SATURDAY, Sep. 1, 2007 - Karen M. Tracey

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

This puzzle is insane. Beautifully insane. It's got high culture and low culture and lingerie and obscure name collisions and at least a half dozen terms I've Never Heard Of. It was also more fun than most puzzles I've done all year.

The first fun thing about the puzzle for me was that I started in the dead center and exploded outward. The center is a strange but (it turns out) useful place to start. The first Shakespeare play I ever read in its entirety was "The Tempest" (thank you, Mr. Berglund), so it's fitting that the first answer I got in the grid was 23D: Like Shakespeare's Prospero, e.g. (exiled). I claim that I am the only person to solve this puzzle whose first entry was EXILED. You'll let me know if I'm wrong. I confirmed the "X" at 28A: _____ Britannica, where I wrote in LEX. Turns out that the answer was PAX, but that hardly matters now.

Speaking of Shakespeare, I've never heard of 52A: Shakespearean scholar Edmond (Malone). He was part of a three-name pile-up in the SE that nearly derailed me. I love "Popeye," and yet can Never remember Segar's first name - 49D: Cartoonist Segar (Elzie). The fact that I didn't know 53D: Grammy-winning merengue singer Tanon (Olga) bothers me not at all.

Managed to retrieve some obscure TV knowledge, remembering almost instantly that the guy who played Truman in a TV movie over 10 years ago was Gary SINISE (29D: 1996 Golden Globe winner for "Truman"), and remembering further (and more happily) that besides "Golllly!," Gomer Pyle's other common expletive was SHAZAM! (45D: Gomer Pyle expletive). I believe he also said SARG a lot (50D: Pioneering puppeteer), though that might technically be written out SARGE.

The centerpiece of the puzzle is a gorgeous, Scrabbly 15-letter name, JACQUELINE DU PRE (36A: Cellist who debuted at London's Wigmore Hall at age 16), which I got very early on, though I misspelled it as DE PRE, which cost me later. Because of that misspelling, and the fact that I had ARNE where ORNE was supposed to go (16A: Basse-Normandie deparment), I couldn't see the fancy COTE D'AZUR (10D: Fashionable resort area) to save my life. CATE DATER? Something-WATER? Very frustrating, but entirely my own fault. Not sure why I so confidently wrote in ARNE. Rhymes with MARNE, which was a WWII battle site ... right? Nope, WWI. Anyway, MARNE exists, which is my point. Moving on.

The SW corner may be my favorite corner of all time, with a pair of parallel 10-letter words that Ms. Tracey must have been Very Proud of:

  • 26D: Salt halter ("Avast, Matey!")
  • 27D: It'll knock you out after you knock it back (Mickey Finn)

People are probably familiar with the phrase "to slip someone a Mickey," but you rarely hear the FINN part. Other long answers I enjoyed in this puzzle included:

  • 14A: Music maker "played" by the wind (Eolian harp) - I know this term from studying Coleridge almost 20 years ago, but the exact context has long since slipped my mind...
  • 57A: Expensive choice for a commuter (gas guzzler) - great in-the-language phrase with a fantastic double-Z
  • 17A: Stereotypical nerd (Poindexter) - the first answer that came into my head. I mean, instantly. I couldn't believe it when I tentatively confirmed the "X" with THX (6D: Appreciation abbreviation -I'd had LOL ... HA ha), and then solidly confirmed the whole word by confirming the "I" with ALIT (3D: Set down). POINDEXTER will always live in my head in the voice of Homer Simpson, who loves to make fun of nerds.

Now the stuff I did not know

  • 1D: Tio _____ (sherry brand) (Pepe) - pretty sure I've seen this before, but it's not the kind of answer that's apt to stick.
  • 21D: Indian lute (sarod) - I can barely look at that word. It's not even close to a word I recognize.
  • 35A: Airline purchased by T.W.A. in 1986 (Ozark) - seems like a joke, but apparently not. Had the "K" from 30D: Variety listings (skeds), and knew then that I was never going to get this airline without All the crosses.
  • 44A: It lands at Landvetter (SAS) - I sort of know this. It's a Swedish airline? Oh, Scandinavian Airways. OK.
  • 47A: Ancient Greek sculptor famous for his athletes in bronze (Myron) - nerdiest ancient Greek name ever
  • 48D: Where the Fulda flows (Hesse) - don't know Fulda or HESSE, so I get twice as much ignorance for my money. HESSE is an author to me (and others, presumably).
  • 58D: Fed. property overseer (GSA) - let's see ... Government ... Settlement Authority? Not even close: General Services Administration.

