THURSDAY, Oct. 11, 2007 - E. J. Platt

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Falling Stars" (61A: Wishful things? ... or a literal description of 16-, 17-, 32-, 44- and 60-Across) - theme answers are the names of movie stars, the ends of whose names "fall" 90 degrees to the "south" (thus merging with Down answers)

This is a very inventive theme, though the assortment of "stars" is pretty rag-tag. REX HARRISON, for instance, stands out like a sore thumb for being the only "star" who is no longer one. But his name is REX, so it's cool. I had trouble getting started with the puzzle because I ran into MEGR first at 16A, and figured I was dealing with a rebus puzzle - but why would you rebus RYAN? How far could you possibly get with that as your rebus fill? Once I got GEORGE CLOONEY, though, the theme became clear and I flew through the puzzle fairly quickly. Despite my reasonable time (around 8, I think), I thought this puzzle fairly challenging for a Thursday. There are lots of words that are esoteric: easy enough for constant crossworders, but tricky for others (or so I imagine). Anyway, I'll start with the theme answers, then move on to the tough(-ish) stuff, and then ... who knows? Maybe I'll close with a dance or a knock-knock joke.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: People's 2006 Sexiest Man Alive (George Cloo / ney)
  • 16A: "You've Got Mail" actress (Meg R / yan)
  • 32A: Julius Caesar portrayer, 1963 (Rex Harris / on)
  • 44A: Frat Pack actor (Ben Stille / r) - this is the first time I've ever heard the term "Frat Pack"; dear god, Stiller's old enough to be a member of the original "Brat Pack" - he could have kids in a "frat." I'm just saying he's old, is all. At least as old as I am (yesterday I calculated that my hypothetical first child would be a freshman in college right now. Disconcerting...)
  • 60A: R & B singer with a hit 1990s sitcom (Bran / dy) - can't get enough of those "Moesha" references. Bring 'em on.
These theme answers are not placed symmetrically on the grid, the way most theme answers are. The theme precludes perfect symmetry, so it's not really a problem. All the answers at least start in positions of rotational symmetry except MEG RYAN and BRANDY, which are slightly off kilter (former starts in second row from top, latter starts in third row from bottom). So looking at this grid is a little like looking at a slightly crooked picture hanging on a wall. It's passable, but once you notice its off-ness, all you wanna do is walk over and fix it.

The tough stuff:

  • 12D: Shoelace tip (aglet) - reasonably common crossword fill, but just not an everyday word to most people. Even though Google says it's rarer, AIGLET is the spelling I know better.
  • 13D: Presidential candidate who said "No one can earn a million dollars honestly" (Bryan) - as in William Jennings. Might have been tough for me without MEG RYAN's help.
  • 46A: Tasty (sapid) - got it quickly, but only because I've seen it in the puzzle before. Not a word I use, or see in non-xword contexts, ever.
  • 43D: Palm type (sago) - eeks! Had SAGE ... thought SAGO was a kind of lily ... and it is. Confusing. [actually, it's SEGO lily - thanks for the correction, Orangey]
  • 69A: Points on a crescent moon (cusps) - I know this word in relation to zodiacal signs. I honestly didn't know that that's what you call the pointy parts of the crescent.
  • 38A: Chevrolet model (Aveo) - ???
  • 39A: Big exporter of coconut cream and coconut oil (Samoa) - strange but guessable with a cross or two.
  • 56D: Windfall (plum) - having hard time using this one in a sentence...
  • 50D: "From the Earth to the Moon" author (Verne) - wasn't this the title of a miniseries about the moon landing? I nearly slapped my forehead and said "D'oh!" when I saw the 19th-century answer.
  • 64A: City along the Chisholm Trail (Enid) - you know you are a crossword junkie when ENID is your go-to 4-letter Western-sounding answer.
  • 20A: City southeast of 64-Across (Ada) - also, a novel by Nabokov.
  • 30D: Like many cared-for lawns (limed) - I don't care for "cared-for" as an adjective. I got this fairly easily, even though I'm not sure what liming does for a lawn. I know we have never LIMED ours (right, honey? ... Sandy is the lawn person in our family ... much to her occasional chagrin).
  • 26A: Cage for hawks (mew) - eluded me. Needed -EW before I finally recalled the word. Wanted the answer to relate to basketball ... you know, "cager" means basketball player ... the Hawks are an NBA team ... I swear it makes sense.
  • 40D: Historic Umbrian town (Assisi) - As in, St. Francis of ...

