WEDNESDAY, Sep. 12, 2007 - Alan Arbesfeld

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: FINISH STRONG (52A: Sprint to the tape ... and a hint to this puzzle's theme) - each theme answer begins with a word that can follow "STRONG" in a familiar phrase

Another puzzle where the theme remained mysterious to me until well after I had finished; this time, I even stopped to contemplate the theme mid-solve - I'd gotten the FINISH STRONG part, but I still couldn't figure it out. Thought the "FINISH" (or end) of each phrase might mean "STRONG" or have something to do with "STRONG." And if you look, you can see that there are many words in the theme answers that suggest strength and / or violence and / or professional wrestling: WRESTLER ... TIGHT SUITS ... HOLDs ... BOXing ... HIT. So I was at a loss for a bit, until I took FINISH STRONG very very literally, thinking "How would you "FINISH," as in "complete," "STRONG?"

STRONG _____.

  • 20A: Smash (BOX office hit) - Strongbox
  • 29A: Athlete seated at a table, maybe (ARM wrestler) - Strong-arm
  • 35A: Advice to a Harley passenger ("HOLD on tight!") - Stronghold
  • 42A: Fits perfectly (SUITS to a tee) - Strong suits

The theme could be tighter - STRONG is part of a compound word in every instance but that last one, where it's simply an adjective, SUITS didn't need to be plural - but those are really minor considerations. Overall, it's coherent, and the theme answers are admirably colorful. I especially like ARM WRESTLER, as it reminds me of that klassic Sylvester Stallone picture "Over the Top," where Sly plays a professional ARM WRESTLER ... to win the heart of his son? Somehow? I don't know, never saw it. I just know that its opening scene involves the steps of his son's "boarding school" - which was actually an academic building on my tiny southern California college campus. "Real Genius," "How I Got Into College," and at least one scene from "Beaches" were also filmed at my college. Glamorous!

There are some great words in the puzzle, both in the clues and in the fill. 39D: Onager (ass) came to me almost instantly - my first thought was EEL, but that's a "conger" - because it's been in the puzzle before (I think I had a picture) and it's an anagram of my fellow blogger's screen name. I love how anticlimactic the answer to 31A: Phone trigram (MNO) is, given the fancy-sounding clue. Never heard of the letter sets on phone buttons referred to as "trigrams," but it's accurate enough. I'm also a big fan of the word CYGNET (48D: Young swan). Generally I suck at differentiating flora and fauna beyond the grossest distinctions ("It's a bird ... a white bird ... I don't know ... it could fly ..."), but CYGNET, like "onager," has stuck in my head because of its strange beauty. A word I don't like: "dudgeon" - 37D: High dudgeon (ire).

There's cool old pop culture in the puzzle with Buster CRABBE (1D: Tarzan portrayer) sharing quarters with ALEXIS Carrington (3D: Joan's "Dynasty" role) - my sister and I used to watch "Dynasty" in syndication All The Time in the 80's. It came on in the afternoon, I think. I think it's where I got my taste for campy serial drama - perhaps serial fiction in general. I only just now realized that that might be an embarrassing thing to admit.

The answer that tripped me up the most in this grid was AERIALS (24A: Once-common skyline sights) - it just wouldn't come to me, even with the AER- beginning in place. I could have named twenty things about skylines before getting to AERIALS. Not sure I ever would have got there, in fact. But again, the answer seems accurate enough. Because I couldn't get that, and I couldn't get FRAIL at first, even with the FR- (21D: Hardly robust), I had to abandon the N and reboot in the "Central California" section of the puzzle (my parents live in Central California - it's a nice place to go) - thought of STRIKER (49A: Soccer forward) instantly and confirmed it with SKI (43D: Do moguls, say). And I finished the puzzle in continuous, unbroken, interconnected fashion from there.

Things I didn't know, or didn't know well:

  • 5A: Letter-shaped fastener (U-bolt)
  • 23A: Pipe type (briar) - is this different from "corn cob?" I never know how to spell BRIAR (puzzle has accepted both the "A" and "E" variants in the past)
  • 27D: Good sign for an angel (SRO) - I know what SRO stands for, but I have no idea what "angel" has to do with anything...
  • 41A: County near Tyrone (Derry) - is this Irish? Yes - way up North.

GENOA (4D: Salami variety) and FIONA (33A: "Shrek" princess) seem to complement each other, both because they share three letters and because FIONA looks like she enjoys a good GENOA salami now and again. And again.

And finally, the good stuff:

  • 15A: "Socrate" composer (Satie) - I love love love his music. So calming and gorgeous. Recommend "Gymnopédies"
  • 59A: Like any of seven Nolan Ryan games (no-hit) - like that he intersects ORIOLE (45D: A.L. East player), since he NO-HIT the ORIOLEs on June 1, 1975. Also like that a Nolan Ryan clue is so close to STRIKER, as Ryan is the all-time MLB strikeout leader with 5714.
  • 8D: Going from A to B, say (linear) - I don't know why I like it ... I just do.
  • 10D: Suffered from an allergy, maybe (felt itchy) - OK, this is very borderline, and yet I find I cannot resist a phrase with the word ITCHY in it. Perhaps that's because it reminds me of the beloved cat-mouse duo "Itchy and Scratchy" from "The Simpsons." Yes, that's it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

37 comments:

DONALD 8:46 AM  

"Angel" is a common show-biz term to describe a backer of a theater production.

