SATURDAY, Sep. 15, 2007 - Brad Wilber

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

I'm torn between panning this puzzle for lots of way-out-of-the-language phrases that are frequently awkward or deliberately obscure ... and liking this puzzle for almost the same reasons. This was a tough puzzle, one with a very old-fashioned feel, so haters of pop culture should eat it up - Only four clues from the post-1980 film world, for instance, but one of those was about an early 20th-century historical figure (11D: Sports champ depicted in "Cinderella Man," 2005 - MAX BAER), two have appeared repeatedly in recent crosswords (9D: Richard Gere title role of 2000 - DR. T and 21A: Eric of "Lucky You" - BANA), and one was just plain easy (13D: Davis of "Cutthroat Island" - GEENA). On the other hand, there are many phrases and words that sound like they were last heard in a 1940s musical:

  • 56A: Carried by currents, in a way (ocean borne)
  • 58A: Serenity (heart's ease)
  • 47A: Hansom cab accessory (lap robe)
  • 32D: Bridle parts (nose bands)
  • 33D: Piercing glance (gimlet eye)

Those last three are out of the devastating SE corner, where I spent a good five minutes. I'm telling you, there's a whole story embedded in those words: "Having given her rival the GIMLET EYE, Susan hitched up her LAP ROBE and set off for the pier, her team of horses chafing against their NOSEBANDS in the cold morning air. By noon, she would be OCEAN BORNE, off to seek her HEART'S EASE in the ancestral lands of her father..." Or something like that. Seriously, none of those phrases belong anywhere near the 21st century.

And yet I liked this puzzle precisely because it was tough and old-fashioned (the same reason I loved my high school English teacher, the same reason I took Chaucer in college...). It gave me a great feeling of accomplishment - like I'd solved a puzzle from another, tougher era. And, if the times at the NYT applet are to be believed, I did this puzzle in a more-than-respectable time, even with those lost five minutes in the SE. So while this puzzle was not exciting, in that it was not pitched to my sweet spot, I have a respect for it. Even a fondness.

15A: Liner's locale (lash) was the gimme that got me the "L" that was All I Needed to get (guess) CLEOPATRA (1D: Shakespearean character who introduced the phrase "salad days"), so I was off and running quickly. Had that NW corner done in no time, though Miss Marple was a bit intransigent. I had SHE at 4D: 1959 #1 Frankie Avalon hit, which gave me CLES for 1A: Interest of Miss Marple. Only after I rethought the Frankie Avalon clue (going through every three-letter word I could think of) did I hit on WHY, which gave me the "W" I needed to reveal the very British CLEW at 1A.

Not sure what part of my brain was hanging on to both TESTA (29A: Seed's exterior) and RAO (34A: 1990 Indian P.M.), but I guessed both of them before I had any reason to be sure of myself.

Didn't know 37A: Setting of Camus's "The Fall" but since it was long and started AMS-, it wasn't that hard to figure out (Amsterdam). Also didn't know:

  • 30D: "Pink Shoe Laces" singer Stevens (Dodie)
  • 44A: Notoriety (reclame) - this still looks preposterous to me
  • 28A: Paris fashion house since 1956 (Chloe) - like TESTA and RAO, this came into my head seemingly out of the blue, and ended up being right
  • 43D: Temporary property holder (bailee)
  • 20D: Fitch who co-founded Abercrombie & Fitch (Ezra) - easy enough once I had the "Z" from PRETZEL (22A: Contortionist's inspiration?)

Loved seeing the great director ERROL Morris (6D: Documentarian Morris) - not least because he was a gimme - and ARON (7D: Elvis follower - another gimme) and ALDA (25D: Tony winner for "Guys and Dolls," 1951) and CHAIM (24D: Novelist Potok), whom I normally wouldn't care to see, but my wife and I were just having a conversation last night about how the crap they make kids read these days is the same crap they made me read 30 years ago. "The Chosen" was an example, along with "Flowers for Algernon," "A Separate Peace," etc. So CHAIM's appearance in the puzzle was timely, for me.

