THURSDAY, Aug. 9, 2007 - Tyler Hinman

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Famous people whose last names end with the sound "GALL" ... at least, I think that's the theme

This puzzle is super-wacky and unusual in many ways. First, no rotational symmetry. Just symmetry. The empty grid looks like one of the aliens from the original Space Invaders video game. Second, the puzzle was really, really easy. I started at 1A: Moon and Starr, for short (QBs) and after fumbling for a few seconds to pick up BARTOK (2D: Hungarian composer who wrote "The Miraculous Mandarin"), I was off and running and never hesitated until I hit the SE corner. Then I just moved to the NE and worked my way down and was done. Don't know how fast because I was doing it untimed on paper, but I'd say somewhere between 6 and 8 minutes. The last odd thing about the puzzle is that it was more fun (for me) than any puzzle has been in a long time - very clever, with some real low-rent pop culture clues that made me very happy.

Theme answers

  • 20A: With 22-Across, actor with a black belt in aikido (Steven / Seagal) - this is one of the "low-rent" clues I was talking about. This guy was always cheesy / campy, and I don't think he's been heard of since his mysterious bout of fame in the early-mid nineties.
  • 36A: President with a bridge in Montreal named after him (Charles de Gaulle) - filled this in without ever looking at the clue, that's how easy this puzzle was.
  • 53A: He said "Great art picks up where nature ends" (Marc Chagall) - I went through a serious Chagall phase in college.

Favorite clues / answers

  • 3D: Star near Venus? (Serena) - I stopped, thought about it for about three seconds solid, and it popped into my head. The Williams sisters! Love them. Great, great clue. One of my cats is named SERENA, though that didn't help at all here.
  • 33A: Item sought in the spring (Easter egg) - got it off of initial "E" and final "G"
  • 39D: Protection against smearing (libel law) - nice misdirection in the clue. I like the double "L" in this one (as I like the double "C" in MARC CHAGALL)
  • 19A: The Engineers of coll. athletics (RPI) - I suppose if I constructed a puzzle, I would try to find a way to work my alma mater into it too
  • 65A: "Who Let the Dogs Out" group (Baha Men) - if there is a lower-rent pop culture answer than STEVEN SEAGAL, surely this is it. Awesome.
  • 16A: TV title character voiced by Paul Fusco (Alf) - As long as crosswords exist, this sitcom will Never Die
  • 47D: Beer, often (chaser) - this was one of the few clues that I had to take several passes at before it fell - very good colloquial term that I haven't seen much, if ever, in the grid

ATLANTA is common fill (as 7-letter fill goes) and gets clued a million insane ways (e.g. [Bailiwick of TV's Matlock]); today we learn that ATLANTA is "Where Home Depot was founded" (4A). I have no idea what Sharjah is, but 14A: Sharjah's locale (UAE, i.e. United Arab Emirates) was easy enough to piece together (easy, in this case, because I never saw the clue - got it all from crosses). Got ALLA Breve easily because of its recent appearance (54D: _____ breve (musical direction)). 10D: Tenochtitlán dweller looks intimidating, but come on - you know you're dealing with one of three things with a name like that: INCA, MAYA, or (in this case) AZTEC. Maybe OLMEC (a name I know only from its being referenced on "The Simpsons"). I pieced together 50D: Italian apologies (scuse) just from imagining what some Italian guy would say if he bumped into me. And I have no idea who LEON Russell is (40D: Rock singer Russell). I'm going to look him up now, and I hope he's important, or at least funny-looking ... woo hoo! We have "funny-looking!"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Orange 12:13 AM  

I've seen it spelled Olmec, and there are also the Toltec and the Zapotec, whom I like because they sound like a mangling of Emil Zatopek.

This was indeed a fun crossword.

Rex Parker 12:15 AM  

That's because it IS spelled "OLMEC." Ugh.


PuzzleGirl 12:21 AM  

I was proud of myself for several minutes for coming up with LIP LINER for 39D ("Protection against smearing"). Until I figured out it was, ya know, wrong.

Baha Men (THE Baha Men?) sing the theme song to the children's show "Stanley." By far the coolest children's show theme song of them all. Much cooler than, say, "Clifford the Big Red Dog" or -- ugh! -- "Caillou."

GK 12:28 AM  

I scowled right at the end because of that first E in the bottom row. I had never heard of BAHAM?N, and my Italian isn't good enough to be sure of the plural of SCUSI (which is what some Italian guy will say if he bumps into you). I guessed the E but had to confirm by Googling.

karmasartre 12:41 AM  

Rex, the graphic you chose for Leon Russell has the name of his best (and a very beautiful) song, recorded sometime last century.

I wonder if this puzzle sets the stage for an extremely difficult Friday.....

Stephen 12:47 AM  

GK...once again, your last entry (BAHAMEN) is my first.