DONALD 8:49 AM  

It appears that the link in your sidebar to "Shakespeare and the NYT Crossword Puzzle" has been hijacked to a somewhat sensational effect!

Sue 8:49 AM  

The op-ed page of the Times has a headline "Ike Liked Civil Rights." Then I turned to the puzzle and found Ike and his slogan again! Excellent synergy today.

Anonymous 9:18 AM  

not sure why i though head of state was USS...like the nacy ships. oh well. good one today.

Alex 9:35 AM  

Enjoyed this one, my only real quibble was with "Going from A to B, say" being LINEAR.

Going from A to B need not be linear. Would have preferred something like "Going directly from A to B, say."

I too immediately thought of Over the Top. I impressed (or caused them to pity me, sometimes it is hard to tell) some friends a couple months ago when the the title was mentioned and I immediately launched into a full plot description.

jlsnyc 9:48 AM  

a day late, but still more synergy as the food section in today's nyt has a feature on preparation of tongue. i'll pass, thank you very much -- but for many folks, it's a real treat.

fwiw...

;-)

janie

Orange 9:58 AM  

If you're thinking of seeing what "somewhat sensational effect" means (see comment 2), be forewarned that it means explicit porn and you should absolutely not click the link if you're at work or if porn offends your sensibilities.

karmasartre 10:59 AM  

ONAGER was a new one for me. Somehow related to teenAGER? "Hang" ONTIGHT instead of HOLD messed me up for a bit, and the AERIAL/ITCHY cross took a while to fall. Sometime I'd like to see NENE clued as "Denver power forward". I forgot about the theme till reading Rex. For me, a lively and enjoyable Wednesday puzzle.

(Aside to "My Dinner with Andre" fans: the lovely music Rex mentions, Satie's "Gymnopedies", plays softly during the final scene as Wallace Shawn takes a contemplative, postprandial, taxi ride home.)

Rex Parker 11:09 AM  

"Postprandial" always sounds *so* dirty to me. In my head, it always feels like some kind of combination of "priapism" and "post-coital," I think.

Not that it isn't a perfectly cromulent word.

rp

wade 11:39 AM  

I felt pretty smug when I immediately filled in the first clue I read, Tarzan portrayer, as RONELY. The mistake got cleared up, and I do recall vaguely that Buster Crabbe played Tarzan, but that doesn't really sound like the name of somebody who'd be fit to play Tarzan, does it? For some reason the name "Buster Crabbe" has always conjured up a hunch-backed Dickensian character with a squinting face like Burgess Meredith in the Rocky movies.

Anonymous 11:52 AM  

Buster Crabbe also starred as Flash Gordon.

campesite 12:52 PM  

Wade, I had the same smug feeling with my hasty RON ELY fill.
Sometimes the brain just doesn't see things: I was trying to find a fastener shaped like a letter a person might mail, even after I entered UBOLT. D'oh!
As for ANGEL, I'm looking for one right now to finance my next miniscule budget film. Ultimately, SRO's would be nice.

Anonymous 1:14 PM  

Buster Crabbe first got famous by taking Olympic bronze in swimming in 1928, and gold in 1932.

Anonymous 1:22 PM  

Knew "onager" from one of the poems Ogden Nash wrote to accompany Saint-Saëns's "Carnival des animaux." Especially as read by the great Noël Coward on a probably out-of-print old recording:
"Did you ever hear of the jackass wild
Which scientists call the onager?
It sounds like the laugh of an idiot child
Or a hepcat on a harmoniger."

Anonymous 1:26 PM  

Whoops! It's "Carnaval des animaux," not "carnival." Gotta get things right! Mea culpa.

christensontim 1:36 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fergus 1:38 PM  

Even with Rex's explanation of the theme, I puzzled a spell until it finally clicked, demonstrating the traction that a misguided hunch can have. Just to be kind to the constructor and maintain the "integral consistency" of the STRONG theme, I suppose a bridge player could strong-suit the opposition, by running a long suit after all the trumps are gone. A stretch, but so what.

FORTIFIES was a worthwhile cross with the theme hint.

Perusing a map of Ireland seems like a good exercise for puzzle solvers, since yet another county name appears each week. Running through the Welsh counties could come in handy, too, on a particularly 'Scrabbley' Saturday, I would imagine. The Mexican states show up frequently enough, but regional geography seems otherwise lightly tested, with the exception of course, of the previously discussed Napoleonic administrative divisions.