Winced at TOLL BAR (38D: It's raised after a payment is collected), mainly because that thing never looks like a "bar" to me - more like a plank. All the long two-word answers in the NE left me cold, even HEAT DAMAGE (5A: Blow-drying problem). 16A: Slipping frequencies seems a fairly tortured clue for ERROR RATES, and FRONT AXLES (18A: Steering component components) ... well, it's fine. AXLE is crosswordese, but in this long phrase, it's a bit more interesting perhaps. Gets you an "X." The corresponding phrases in the SW were better, especially CURB APPEAL (51A: Factor in a home's market value) - even though I've seen it in the puzzle (or a puzzle) before. Oh, and speaking of cool words I've seen in the puzzle before, I've taken a shine to BOATEL (43A: Marina accommodations). Something about its pathetically unimaginative hybridity makes me want adopt it. I do not, on the other hand, want to adopt ENA (39D: Disney doe), who, for all her old-skool crossword fame, never come to me when I need her. Other three-letter problems were MBE (55D: Honourary title: Abbr. - wanted OBE) and 10D: Basso Berberian (Ara) (!?). Liked the clue for PBS (53D: "Be more..." sloganeer) - or maybe I just like the word "sloganeer."

My favorite answers were probably DEAD WRONG (30A: Off by a mile) - great, colloquial, in-the-language phrase; and CARAWAY (24A: Aquavit flavor), which is a nasty flavor but looks really good in the grid.

I'm off to IHOP.

Happy Saturday,
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I almost forgot - I want to give a shout-out to sportswriter (and occasional commenter on this website) Nunyo Demasio, who gave me a shout-out in a recent interview he did for a sports website. Check it out. Thanks for the good word, Nunyo.

PPS Congrats and Good Luck to fellow blogger Tom the Dog, who will (it seems, possibly) be a contestant on "Merv Griffin's Crosswords" - he tapes this Tuesday. Read his account of the audition process here.

30 comments:

mmpo 9:22 AM  

Liked ABSURD so close to The Fall. For two days in a row, we've had words that were very familiar to me in French but that I had little or no idea were English words. GAVAGE was nonetheless practically a gimme (what else could it be?), but RECLAME has a much more pronounced. meaning shift from one language to the other, so I didn't get it until I had NECLAME in place and decided that wouldn't do...
Would like to see ESPY clued with Willard ESPY, author of the Almanach of Words at Play...the perfect gift for the cruciverbalist who has everything...

Orange 9:49 AM  

I'm scared of my IHOP now. Last time we went there, at dinnertime, the service was astonishingly slow and none of the familiar waiters and waitresses were there. The cross-eyed manager confirmed that it was under new management (his) and I think they might've destroyed my IHOP oasis.

Doesn't ERROL Morris count as post-1980s movie pop culture too?

Rex Parker 9:54 AM  

Yes, ERROL counts, but he makes documentaries, and since when are documentaries "pop culture" (in the negative sense that cranky puzzlers sometimes use the phrase)? His are the kinds of films that pop culture haters usually Love to watch. "That's real art, that is. None of this "Reality TV" crap." Etc.

rp

Anonymous 9:57 AM  

could some kind person explain the connection in 15A Liner's locale = lash? A night's sleep didn't help me see it :( .

I wasn't planning on giving up "berths" for marina accomodations until they pried the pen from my cold dead fingers, but it finally fell.

Loved Miss Marple = clew!

Doug 10:10 AM  

I've been waiting since this morning for some help on this one. Got about half of it, then googled the rest and still only had about 80%. The south just clobbered me: EDUCE, RECLAME, SEIS, BAILEE, SERA, LAPROBE.

Had no idea CARAWAY is in aquavit--Guess as the post-quaff fire subsides I'm too busy trying to maintain my composure and not examining my pallete for particular flavors.

Just figured out SEIS and doce. Had a mental block, kept thinking doce was 'dolce' and Italian, not 'twelve' and Spanish for 12.

