WEDNESDAY, Jan. 31, 2007 - Brendan Emmett Quigley

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Solving time: untimed

THEME: Tilt / Lean / Tip - three theme answers, running diagonally from NW to SE, beginning at 1, 7, and 37, and containing the above words, respectively

Loved the theme, especially because the long diag - 1 Diag: Face imaginary enemies (tilt at windmills) - comes from one of my favorite books, Don Quixote. I should say that it's one of my favorite partially-read books, as I never managed to get through the whole damned thing, but the parts I did read were rich. I also like that Quixote and Quigley (puzzle author) both start with Q's. I wanted to find theme-related words in the grid, like SLANT or LIST or ANGLE, but no luck. Started looking at the grid as if it were a Word Search - nothing. There are the ironic entries EVEN (12D: Tied up) and FLAT (4D: Showing no growth), but beyond that, I couldn't find much theme-iness beyond the diags. Oh, wait, there's LSTS (7D: D-Day craft), which is one letter away from LISTS, which would be theme-y. Yes, that'll do.

I'm getting started about an hour later than usual this a.m. - sidetracked by "24" this morning, which somehow managed to sneak in PLOT between episodes: "Previously on "24" ... stuff that was Not On Last Week's episode!" How could I have missed Jack's torturing his brother? I am quite worried about my sanity lately, so anything to help my comprehension of this situation would be greatly appreciated. Was there a second hour that I failed to DVR last week?

1A: Base runner's stats (thefts)

Colorful, but a terrible answer, as THEFT is total slang. No "stat" book anywhere has a listing for THEFTS. They list STEALS, which the puzzle author surely knows, and was surely happy about, given that STEALS, like THEFTS, is six letters long. Cheap trickery. Beneath BEQ. Not that it was too hard to suss out. Just annoying. This represents my only real complaint about this puzzle - other than that I'd rather not be reminded of the existence of "CSI" - one of the most useless shows on TV. CSI is almost recuperated, however, by the complementary DNA TEST elsewhere in the grid (43A: Crime lab job).

3D: Greece, to modern Greeks (Ellas)
19A: Cousin of a raccoon (coati)

OK, I was wrong, I have one other little complaint: this intersection. I am neither a modern Greek, nor a raccoon (which I just wrote as "craccoon," which, I believe, is raccoon's other, drug-addicted cousin), and thus had to guess wildly at the intersecting letter here - an "A," which I had as an "O" - giving me the correct-seeming ELLOS but the silly, schoolyard-sounding COOTI. I figured that was where the concept of COOTIES came from. When I got an "incorrect" message from the applet, I thought the final "I" in COOTI might be wrong, but couldn't think of what could go in the "I"'s place in the cross: TITIAN RED (5D: Brownish orange). TITYAN ... TIT CAN ... TIT MAN ... all answers were coming up absurd, so I changed the second "O" in COOTI to the next most plausible vowel, and voilà, COATI. COATI is the name my sister gave to an article of clothing of mine (I feel as if I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating). COATI can't decide if it's a COAT or a shirt, it's made out of something Highly Synthetic, and it's colored a bright red + black lumberjack plaid. My sister might spell it COATEE - we've never had occasion to write its name down.

Some (more) stuff I didn't know

16A: Manta ray (sea devil) - is this different from a sting ray? Why "devil"? Is this the beast that killed Steve Irwin?
61D: W.W. II inits. (ETO) - OK, I "know" this, but I don't know if I KNOW it - I'm going to guess "European Theater of Operations"??? Oh good, Wikipedia says I'm right, and that's good enough for me. I get ETO confused with EDO, former name of Tokyo.
52D: English Channel port (Poole) - actually, I "knew" this one too, but I don't know how. I think there is some special fund of crossword lore in my brain that is getting better and better stocked over time.
37D: Communications syst. for the deaf (TTY) - as of right now - no idea what this stands for. I'll guess ... Talk To You. Damn, it's "Teletypewriter." TTY looks like a chatroom abbreviation.

Speaking of TTY, there were an Awful lot of abbreviations in this grid. I count twelve. Is that a lot? Or am I just noticing them today for some reason? I'm including ST. LO (48A: Town near Caen), which technically includes an abbreviation (of "Saint"), though you almost never seen it written out fully, so maybe that shouldn't count. ST LO should be in the Pantheon. It is going right on the list of next year's nominees.

Hot Fill

35D: Headline? (totem pole) - Great clue, great answer, and especially great due to its alliterative rotational symmetrical relationship to 5D: Brownish orange (Titian red).
27A: How tuna salad may be served (on toast) - I don't know why I like it ... I just do!
62A: Spray alternative (roll-on) - who doesn't enjoy a good deodorant clue?
47D: Rapper who co-starred in "The Italian Job" (Mos Def) - I can only hope that stodgy solvers everywhere are crying over this one. I hope all the PFUI-lovers choke on MOS DEF.
51D: Two-dimensional world? (atlas) - I just really like the clue

The Rest

I always forget the word PITON (58A: Rock climber's tool), perhaps because they make me think of another climbing device, CRAMPONS, which is far, far too close to TAMPONS for me to want to dwell on. Who decides how to spell sheep sounds and baby sounds? (9D: Cote sound (baa) and 54A: Cry from a crib (waah)) The first seems set in stone, but the second seems completely arbitrary. Where does the "H" come from? And aren't doves, not sheep, more often associated with "cotes." I had COO written in BAA's place at first. Yes, [cote dove] beats [cote sheep] in a Google search by something like 100K hits. So I made a mistake. Oh well ... THEM'S the breaks! (49D: "_____ the breaks").

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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TUESDAY, Jan. 30, 2007 - Nancy Salomon

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Solving time: who knows?

THEME: Double-Double-Z - all theme answers are pairs of words with double-Z's in them, e.g. 17A: Bear of children's verse (Fuzzy Wuzzy)

I will keep it short today - very short, and for two reasons. First, I have to teach soon (in three hours from this very second), and, second, because I really really hated this puzzle. I'm sorry, Nancy; I know that part of the reason I hated it (as my fellow blogger was only too happy to point out) was my own inexcusable ignorance - or, as I originally saw it, two "obscure" answers crossing one another at the center of the puzzle. But there was an overall ungainliness to the grid, with some highly dubious cluing. Plus, the theme ... was poorly expressed (in my strong opinion) because two of the answers were just ZZ-words repeated, while the other two were rhyming-but-different double-Z words. The "Z" fetish sort of did this puZZle in - from where I sit, at any rate. Beethoven's Triple Concerto is easing the pain somewhat this morning, but even that can only do so much. Let's start with the part of the puzzle I hated most, then move on to the part that actually, legitimately, completely stumped me - and then a smattering of observations, and I'll be done:

Worst Fill Ever

6D: "Bah, humbug!" ("pfui")