Beata 1:55 PM  

btw, i alwayas though ONAGER was more ofr a wild horse than a donkey (ASS)

Anonymous 2:29 PM  

what is the shakespeare link everyone is referring to? was it removed?

ayoung 2:35 PM  

I missed all the kerfuffle (isn't this a great word? Couldn't pass up the chance to use it particularly in this context) until I went back to Tuesday's blogs and found there were 65 comments which took a long time to read and digest. Everyone's comments add to my enjoyment of the puzzles--they're enlightening, often very funny and can be screeds but that's fine with me. Does anyone for instance, have trouble remembering how to spell Emimin? See, I did it again; it's Eminem because he's Marshall Mathers--M and M. Thanks for the explanation for today's theme, Rex; had me going there for awhile.

Kristen F 2:50 PM  

The Noel Coward recording is still around on Amazon -- I'll have to get a copy of that. I love Ogden Nash and my four year old loves listening to him read "The Adventures of Isabel". And btw, I confused ONAGER with ONANISM -- that would be crossing new crossword boundaries!

Anonymous 3:26 PM  

That's like the other confusing animal once appearing in a Byron Walden Saturday: the entry "catamount" mistaken for "catamite."

green mantis 3:43 PM  

Having no idea about that angel clue, I lost several minutes of my life creating an elaborate mental scenario in which prospective angels are standing around outside heaven, waiting to get it. But wouldn't that be a bad sign for them, if heaven were so crowded? You can see how I would be confused.

DONALD 3:46 PM  

Orange

"Sensational" was meant in a negative sense as in "shocking" --the remark was posted as an FYI, and now that it is resolved, this comment and the FYI comment should be removed.

Anonymous 8:38 PM  

While Ryan NO HIT the Orioles, the clue called for a description of the seven NO HITTERS that Ryan pitched, and not the verb form. Even with the use of "Like any ..." the response still should be descriptive. I wasn't aware that you could describe a game as a "NO HIT" game.

DS

Anonymous 8:46 PM  

From The Official Site of Major League Baseball:

An official no-hit game occurs when a pitcher (or pitchers) allows no hits during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings. In a no-hit game, a batter may reach base via a walk, an error, a hit by pitch, a passed ball or wild pitch on strike three, or catcher's interference.

jae 9:03 PM  

A fine Wednesday puzzle. Many clever clues and I learned a thing or two i.e. SATIE, STRIKER and of course DERRY (had DERBY for a while).

karmasartre 9:23 PM  

kristen --

sounds like a must-have for the granddaughter / amazon searches futile so far / hints on finding?

thanks

Kristen F 10:24 PM  

Karma --

Looks like it's the third track on a cd called "Archy & Mehitabel" (with Carol Channing, sounds intriguing). Here's the URL
http://www.amazon.com/Archy-Mehitabel-Carnival-Various-Artists/dp/B0002739QI

karmasartre 10:50 PM  

kristen f --

Worried re. disconnect given the time, but no, you were there! Thank you, it's in my shopping cart. When one has grandchildren, everything changes...like shopping the baby stores near hospitals after a massive power outage, since hospitals get their power back tout de suite, and hence the neigboring grid, in order that we could load up for a two month old, as we did in December. Just bought our first copy of" Peter and the Wolf" since my parents' 1947 Columbia 78.


Thanks again,

KS

Anonymous 11:08 PM  

Count me among the folks that entered "Ron Ely" early in the game. I also had cotto salami, which complicated things for the northwest. I will now expose my ignorance: why is "ESS" head of state? Oh crap. I just got it. "State" starts with the letter ESS. (annoyed grunt)

ultra vi 11:09 PM  

Rex, your movie set references prompt me to tell you that I appeared a movie with Luciano Pavarotti (r.i.p.). That movie, "Yes, Georgio," in which Pavarotti plays a tenor (surprise) who loses his voice in the middle of a concert on the Boston Esplanade and then falls in love with his nurse, was admittedly terrible. Still, it was fun getting a glimpse of the movie business from the viola section.

Nearly as good as a NO-HIT game is a walk-off home run by Big Papi. Go, Red Sox!

Kahlaala 11:29 PM  

Thank you, Donald, I was totally nonplussed about whatever SRO had to do with "good sign for an angel".

roro 12:25 AM  

early on, had DREAM for 23A: Pipe type

Anonymous 12:31 PM  

six weeks behind...I recently retired from the United States Air Force and NEVER figured out B-1 letters until reading the blog...

Anonymous 6:21 PM  

I thought the SRO (standing room only) sign was good for an angel because he didn't need to sit down. He could fly or hover.

Waxy in Montreal 7:48 PM  

6 weeks later:

Funny how your identification with a movie/TV actor depends on your age. As a kid in the '50's, one of my favo(u)rite TV shows was "Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion" starring Buster Crabbe. Though I know he was far more famous a generation earlier as Tarzan, Buster Crabbe is always Capt. Gallant as far as I'm concerned.

In a similar vein, the most noteworthy Tarzan actor ever, Johnny Weissmuller (like Crabbe, a former U.S. Olympic swimming gold medal winner), had become Jungle Jim (TV again) by the 1950's and again that's how my brothers and I remember him.

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