ALLE in all, an enjoyable. Only a dollop of crosswordese: OVA, EWER, ESTERS (18D: Some organic compounds). And only a couple of ugh-inducing answers: 31D: Measure again, as a movie's length (retime) and 49D: Like an eyeball (orbed) ... :(

Lastly, a round of applause for the nerdy long Down answers BROAD AXES (3D: Timber hewers) - which came to me easily with just BR- in place, thank you Dungeons & Dragons - and HELP DESKS (35D: Computer technicians' positions) - which reminds me of this new series "Chuck," which is not that good, and yet I can't stop watching. Chuck works at a HELP DESK at a big box electronics store. He also has had all of the government's most important secrets uploaded into his brain via some video stream he witnessed after opening an email attachment from his former college roommate ... did I mention it's a comedy? I'm not proud.

Two final notes: first, in case you hadn't noticed (this is for people in the six-weeks-from-now future) there is a link in my sidebar to take you directly to the syndicated puzzle. Google makes it insanely hard to find old puzzles sometimes (Google is very kind to my fellow bloggers and very, very temperamental with me). So now, one click, whoop, there it is. Second, I am updating Pop Sensation every day now (now that it has a small but steady readership), so check it out, link to it, tell a friend, etc.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Orange 9:20 AM  

Knock, knock.

Who's there?

A man.

A man who?

I'm a man ! I'm 40!

P.S. Sego lily, sago palm. And I think there was an '80s One Life to Live character named Benny Sago who tussled with Judith Light's character in her pre-Who's the Boss? days.

rick 9:41 AM  

Got GEORGECLOONEY early which did not help at all with the theme, did not get that until the REXHARRISON, MASON cross.

I just finished a book that alluded to hawking so MEW came easily although I have never seen it as a singular before. Hawks are kept in the mews (a hawk barn).

I'm from the motorcity and have never heard of an AVEO either.

Guilty pleasures: the new Bionic woman which is a ripoff of Kill Bill this time around.

I also really enjoyed the pilot for Journeyman. It is one of the better series premieres I have ever seen but they resolved all the issues that made the story interesting in the pilot, so I won't be watching the actual series.

rick 9:45 AM  


My actual first child is old enough to have a theoretical college freshman.

This also means my theoretical grandchild is old enough to make me a theoretical great-grandfather.

Therefore Rex, you are a theoretical grandfather.

Have a nice day.

Mary 10:39 AM  

I had to leave the southeast corner undone last night, dream on it and pick it up this morning. Funny how that works.

Anyway, I never got the theme, despite filling in the grid. I thought it was some kind of comment on the careers of these actors(saw Ben Stiller's movie last weekend and I did not care for it much.)

You know what should have been the tip off? I was looking at 9D: PHONEY and thinking, that's a funny way to spell phony.

I am still counting this as a win, maybe with an *.

angloliberal 11:00 AM  

I'm glad I'm not the only one who wanted NET for "Cage for hawks"...The puzzle is always referring to basketballers as cagers. But, alas, I figured out that it would have been Hawks. At least I wasn't the only one on that wavelength for whatever brief a time.

Penny 11:20 AM  

Glad to hear someone else had a problem in the SE.

Not a terribly difficult Thursday if you didn't try to guess the theme. Ignoring the theme also produced a totally excellent aha! when all was solved and done.

Have a weird sort of cybershyness about actually talking to you, Rex, but thought it time to mention how much I continue to enjoy your take on things and the folks who hang out here.