I didn't realize that HE/SHE counted as a single pronoun (48A: Inclusive pronoun) - I'm sure language purists around the country are spitting out their morning coffee over that one. Loved the clue on REED (41A: Fen bender), though at first I was looking for some kind of snake. A couple of clues seem off. I'm guessing 2D: Crazy is being used as a noun, since the answer is LOON. Weird. Also weird to my ears is 9D: Smart (spruce) - looks like an adjective cluing a verb. BAD RAP (5D: Wrongful slammer sentence, say) compliments MICKEY FINN nicely - lingo of the criminal underground makes me happy. I didn't know NESCAFE (15D: Instant success?) even existed anymore. Feels like it's from another era (an era before I drank coffee and thus realized that NESCAFE is unbearable). Lastly, I've stared at many an ad for TREO (8D: Palm smartphone), but that didn't keep me from writing in TREA - which set up my favorite wrong answer of the day: 20A: Fluffy, perhaps became HAIRY PET, instead of the correct (though far less colorful) HOUSE PET.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

36 comments:

Whitey's mom 8:07 AM  

Well, I had hairy cat at first mainly because I had one named Fluffy but it all worked out.

Blue 9:30 AM  

I initally wrote in house cat as well. This was a great puzzle. I like them hard but not impossible.
Rex, you probably so confidently put in Arne since he shows up so frequently in the puzzles as "British composer" (of Rule, Britannia).

JPA 10:13 AM  

For me, it was the upper left which fell first, with Eolian harp and Poindexter.
The biggest surprise for me was that the grid includes all the letters of the alphabet...except W.

Rheaad 10:36 AM  

not happy with Crazy clue; should
have been loco or loony.
Ditto for Smart: properly used,
spruce needs "up"

otherwise kinda tuff NE corner for me.
Otherwise I liked it

johnson 11:02 AM  

Got killed in the NW: had BUM rap forEVER. Rejected loon on the basis of language part. Persisted with LOL instead of THX, so couldn't see POINDEXTER. Excitedly penned in TACITUS where ERASMUS eventually fell. But all in all, lots of AHA moments which is always delightful on a Sat. I think you'll be safe with exiled as your first fill, I started with Miss Saigon!

Orange 11:20 AM  

[Crazy] is unimpeachable: There is a noun definition, "one who is or appears insane."

Unimpeachable, but awfully hard even on a Saturday.

liebestraum 12:15 PM  

Poindexter?
POINDEXTER???

Aarghhh!

My wife likes Tio Pepe, so that was a gimme. Wanted to put LOON, but balked at a word starting EO--

So the NW just stared at me blankly. I finally gave up and checked Rex.

Poindexter??? Ah, geez. I've got a ways to go yet.

lieb

Anonymous 12:25 PM  

Doesn't anyone else think it should be "Aeolian Harp"?

Chance 12:58 PM  

Hee hee. Nerdiest ancient Greek name.

Orange 1:11 PM  

Aeon = eon, paediatrician = pediatrician, Aeolian = Eolian. Most American spellings opt for E, with the Brits using AE, so it's mildly surprising we haven't switched to Eolian harp as the more common spelling here.

karmasartre 1:12 PM  

I started in the middle as well with Lord JIM. Then, I had trouble believing FIJI could be so coup-riddled, so EXILED didn't fall until I had the crosses.

Only cellists I remembered were Starker, Casals and Ma -- even though I watched and enjoyed "Hilary and Jackie" (with Emily Watson as Ms. DuPre and Rachel Griffiths (6 ft. under) as her sister) back in the '90s.

"Peer on a stage" was very clever. The WE/SHE answer seemed weshe-washy. Entering "private jet" in GASGUZZLER's spot caused me all sorts of problems.

I'm missing the STEADED / Availed connection. Could someone pls explain? THX.

Anonymous 1:22 PM  

This one almost killed me. I finally gave up. For some reason I'd entered an E instead of A for BADRAP and so couldn't get the cross RACES, which would have given me NESCAFE--couldn't see Nescafe for the life of me. And, guess who I used to work for!

By the way Nescafe is very big outside the U.S.

Orange 1:51 PM  

Oh, another thing—HAIRY PET couldn't be an answer because it's not remotely a stand-alone phrase. It falls in the "green shirt" category—a phrase that makes perfect sense in English, but isn't a "thing," a concept, in and of itself. "Polo shirt," yes.