Alex 1:07 AM  

When I saw the symmetry issue I was really expecting some theme that played into it. But nope (unless I'm missing something).

I agree on very easy, so easy that several of the clues you mention above I never saw.

Felt very much like a Tuesday puzzle.

gk 1:42 AM  

LOL, Rex, it's my own kid sassing me on your comments page. ("Your last entry… is my first.") We've been trying to construct some puzzles together, which seems to work well in terms of our complementary domains of trivia.

Rockonchris 6:58 AM  

Rex, for Leon Russell check out his live double album w/ Joe Cocker, Mad Dogs and Englishmen. He put the tour together for Joe when Joe was in danger of losing his visa because he wasn't able to fulfill his concert contracts. It's some of the best music ever recorded. There is also a dvd available of the tour. It makes me sad that people are not hearing Leon anymore. Some of his songs have become standards recorded by others. Got to run now, but will post more references later. Rockon!

Karen 8:07 AM  

Thanks for pointing out the 'gall' theme, I thought it was simply the visual bridge look, and tried to figure out if it had been pushed forward or back due to the Minneapolis disaster.

I liked how the Q and X were in the corners, and the J and Z got top billing as well.

Howard B 8:13 AM  

For some reason I had some trouble with this one... outside of Mr.SEAGAL, I needed a ton of letters to work out the other theme answers. That and the tricky top-left had me spinning my wheels a bit at first.
A fun ride start to finish, though.

I think the person that worked the hardest on Seagal's films had to be the sound fx (Foley?) technician - what with all the ridiculous crunching, punching, and breaking sounds going on throughout. I wonder how many poor stalks of celery must have been sacrificed to make all the sounds for those films :(.
I think it's time for some coffee. Jeez, that was rambly.

Mary 8:43 AM  

It's funny how many MOONs and STARRs are out there. Ringo Starr and Keith Moon of rock and roll? Brenda Starr and Moon Mullins from the funny pages? Luckily I guessed BARTOK--he's the only Hungarian composer I know-- and then it all fell into place.

I agree that this was easy for a Thursday and also very enjoyable. Both EASTEREGG and OILIER made me laugh.

Anonymous 9:04 AM  

I initially had TAGTEAM for BAHAMEN, but alas they sang "Whoomp There it Is", not "Who Let the Dogs Out".

jlsnyc 9:05 AM  

'course i was wrong, but my first hungarian composer fill was kodaly....

puzzle took me too long -- which did not interfere with my enjoying it. just felt brain-blocked as i was doing it and then reasonably satisfied with myself on breaking through and completing it. which is why i love thursday puzzles!



Wade 10:21 AM  

Yeah, Rex, don't be dissing Leon. "A Song For You" is painfully beautiful. Willie Nelson recorded it a long time ago and has probably played it at every concert he's done the last thirty-five years--he does it without the band, just on his beat-up Martin, "Trigger." (Willie is criminally underrated as a guitar player.) Other standards Leon Russell wrote are "This Masquerade" and "Tightrope." Plays a mean piano.

Michael 10:38 AM  

How can all you other Leon fans leave out "Roll Away the Stone"? That was one of the first rock songs that ever made a deep impression on me. And it came out when Rex was, oh, 1.

Rex Parker 10:40 AM  

Weird. I know "A Song For You" as a (great) Donny Hathaway song. Had no idea who wrote it, or how many many many times it had been recorded.


jordanthejust 11:19 AM  

Even though Baha Men was the second clue I filled in, I wrongly spelled it correctly (Baja), so the SW corner threw me for a couple minutes. I was a little disappointed with today's puzzle; I count on Thursday to give me a little more cranial exercise. Oh well, here's hoping tomorrow's will be a doozy.

profphil 11:57 AM  

Oddly, I found this one more difficult. I started it last night and only filled in the top half with little of the bottom half. Came back to it now and had to Google for "BahaMen" knew the song but not the group. I think the sports related clues (which I am clurless about) made this one difficult for me and not knowing the Montreal bridge and having it clued as named after President made me think of an American Pres and did not get it to it was almost completely filled in.

campesite 1:02 PM  

This was an enjoyable puzzle that fell unusually quickly for me for a Thursday. When one sees Tyler Hinman's byline pop culture references are to be expected, and I guess sports too: QB's, Serena Williams, NBA'ers fouling out, skater Sasha Cohen, Pac Ten Conference, and, though he's a crap actor, Seagal at one point was a martial artist.

How often are NYT puzzles published without rotational symmetry? Seems strange to me.

Damon G. 1:14 PM  

This is my favorite puzzle of the last few weeks, or so. Really enjoyed it. Let's give SHOWBIZ and XFILES some props also -- great fill.

Fergus 2:13 PM  

Yeah, this puzzle was more of a sports car (perhaps even a SOLARA) as compared to yesterday's clunker. With the Q, the X and the Z all showing up right away I thought PANAGRAM!, which I've only recently been on the lookout for.

