MONDAY, Oct. 15, 2007 - Andrea Carla Michaels

Monday, October 15, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: [blank]-ING [animal]

An exceedingly easy puzzle. I downloaded it in Across Lite, tried to print it out, my printer failed 2/3 of the way through (happens every other time I try to print, stupid HP), I restarted the job ... then I decided to start doing the puzzle on-screen. The timer was running that whole time, and when I'd finished the puzzle, it read 4:45. So I'm guessing that my actual time was 3:45 max, possibly 10-20 seconds faster, which would be a record for me. Despite its easiness, there is nothing sloppy or second-rate or painfully ordinary about the puzzle. It's fine. I was just on its wavelength, I guess.

That wavelength: The People/TV Guide wavelength. Lots of movies, actors, and other pop culture answers today. Some whiners have written in recently to insult the puzzle by suggesting, snobbily, that references to movies and TV shows make the puzzle like People or TV Guide. I guess as a well-educated citizen, I'm supposed to find that accusation withering - who'd want to be associated with those kinds of magazines? But instead, all I hear is a condescending attempt to dress up puzzle failure in the ill-fitting tuxedo of intellectual superiority - look, you are ignorant about a major facet of American culture and you are annoyed that your ignorance is being shown up. I understand. I get this way with opera and science clues. Doing the puzzle means having to know about a Lot of stuff you don't particularly care about. This problem affects everyone. Get over it.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Taking back one's words in humiliation (eating crow)
  • 27A: Negotiating in a no-nonsense way (talking turkey)
  • 43A: Pretending to be dead (playing possum) - wanted OPOSSUM; these animals freak me out. In college, I used to come close to running them over frequently when driving around campus at night. In my headlights, they looked like little translucent pigs. Horrible. Why can't you be more like rats and just stay out of sight!?
  • 58A: Raising a false alarm (crying wolf)

I had little hiccups of trouble in this puzzle, but nothing at all major. STOIC (1A: Indifferent to pleasure or pain) didn't come to me, mainly because that isn't how I'd define "stoic." Sounds more like a psychopath than someone with a well-practiced attitude or philosophical stance. Didn't like the clue for DRIP (52D: What icicles do). They do that only when the sun is shining on them (or the temperature gets above freezing). Wackiest clue / answer pairing of the day goes to 10D: Neologist (coiner). I should hate this Odd Job, but I don't, mainly because it's such an ambitious clue for a Monday. On the other hand, though I got it easily, GRANTEE (22A: Receiver of a legal transfer) bugged me. I'm not a big fan of the -EE suffix.

And now, your Pop Culture Roll Call!

  • 24A: Actress Zellweger (Renée) - great in "The Whole Wide World"; otherwise, overrated.
  • 34A: Joel who directed "Raising Arizona" (Coen) - this movie is back in the puzzle for the second day in a row. It's more than deserving. I can't believe it's 20 years old.
  • 48A: Lock of hair (tress) - not pop culture, but the first name of one of my favorite voice actors on "The Simpsons": TRESS MacNeille.
  • 63A: _____ Rae (Sally Field title role) (Norma)
  • 24D: Comedic actress Martha (Raye)
  • 29D: Casey with a radio countdown (Kasem)
  • 38D: "Hulk" director Lee (Ang)
  • 39D: Don with a big mouth (Imus)
  • 41D: One of the Sinatras (Tina)
  • 44D: Peter of Peter, Paul & Mary (Yarrow) - man, this one eluded me like a greased pig
  • 46D: Actor Penn (Sean)
  • 50D: "_____ Almighty," 2007 film ("Evan") - couldn't bring myself to see it despite my love for its star.
  • 59D: Singer Sumac (Yma) - does she count as pop culture? I doubt she was ever in People. She's esoterica by now (except in xwords, where she is standard fare).
Despite its inclusion of ERTE (36A: One-named Art Deco designer) and ERIN (30D: Land o' blarney) and a smattering of other crutch fill, this puzzle was a perfectly enjoyable 3+-minute ride.

Happy New Week,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


wendy 8:47 AM  

Rex, I used to have the same printer failure problem but it went away for good when I selected the "print on two pages" option. Kills twice as many trees, but it's the only thing that works.