You know your fill sucks when your first Google hit for it is a site reassuring the public that it is, in fact, a legitimate word (in someone's world). This word makes me yearn for ETUI or AQUI or the other beautiful UI-ending words available out there (actually, those are the only ones I can think of, and neither would have worked well, if at all, in this particular grid...). You can tell how desperate PFUI is by looking at all the other very shaky fill around it (although it all looks like gold compared to PFUI). 21A: "_____ Silver, away!" (Hiyo) is, apparently, technically correct, although it's famously misheard / disputed. Dave Barry wrote a whole piece about his search for the correct spelling of the Lone Ranger's cry. I had HIHO, like many red-blooded Americans, I'm guessing. If there were no PFUI in this region of the puzzle, I'd complain a lot more about HIYO [late addition: just got some spam that began HIYA, which I like better than HIYO, except that there is no one or thing I know named PUZA, so it wouldn't work]. Then there's OOZY (7D: Leaking goop), which is fine, in its way, but again, up here with this absurd word-combo orgy, it's just one more thing to hate (I am a little surprised by how much the word "hate" is creeping into this commentary - I'm being a bit histrionic, I realize, and exaggerating, slightly, for effect). This entire puzzle looks like it was constructed by a Scrabble addict on a bender. The Z's end up necessitating (or suckering the constructor into) other absurd letters, til the whole thing looks a mess. Fake-sounding, dated, or otherwise messed-up words include JIVEY (22A: Lively, as dance music) crossing JAUNTILY (22D: In a stylish way) running through the ugh-inducing HUZZAH HUZZAH (27A (THEME): Congratulatory cry). HUZZAH on its own is far more common than the double-HUZZAH - and neither of them should rightfully be anywhere near the word "common." You know who would say HUZZAH HUZZAH? The same guy who would say ZOUNDS (47D: "Holy smokes!"), i.e. a Renaissance courtier or someone else I'd like to punch in the face, perhaps while sporting a BEZEL (3D: Gem holder) - THE THIRD DEFINITION OF "BEZEL" - seriously, come on.

My Ignorance

29D: Ghana's capital (Accra)
39A: ATM maker (NCR)


OK, I should, I guess, know the capital of Ghana, but I kept waiting for it to look like something familiar, and it never did. Plus, with ACURA (2D: Integra maker) already in the grid, I don't think ACCRA has any business here. NCR probably stands for National Cash Register, and I was condescendingly told earlier this morning that that's just something I should know if I really want to call myself a crossword person, which at this point I'm starting to have doubts about.

The Rest

All my seething hatred (that word again) of this puzzle is making me want to ignore its better features, but I'll cave in and throw some bones to this puZZle (I can't even look at the word "puZZle" right now, I'm so annoyed). 33A: "This looks ver-r-ry bad!" (Oh, God) is nice, but should've been clued by way of reference to the George Burns / John Denver film of that name, or its sequel, OH, GOD, You Devil. Right underneath that is the tricky but admirable 38A: Last episode in a Monday-Friday miniseries (Part V) - I had the TV at the end and thought for Sure the answer was something TV, as in HDTV or BAD TV - that the T and V belonged to different parts of the phrase took me a while to figure out. And yet I liked it - see, I don't dislike stuff just because it makes me struggle. MUDVILLE (25D: Joyless town after Casey struck out) was a fun gimme, reminding me of the baseball poem that I surely haven't heard since fifth grade, when I believe Mrs. Flam (Best Teacher Ever) read it aloud to us many times, in between sessions of playing her guitar and teaching us the lyrics to "King of Road" ("... I ain't got no cigarettes!" - because I'm 10 years old, for one). 11D: Like hoped-for-winter temps in the North (above zero) is colorful fill, but kind of vaguely clued. I live in the North (sort of) and it's almost always ABOVE ZERO. In fact, the past two winters (including the early part of this one), it's been downright balmy. KIBITZ (10D: Give unwanted advice) threw me because, while it was my first idea for an answer, I mistakenly thought that it was spelled like KIBBUTZ, i.e., with two B's. 32D: "Bonanaza" brother (Hoss) is fun fill. I didn't know how to spell HARA (34D: _____ - kiri) because like most of dumb America I always think of it as HARI (pronounced HAIRY) KARI. Mmmm, Americanization. ERI (42A: "_____ tu" (Verdi aria) shows his grizzled head again today, but I'm fond of the old guy. Stephen Colbert would hate this grid, as it has not one bear (FUZZY WUZZY), but several: 35D: Scary bears (grizzlies). That's GRIZZLIES, plural. Plus PAW (62D: Hairy hand). And WASPS (69A: Dangerous nestful). And if the bears or insects don't get you, perhaps a winter storm will ICE you IN to your cabin in the woods (14A: Make housebound, say, in the winter) and you will starve to death. ZOUNDS! 101 ways to die in the wilderness! - which is an apt metaphor for my puzzle experience today. The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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MONDAY, Jan. 29, 2007 - Fred Piscop

Monday, January 29, 2007

Solving time: 4:46

THEME: words that end -PPER? - all theme clues are two-word phrases that, well, end in -PPER, like I told you, e.g. 17A: Popular grilled fish (red snapper) [addendum: Just found out from Crossword Fiend's blog that the vowel that precedes -PPER changes with each answer, and does so in alphabetical order, no less: -APPER, -EPPER, -IPPER, -OPPER, -UPPER]

It is early in the morning, and I can't remember - was there a clue in this puzzle that refers to the theme and explains it more elegantly than I did? I know what you're thinking: "You have the puzzle in front of you ... right now! Why don't you look for yourself?" Good question. I'm tired. There are a lot of clues. I'm not in the mood to read fine print right now. I just want to glance at the grid, see an answer, and write the first thing that comes to mind. No time or energy for close analysis this a.m. Assuming I haven't missed something, this theme is pretty tepid, though some of the fill is pretty fancy and lively. Favorite theme answer was THE GIPPER (37A: 1940 Ronald Reagan role - I mentioned Reagan in yesterday's commentary, and voilà, here he is today, back from the dead, ready for puzzle action, sir), followed closely by DR PEPPER (24A: Soft drink since 1885). Note that there is no "." (or "period") in the "DR" of DR PEPPER. Why am I telling you this? To spare you the annoyance of having some know-it-all correct you should you ever have occasion to write about DR PEPPER. It's like one, big public service announcement, this blog.

Multiple-Word Phrases

  • 15A: Wash gently against, as the shore (lap at) - love it
  • 28A: China, Japan, etc. (Far East) - see also TOKYO (57A: City trashed by Rodan); as opposed to the Near East, where you would find the DINAR (23A: Jordanian cash), though probably not in the pocket of an ISRAELI (46D: Ehud Barak or Ehud Olmert)
  • 66A: Started a cigarette (lit up) - reminds me of when I first solved a Times crossword, back when my diet consisted almost entirely of cigarettes, Diet Coke, and fried burritos; God bless college (and a 20-year-old's metabolism)
  • 45D: Close to its face value, as a bond (near par)
  • 11D: Take some pressure off (let up on)

I [heart] multiple-word phrases in my crossword grid, and these are all fairly vibrant. Why do I love multiple-word phrases in general. Something about the way they exploit the possibilities of the grid in unexpected ways - I think the brain instinctively, for however split a second, takes in the blank row / column as a single unit. My brain likes when that unit has subunits, finding out where the breaks between words are, etc. Plus, multiple-word phrases tend to swing toward the colloquial (as opposed to the dusty dictionary) end of the language, which I appreciate.

Odd Jobs

12D: Opposite of dividers (uniters)
24D: Inventor (deviser)
25D: Speaker with a sore throat, say (rasper)


Every Monday puzzle, it seems, brings with it an assortment of verbs that are tortured into becoming nouns, although these jobs aren't that odd, in the end. Well, the last one is pretty icky, but the first two I can actually imagine someone's using in conversation. Nice UNITER / divider juxtaposition. Timely, without being catty. Toward the President. In case that wasn't obvious. In other made-up word news, REBOLTS (42D: Makes tighter, in a way) is kinda gross, but it does have a certain Frankensteinian aura that makes it vaguely tolerable.