Doug 10:12 AM  

LASH refers to your eyelash and the application of eyeLINER. I'm a guy and not a makeup user, but isn't eyeliner used to highlight the eyeLID and eyeBROW, and not eyeLASH?

Jerome 10:14 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous 10:18 AM  

OMG!!! LOL... thank you! With the "marina" in SE and Ocean-borne in sw, I was stuck on water vessels for "liner's"!!

being a girl and often using eyeliner, I can see the connection, since the liner goes right above (or below) the lashes. Not really ON them, but close. Tricky and not quite on the mark, but its Saturday.

Howard B 10:19 AM  

Your take on this was right in sync with mine; nasty, tough stuff all over the place, and yet had the feeling of a very satisfying solve. Kind of like the sleep you get after a really tough day of (physical) work. RECLAME was insanely difficult and insisted on looking wrong even after it was filled-in.

Haven't been to IHOP in so long, and I no longer live down the block from one, although there is another a few miles away from my new location. Anyone up for a field trip?

Isabella di Pesto 11:06 AM  

Well I occasionally use eyeLINER, but coudn't get it until I got the LAS. When I thouht of "H" I knew it was correct.

Boatel had me stuck for a long, long time, but it clicked once I gave into putting the "L" in place.

I got "CLEOPATRA" for my first clew.

Took me a long time and some googling (11 down), but it was fun.

Norm 11:39 AM  

A fitting end to a tough week. Hard puzzle but fair. I loved CLEW and could not believe that RECLAME was a word. 'Tis.

akakii 11:47 AM  

The SE corner killed me. As with Anonymous, I wouldn't replace "berths" with BOATEL until I had no choice. The rest of the puzzle went down easier than normal for a Saturday. Challenging and quite satisfying.

ayoung 12:47 PM  

Struggled for 1/2 hour then came back later and googled judiciously--Avalon hit opened NW; Errol Morris opened NE; Amsterdam for Camus setting and Dodie Stevens (the only singer I knew was Rise Stevens). Even after I filled in the letters for reclame it didn't look right and I checked Corea and Ricoh and finally looked up the word in the dictionary. Really liked your story, Rex, made up of words from the SE corner. Thought the answer to blow drying problem should have been hair damage and I don't know about liner used for lashes; I use mine around the eyes.I don't get "error rates" for slipping frequencies. Still liked the puzzle even if I "gnawed" again.

Anonymous 1:50 PM  

Yes, Doug, eyeliner goes on eyelid (top and bottom), not on the lash. It's mascara that goes on the lash.

Alex 1:55 PM  

I did the whole puzzle pretty smoothly except for the SE corner. Then I hit the wall hard. So I walked away and came back to it. No progress. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Finally I decide that -----ANDS (Bridle part) must be ----BANDS and somehow that let me guess LAP ROBE, a word/phrase I've never heard as I've never been on or near a hansom cab.

That forced me to decide that the part of a laugh must be HAR which means that even though I am very confident of the B and T that marina accommodations is not BERTHS and finally see instead BOATEL, but only because it was in the puzzle a couple weeks ago. Thats enough for NOSEBANDS which gives CHASM which means I have all the acrosses for GIMLET EYE which is good because I would never in a million years have figured that out. I'm 100% certain I have never encountered that phrase before.

So 90% a really easy Saturday and 10% a nearly impossible Saturday. Can't decide if I like that or not.

Bluestater 2:31 PM  

Has anyone in this company ever, ever once, seen RECLAME in a real English sentence? I haven't, and I spent a lotta years in a profession that obliged me to read and write a lotta words.

I did manage to get this monster without recourse to Google or this blog, but it took about an hour and a quarter of teeth-gnashing, not aided by, I must own, having been conned by all the British stuff (MBE, PRAM, CLEW) into thinking at first that the Poe title referred to a conversation with one's Mom. Or maybe it did; I've never heard of it.

Grrr.

wendy 3:21 PM  

Definitely an oddity today. For blow-drying problem, I so wanted something that ended in IMAGE, as opposed to the ultimate AMAGE, to describe an airhead as those terms are sometimes related.