Orange 9:18 AM  

Hey, in Across Lite, you can always restart the timer (unless you forget to do so).

I wonder if the people who complain about the Peopleification of the NYT crossword have ever actually tried to solve a People crossword. I think they'd find a substantive difference in the type of pop culture included in the puzzle. From a customer review of the new People Puzzler book (the top-sellling crossword book at Amazon of late): "I like the Crossword Puzzles in PEOPLE MAGAZINE because I can do them. It is the reason I buy People Mageazine. If you are good at crossword puzzles, get another crossword Puzzle Book such as the NY TIMES ones. If you want puzzles that you can do in a short time, this is great."

rick 10:35 AM  

I don't mind pop-culture references. What I don't like is obscure pop-culture references. As as if the constructor got stuck and Googled for something that fit.

e.g. TV role played by Eric Johnson?

I also don't like a large number of names, pop-culture or not.

Anonymous 11:09 AM  

That was "Don", not "Done", with a big mouth.

Doug 12:26 PM  

Damn OAST instead of OVEN threw me for a couple of minutes. And of course misreading OF OFFICE as just OFFICE produced a nice V-cross of OVAL with OVEN. So there I sat scratching my head trying to figure this out while I had a phone call going. Finished the call and the penny dropped!

Anybody try Martha? Luckily I've been to Manhattan!

mruedas 12:59 PM  

When you think about it, icicles are both formed by dripping and disappear through dripping, so the clue is correct in that sense.

Rex Parker 1:02 PM  

Yes, that was my thought process exactly. And yet... some part of me still doesn't like the icicle clue. I'm not saying it's entirely rational of me ...


dk 1:03 PM  

Who would not want to know xword specific information? I, for one, can use snee and dirk in conversation, got it when a local rest. named Erte opened, etc. (short for and). Does not that make us...?

I also like it that I am required to know rap stars, American Idols and the remaining oleo of information that brightens/befuddles my morning.

4.27 minutes of it this morning.

Aaron 1:14 PM  

dk, I think you're thinking OLIO (hodge-podge). OLEO is margarine.

In my opinion, OAST is Tuesday-level. Other than that this was nice and easy. I've never heard "EATING CROW" before, though.

What is the difference between ERIN and EIRE? (Thanks in advance, orange! You're always good about helping us out with these distinctions and clarifications.)

Anonymous 1:23 PM  

Aaron: Re ERIN/EIRE. The former is the poetic name for Ireland (North or Republic) while the latter is the official name of the Republic of Ireland (not part of the British Empire).

dk 2:01 PM  

aaron, correct and drat. I meant Olio (dish of mixed meats).

Fergus 2:08 PM  

Yeah, this was a swift one -- a return to a normal Monday after last week's surprising challenge.

Had always thought that TRESS implied quite a few more than a single lock of hair, but hey, definition No. 2 in Webster's says one lock is OK. Also, we've had a bit too much Moo Goo GAI Pan lately.

TALKING TURKEY is one of those expressions I've always heard or seen but took to mean something quite different than the way it's clued. I thought it meant jesting or some form of deception, but apparently I'm way off. Just the other night at a party the expression "shit-eating grin" (please pardon the profanity) came up and we had quite a variation in what that was supposed to mean. For as long as I've been acquainted with the phrase, it's meant supremely humiliated, or so slavishly humbled that the humbler is met with a shameful smile, but I was certainly in the minority with that interpretation. Most Americans understand the expression to mean the smirk associated with having gotten away with something. I raised this inquiry since I didn't think the Brits had term that was very close in meaning, and the English chap at the party had never heard of it, nor could think of a close correlative. Non-native English speakers had the same interpretation as I did, but all in all, it served as a reminder of how common terms, such as the themed ones in today's puzzle, often don't have the same universal meaning that we usually think they should.

Annielee 2:20 PM  

Nice and easy, and quick. Brief mix up in the NE tring to use oven in as the answer to kiln, but the crosses fixed that. I didn't like the clue for stoic either.

rick, ken and helen 2:29 PM  

i had fun with this puzzle with my dad who is turning 80 tomorrow and does these to stay young!!!