59D: Nile slitherers (asps)
26D: Actress _____ Dawn Chong (Rae)

They're back! Haven't seen either of these Pantheon members for a while (or so it seems). I was just thinking yesterday that I haven't seen ASPS or EERO in a long time, and here I get a visit from ASPS - if they keep their appearance frequency to about once a month, I'll tolerate them quite fine.

7D: PC program, briefly (app)
8D: Al Capp's Daisy _____ (Mae)

One of the weird things about solving a Monday puzzle, for me, is that I never set eyes on a significant number of clues. When you know all the Acrosses, you never see the Downs, and vice versa. So it was in the Far North of this puzzle, where I only just now noticed these two little words - and I'm glad I missed them, because I have a feeling that I would have botched / misspelled them if I'd gone at them in their blank state. I would have looked for some acronym for the first one, and spelled the second one MAY, probably, despite my alleged affection for / knowledge of comics.

41D: Overlay material (acetate)
49A: Sicilian seaport (Palermo)

These seem pretty fancy words for a Monday. I'm not sure I'd know ACETATE if it bit me, or if it were sitting on my desk right now. For all I know, it is. No, it isn't, but you get my point. Was CARLA (40A: "Cheers" waitress) Tortelli from PALERMO? I don't know. I do know that I misspelled her name on my first pass through the grid - spelled it with a "K," which is how my dissertation adviser spelled her own first name. Also botched 44A: "National Velvet" author Bagnold (Enid) - don't remember what I put in, but it was probably something like EDIE. Let's go back to Italy for 4D: Puccini opera (Tosca) and then over to GAM (60D: Pinup's leg), just ... because, and then we'll close it out with my favorite book, the OED (27A: Brit. reference work), which I own in the single-volume edition, the one you are supposed to read with a magnifying glass, but which I read without aid (my eyes are one of a select number of body parts that are Not showing their age ... yet). Sadly, I have deferred getting the Webster's Unabridged Dictionary that I really, really wanted, for financial reasons (i.e. we bled money over the Holidays and are trying to stop the bleeding before we make any large-ish expenditures). Someday my dictionary will come. Til then, I'll make do with my (very) old standby, the OED.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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SUNDAY, Jan. 28, 2007 - Victor Fleming and Bruce Venzke

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Solving time: untimed, but fast

THEME: "Having Pull" - all theme answers are things that may be pulled

Where was A FAST ONE? ONE'S LEG? MY FINGER!? This theme was cute, if awfully simple. The only real puzzler was 81A (THEME): It may be pulled (client's case file), and even that was inferrable with a handful of crosses. Still, discovering what could be pulled next was enjoyable, and after Saturday's puzzle, I was glad to have the level of difficulty lowered considerably. My favorite theme answer was 49A (THEME): One may be pulled (starting pitcher), which reminds me that baseball season is Just over the horizon (when I can begin to erase the memory of last year's abysmal and colossally disappointing World Series). My friend Matt got Red Sox tickets yesterday, so even though the opponent is lowly Kansas City, I'm very psyched. Never been to Fenway, despite having adopted the Red Sox as my team in the early 80's (when I lived in Central California). After the Super Bowl, the only thing worth noting, sportswise, is the NCAA basketball tournament in March. Then it's glorious April, with opening day and springtime and sunny joyous American love for all. I have no idea why I'm writing about sports right now. Oh, themewise, I also liked OLD SWITCHEROO (35D: It may be pulled), though the clue should read [It may be pulled, with "The"]. "Hey, you pulled OLD SWITCHEROO" makes no sense, unless you are imagining the phrase being uttered by an ESL (3D: Immigrant's class: Abbr.) student or Borat or someone else with an aversion to definite articles.

6D: Yellowish shade (ochre)
38A: Neutral shade (linen)

"What are 'The Colors of Nausea?'" The first of these looks like it's spelled wrong, and I had no idea the latter "color" was a color at all. Thought it was just a very, very hard-to-care-for fabric. LINEN is over in the Portland, OR portion of the puzzle, and borders / intersects some iffy fill. Not fond of either 29D: Abbr. of politeness (pls) - seriously, who writes this? Someone who really hates vowels? - or 30D: Gradually slower, in mus. (rit.). Abbr. next to Abbr. = lazy and ugly. I also don't think much of 44A: Cookout staple (steak) - I don't know what kind of "cookouts" you're going to, but that's pretty high-end fare. Hands up if you had the "K" (from SRI LANKA, 5D: Country that styles itself a "democratic socialist republic") and wrote in the far more plausible and democratic FRANK, as in FRANKfurter, Beans and FRANKs, etc.?

45A: _____-mo (slo)

Here is some tired fill that I would really, really like to see go on a long, long vacation. It should be in the Pantheon, but I just hate it too much. Two other, less groan-inducing bits of Pantheonic fill can be found at 107D: Petrol brand (Esso) - although ESSO did sort of make my wife groan, as in 'ugh, not again' - and the very high-end 119A: Grasshopper stage (imago) - "high-end" because it's a fancy word that has managed to become a crossword staple without becoming a crossword whore (see SLO).

71A: Stu of early TV (Erwin)
61D: Pulitzer-winning Sheehan (Neil)

Usually, when names I don't know cross one another, it's bad, bad news. But here, the "I" that joins these two guys was pretty obvious, saving me the "which vowel goes here" heartache that often attends intersecting stumpers. I don't know Stu ERWIN, but I damn sure know the other TV clues in this grid. 87A: Half of a 1980's TV duo (Allie) was one I got right away. I enjoyed that show in a comfort-food kind of way. I think 90% of that show was shot on that one cheap set that seemed to include the entryway, the stairway, the living room, and the kitchen. How did all those people share that tiny space? One of the daughters looked vaguely like Debbie Gibson, and the other was more reminiscent of Tiffany - these are the categories into which one might have divided girls circa 1986. I forget which of the grown-ups was Kate and which one ALLIE, but I have always had something of a crush on Jane Curtin, despite her work on some pretty hateful shows (see "3rd Rock," e.g.). Tina Fey is my new Jane Curtin. But I digress. The other great TV throwback was 39A: Half of a 1970's TV duo (Starsky). I never watched "STARSKY and Hutch" (on too late for 5-year-old me), though I have a strange desire to Netflix the show, since I am a big fan of crime fiction in general, especially that of the period between when Reagan did his last movie (1964's The Killers, hot!) and when Reagan became president. I am currently working my way through "Kojak" - I'm five eps in and he has yet to suck on a lollipop or say "Who Loves Ya, Baby?" - and I've got "The Rockford Files" waiting in the wings. One more campy TV answer: 26D: Linda of soaps (Dano), which, very sadly, I knew instantly.