You are forgiven for not appreciating the charms of a kewpie doll.

jae 11:43 AM  

I had the same rebus thought when GEORGECLOONEY (which I knew for sure) didn't fit. Then I put the ONEY in the square under the PH from CHIP and OATH and saw the theme. I immediately went looking for the theme clue (61a) and after that things went quickly. A very clever and enjoyable puzzle. My only gripe is the AVEO/REVE crossing. I had to use my "its OK to ask my (language expert) wife rule" to get the V. I somehow doubt that a Chevy AVEO would be a car of choice for NYT crossword solvers.

Anonymous 11:44 AM  

I enjoyed the intersection of Rehab and Beer. Nice bit of irony. I thought a broad ax was a weapon not a tool. And I agree with Bryan about millionaires. Fun puzzle today esp. as I pondered which celebrity's name ended in double O. Mr. Magoo???

rick 11:53 AM  

I thought the same thing about broadaxe ( a weapon only ) so I googled it when I was done.

It is an axe used for squaring off tree trunks after felling.

Alex 11:56 AM  

I actually got the theme explaner (FALLING STARS) before any of the other theme answers which finally straightened me out.

Unfortunately, I had simply put in RYAN for MEGR(yan) essentially killing any hope for the NE corner. Since that was absolutely correct (until I understood the theme).

Not knowing the theme I had GEORGE ---- and couldn't think of a handsome George with a four letter last name.

R--HAR--S gave me trouble even after knowing the clue because with those letters I assumed a first name of RICHARD meaning a last name of -SON. Needless to say, I was drawing a blank for a bit.

I was unaware of PHONEY as a legitimate alternative to the much more common PHONY.

I've been to ENID, Oklahoma, during a cross-country road trip. The only reason I remember this is that at the time I worked for a woman named Enid so I mailed her a copy of the local weekly newspaper.

To the groaner category I'd add LAYER, especially since there are plenty of good ways to clue it without resorting to making it an odd job.

dk 1:11 PM  

Me, I was focused on faddingstars (sic), dated checks, a relentless clock and a little voice that said get more sleep.

My only windfall these days are black walnuts that liter my unlimed lawn like... plums?

I am going to try to use simper as often as I can over the next few days.

barrywep 1:41 PM  

I finished the puzzle in Rex like time without figuring out the theme until the end. I saw the ends of the "stars" names were missing but didn't see where they went until after.

Chuck got great reviews based on the pilot but has gone downhill. Bionic Woman got bad reviews but the show has gotten better.

profphil 2:10 PM  


Isn't that a photo of The Brat Pack rather than the Frat Pack?

sondrose 2:28 PM  

dk - Black walnuts make a great dye for fabrics and fibers - know any weavers, spinners, dyers, basket makers? They might help you clean up your windfall.

voiceofsocietyman 2:29 PM  

I found this puz fairly easy for a Thursday (which means, given my weak xwording, that I actually finished it). SAPID was a shock, another Scrabble-only word for me (like yesterday's AZO), and I knew it because of a little list I once made:

There are prolly a few I've missed. I use them in my tutoring of middle- and high-schoolers who need vocab help.

I hope you enjoy the list.

Rikki 2:34 PM  

Hi all,

Knowing that George Clooney was the sexiest man alive pointed me in the right direction toward the theme, sending me back to change Ryan to Megr, but I got all the way down to filling in fallingsta and pars before realizing what the theme was. I had a pleasant "aha" moment, liking this clever twist (much more so than yesterday's ez, cd one).

Almost failed to finish the puzzle in the SE. Region and Verne stumped me for awhile and then I I had the "duh" moment of realizing that Brandy was part of the theme (should have seen it coming as symmetry to Megr up there in New England, but I'm relatively new to looking at puzzles that way).

Loved the Rat Pack (big Sinatra fan) and the Brat Pack (loved Rob Lowe in West Wing and he's still on my list of sexiest men alive), but can someone enlighten me as to who is in the Frat Pack besides Ben Stiller?

