WEDNESDAY, Oct. 10, 2007 - Robert Zimmerman

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Relative difficulty: EZ-Medium

THEME: Spoken Letters - familiar phrases where first word is represented by two letters, which, when spoken, sound like that word

I think a good measure of a theme's shakiness is how difficult it is to describe. This is one of those puzzles where the "theme" is obvious, but how to explain it concisely is not. I hope I succeeded.

I am sure I am not the first person to ask this, but ... Robert Zimmerman? The Robert Zimmerman? It's an honor, sir. I wasn't entirely thrilled with the theme, but ... this puzzle does have some Dylanesque subtlety - check out the BASSO / TASSO pairing (30A: Low man and 46A: "Jerusalem Delivered" poet). And in symmetrical positions no less. And who else but Dylan could get away with using a craptacular word like KNURLS (26A: Thumbscrew ridges)? No one. See, by putting it in symmetrical relationship to FUNGUS (52A: Dry rot, e.g.), he is winking at you, letting you know that he knows that it's an icky word. Genius. Even the Across pairs on the 6th and 10th lines seem to work together some how. NCAA TITLE (27A: Final Four org. and 29A: Dom or earl) is a self-standing phrase, and OLDEN EDEN (48A: Of yore and 50A: Fall setting), aside from almost rhyming, captures a sense of a Paradise Lost, an object of yearning and nostalgia. O yes, this has the poet's stamp all over it.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Good-looking, briefly (EZ on the eyes)
  • 11D: Winter hazards, briefly (IC streets) - sadly, this is the first theme answer I bumped into, and it took me forever to figure out why ICY wouldn't fit. At least "EZ" is an abbreviation you've seen before. "IC?" I mean ... you just need one more letter to make it a real word. Grumble grumble.
  • 32D: Student writing competition, briefly (SA contest)
  • 64A: Risky person to do business with, briefly (CD character)
  • 39A: Oh-so-cute carnival prizes, briefly (QP dolls)
"Oh-so-cute?" You be the judge:

Had slight trouble at the LAZAR / ERNO crossing (2D: Agent Swifty and 23A: Inventor Rubik) first because "Swifty LAZAR" is a name I barely know (it's just a phrase in my brain ... no idea where it came from) and second because ... well, no, ERNO has to be ERNO. So I guess what really happened here is I wasn't entirely sure about LAZAR, but ERNO confirmed that I was correct in my guess. Had MEAT for MAYO, of course (8D: Deli supply). Can't believe I somehow remembered the insanely spelled UINTA mountains this time (53D: _____ Mountains, home of King's Peak). EOS (36D: Aurora, to the Greeks) was easy, as I am reading Homer's Odyssey right now, and I'm pretty sure she's in there somewhere. Two good longish words: LITANIES (59A: Prayer wheel inscriptions), which I only ever hear used in secular contexts, and ANARCHY (47D: Possible result of a natural disaster) - which has a great, unsettling clue.

Lastly, I must assert, contend, aver, and insist that Taylor Hicks, despite having won a national talent competition, is nobody's IDOL (33A: Taylor Hicks, e.g.).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


dann walsh 9:16 AM  

gee, rex,

do ya really think it's THE robert zimmerman?! i just saw mr. dylan in syracuse less than 40 hours ago. he was lookin' a bit haggard... gaunt , not merle!


Scott 9:21 AM  

Wonderful post today, Rex. And, um, Mr. Zimmerman. . .what was up with the "Street Legal" album? I mean, I'm just asking.

I don't believe LITANIES is properly clued. Litanies are lists of petitions, or lists of saints whose intercession is invoked. What's on a prayer wheel is a mantra, not a litany.

Norm 9:37 AM  

Well, a litany is actually a form of prayer and a mantra is a prayer, so it's probable defensible -- but not great. All in all, a fun puzzle, though.

Beata 10:15 AM  

I'm "a stay at home mom (used to have a career)", but I only realized who "Tyler Hicks" was after I read the blog... had IDOL on crosses.... who's IDOL is he ? American ?

Hobbyist 10:17 AM  

The saint clue is used twice with only a slightly different form.
I found yesterday's more fun but am no fan of Bob the fraud. Never was.