92A: Fireplace receptacle (ashpan)

Now comes the part of the show where I talk about words I don't know. Had ASHCAN here, 'cause I knew that was something, but ASHPAN feels awfully made up. British? Sandy hadn't heard of it, and she's Kiwi, which is almost British. Speaking of British, went to see The Queen last night, and it was fantastic - one of the best-made films I've seen in a good, long while. And I managed to enjoy it despite the fact that apparently people are raised in barns these days and think chatting with their spouses during quiet moments of the film is OK. Where was I? Oh, words I don't know. How about 118A: Syrian leader (Assad)? Is that a guy's name? Yes, Bashar ASSAD is the leader of Syria, indeed. Why did you all make his name cross FATWAS (95D: Mullahs' calls) and THEISM (96D: Basic belief), and then, worst of all, have it sitting on top of SMOKE (122A: Content of some rings). There's an entire season of "24" plotted out in this one square inch of grid. Try a little sensitivity ... or Try a Little Tenderness, whichever. More trouble: I just told you all (recently) that I get all the ADEN, OMAN, ASSAN, OREN, OREM, ORAN, etc.-type answers confused, constantly. And then today I had to fight my way through not one but two of them: 37D: Gulf of _____, off the Horn of Africa (Aden) and 120A: Arab league member (Oman). If I see "Gulf" or "Horn" or "Cape," I know I'm in trouble. But in today's case, crosses took care of all the vowel ambiguity that normally plagues me with these answers. Speaking of geographical ignorance, a river clue held me up for a bit (one of two minor sticking points in this puzzle): I knew that 53D: Köln's river started with RH-, but to ignorant me, that meant RHINE or RHONE. Didn't know I'd be faced with the German spelling of the former, RHEIN, but pieced it together eventually. I still have no idea how BEEF can be an answer for 70D: Kick. Had to ask my wife what kind of "literary monogram" EAP (113D) was (Poe, duh). If I'd ever heard of LITTLE ME (84D: 1962 musical co-directed by Bob Fosse), it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I wanted to squeeze ORPHAN ANNIE into those last two squares. For all I know, LITTLE ME starred NIA Long (111D: Actress Long), of whom I'd also never heard. I have a vague feeling, though, that I have blogged about never having of heard of this same actress before, which would mean that I've heard of her. My instinct is to say that there's only one actress named Long, and her first name is Shelley, but my instinct also tells me that I have written those very same words before. Weird.

Final thoughts: Didn't know that LBJ was a VIRGO (89A: Lyndon Johnson, by birth), and can't say that I really care. Don't know if it's good or bad to see the "H-added" spelling of SENHOR/A again (34A: Lady from Ipanema) - I'm going to say good, as I got it instantly, and like the song "Girl from Ipanema." Not sure how I feel about ERRATA (9D: Text miscues) and SERRATE (77A: Saw-edged) being in the same grid - little too much ERRAT. As with DANO (above), I am mildly embarrassed that I got TEEN IDOL (106A: Tiger Beat topic) almost instantly (with just the "T" in place). I've never even read that magazine, not once, I swear. I can't see the title Tiger Beat without picturing Leif Garrett, for some reason, although the phrase TEEN IDOL is more apt to make me picture Shaun or David Cassidy. Lastly, I want to give a warm welcome to OSIER (6A: Wicker willow) - one of my favorite "learned-it-from-the-crosswords" words and by far my favorite basket-making material - way better than that cheap RAFFIA crap.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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SATURDAY, Jan. 27, 2007 - Karen M. Tracey

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Solving time: untimed, but pretty long


THEME: ROAD TESTS (35A) (or, none)

The Return of Karen M. Tracey (see last Friday's puzzle). I got beat around something awful by this puzzle, but I kept my balance and stuck it out, making it well into the later rounds; but then, again, just like yesterday, I hit the SE. There, I was dealt a true knockout blow. I made a mistake (dropped my guard) and got belted in the jaw and fell to the canvas. When I came to and got up, everyone had gone home.

My mistake?: I put in ION instead of VUE for 56A: Saturn S.U.V. I could say a lot more, but that's really the heart of the problem. That made me see bad answers and discount valid ones - most notably OPERATIVE (59A: Key), which ION made impossible. ION!!! If I had put in VUE straightway (it is a model name well within my knowledge), I think I would have sailed through the SE - would have got VENT, for instance (56D: Means of escape), instead of spending what felt like hours trying to think of 4-letter for "means of escape" that starts with "I." My best guess: IPOD. Eventually "discovered" UNMOVED (44D: Dry-eyed) after plugging in VENI then VIDI then VICI then VENI again at 49A: Part of a Latin trio to see if any of those answers (I knew it was one of 'em) could give me a hint to the Down crosses (VENI gave me UNMOVED's "N," which is all I had when I got it). As with VISA yesterday, UNMOVED started the avalanche that (finally) finished off the puzzle. That metaphor would be better if there were actually avalanches in the Southeastern U.S.

This failure in the SE (now becoming a regular feature of my solving experience) was balanced by strange successes in other parts of the puzzle (where I "knew" answers, but did not know how), and my misery in the SE mitigated considerably by genuine pleasure ... elsewhere.

"ROAD TESTS?"

Why would I say that the theme of this puzzle is (or should be) ROAD TESTS? Good question. The whole grid has a very automotive vibe. For example:

35A: Indicators of comfort and handling (road tests) - hence the title of this segment; this answer sits horizontally across the center of the puzzle
36D: Jam ingredients? (autos) - this intersects ROAD TESTS at the "A"
43D: Old Ford model (Festiva) - I was thinking way, way older. Having No letters didn't help. I had BEARCAT written in there at one point. Wasn't that a car model name? YES! Stutz, not Ford, but whatever. Here's a 1930's model:

And here's something more recent - what is that chick doing?


56A: Saturn S.U.V. (Vue) - I've said all I want to about this one. S.U.V. makes me think of "Law & Order: SVU," which I like to call "Law & Order: SUV," which could be about two cops who ride around the city solving crimes ... in an S.U.V. They've spun the original show into so many increasingly useless, stupid, redundant directions that I don't think my S.U.V idea is particularly bad by comparison.

Beyond the automotive world, there are other little subthemes, including fine art (ERNST and Warhol (see below) and Tintoretto) and high fashion (62A: Some gowns (Diors) and 65A: Prada alternative (Kate Spade)) and espionage (34A: Notice (spy) and 59A: Key (operative)).

POP CULTURE

Me like pop culture questions, the more campy and obscure, the better. This puzzle had a host of gimmes, some of them virtually Pantheon material, and all of them pop culture-related. Let's start with ENOS (7D: Short-lived TV spinoff of 1980), which I'm pretty sure I've seen clued with reference to the "Dukes of Hazzard" spinoff before (instead of the more common biblical frame of reference), but my pleasure is not thereby diminished. JOANIE LOVES CHACHI wouldn't fit in the spaces provided, and AFTER M*A*S*H was from several years later - I really wanted to get this answer with no crosses, but alas, ah me, it was not to be. Answers I did get with no help (i.e. gimmes) included 10D: Actress Ryan of "Star Trek: Voyager" (Jeri), which was a gimme for both me and my wife (I should note that for the first time ever I solved with my wife for about half the puzzle - just wanted her to see what Saturdays looked like; evidence of our compatibility includes groaning at the same iffy answers, on which, more below). Another gimme, with Pantheonic leanings: 50A: Eric who played Hector in "Troy," 2004 (Bana). Eric BANA would be "that guy... you know ... brown hair" if it weren't for the NYT puzzle, which has made him the It Boy of Puzzledom. Loved ATOM ANT (3D: Superhero of 1960's TV), but did NOT love JAROD (10A: Main character of TV's "The Pretender"), first because yuck ick gross horrible forgettable 90's TV that no one watched in the first place, and second because the answer makes me think of the Subway guy. Last pop culture gimme: 23A: Boosler of stand-up (Elayne), though I had her name with an "I" and not a "Y" until YEAR (24D: Wine info) forced the issue. Oh, MARILYN (2D: Andy Warhol subject) is good pop culturey fill, and a virtual gimme (got it off just the "Y" in DYNE, 27A: Small force). And now that we've veered into the world of art, I'll throw in the last true gimme: 64A: Contemporary of Arp and Miró (Ernst), who, along with BANA, awaits his place in the Pantheon. By the way, ARP is a worthy candidate as well.