More antiquated language to go in the story: ESPY and TUT. And I'm sorry, HEFTED? Never heard of it. My dictionary says the verb means "to weigh." Is weighing a test now?

ORATORIO two days in a row. What's up with that? And I remember when BOATEL first appeared a month or so ago; it was a revelation to most of us, but not anymore!

Chick COREA was cute. Does COPS pass the breakfast table test in this context?

And according to my dictionary again, RECLAME is a French word and should have an accent aigu on the first 'e'. Tres ABSURD.

jae 3:42 PM  

My experience was similar to Alex. I thought this in general was fairly easy with some exceptions. Did NW and SW very quickly. In SE LAPROBE was a gimme but BOATEL took a while. Also, never heard of GIMLETEYE. A gimlet for me has always been a gin cocktail. Got RECLAME by using the "its OK to ask my wife rule." My only google in a very long time was a backdoor one in NE. I had BRADOCK for 11d (no one spelled out his name in the movie) and was getting nowhere. So, I googled Bradock and discovered it had two Ds and also that he fought MAX BAER which I then remembered from the movie. With MAX in place the rest of NE fell very quickly.

BTW was it a NYTs puzzle that BOATEL was in recently because I don't remember seeing it?

karmasartre 3:46 PM  

VERY difficult. I stayed lashed to my berths for a long time. Many answers I have never heard of before. The only singing Stevens who came to mind were Cat (Yusef) and Connie. I must have slept throught the entire RAO reign. With just the E from COREA, I tried jamming Electronic into OCEANBORNE's spot. Etc. Etc.

Does anyone know the derivation of GIMLETEYE? On Wiki, I ended up on a page describing Smedley Butler who had three fascinating nicknames: "The Fighting Quaker", "Old Duckboard", and "Old Gimlet Eye". I would think that with the name Smedley one wouldn't need any nicknames.

Next time I'm asked "Who are you wearing" I'll say CHLOE.

Anonymous 3:46 PM  

rex, thanks for the return shoutout regarding the sports blog Q&A. and you're welcome. maybe if i was smart enough to be a constructor, i would hesitate to peek regularly and risk seeing a scathing review. but i'm sure regular visitors are enticed by the passion and snarkiness. and for someone like me who has never quite completed a thursday puzzle, it's great to see answers deconstructed in an informative manner. cheers. -- nunyo.

Fergus 4:08 PM  

Had the same sort of slog as bluestater, though I did double-check with the dictionary for BAILEE. In a first glance at all the clues, I was disappointed in thinking that there are way too many movie roles and obscure names -- my least favorite kind of puzzle. (Much prefer the puns and groaners.) But, after a while that preponderance didn't seem so dominant.

I agree with Rex about the literary crap that is fed to early adolescents, though "The Chosen" wasn't anywhere near as bad as the others cited. But since I got the A and I mixed up, CHAIM didn't help that much. SW was where I lost my INNER PEACE, and after much arduous eddying about in odd currents finally found my HEART'S EASE. Wanted ILL-FAME or even TO SHAME for Notoriety, but would never have guessed RECLAME. Bogus, extra-legal inclusion in NYT puzzle but hey, I don't get to set the rules.

For the longest time I thought GIMLET-EYEd meant all daft and woozy from having consumed too many gin and limes, but only fairly recently (from either Shakespeare or a crossword) did I learn that the meaning is quite the opposite.

At a party one time, a guy who had just returned from Norway brought some Aquavit. Quite a few of us gave it a try, but hardly anyone could finish even a small shot glass. Someone spat it into the fireplace and we noticed that it produced the most amazing variations in the color of the flames. Well, we ultimately finished off the bottle, but it was only the logs in the fireplace that showed any sign of inebriation.

And I thought that LASH was DEAD WRONG, too, and HEFTED pretty close to the same.

shaun 4:40 PM  

Re: lash
Anon. 10:18 has it right. Eyeliner wearers are instructed to apply along the LASHline or simply along the LASHes--seems fair to me.