I've been a foodie for years and never heard the word sapid for tasty. Don't think I'll be adding it to my vocab. Sorry, but it doesn't sound tasty. What a sapid souffle? That paella was muy sapid. Nope. That dog don't hunt. Though I liked the sapid/panfry cross, which is how I got sapid. Also like the mason/layer and rehab/beer crosses.

Also, I must confess that in yesterday's puzzle I thought that "hawker's line" had something to do with hawks and keepers of hawks and even didn't get it when the answer was spiel (thought that was some german word for a line hawkers connected to their hawks... yikes.) Just got the picture today in another "big duh" moment when Rex was talking about the bird/basketball confusion.

On the same subject, I lived in a mews house in London and wondered what the connection might be between that term and a cage for hawks. Apparently the Royal hawks were kept in the Kings Mews at Charing Cross, beginning in 1377, and the place remained the Royal Mews in 1537 when they were converted to Royal stables. Mews still refers to row houses that were once stables, as was my house in Kensington.

Alex 2:38 PM  

Yep, that's the Brat Pack, not the Frat Pack (I'd never heard Frat Pack until this puzzle).

Interestingly, there really isn't a huge age difference between the groups, they just became really famous at different points in their lives 20 years apart.

Brat Pack - Emilio Estevez (45), Anthony Michael Hall (39), Rob Lowe (43), Andrew McCarthy (45), Demi Moore (45), Judd Nelson (47), Molly Ringwald (39), Ally Sheedy (45).

Frat Pack - Jack Black (38), Ben Stiller (42), Luke Wilson (36), Owen Wilson (39), Vince Vaughn (37), Will Ferrell (40), Steve Carrell (45).

Sarah 2:50 PM  

First comment after lurking for a while, but as an Aveo driver, thought I'd chime in

The Aveo is what happened when Chevrolet/GM acquired Daewoo. It's a cute little compact car similar to your Honda Civic or your Geo Metro

Fergus 3:20 PM  

This seemed like a fairly clumsy puzzle, but maybe that's because I had several other interpretations of the theme before the literal tail end falling off. George and Rex? The former seems to be climbing ever higher while the latter fell into his grave a while ago. Don't know where BRANDY stands but MEG RYAN isn't in the limelight like she used to be. OK, not that type of Falling star. That would be Fading star (as someone above noted). Well, maybe all these characters have a signature tumble somewhere in their performance repertoire? No, that was from some Simpsons episode, I think, where someone made a name for himself simply by falling over a lot. Not that either -- what about the resemblance to a knight's move in chess, with a play on night, when the stars might rise and fall. Nah, too far-fetched. Stick with the right turn at the end of the space, and leave it at that. Neither very engaging nor impressive.

HELP DESKS must have caused some raised eyebrows elsewhere, too. How often, if you get through to a customer service help desk do you actually connect with anyone remotely worthy of the title, technician? Once in a while, I guess.

Couldn't get MOCHA off my mind for 6D for the longest time, and almost settled for having an M-LIP in need of some cosmetic dental work and a LA LA somehow being acceptable as a division in whatever Game I was playing. But that made ACHA the Starting point ... in possibly a German drama? All too weird; forget the coffee component and have some COCOA by the fireplace, lamenting the arduous trek through the sleet and snow.

Rex Parker 3:43 PM  

I am well aware that that is a picture of The Brat Pack.


kgee 3:44 PM  

Thought I was up against an "ONY" rebus--and tried really hard to jam in PHONYBALONY (9D Insincere). No such luck.

BTW, does anyone actually call anything a BEER Blast anymore? Or ever did? Guess I hung out with the wrong crowd.

All in all a fun (if gimmicky) puzzle today.

PS Sorry for the late post, but I'm an Afternoon Solver (paper and pen)

Anonymous 3:44 PM  

Thanks for the link to the syndicated puzzle. I do both and sometimes the six-week ago one is hard again as if it were new.
I very much enjoy reading your blog. Still think you should read some Dickens. Nollie

Anonymous 3:47 PM  

There's a bar in Rhode Island called "The Mews". It's sort of built over a swamp, so I have always assumed the name meant "marshy place or bog", not "Cage for hawks".