ABSURD FILL

If I ever buy a couple of pet rats, or create a comic about a couple of rats who have crazy (mis-) adventures, I will surely call those rats DITHERY (14D: Highly agitated) and TRICKSY (54A: Mischievous). I was actually pretty proud of getting DITHERY, in that ... well, you know how getting a gimme is useful and all, but it's not exactly satisfying, while unearthing a pesky, TRICKSY, annoyingly hidden answer gives a feeling of accomplishment? Well, I got that feeling from getting DITHERY, which came together slowly, and really started to come into view when I let go of SEE at 34A: Notice and put in the spicier SPY, giving me the terminal "Y" in DITHERY. The only other bit of ridiculous fill I can see in this grid is FACERS for 47D: Stunning slaps, which caused my wife more consternation than it did me, but she's not wrong. It's hard to imagine "stunning slaps" being so common that someone would invent a catchy, colloquial word for them. Was there a slapping craze in the 1890's?

I would also like to note the puzzle redemption of formerly Absurd Fill. So, All hail the return of I GO, this time clued in a non-insane way as 25A: "_____ for That" (1939 hit song) [and not the comically misguided "My turn!"]

ABSOLUTELY UNKNOWN

Oh there are a LOT of these - answers I could not have gotten in a million years without the crosses:

11D: Sour, fermented liquid (alegar) - I know Al's cousin Vin, but I've never met Al
9D: Neighborhood in the Bronx (Throgsneck) - huge props to my wife for knowing this off of just the THR-; I would have had to piece it together, cross by cross
6D: American coot (mudhen) - this clue / answer pairing recalls both "M*A*S*H" and "Dukes of Hazzard"; Klinger was from Toledo, whose minor league team is the MUDHENs. And Cooter (tee hee), like ENOS (who named these people??), was a colorful cast member of "Dukes" - Cooters are apparently some kind of turtle, and there is a Cooter Festival in Florida every year. Why can't the Crossword Tournament be held there?
40D: Eisenhower's Texas birthplace (Denison) - O ... K. I'll take your word for it.
42A: Patriot Putnam (Rufus) - this jerk is almost single-handedly responsible for my failure in the SE. I mean, ION/VUE didn't help, but if I'd known this guy ... all the delicious first letters he would have provided! With the RU- in place, I was certain I was dealing with a RUBEN.
48D: Poinsettia's family (spurge) - gross; worst flora name ever - Sandy, a plant person, did not have the faintest idea what this could be, for the record
63A: Old World pigeons with markings around the neck (ring doves) - inferrable, but without numerous crosses, ungettable
60D: Writer _____ Pera (Pia) - only one way this should be clued: [Aging sexpot Zadora] - best PIA Zadora "trivia" at imdb.com:
In 1984, her song "Rock It Out" earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Among her fellow nominees: Lita Ford, Bonnie Tyler, Wendy O. Williams and eventual winner Tina Turner.
That, and her son's godfather is Don King.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge my own solving prowess, as I got OLD NEW YORK (29D: Locale in a classic Frank Sinatra song) off of just the "O" and NON-STARTER (28A: Dud of an idea) off of just the N--S. I'd also like to say that ESPN should get an assist credit on this puzzle, as two more gimmes I failed to mention earlier are straight out of the sports universe: 5D: N.B.A. star Brand (Elton) and 51A: Temple player (Owl).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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FRIDAY, Jan. 26, 2007 - Mike Nothnagel

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Solving time: 27:18

THEME: none

Spent easily the last ten minutes of that 27:18 time trying to solve the SE corner. What's truly horrible, in retrospect, is that I took out an answer I thought was very iffy (INT. for 42A: Form 1040 fig.) and I left in an answer I thought was pretty solid (ARISE for 54A: Emerge). If I'd reversed the decision - taken out ARISE and left in INT. - I might have cracked this thing much more quickly. Please allow me to say that ARISE is a way, way better answer than the pathetic ISSUE. I defy you to use a sentence where ISSUE substitutes for EMERGE in a way that doesn't make you wince / giggle. When was the last time anyone used ISSUE as an intransitive verb? I am not too fond of the cluing in this puzzle, especially in this SE corner. Particularly egregious is 47A: Choice for the indecisive (both). You can't have a "Choice for the indecisive," because, by definition, the "indecisive" person cannot choose. Choosing is a decision. BOTH is a decision. MATH TEST is horrible as an answer to 36D: Some problems to solve, which is, itself, a horrible clue. Horrible in its ... banality. 32D: His self-titled book has 24 chapters is preposterous and misleading in the extreme. First of all, the book is not called SAINT LUKE; it's called THE GOSPEL OF SAINT LUKE, or LUKE. There is no situation wherein one would call the book simply "SAINT LUKE." Plus, SAINT status comes well after the "titling" of this BOOK. Come ON! "Hey, I wrote this book, it's called SAINT LUKE, you know, after me, even though I am NOT A SAINT at the moment that I am allegedly self-titling this book..." Etc. The only reason I eventually cracked this corner was because I systematically went through the alphabet trying to get a first letter to 50D: You can get a charge out of it. I had -ASA, and briefly entertained the possibility of NASA, before hitting "V" (at the far end of the alphabet, of course, ugh) and immediately seeing VISA despite the erroneous "A" I had in that second slot. The "V" gave me VAULT (totally invisible to me otherwise), and VAULT's "T" gave me the TEST in what I immediately saw to be MATH TEST. It's actually kind of fascinating to me how I went from completely stalled to completely done in less than a minute, all because of a single letter, precious "V." I want to thank my wife for reminding me the other day what jockeys wear (56A: Derby wear (silks)). We were casually doing a puzzle together the other day and she got the answer (somewhat differently clued) instantly - when she beats me to the punch I notice. I remember. And today it came in handy, as I was sure the clue wanted something having to do with insane hats worn by spectators at the Kentucky Derby, and then I thought "no, it's those things, whatdyacallem, jockeys' uniforms ... GULES!? No, SILKS." I actually did write GULES in there first. Sad.

1A: Multiple-choice choices (a b or c)

ABORC is one of my favorite bits of fill in a long, long while. Normally I do not have any real puzzle-talk interaction with my fellow x-word blogger, Ms. Crossword Fiend, until after I've written my entry for the day, but she informed me via email that, in her opinion, the NW section of this puzzle (home of ABORC) "blows." I say the SE blows. So we have 180-degree rotational symmetry in our dislikes for the day. The NW just feels so ... alive with pleasure. Aside from the lost Latin word / lost Tolkien creature ABORC, there's my beloved Spiro AGNEW (18A: Ford's predecessor) - I feel quite proud to have entered AGNEW as a first guess instead of the more obvious NIXON. All three of the long Downs in the NW are colorful, multiple-word phrases, and together, in order, they form a most interesting sentence: ASK ABOUT BAR GRAPHS ON ONE KNEE (1D: Display interest in, 2D: Frequent USA Today features, and 3D: Like people in the front row of a group photo, often, nice!). The USA Today clue was super tricky, as the answer could very easily have been PIE CHARTS (my first guess). Don't know what a KRONE is (16A: 100 öre) - I'm going to guess that it's South African money? Whoops, nope, it's Danish.