David 3:39 PM  

Hi Rex:
I think you are being a bit harsh on, and maybe missing the point of, the folk (like myself) who complain about puzzles like this one loaded with people's names. It doesn't matter whether they are pop culture, or sports, or famous scientists (which I might stand a chance on), one either knows them or not. It takes the "puzzle" out of the crossword puzzle. There is no "aha!" factor in writing in "Renee" as a gimme because one has heard of Ms. Zellweger, whomever she is.
I've always figured that name-heavy fill (in the NYT puzzle) was the result of bad construction, or of forcing an over-ambitious theme, whereby the devisor couldn't come up with "real" English words to make it work so had to go to the practically infinite supply of names. Perhaps I'm wrong - they actualy do this on purpose?
On hte other hand, I thought the icicle clue was great. "What to icicles do?"...lets see, they hang, they drip, they melt . There are 3 possible answers, all common words, right off the bat. That is what makes for good puzzling! (IMHO, of course!)

Love your blog - thanks for putting all the effort into it!

RonB 4:18 PM  

When I was 12 years old, my aunt and uncle gave me a subscription to Newsweek magazine. I didn't know what to think about it at the time, but as I got in the habit of looking through it weekly, I began to really read each isssue, cover to cover.

Too bad we focus on celebs and tv and ignore the important stuff.

Orange 6:35 PM  

Who's this "we" focusing on celebs and TV and "ignor[ing] the important stuff"? This puzzle includes 78 answers in all. More than 50 answers are ordinary words. One of the proper names is IDI Amin—that's not fluff. CATO the Elder—that's classical history. NORMA Rae was a film about an important issue in American history (organized labor), and its star won an Oscar. SEAN Penn is a talented actor (Best Actor Oscar four years ago) as well as being a newsmaker as a political activist. If a name like Sean Penn eludes a crossword solver, he or she hasn't been following the news in the past five years. And this is a newspaper crossword.

Some of my favorite crosswords contain lots of names, lots of pop culture—and I'm not alone. Will Shortz has said before that he doesn't cater to just one constituency. The people who enjoy pop culture get their share of name-heavy puzzles, and the folks who don't like it also get puzzles that are very light on pop culture.

The pop culture fans don't tend to decry opera clues and demand to see fewer of them, or say that opera is crap that has no place in crosswords. Whereas the anti-pop, anti-TV crowd sometimes comes off that way.


jae 7:22 PM  

Enjoyed this puzzle and agree with Orange's /rant. I read Newsweek, TV Guide, lots of novels, the local paper (including the funnies), and watch a fair amount of TV and movies. Its fun to see these things show up in the puzzles. What makes life interesting also makes the puzzles interesting.

Michael 7:29 PM  

An enjoyable half inning'"work"...

Many puzzles have baseball clues. These are great for me, but I imagine that non-fans are not happy with them.

But there seem to be a lot of baseball fans on this blog.

Anonymous 8:02 PM  

Have just recently come across your blogs - am an avid NYT Puzzler, and enjoy reading your blog and those of the other puzzle addicts. Do hope you will continue to publish......

For those who might be interested, PBS has a show on Tuesday (10/16) evening (time may vary) called "Independent Lens", featuring Eugene Maleska and a few crossword constructionists. I am looking forward to seeing the faces behind the "grids" and hearing what they have to say. Enjoy!!

Cea 8:14 PM  

On the Eire/Erin front, I think Eire is the proper name, and Erin the poetic one.

ds 8:22 PM  

I'm not sure what the fuss is with today's puzzle. I don't think it contained an unusual amount of names. I actually did the whole puzzle and only filled in one name (the rest came from the crosses). I did know and I do like Renee Zellweger - Rex, I am suprised a sports fan such as yourself didn't enjoy her in Jerry Maguire (maybe you just didn't like the way it was spelled).

ds 8:27 PM  

to anonymous
my TIVO preview says that Independent Lens is showing "Wordplay" at 10 pm - that's the well-known documentary that covers Will Shortz and many of your blogger colleagues.