Although, crikey, with clues like these, it's natural to grasp at something, anything, to try to fill in the empty squares!

ayoung 2:15 PM  

I'm with you,Chance. What kind of a Greek name is Myron? I stuck in Pyros trying to use the r and o I had. Loved the clue salt halter. I got the cellist right away and eolian harp, not that that helped. Poindexter? The only Poindexter I remember was Admiral Poindexter from the Nixon era. Can someone explain?

Wendy 2:43 PM  

POINDEXTER has taken on numerous personas over the years (see wikipedia for many of them), but one of the earlier ones and the one that made this a gimme for me came from a Barbie board game in the 50s or 60s. Kind of a "dating game" concept, your goal as a player was to avoid ending up with poor Poindexter, who was a dork of laughable proportions, vs. the other candidates, Tom, Bob and Ken, the latter being Barbie's boyfriend who shouldn't have been dating anyone else, now should he? ;)

Doug 3:14 PM  

All right, I bow before you and proclaim you the kind of crosswords.

NESCAFE is the biggest volume coffee product in the world, by a looong shot. Starbucks, as ubiquitous as it seems, is still a tiny baby in the coffee market. Some oddballs exist in coffee, for example P&G, which makes your Crest toothpaste, Pampers diapers, Pantene shampoo and Pringles, also makes Folgers coffee, which is gigantic. And Sara Lee, maker of your frozen cakes, Hillshire Farms sausage and Kiwi shoe polish is another massive one.

Anonymous 3:47 PM  

There was Buster Poindexter (David Johansen) of the New York Dolls. And I don't even like rock.

green mantis 3:53 PM  

Arg. I really screwed up this grid. Housecat doesn't even begin to describe it. For some reason, gas guzzler would not come to me, but because I had the "r" on the end and "gas" in the front, I spent a good part of my life trying to figure out what kind of "gas....car" would be expensive to drive. A "gasfreecar"? Like, what would it run on instead of gas? Diamonds? Kill me now.

Best Poindexter for me is the red-headed nerd in Revenge of the Nerds, with his pocket protectors, glasses, and sickly complexion. I think he did the electric violin in the award-winning musical finale.

Fergus 4:44 PM  

I recall Aeolian Harp from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and other classics from my fifth grade reading list. Ian Fleming must have had some cool cars.

Plodded along thinking this was yet another in a series of fine puzzles and then got stuck in the "three name pile-up in the SE and the ENIGMA of the NE. OISE is my default department in that part of France, but now I realize that in addition to ORNE, you could have reasonably put in EURE, as well. I think SKEDS is lame, and I'm assuming it's the publication 'Variety' that's referenced. Discovered that SPRUCE is indeed an adjective, though in one dictionary only to describe some Prussian leather. C was the only letter that would work there, though an alternative spelling of SARAPES did lead to a futile check for other possibilities. That Fen bender stumped me -- forgot about it until it was pointed out above. Clever, however. Is there anyone who entered SAROD before erasing SITAR?

So there were just enough faults, in my mind, to mar the elegance of the puzzle. (If I were a defensive constructor, I would edit out the first comma in the previous sentence....)

Admiral POINDEXTER, of Iran-Conmtra fame could have easily been the source of coinage, but I'd heard the term long before. To me, the term must include some sort of intelligence, though generally of the obscure and pointless variety, and always awkwardly applied.

Wobbith 4:56 PM  

Hey, quit picking on Myron. Lots of them in my family icluding my GGrandfather and they're all cool.

My first thought for Fluffy was a giant vicious three-headed dog. I soo wanted it to be "Hagrid's pet", oh well.

Ditto karmasartre with "private jet".

Brutal but awesome puzzle.

ayoung 5:18 PM  

Hey, Wobbith, I have a great-nephew named Myron. Unfortunately, in my mind, it was combined with the last name of Wong. I quizzed my nephew about that and he said he liked the name so in the Wong family it's right.

Damon G. 5:24 PM  

"A chick walks by you wish you could sex her. But you're standing on the wall like you was Poindexter." Young MC, from his 1989 mega-hit "Bust a Move"

I had never heard of Jacqueline Du Pre, Edmond Malone, Elzie Segar nor Erasmus which made the eastern shore impossible for me without cheating -- disappointing since I finished the entire west and midwest. I was really only irked by the Shakespearean scholar clue. You've got Karl, Moses and Sam all as perfectly good Malones, why Edmond? Throw us philistines a bone here, Will.