43D: Infomercial cutter (Ginsu)

God bless early infomercials and my TV-saturated adolescence. I needed GINSU something awful, as I had stalled out after my first trip through all the Across clues. GINSU is strategically placed to give me the first letters of five Acrosses - a sweet place for a gimme to be. SW fell quickly after GINSU, as I made my way back up through the middle of the puzzle (through the stupid an sadly recurrent AH ME - 49A: A sigh) back up to the ragged NE. I had THERE'S NO "I" IN TEAM (33A: Exclamation in a locker room talk) and I erased everything after THERE because I decided it couldn't be right. Then it turned out to be right. So there's that entry, and INT. at 42A, and, let's see ... oh 27A: Dating service datum (age), and 6A: "Then again" follower (maybe not) - all of these were answers I entered correctly on first guess but then later second-guessed (I guess that's where that term comes from), wiping them off the grid, only to have them come back as the correct answers. This is either good (my gut instinct is sharp, [wink]) or bad (I cannot discern a good from bad answer and don't trust myself enough to leave well enough alone). My gut says "good," but my time says "bad." Maybe it's BOTH (ugh).

15D: Yellowstone feeder (Bighorn)

As in "Little?" As in sheep? Is that a river? Had the -GHORN and, I swear to god, wrote in FOGHORN. As in LEGHORN. I did this in utter seriousness. Never heard of BIGHORN. Also never heard of 11D: "Eraserhead" star Jack (Nance) or 41A: Tenor Bostridge and others (Ians) or 8D: Rocher of cosmetics (Yves). Otherwise, the answers were reasonably familiar and almost always (with the exception of the frakkin' SE) cleverly clued. I am finding SSTS to be a very tired bit of fill, especially when clued with reference to the sonic "boom" they could create (46A: Old boom makers). "Old" is right. Too old. Put it out to pasture, or put it down.

15A: Something to get sent off with ("Bon voyage!")
51A: Having no match (nonpareil)
45D: Period of douze mois (année)

Alright, Frenchy, that's about enough out of you. Oh, I left out 37A: River of Troyes (Seine) - which I guessed, figuring for sure it was wrong: too obvious. Thankfully, I left that entry in, as it was right. There should be some kind of limit on Euro-words in a puzzle. Quit outsourcing fill to third-world countries like France! Give me good ole American fill, like the fill sitting directly under the pretentious NONPAREIL. I'll take SPEAKEASY (brilliantly clued as 55A: It may be password-protected) and USED CARS (57A: They've been on the road many times) any day of the week over your effete, cheese-eating answers of the NONPAREIL and AH ME variety.

Yours, Patriotically,

Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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THURSDAY, Jan. 25, 2007 - Manny Nosowsky

Solving time: untimed

THEME: ONE TWO THREE FOUR (7D: Start of a march chant ... or a hint to 17-, 27-, 47- and 63-Across) - This answer runs vertically through the middle of the grid, from top to bottom; four theme answers, with the words ONE, TWO, THREE, and FOUR (respectively) hidden inside other words or word combinations, provide horizontal crosses to the vertical answer, with each horizontal answer intersecting the vertical answer at that answer's respective number, e.g. 63A (THEME): Bill Moyers speech on income inequality in America (Fight oF OUR Lives) intersects ONE TWO THREE FOUR at the "O" in FOUR.

Well, that's officially the longest explanation for a theme that I've ever had to offer, but it was worth it, as this puzzle is instantly a candidate for Best Thursday Puzzle of the year. Not just clever, but clever in multiple ways - hidden numbers, intersecting numbers, and then (whether intended or not) a total theme fake-out: the first theme answer had MONEY in it and the next one had SOU, and when I saw that the next one (47A (THEME): Critical stage in a space shuttle's flight (Earth re-entry)) had -REEN in it, I thought for sure that those letters would become GREEN and that the theme would, obviously (MONEY, SOU, GREEN) be words for currency. Wrrrrong. Very wrong. My misunderstanding of the theme thus meant that it took me Forever to see EARTH RE-ENTRY. I thought perhaps there was some technical NASA term that had the phrase GREEN DAY in it, and that, possibly, that was where the band got its name. Yes, I did actually think that, and am not saying it (just) to try to be funny.

Short entries today - Thursday is quite tight for me from now until, oh, mid-May.

17A (THEME): 50% likelihood (even money chance)

I have never heard of this phrase. I have heard the phrase EVEN MONEY, but the CHANCE part is new to me. Not having CHANCE meant that the whole NE corner stayed empty for a while, until a blessed, ubiquitous Genesis clue (10D: Leading man? (Adam)) bailed me out, as it has time and time again. While we're up in the NE, I'll say that 9A: Where some bolts fit (jambs) is a really, really odd clue, despite being, technically, correct. The answer to this could have been Anything. How about NECKS? GATES? DOORS? I do love the look of the word JAMB, I have to say. I am put off by 9D: Head (John), as it does not pass my personal breakfast-table test. [Male Doe?] is a better clue, and has the virtue of not referring to the toilet.

34A: _____ of color (riot)

I'm sorry, what? I could have worked on this answer from here to eternity and Never have guessed this. There are nearly 82K Google hits for this phrase, but yuck. [Zoot Suit pastime] works better for me. My ignorance of this answer made the West very thorny for me, despite the fact that when you look at the words over there, none of them is very troubling. My problems were made worse by my being unable to close the deal with IN---- at 24D: All together (intact). IN SYNC and IN STEP were making a lot more noise in my brain than INTACT was. Besides "RIOT of color," other answers I'd never heard of include:

  • 69A: Artful Dodger (Reese) [Oh, Criminy, I JUST got this - you jerky clue-writers! Pee Wee Reese = "artful" at the position of shortstop for baseball's Dodgers = ugh - and here I thought I was missing a Dickens clue, or a cleverly worded clue about Della or Witherspoon]
  • 52D: Monte _____ of Cooperstown (Irvin) - another baseball clue I didn't get, though at least this time I could tell that the frame of reference was, in fact, baseball. Other, hidden baseball answer in the puzzle: 30D: Steep-sided gulch (arroyo)

There were other answers that I knew, or knew of, but spaced on, such as 49D: One of the Castros (Raul) and 58D: Microscopic Dr. Seuss characters (Whos) and 60A: German honey (frau) - the last of which I spaced on because I thought they meant "honey" such as Pooh Bear is fond of.

Some potential Pantheoners make a strong showing here, including 39A: Jingle creator (adman) and 57D: Eyeball (ogle) and 13D: Hook hand (Smee).

I have to go prepare for work. I'll update the entry, with a few visuals, in the early afternoon. [I was wrong about this, sorry - by the time I had time to get back to this, it was time to do the next day's puzzle. My apologies]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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WEDNESDAY, Jan. 24, 2007 - Gary Steinmehl

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Solving time: 13:16

THEME: Desserts - all theme answers start with dessert names used in non-dessert contexts, e.g. 45A: Credit of a sort (brownie point)

This was not a good puzzle for me, as you can see my by Thursday- or Friday-like time. Did two Thursday puzzles (out of this book) just before I did this one, and both Thursdays were done in (much) better times than today's 13:16. What makes my slowness truly galling is that I know the answers - it's not like I got thrown by obscurity or ignorance. I got thrown by my inability to see the contours for the phrases - that is, to see where words in multiple-word answers began and ended. I was further thrown by my inability to see PIE as a name, let alone a dessert, despite the fact that not only do I know who PIE TRAYNOR (17A (THEME): Pittsburgh Hall-of-Fame third baseman) is - I can quote a "Simpsons" line with PIE TRAYNOR's name in it! I am currently cuing up "Homer at the Bat" (from Season Three) - nope, the quotation isn't there, though in that episode, PIE TRAYNOR is the third baseman on Mr. Burns's first proposed team of ringers for his Power Plant softball team. Hmmm, I'll try "Dancing Homer" (Season Two, when Homer briefly becomes the mascot for the minor league Springfield Isotopes) - I know the quotation is out there somewhere ... HA, YES! Stupid internet didn't have the quotation, but my beautiful, faithful DVDs and my ridiculous infinite patience have rewarded me with the quotation I was seeking! Homer is sad when Mr. Burns sits right next to him at the Power Plant-sponsored Family Night at the ballpark, figuring his good, beer-drinking time will be ruined. But then he and Burnsie start having fun, drinking, doing the wave, etc. Toward the end of the game, the Isotopes look certain to lose, and after watching a 'tope strike out (the second out of the ninth inning), Burns exclaims:

"Damnation! These banjos couldn't carry PIE TRAYNOR's glove!"