And what is the deal with symmetry? Is there any functional reason a puzzle must be symmetric, at least about one axis? Just aesthetics, a venerable convention? Would it be TABOO to completely violate this standard? There was some English crossword puzzle book, which came out six or seven years ago, that offered some explanation, but I forget both the name of the book and any rationale.

joeyshapiro 3:02 PM  

In wordplay Will Shortz talks about the symmetrical aesthetic to the puzzle and credited the original Times puzzle editor as being the source of this idiosyncrasy. I have forgotten her name, but she is also the person Shortz claims put in place the Sunday morning family brunch test wherein the puzzle couldn't contain obscenities or foul-natured fill.

Anonymous 3:21 PM  

Odd Bits...

Another Hungarian composer, György Ligeti, [which might make good crossword fill] died two years ago. His music was featured in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Segal is, or at least used to be, the guardian of a Tibetan princess.

The best children's-show-theme-song-ever is the "Theme From Sesame Street," especially when covered by Oscar Peterson.

korova 3:46 PM  

Speaking of "foul-natured fill," surely somebody out there had the experience I did with 36D ("Stuff"), namely, wondering whether the answer was really going to end up being CRAP. I was disappointed when I realized I didn't know of a PIT school.

Fergus 4:35 PM  

Speaking of IT schools, was there really ever one called Sam Houston Institute of Technology? What would one do there to prepare frantically for exams?

David 4:52 PM  

Did like this one, but what is this SNAP/PIC combo? Is this really a valid synonym, or just a Xword trying to create new usage? Does anyone ever use "snap" as a noun or "pic" as a a verb in the context of a picture?
Or, perhaps, am I missing something atogether here?

Others remember that great NYT puzzle of a few years ago, where the theme was "what is wrong with this puzle"? I remember "lack of symmetry" and "two letter word" were 2 of the theme answers. Forget what the other 8 were.

gk 4:57 PM  

Speaking of symmetry, look back to the Saturday puzzle on July 28, whose elegant shape Rex praised. That had all the symmetries of the square, i.e., any motion permuting the corners of the square preserved the pattern of black and white. To take one example, you could reflect the square across the NE-SW diagonal, swapping the NW and SE corners.

ayoung 5:05 PM  

Totally missed the Venus/Serena connection and I'm a rabid fan of the Williams sisters. I had Sirius at first which went nowhere. Missed the theme too. Oh, well, on to tomorrow.

Fergus 5:13 PM  

Snap as in Snapshot = Pic as in Picture (plural being Pix).

Chip Ahoy 7:05 PM  

Most galling Thursday in a long time.

Anonymous 8:42 PM  

Fergus - It's PANGRAM, not PANAGRAM.

karmasartre 9:36 PM  

Fergus re. ITschools / good on ya'

You made me laugh twice this week.

nitpicker 10:23 PM  

this one was a bad one - not much of a theme. i think the left-right symmetry was a copout for not finding the right them entries with the right lengths. oh well - the rest of y'all can sing the praises of the well-known names, but i remain faithful to the puzzle.


Rex Parker 11:23 PM  

You remain annoyingly self-righteous is what you remain.

Maybe you can start your own blog and call it "In My Day..."


Badir 11:48 PM  

When I saw Tyler's name, I knew it was going to be an interesting puzzle. I was worried at first with thematic entries that were names with similar endings since I a) am culturally impaired and b) can't spell. Hooray for crossing words! Anyway, it was fun to see Tyler's personality come through in the puzzle: low-rent pop culture, as Rex puts it, and such. And I'm sure he had a great time writing a clue about beer!

Anonymous 6:38 PM  

All my 6wl buddies seem to have disappeared lately. Anyway, it's been a long time for me too. Couple of things compel me to contribute here today though. First time for me ever that a Thusrday was a snap. Still a relative newcomer and this site has helped me achieve. Also, rp, you gotta check out some Leon Russell. Try the "Concert for Bangladesh" live album where he appears with George Harrison and others. His version of "Jumping Jack Flash" is the best of all time.

- - Robert

Waxy in Montreal 8:33 PM  

6 weeks on-
Since this was a Thursday puzzle, thought the president with a bridge named after him here in Montreal (36A) was gonna be far more creative and trickier - maybe something like PONT JIMMY CARTER (since we have a JACQUES CARTIER bridge that could have been craftily transliterated: JACQUES=JAMES=JIMMY and CARTIER=CARTER). Unfortunately, not to be the case.

I'll stop PONTificating here.

Anonymous 10:46 PM  

Ah Ha! another Quebecer chimes in. That 'pont' clue I got right away. (My problem was the NE corner.)

Rex is obviously a lot younger than me if he's not aware of Leon Russell.


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