Mary 10:19 AM  

I thought Tasso was a ham.
I thought Thumbscrew was an implement of torture.

Knurly puzzle.

Finn 10:24 AM  

My favorite symmetrical pairing--Oscar winner Marisa Tomei and, "Oops!" list, Errata. A nice little jab.

Anonymous 10:44 AM  

What the heck is a toby? One of those long beer glasses that needs a stand to hold it?

Annielee 11:29 AM  

A toby is a a ceramic jug or mug in the shape of of a caricatured figure, including the whole body, not just the head and shoulders.


Anonymous 11:29 AM  

a toby is a mug with an old english face on it usually wearing a black cocked's referred to as a toby mug.....there are people who have collections of them

Anonymous 11:39 AM  

I got the themed answers long before the lame filler. Fun puzzle but I was a bit distracted by my hopes of finding out if the clues would reveal to me if it was, in fact, THE Bob Z. Will we ever know?

marcie 12:12 PM  

the two saints gave me a definite "what the heck?" moment. I probably wouldn't have even thought twice about it if the second had been "Ave. crossers" or something. (of course then we would have had two incarnations of streets, so there ya go.) Genius or gaffe? You decide :) .

Jonny 12:29 PM  

Great blog today Rex. You're right, Taylor Hicks is definitely nobody's idol.

Just looked up a QP (Kewpie) doll online...Not being a regular carnival goer by any means, I have never heard this term.

Those things are hideous!

Claire 12:41 PM  

I haven't thought about this for years, but my mother made iced tea in a pitcher carved in porcelain like a smiling man's face with rosy cheeks. As a child, this face looked sinister to me. It was a Toby.

Pete M 12:47 PM  

UINTA crossing ENE? Ugh! For us non-geography types, UISTA/ESE would fit just as well... :)

Sue 12:49 PM  

Beata, I've also never heard of Taylor Hicks, but I get the picture from the comments here.

PT Barnum noted: You'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people ...

Orange 1:45 PM  

There's a small Toby museum in Evanston, IL. I've driven past but never slowed down.

I Googled "robert zimmerman" crossword and found this United Features puzzle, so I don't think he's a music legend. He's also had NYT crosswords in '97, '99, '00, '03, and '05. The 1/13/05 puzzle had a theme of T FOR TWO, in which TWO was replaced by T in each theme answer.

Anonymous 1:48 PM  

interesting history and pictures of "toby jugs"


dk 1:50 PM  

Recently attended the Minnesota State fair so spiels and qpdolls were top of mind.

I wish I could remember Rubik's first name. Perhaps another 20 years of doing these puzzles will help.

Agree on T. Hicks... I just do not know those idols. Give me a good totem anyday.

Orange 2:01 PM  

By the way, my son saw the kewpie doll photo before school this morning. He put a piece of tape on my desk and wrote "BaBy beet" (that'd be "baby butt") on it, with an arrow pointing toward the picture on the screen.

profphil 2:07 PM  

Instead of CD character I got KG character and was suprised Dunkan was spelled with a K. OOps add that to my errata.

Anonymous 2:28 PM  

Pete M - UINTA is one of those special words that you learn when you've seen it enough times. Maybe those kids in the national geography quiz actually know where these mountains are. BTW, they are the only mountain range in the US running EAST-WEST.

Anonymous 2:28 PM  

"Swifty" Lazar was a legendary show-biz agent and character. There is a NYC restaurant, Swifty's, named after him patronized by the people who used to eat at Mortimer's. One of those places with lots of air-kissing and what passes these days for high society.

Rikki 3:01 PM  

You are so funny Rex. Thanks for the chuckles.

Bit of a stretch with the theme. Starts out fine with EZ on the eye. It's a saying and uses the two-letter abbreviation. And QP dolls works for me, as it's specific. But then the rest of them?? IC SA CD... the phrases are random and the two-letter abbreviations would never be used out of this context. But maybe "Dylan" was just BN a KG QT Pie.

There's that funky alga again, this time sitting on top of fungus, eeewwww. I liked the NCAA TITLE line. And the spiel/knurls cross as well as uinta gave me three words I'd never heard of before to stash away for futures.