"Banjos," awesome. Burns's ridiculously old-timey speech gives me great pleasure. Now that I have confirmed that my memory is not totally faulty, on to the puzzle.

And back to PIE TRAYNOR. I can't tell you how long I stared at PIETR-YNOR and thought "PIETRO? Was there an Italian baseball player named PIETRO YNOR?" This was at the end of my solving experience, after I (supposedly) had the theme. Didn't see PIE. Instead, thinking it was some dumb-ass, made-up dessert like NAPOLEON (29A (THEME): The man from U.N.C.L.E. (Napoleon Solo)), I thought "PIETRA? PIETRI? PIETRO? Italian dessert?" I couldn't even see PIE, let alone PIE [space] TRAYNOR. All because _IDE_E CAMP (18D: With 53-Down, officer's helper) meant nothing to me. An officer is helped by a CAMP? RIDERE CAMP? SIDELE CAMP? Ugh. I don't even remember how I finally arrived at the correct AIDE DE CAMP. So, baseball and French, two things I know something about ... end up crushing my skull. FOYT (5D: Four-time Indy winner) always breaks me, too; I get the -OYT part, and then can never remember what the @#$#-ing consonant is. FOYT is a stupid, hick name. And the F-cross (5A: Easy mark, in cards (fish)) provided no help - not a term I've heard much, if at all.

30D: Infrequent: Abbr. (occ.)
32A: Turn-of-the-century year (DCC)

I had the final "C" of 32A, but not yet having AIDE DE CAMP - which provides the "D" in DCC - I couldn't decide what "year" the damned clue was talking about. Too vague a clue. Arbitrary, stupid clue. Worse, though, is OCC. I had O-C and just stared at it. When is OCC. used as an Abbr.? I know it's (probably ) short for "OCCasionally," but still, ick. I was starting to think that I'd spelled NAPOLEON wrong, and the first letter might be "A" ... that's how stupidly frustrated I got by this one square. Grrr.

9A: Pale hue (aqua)

I never think of AQUA as "pale," though I suppose it has legitimate claim to that designation. On the count of three, all crossworders everywhere will tell me the four-letter answer I instinctively entered here. One, two, three! ECRU! Is that word in the Pantheon, 'cause it should be. ECRU gave me the "E" in ELM (9D: Workable wood), though sadly the answer was not ELM but ASH. That whole NE corner might have been an utter disaster if TEN (23A: Perfect rating) hadn't bailed me out, giving me the terminal letter combination for the two five-letter Downs, 10D: "Indubitably!" ("Quite!") and 11D: Starving (unfed), both of which were very hard to see with just their final letters in place.

47D: Bewhiskered beast (walrus)
64A: _____ salad (tuna)
54A: California river named for a common sight in it (Eel)

With FISH and AQUA in the far north of the puzzle, these two southern hemisphere-dwellers continue our surprisingly deep nautical theme. We could even stretch it to include a first MATE (63A: Spouse) whose ship has SUNK (16A: Done for) off the coast of ELBA (38D: Site of a notable exile). The MATE ASKS (67A: Sets, as a price) for help via RADIO (65A: Dashboard feature), but in the end he is not SPARED (24A: Let go) from a briny death, and a ONE-WAY (49D: Arrow words) ticket to see PETER (48D: Fizzle out) at the Pearly Gates. Now that that little anecdote is over, I can tell you that I am from California, and I don't know that I ever saw a "river" in the state during my entire 12 years living there. Any "rivers" were usually (if not always) dry. River beds, not actual rivers. The fact that there are EELS anywhere in California comes as a total shock to me. As for ELBA, I like the tie-in with NAPOLEON at 29A. Nice.

Most of the rest of this puzzle was tractable. Liked seeing Rhoda's mom IDA (60D: TV's Mrs. Morgenstern) in the puzzle. Nancy Walker is perhaps best known, of course, as Rosie the waitress from the old "Quicker Picker Upper" Bounty commercials. Or is that the "You're soaking in it!" lady? No, "You're soaking in it" was from Palmolive ads featuring "Madge," played by actress Jan Miner. Commercials used to be so much better, somehow. Throw in Mr. Whipple here, and you have a holy trinity of 70's advertising.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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TUESDAY, Jan. 23, 2007 - Timothy Powell

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Solving time: 7:10

THEME: THE - compound words have "THE" inserted between their word-parts, and the new phrase is then clued, e.g. 17A: Supply weapons to a committee head? (arm the chair)

Ah yes, the always dynamic "THE." Really, all themes should involve shoving definite articles into weird places. I was not feeling this theme. In fact, honestly, I didn't get the theme, exactly, until I began typing this entry. The first theme entry I got was 11D (THEME): Criticize a bakery dessert? (pan the cake), which I thought was a play on CAKE PAN, not PANCAKE, and so I thought there was some compound word reversal going on, instead of the far less dynamic "THE" insertion. This may (partially) explain my first major problem solving the puzzle.

63A (THEME): Donate to Eve? (spare the rib)

If you are Adam, yes. Otherwise, no. The phrasing just was not intuitive at all. In fact, it's WEAK (30A: Wimpy). I was busy getting the crosses, hoping a phrase would come into view, but for some reason "THE" was not part of my thinking until very late. Didn't know a crucial Down cross, 50D: Tweed twitter Thomas (Nast). As of this second, I have No Idea what that clue means. I know NAST from Condé-NAST Travel; NAST is also something my sister and I would say about anything disgusting. My NAST knowledge ends there. NAST ran through my second major problem solving the puzzle.

54A: The "magic word" (please)

Yeah, it looks obvious, but I had just the "P" and immediately wrote in PRESTO, a word I finally ditched only after I saw that 55D: Start of the año nuevo was obviously ENERO, not ONERO. I AIN'T (49A: Isn't misused) too proud of this mistake, which resulted in my solving time's being NOT SO HOT (42D: Just O.K.). PLEASE intersected a host of answers I didn't know, not just NAST, but SAL (45D: Erie Canal mule) - still don't know what this means - and ARTIE (35D: Howard Stern sidekick Lange) - the only LANGE I know is LANA, and I don't think her last name has an "E" on the end. While we're in the middle of this puzzle, I would like to say how much I dislike the awkward clue 44A: Magi's origin, with "the" for EAST. If you're going to go the "with 'the'" route, the payoff better be good. Here, it is not. And the third and final stumbling block in today's solve...

