhaps they should have waited for Pierre to become L'HOMME before hiring him.

Orange 11:29 AM  

"Cinnamon takes a backseat to no babka!"—from Seinfeld

I like babba-bong better than bada-bing.

Sue 11:56 AM  

I once sailed from Japan to Seward, Alaska. We ducked north of the Aleutian Islands into the Bering Sea to avoid a storm in the Pacific. Regrettably, Aleutian Islands is not an "it," which the clue for 6D insisted upon. i have to confess that I looked at a map. (is that less of a cheat than googling?) Sometimes experience even gets in the way of an answer. Of course I had a nice "doh" moment.

Anonymous 12:30 PM  

That Seinfeld episode was on least in the New York area.

Damon G. 1:23 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damon G. 1:35 PM  

IN RE to Leon LETT and his bonehead plays, the botched blocked field goal ("Just don't touch the ball!") was cause for the cancellation of Thanksgiving dinner at my friend's house (obviously huge Cowboys' fans). The superbowl one is much funnier though, because he was showboating all the way down the field.

Definitely the bottom half of this puzzle was more difficult. I got PIERRE just from the French part, but LENFANT took way too long considering I live in DC. Solid Friday puzzle overall.

Wade 1:38 PM  

Ditto to Barrywep's comment about differing knowledge making a big difference sometimes, at least in terms of getting an early foothold. Baker v. CARR would be a gimme for most lawyers, I think, but I thought PIERRELENFANT was pretty much in the public domain of general knowledge. I guess I'm wrong, and I certainly don't mean to imply anybody has a cultural literacy gap if it wasn't automatically known (I got called out a few weeks ago for not knowing the name of one of Picasso's girlfriends, which apparently counts as a gap in my cultural literacy.) It's just that it's one of those surface facts I remember learning in a junior high history class (in rural north Texas, no less), the sort of thing the teacher puts on a multiple choice test (kind of like knowing Lafayette came over from France to help out the Americans in the Revolutionary War), and I guess I grew up thinking everybody had that same multiple choice test question at some point. About Mr. L'Enfant (or Mr. Lafayette) I know not a single thing more.

campesite 2:16 PM  

Something about this babba-bong puzzle is seriously giving me the munchies. Hmmm... banana split, sorbet, green tea ice cream? Ah, cakes and ale!

johnson 3:36 PM  

I found banana split a gimme - got it with no other letters - then struggled through the rest! Mushy Peas? Onc again, tortured by sports ignorance but able to slog through. Have a great weekend. Oh - do taste a babka next time you're in NY - preferably chocolate!

W.S. Walcott 3:50 PM  

Wade, I definitely had that same multiple choice question about PIERRE L'ENFANT in some history class at some point, and I'm from Connecticut. I don't think his name ever came up, though, in any French class that I ever took, of which there were many. I never knew that MOUSY meant drab, and I still don't think LORE works for traditional know-how. I associate it more with myth or legend. But whatever, I'm just really happy that I was finally able to do a Friday. I guess reading this blog has helped.

Kim 3:51 PM  

I had never heard of Leon Lett until today and assumed from the clue he was a "Professional Bowler". (As in spares, strikes, and ugly shoes). I realized my error when the previous poster mentioned that Lett had failed drug testing. LOL! Surely pro bowlers aren't taking performance-enhancing drugs?

Ah - "Pierre L'Enfant" - a common subject for American History exams, historical documentaries, and .... Jeopardy. (Remember it; it will come in handy again some day).

Suzy 4:15 PM  

I cheated...looked up "From Russia with Love" and the org. was SPECTRE?????? Needless to say I didn't bother finishing the puzzle as it was ruined by my looking up the answer.

shaun Strohmer 4:31 PM  

Babka is to Seinfeld as Fibonacci Sequence is to Da Vinci Code, which is to say that in both cases I find it unfortunate that such wonderful things are primarily known for their slight affiiliation with pop cult phenom. I'm sending you a Chocolate Babka next Easter -- we have them every year. And I may also send you a copy of my daughter's book on Fibonacci numbers.

Suzy 4:36 PM  

Let me revise my statement. I meant to say the puzzle was ruined because I looked up "an"answer. Anyway, the answer didn't fit the puzzle.

jlsnyc 4:46 PM  

kim -- i had to read the "pro bowler" clue several times, too, before understanding what it was going for.




Rex Parker 4:52 PM  

Many people arriving at my site after having searched "bowler leon," suggesting sport confusion is rampant with that one.


green mantis 5:17 PM  

Yay for D.C. clues! I never get long history-type answers like this without major cross help, but I'm from Washington and felt all puffy and big when I was able to fill it in smooth as butter.

The grid system in D.C. isn't really odd so much as genius: it is an orderly number and letter job that radiates from a central hub in four quadrants, with avenues shooting out diagonally and making crossing the city pretty easy. You can find any address in D.C. relatively quickly by going to the appropriate quadrant and using common sense--a rare thing, I think, in a large city.

One more thing about L'enfant: he had some superstition about the letter J--can't remember what exactly--and so that street is missing from the alphabet of roads in all the quadrants. J Street used to be the name of a magazine attachment to the Post, a wink to things left out of the main paper, I guess.

karmasartre 5:18 PM  

Next time you feel the need to googlesearch "From Russia with Love", try "Rosa Klebb" -- it's fewer key strokes. Funny how some oddball character names can stick in one's head after only a five-minute screen appearance, some forty-four years later.