JD 8:53 PM  

59D Yma Sumac. When I was in college in the early 50's we would hear only one song by her, "wimawey". Isn't she related to the Inca people?

billnutt 10:43 PM  

I had a boss who swore that Yma Sumac was really a woman named Amy Camus who spelled her name backward and passed herself off as Peruvian or Incan. Can anyone verify that?

Oddly enough, over the weekend, my sister-in-law asked me if I knew the surnames of Peter Paul & Mary.

I don't mind all the movie and music clues. It's those damn rivers that keep tripping me up!

Rex, thank you for this blog. I haven't had this much fun since the glory days of CompuServe's comic book and music forums.

Orange 10:50 PM  

Bill, the Wikipedians say Yma Sumac is her real name, a Quechua name, and that the Amy Camus story is a hoax.

Badir 11:58 PM  

Rex, I love that picture of the little possum--it's so cute!!

Kim 11:09 AM  

I have a love/hate relationship with pop culture references.

LOVE the ones I know - HATE the ones I don't.

mike 11:39 AM  

I can't do the shakespearean quotes, or opera titles, but I assume that they are at least famous quotes or opera titles. I like pop culture fill (especially the ones I know) I don't like obscure pop culture crossing obscure pop culture. If I can get an obscure TV actor's name with crosses then I have no problem, because that is how it should be done.

There are alot of obscure names that have become crosswordeese. I am OK with them. Rex, maybe you should have an award for the most obscure pop star to become crosswordeese.

I like balance.


billnutt 7:11 PM  

Thank you for the clarification, Orange - although you'll forgive me if I take Wikipedia with a pillar of salt.

Still, Wikipedia might have the edge in credibility over my former boss.

andrea carla michaels 2:04 AM  

This is fascinating for me. I made the puzzle, and just learned about the related blogs, so I guess I should chime in on this whole pop culture thing.
Busted! I used to make the puzzles for TV Guide (damn them and their no byline policy! I gave up when they started charging folks for the 900 number and asked us to make them harder! We were getting paid $70 a puzzle and they had 17 million readers and I used to ask them to keep the money but give me a such luck!)
ANyway, I appreciated the person who pointed out that for every Renee Zellweger, there was a CATO clue, tho admittedly a bit tough for a Monday.
I love films so that is usually my first reference point, but I also am/was a serious reader with serious political leanings, etc.
The Coen Brothers ref was an inside joke as I am the "other" jew from Minnesota!
I apologize to all for the NE corner filled with double EE's...hated it, but got trapped.
Yes, when constructing and you get trapped you turn to YMA!
But I concentrate fully on the theme (I almost exclusively make Mondays) and was thrilled to find four (had to originally eject SITTING DUCK as WIll pointed out that it didn't quite fit in teh same way. And my friend's 16 yr old had heard NONE of the expressions except CRYING WOLF, so it's a generational thing...
(tomorrow is my bday and I will admit to being EXACTLY middle age, if I live to my late 90's!)
But I'm thrilled some learned what TALKING TURKEY meant. I apologize for the OVEN/OAST mix-up which got a lot of folks, perhaps I should have clued it as OVEN instead of KILN...but that's how I learned the word myself...from crosswords!
Anyway, if anyone wants to continue this discussion, feel free to write to me:

Also NEOLOGIST/COINER was also a special thing, as it's what I do for a living...when not trying to get published in the NYT!

Anonymous 12:09 AM  

Bobby Knight is not the NCAA 1A basketball coach with the most victories. Pat Summitt is by far.

Pat 2:28 PM  

"ill-fitting tuxedo of intellectual superiority" - Classic!

barkertj 10:27 PM  

Yes, icicles melt, hang and drip - did anyone else get GRIP instead? That mistake made me laugh when I got the cross ending in D and made the correction to DRIP.

I'm stunned that OAST was puzzling to some -- I consider myself a novice, but, like Andrea, OAST has stuck out in my "crossword puzzle memory list of words," so amazingly it didn't throw me off. :)

Andrea, fabulous comments -- and Rex, I, too am greatly entertained by your blog. Thank you!

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