Who knew?

Anonymous 5:21 PM  

Can anyone explain 28D "South Side?" as GRAY? I don't get it.

Alex 5:28 PM  

The U.S. Civil War. The North was Blue, the South was Gray.

Linda G 6:32 PM  

Nice to see your link to the past. A reader suggested that I do that months ago...nice that they don't have to scroll through six weeks of posts and get a peek at answers or pictures that might tip them off in the ensuing weeks.

And Ben Stiller is not old.

Anonymous 6:47 PM  


What is that all about -- why post that here?

wobbith 6:59 PM  

My forehead is a bit flatter than it was before I started this one.

Even after grokking the theme, I still wasn't expecting it in the small NE and SW chunks of the grid. So I knew 16a had to be RYAN, and that 12d had to be AGLET, and stared at that section for an aeon or so before the light came on. That's when the forehead flattener turned on.

jae - AVEO/REVE - I have the exact same "rule" and had to apply it here as well.

And yup, had SEGO; thought we had an "ONY" rebus; and wanted 26a to be related to basketball.

Loved this puzzle, Rikki's bit about SAPID, Voice's list, and, as always, this blog.

Anonymous 7:05 PM  

Anon 5:21, Alex -- The union army wore blue uniforms and the confederate army wore gray uniforms. It's not metaphorical like "blue states" and "red states".

Cea 8:39 PM  

Jibber. I did all bar the south east corner, and I still didn't get the theme til I read the blog.

Thanks for the explanation on gray tho. I didn't get that one either.

Anonymous 9:11 PM  

This is a lame gimmick, not a crossword puzzle.

billnutt 11:28 PM  

I, too, had not heard the phrase Frat Pack before, but seeing the list of actors mentioned above, it sure makes sense! Should we also include Seth Rogan (sp?), or is he too young?

As a science fiction/comic book fan, I'm embarrassed at how long it took me to get "tele" as a prefix for "kinetic."

As an Amy Winehouse fan, I'm happy at how quickly I got "rehab."

I sorta liked the linking of "Pisa" and "Assisi."

PuzzleGirl 12:33 AM  

I had BEN AFFLECK instead of BEN STILLER for far too long. Made the North Carolina area a little tough. Obviously never heard of the Frat Pack. I have heard of all the actors included in it though. So that makes me feel better than I feel whenever I pick up a People magazine at the dentist's office. I vote against including Seth Rogan, because I've never heard of him.

alex: I too visited Enid, Oklahoma, on a cross-country road-trip. I actually had a friend who lived there though. We went to a rodeo. Yee-haw!

Chip Ahoy 4:17 AM  

Got to this puzzle late. Solved with some difficulty, not because the theme or fill was particularly difficult but rather because of my attitude. When I realized the theme was based on the names of actors my interest waned. When I realized it was based on the misspellings of the names of actors my interest really waned. It was a fight to stay interested after that. I simply don't care for this type of thing that uses People magazine material for fill. But that's me.

Rex Parker 6:13 AM  

There are no misspellings of actors' names in this puzzle.


Orange 7:59 AM  

Seth Rogen starred in the summer hit, Knocked Up. He had a supporting role in 40-Year-Old Virgin, another Judd Apatow–directed comedy.

Aaron 11:58 AM  

I wanted BEAN for BEER -- was thinking "Blast" was referring to farts. I got all of it but the SW.

Anonymous 1:58 AM  

What have you got against ORBED? Would you like it any better if it was clued "That _____ maiden with white fire laden Whom mortals call the Moon" (Shelley)?

Susana 2:29 PM  

What a find! The Dallas Morning News published the October 12 puzzle from NYT on November 23. (Clearly we're a little behind the times here!) Thus, when I was puzzling mightily over the puzzle, I googled "Great taste since 1905" and found this blog. I WILL be back!

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