Jerome 5:35 PM  


Yeah, but those pointy shoes!!!

jordanthejust 5:51 PM  

This is a total mix between crossword nerdiness and general English major nerdiness, but I completely enjoyed the way PUTTINGUPAFRONT and PIERRELENFANT looked next to each other. Almost like Pierre L'Enfant might be French for, well, you get the point...

Rex Parker 5:55 PM  

I don't get the point at all.


green mantis 6:21 PM  

So it turns out there's no J street because at the time, the letters I and J were used sort of interchangeably, and the lack of distinction between them would have been confusing. So J got the axe. No superstitions, no big mystery. I know you were all holding your breath.

profphil 6:22 PM  

I got the entire bottom half with only one possible answer on top first.Got Peninsula but not Alaska but oddly had Baked Alaska before I realized it was Banana Split. So Linda, I'm with you. Knowing no sports, I first fell for the Magic and Wizards clue ruse but finally filled in Basketball and assumed Magic was referring to magic Johnson so assumed Stars as opposed to teams. Finally finished it without Googling which is a great accomplishment for me on Fridays. Once again Rex thanks as you goaded me to start doing Fridays (up 'til then only did Sunday through Thursday).

It was also nice to get Cakes and Ale, once I got Cakes as I used to be a great fan of W. Somerset Maughan and read almost all his works including Cakes and Ale but remember almost nothing of it.

Finally Chocolate Babka is one of my favorite cakes. Have been eating it since childhood. Thougho still first filled in Babaa thinking it was a variant of the rum cake as babka is not really glazed, there is only a drizzling of chocalate on the outside but plenty of chocolate on the inside. The cinnamon variety is not glazed at all.

Anonymous 6:40 PM  

Food, sports and crosswords....

What a great site!

Fergus 9:17 PM  

PEAS and PIERRE were my anchors for a breeze through this one. One only needed to ORIENT one's self today, rather than ORIENTATE. No suffering like poor old JOB. I was a clerical nerd watching the Gent and the Miss meandering into a merger.

Made me wonder why this Friday was so easy. Was it because I didn't get around to it until 6pm, with late in the day lucidity, having shown some Boston friends around town all day? Probably not -- there just happened to be nothing diabolical about this puzzle, so I could boldly toss in my first guess instead of being apprehensive that that impulse must be wrong.

Orange 9:30 PM  

Fergus, I usually boldly toss in my first guess, and usually my instincts are sound. This time, I wandered down the wrong path about 10 times! (I felt it made for an entertaining blog post.)

Fergus 9:45 PM  

Orange, is this true even on Friday and Saturday? These are the puzzles when I'm very suspicious of anything that seems obvious, or merely likely. Of course, this is the reason I enjoy the puzzles late in the week: they tend to make me more comprehensively rather than just digging around in the archives.

Fergus 9:55 PM  

... omitting the 'think' verb in the last post has some subliminal relevance to your process: that it may be best not to actually consciously think when filling in squares. (Wasn't this Mr. Gladwell's recent thesis?)

karmasartre 10:29 PM  

Blink, tip, blink, think, sweet it's the Fergus point! This is why answers come when we're dwelling on sumpin' else altogether.

jae 10:30 PM  

This was pretty easy for me also. I blanked on the top with the exceptions of SKY, KONG, and ALASKA...which was a gimme off the sky K. Did the middle very quickly which gave me enough down letters to get 45a PUTT.... SE and SW were both easy and so the rest of the bottom fell. I too missread 9d as a bowler (dyslexia again?). When I went back to the top the basketball ruse became clear and the rest went fast. I must have missed that day in junior high because I've never heard of PIERRE.... Also didn't know CAKES..., but both were pretty easy to infer. I liked this one alot. Nothing was forced or too crosswordy.

Fergus 10:36 PM  

karma jp, thanks for your compliments this week. ff

Mary 11:01 PM  

I don't time my puzzles but this was the fastest I ever did a Friday, with the least struggle. I was happy to see CAKES AND ALE, a Somerset Maugham story I remember liking very much.

Orange 11:25 PM  

Yeah, Fergus, exactly. I've observed and absorbed the patterns in thousands of crosswords, making those Blink-type instincts fairly reliable—except when they're not, as in this Friday crossword. The top 20 or 30 contestants at the crossword tournament have these instincts too, I think, though of course everyone's individual strengths, blind spots, and wavelengths vary.

BT 11:35 AM  

A little late to the party here, but I thought I'd put "in the record" that in the game of baseball when the manager hands the "line up" to the umpire before the game, the lineup contains batting order AND field position. So it does reveal who's on first.

Amy 11:18 PM  

I have to agree with ProfPhil here--Babka is not a glazed cake! I hate it when clues have errors or misrepresentations.

WWPierre 2:37 PM  

I still had some cold tea in my second cup as I finished this. I would have finished sooner but for smugly filling ALASKA PANHANDLE right off the bat. Unfortunately, this shares 3 letters in the right positions with the right answer, PENINSULA, including the first letter of PIERRE L'ENFANT's surname, which was the second long fill I got.

Karmasartre, your little french pun made me chuckle out loud.

I prefer Jeremy Brett's darker Sherlock Holmes to Basil Rathbone's.

Suzy, it seems that, generally, SMERSH in Ian Fleming's novels is changed to SPECTRE in the films.

If any of you ever visit Squamish B.C. Have a feed of fish and chips at the Wigan Pier restaurant, written up as the best fish and chips in B.C. I always have mushy PEAS when I go there.

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