Solid puzzle overall.

hobbyist 5:24 PM  

Ha! A second clue relating to Felix the Cat. Poindexter.

Orange 5:42 PM  

Fergus, I linked to the Wikipedia page for the departments of France in my post. It informed me that there are, like, 100 departments! And eleven of them have four letters! Any constructors who are reading this, I beg of you, do not raid the list for fill. OISE, AUBE, and ORNE are bad enough.

Fergus 7:10 PM  

(Those two others were the four letter ones in what I construed to be the Normandy region.)

I recall that there are 95 and their arrangement alphabetically gives the number of the department, which appears as the last two digits on a car's license plate. A little game to play while driving around France is to guess where the other cars are from. The 75s come from central Paris. Aube, of course would have a low number. My French geography was a lot better when I was hitching around the country at age 22, and concentrating on such vital trivialities.

If I were tyrant arbiter of department inclusion I would put limits on having a notable river or town with the same name as a minimum. So there!

mellocat 7:19 PM  

Nice write-up Rex, thanks! Sounds like you were in a good mood for tackling this puzzle. Love CATEDATER for COTEDAZUR....

jae 11:37 PM  

This was just over the edge for me on the tough but doable scale. I got the Southern half with out much trouble but got bogged (FEN) down in NE. SPRUCE for smart was new to me but its all that would fit. I had COTE DE MER and wasn't getting anywhere so I googled for a spell check and got the AZUR part. I did not know the Navajos made Mexican garments. Life would have been so much easier if it had been clued "Mexican wrap." I also had SITAR for a long time and also balked at LOON. A fine puzzle but the toughest for me in quite a while!

Orange 9:41 PM  

Jae, I once learned at the NYT Today's Puzzle forum that serapes aren't Mexican but from the southwestern U.S. I think they're widely thought to be Mexican, though.

Kurt 1:24 PM  

r.v. stead·ed, stead·ing, steads
To be of advantage or service to; benefit.
American Heritage dict. online
Not my favorite clue.
I don't know if I had EXILED first, but it was very early on.

polabran 11:54 AM  

As a keyboard player, sarod came quickly because it is a common "ethnic" sound used in synthesizers.
Thanks as well to the Simpsons for poindexter.

angie_film@yahoo.com 4:00 PM  

Loved this puzzle, a two cuppa tea one. I got it all except Ozark, Sarod and the awful SKEDS. I produce an awful lot of schedules and have been guilty of SCHEDS but SKEDS !!
The americanization of Aeolian provided an easy clue to it's completion, there's not too many things I know start EOLI...

Loved the humor in lots of the clues i.e.Instant Success ? etc.
Great fun and just the right level of head scratching

Dylan 4:51 AM  

I'm surprised noone mentioned the upper NE corner. This was the last part I got. I had to look up 18A (Teds) before it would fall into place.
I couldn't for the life of me see 11D (crepe paper) 12D (undeterred) or 10A (C cup).
I hope someone's still checking this, 6 weeks later.

Anonymous 10:43 AM  

No one mentioned 3D "Set down": ALIT
Alit means to have landed or "sat down"; set means to place or position -- not the past tense of sit.

Rex Parker 11:09 AM  

Well that's just wrong.

Past tense of "set" is "set." "Sit" and "sat" have nothing to do with it.

Example (which I just pulled from a random article): "The plane set down on a taxiway that runs parallel to the runway."

rp

Michael5000 7:39 PM  

Hmm. Mrs.5K and I hate, hate, hated this puzzle, and I expected I would find a buzzing discussion of hate here, too:

Rex: "I hated it."

Commenter #1: "Not as much as I did!"

Commenter #2: "Your hate pales compared to mine."

...and so on.

But no. Hmm. Our complaint is just the volume of obscure proper name, know-it-or-you-don't fill, often intersecting with other obscure proper names. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that "Jacquelin Du Pre" was a chance gimme for me (cello concerti, yo!) we probably would have had to give it up.

Well, it is diversity of opinion that makes our nation strong. Peace.

M5K

WWPierre 1:27 PM  

Six weeks and 11 days later, I have to throw the towel in. This one defeated me, even with Google's help.

TKS is my appreciative shortcut, and I had BUM RAP. This, combined with the grammarian hair-splitting of smart/SPRUCE and LOON/crazy and the fact that EOLIAN is not a word in Canada, made the N/W impossible for me.

I'm with M5K.

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