Curious about the kewpie doll, I looked it up and discovered they were the first item to ever be merchandised from a cartoon character, based on illustrations by Rose O'Neil in Ladies Home Journal in 1910. Rose holds the patent and the dolls were named after Cupid. They were made out of bisque, then celluloid, then plastic. My first recollection of them were as prizes at CD carnivals, so they kinda give me the creeps. I think they're cuter from the front, Rex.

Fergus 3:14 PM  

Looking at the length of the answers I thought this was going to be a sarcastic play on the normal Xword usage of 'briefly', as in spelling out widely used contractions or acronyms. Nonetheless, a fair theme, though I thought the Fair one? (25D) was going to be MIRROR, not the MAIDEN, which showed yet another instance of the "?" placed too liberally after a clue. QP got the theme; ICY reminded me of a drive when my son was just starting to read and he asked why they would keep showing signs stating how Icky this road was. I wonder how many other errors, like KG for CD, people came up with?

I would like to come to the defense of KNURL -- such a precisely descriptive noun, though it doesn't have to be man-made. Saw a beautifully knurled chunk of driftwood at the beach the other day. There were a lot of good words criss-crossing in the lower half, too. ANARCHY, SYNOD; FUNGUS, PRESIDIO.

On the literary front I recall EOS having a fairly significant and interesting role in the Odyssey, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the Toby ALE container might have something to do with Tristram Shandy's uncle. Quite a few of the pictures from that citation above look how you might picture the old codger.

And regarding political sensitivity, isn't 56D LATIN sort of a dated term? I'll double check with my Peruvian friends.

green mantis 3:39 PM  

My only problem with this puzzle was at CD character, which I don't really think is a phrase anyone uses. They use "shady character." So for me that answer didn't fit as well with the other theme answers, whose first two letters had that "it must be these two and only these two letters" feel. Minor quibble, I admit.

Aaron 3:42 PM  

For whatever reason, I got the theme instantly with EZ ON THE EYES (first answer I wrote in). I don't like this puzzle that much, but I couldn't really say why. I think it has something to do with what Rex was saying, that it's a hard/weird theme to describe.

Ditto for the UINTA/ENE crossing.

jae 4:38 PM  

This took me longer than it should of mostly because I had LAMAR for 2d. Guess I got Hedy and Swifty mixed up. I liked this one but had the same problem with ICY as REX and also balked at the two versions of SAINT. Thanks to hobbyist I got ALGA right. I thought a lot of the fill was pretty imaginative.

Anonymous 6:10 PM  

"Look out, baby! The saints are comin' through!" I had "icefloats" at first, but got the other theme answers rather quickly. "You could have done better but I don't mind. You just kinda wasted my precious time."

Johnson 7:44 PM  

I had never heard of the UINTA mountains before this I just wrote it right in...thanks again guys. Anyone else boldly ink in SALES for Hawker's line (SPIEL)?

billnutt 10:24 PM  

I can thank the late, occasionally lamented SPY Magazine for helping me get Lazar. "Swifty" Lazar was one of their regular objects of ridicule. Not as frequent as the short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump, of course, but he popped up often enough to be memorable.

"To live outside the law you must be honest."

Cea 10:36 PM  

It must be my Brit legacy, but I was looking for a way to fit an ASY rebus into the 'easy on the eyes' answer. A Z is a zed in my part of the world, so EZ took a while to sink in. When it did, the rest was easy, although I was thinking of QT dolls for a while, until I remembered that an oh-so-cute doll couldn't be a cutie.

Anonymous 11:44 AM  

Thanks all for the Toby information! Now what the name of those absurdly long beer glasses that have round bases and therefore need stands to hold them!

Cea 8:23 PM  

A yard of ale?

Anonymous 8:37 AM  

Could someone please explain the thumbscrew ridges (what is a thumbscrew if not a torture device?) -- i,e, what is the actual definition of "knurls?" (no wiseguy redundant answers, please).

TimeTraveller 12:05 PM  

6 weeks later ...
Your international audience may not find EZ a gimmie, be crossed up by that mountain range and lost between those scrabbly cities. I guess local knowledge is not limited to the NE.

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