31D: Grand _____ (wine designation) (cru)

Not only haven't heard of it (or maybe heard of it, then forgot it somewhere in time), but took far too long to get the "C" - the cross is 31A: Purchase for a beer blast and the only word I could come up with was KEG, and even after I was staring at _ASE, I hesitated many seconds before coming up with the rather banal "C" for CASE. Oh, and I had CRA instead of CRU because I misread the tense of the across clue, 41A: Be delayed, and so had RAN LATE instead of RUN LATE. (Side note: I am already running late this morning)

There were a few other tricky parts of the grid. 59D: Algerian city (Oran) is always tough for me, as I routinely get ORAN and OMAN and ADEN and AMMAN and other Middle Eastern (or Middle-Eastern-sounding) places confused. Speaking of the Middle East, If I hadn't had AQABA (52D: Jordanian port) in a puzzle just last night, I would have taken considerably longer in the SW, since, when you see "Jordan" in the clue, and you have an answer that's five letters, starting with "A," you want AMMAN (if you want anything). Clue from last night said that AQABA was in fact Jordan's only port. Good to know (it's on the Gulf of AQABA, by the way, which is also good to know, and easy to remember). Also had OSKAR (46A: Heroic Schindler) in a puzzle last night (or was it in a recent NYT? I forget), which was lucky, as I don't think I'd known or even thought about the "K" spelling before then. SWAMI (1A: Hindu master) makes me think that there should be an entire subsection of the Pantheon reserved just for Eastern Spiritual Leaders: SWAMI, IMAM, LAMA, GURU. I think that the only reason anyone outside of North Carolina knows about ELON (28D: North Carolina University) is because it appears in crosswords, making it very promising Pantheon material. Speaking of Universities, I start teaching again at one today - and despite the fact that there has been considerable grade inflation nationwide since the time that I graduated from my ALMA (3D: _____ mater) mater, I can assure you that no one in any of my courses gets an EASY A (24D: Expected grade in a gut course). Had never heard of the phrase "gut course" until just now. Thought it might have something to do with biology or anatomy. Something about the ERRATA (10D: Printing after a printing) / TRACTOR (21A: Deere product) crossing is making me happy. Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the venerable Pablo CASALS (22D: Cellist Pablo). Jackie Kennedy once invited him to play at the White House. Whereas I think the last people invited to play this century's White House were probably ... oh, let's say, Brooks & Dunn.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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See the job, be the job

I am about to do the puzzle, this second, 8:21 a.m. EST, but I wanted to write this little note to send good vibes out into the universe for my wife, Sandy, who has a day-long interview for a new job today. So starting at 9 a.m., you are all required to visualize my wife impressing the hell out of the search committee (you can decide what that looks like). Not that she needs your help - I just thought it would be a nice gesture. I'm bragging about my wife now, instead of after the committee makes its decision, because, frankly, the committee's decision has zero to do with my wife's worth, which is immeasurable. I mean, she can knit, bake scones, do puzzles, manage the emotional and intellectual lives of about a dozen over-extended and mildly insane high-school seniors, raise a beautiful daughter, and (once the karate really begins to kick in) kick my ass. Plus, she is smoking hot. Good luck, honey. And remember: Wax on, Wax off! And sweep the leg!

RP

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MONDAY, Jan. 22, 2007 - C. W. Stewart

Monday, January 22, 2007

Solving time: 4:31

THEME: Road Signs - six theme answers are phrases commonly found on road signs, e.g. 17A: Road sign #1 (Lane Closed), and all of them are tied together by 72A: Whom you might see in your rearview mirror if you ignore the above signs (cop) [WHOM! Hurray for grammar!]

Always good to get in under five minutes on a Monday. It's been a while. This puzzle was easier than most themed puzzles because once you figured out that the theme answers were indeed just phrases on road signs, with no particular logic or wordplay or trickiness involved, you could fill them in pretty quickly with very few crosses. How many such phrases are there? (I did have NO PASSING for NO PARKING, but only for about 8 seconds). There are a few odd-looking or otherwise remarkable entries on the grid, but the puzzle was not MADE WORSE (10D: Degraded) by them, and I never, not once, felt compelled to GNASH (27D: Grind, as teeth) my teeth. Speaking of "Grind," Andrew just sent me a link to the trailer for the upcoming double-feature Grindhouse, featuring sexploitation films by both Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. I'm a little afraid, and a little excited to see this/these. Not for the very squeamish or the sense-of-humor-free.

Before I have at the puzzle, a brief thank-you to "painquale" (whoever you are) for the nice plug - and generally thoughtful writing about solving crosswords - at MetaFilter.com yesterday. I am most grateful for the kind words (and the link - free advertising!).

1A: Poppycock (rot)

A case where the clue is far, far more dated than the answer, which is itself dated. When was the last time anyone used "Poppycock" in anything but an intentionally ironic or prehistoric fashion? Here's something interesting, followed by something gross: WorldWideWords (fascinating if painfully thorough site on words and their origins) tells me that the word is actually American in origin (though it sounds British to most ears) and that it comes from "the Dutch word pappekak for soft faeces." I like the way the British spell FAECES, as the "A" somehow allows me to pretend that I am dealing merely with a typo of FACES.

13A: Daredevil Knievel (Evel)

Ever since I finalized the Pantheon list for this year (see sidebar), I have been reminded almost every day of the long list of worthy candidates who were excluded or (in the case of Mr. EVEL) not even duly considered. Remarkably useful letter combination that NO one else can get you. You can't reclue EVEL. You go through Knievel or you don't get there. Other worthy, excluded candidates here include ELENA (20A: Actress Verdugo of "Marcus Welby, M.D.) - I love the implicit notion that mentioning "Marcus Welby" somehow demystifies things for me - LAMA (16A: Himalayan priest), ELENA's cousin LENA (14D: Horne of "The Lady and Her Music") and EROSE (52D: Jagged, as a leaf's edge), the last of which is not terribly common; but when it does crawl out into the light, it does so almost exclusively in the context of crossword grids.

Despite a pretty high frequency of ordinary-to-downright-tired fill, this grid still manages to sparkle in places. Robert E. Lee is a crossword stalwart, but I always like seeing him in the grid as RELEE (1D: Gen. in the confederacy), because the RE- looks like a prefix, making the whole entry look like some kind of bygone nautical term. It's rare to find a word or expression I've never heard of in a Monday puzzle, but I will admit to having never heard of OLD SOD (8D: Fatherland, affectionately) before today. Sounds like something you'd call a senior citizen, non-affectionately. Would have preferred [Annoy the hell out of urban pedestrians in the 1970s] as a clue for PANTOMIME (33D: Show silently), but this clue has a certain terseness that I admire. DRYADS (54A: Wood nymphs, in myth) is always nice fill - would have been nicer if I had gotten it right away instead of entering NAIADS, which are sea nymphs, you idiot. I'm wondering why "in myth" is appended to "Wood nymphs"... where else am I going to find wood nymphs? Yosemite? and would those wood nymphs go by a different name? RANGY (12D: Slender and long-limbed) is giving me weird vibes this morning. Took a while to come to me last night (when I solved this puzzle) and now it barely looks like a word, for some reason - it looks like TANGY, but does not rhyme with TANGY. Seems wrong. Lastly, since I'm starting teaching again tomorrow, and one of the courses I am teaching is entitled "Comics," I will close by mentioning that "The GOON" (36D: Thug) is a very entertaining horror/comedy comic - a now much-abused genre that is not easy to do well. Eric Powell's art is spectacular, and the title character looks like a cross between a Depression-era strike-breaker and Frankenstein's monster - the best of both worlds. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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