"Flowers for Algernon" haunted me as a relatively smart (but apparently not smart enough) child: whenever I'd struggle with a difficult concept I wondered, "Was I part of a brain enhancement experiment, and now I'm just going to get slower and dumber for the rest of my life, and the fact that I can't remember is a symptom of my mental decline?" Ah, the innocence of my early elementary years . . .

Fergus 4:57 PM  

Thanks to Tom the Dog for the account of the "Crosswords" show. Though I got called for an audition, I was reluctant to make the trip down to LA for that sole purpose. Coming from Santa Cruz requires at least a couple of days down there to make the trip worthwhile, and now it seems as if one should budget a few more days than that to give the whole audition sequence a proper chance.

Orange 4:59 PM  

Rex, how would one hitch up a lap robe? Wouldn't one merely lay it across the lap whilst riding in a hansom cab?

Never, ever heard the word RÉCLAME before, but I liked learning it (and so did Byron). In the homeland of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears, we can certainly make good use of words that mean "a taste or flair for publicity." The Mac widget dictionary defines it as "public acclaim, notoriety; a hunger for publicity or flair for getting attention." It's such an apt word!

Penny 6:11 PM  

HEFTED

must be a chestnut then because it seemed perfect to me. Picture a bowler holding the bowling ball in one hand palm up and sort of ... funny ... the only word I can think of is hefting it. By that I mean sort of lifting it up and down. A shopper might heft a head of lettuce. If iceberg, you want it to be heavy.

Cops a plea is what I thought of.

And what else? Oh yes. Gimlet eyed feels Dickensian. Not him again! A gimlet was a boring tool and probably the piercing look of a gimlet eyed school mistress,say, was able to pierce the little schoolboy soul. Gimlet eyes and lap robes are perhaps from a similar era.

Yup. I was quite at home with this one.

Fergus 7:03 PM  

Since I spent so much time on this puzzle, it's still wandering around in my mind to such an extent that I feel like registering a complaint about FRONT AXLES. Sure, an AXLE is part of a steering system, but only incidentally and not integrally. There are so many other components that actually contribute directly to steering, but the axle just sits there while the other bits do the work. I am not saying that it's a terrible clue, but I would rather see something more with more precision than merely a casual relation. Could have been TIRES in this instance.

With cryptic puzzles, once you get the answer, you know it's right, so maybe I'll just have to make this concession: stretch the category broadly enough and conclude that the answer is thereby legitimate. The cleverest clues add a sly pointedness to loose association, but this one apparently didn't take advantage of the opportunity.

I realize that I'm arguing a stylistic bias here, and that maybe some folks prefer the loose associations and casual connections, and that including anything further is too much of a sop to the solver. Or maybe I'm just rationalizing my ERROR RATES in this and other puzzles that I deem too fuzzily clued?

jae 8:02 PM  

I also really liked HEFTED. I've never seen it in a puzzle before and while it wasn't exactly a gimme it was the second thing I wrote down in NE after MRT.

Martin 8:15 PM  

Fergus,

A car's "front axle" is not a rod connecting the wheels at all. In fact, the term is virtual, metaphorical or poetic, depending on which cranial hemispheres you apply.

In the simpler case of rear-wheel drive, the front axle is comprised of a pair of collections of joints and links, one collection at each side, connected only by the steering apparatus (gear or rack). These members maintain the complex steering geometry (all three planes of the tire must change with steering angle but not change with up-and-down suspension motion) as pretty much their sole function. The "stub axle," which holds the wheel, is positioned and controlled by these other links.

Front-wheel drive complicates the situation somewhat as the deliver of motive power to the wheels is also a function of the "front axle." Your argument is not with the clue but with the term "front axle."

Tom the Dog 9:16 PM  

Thanks for the mention! Hope I don't embarrass the crossword world with my performance.

Fergus 10:53 PM  

Sometimes I annoy mechanics with my intrusive questions about their trade. When he or she offers a fine, detailed analysis (like the one just come from Martin), I am pleased to discover the nice new nuances.

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