Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Solving time: untimed, but fast (on paper)
THEME: The sound of "TIE" - three long theme answers all begin with homonyms:
20A: Establishment with spicy sauces (Thai restaurant)
36A: Martial art (Tai Chi Chuan)
54A: Finish the job (tie up loose ends)
Not an astonishing theme, but a fun one nonetheless. I've been practicing TAI CHI CHUAN for years, so that was a nice long gimme. I like Gorski puzzles; they are almost always elegant, with no straining for effect, and very little forced fill. All esoteric fill in this one had reasonably gettable crosses - with one exception, and it is not only the top issue in today's commentary, but the subject of my newest crossword crusade:
Never has a show that ran for such a short period of time, that was cancelled so long ago, that sucked so hard, gotten so much attention. You might say, "But Rex, I can remember only one other reference to 'Ally McBeal' in recent months." I say, "Yes, two references - two too many." Calista Flockhart, while I'm sure she's a nice person and all (married to Harrison Ford, by the way), represents everything that was horrible about the late 90's, and everything hateful about TV in general. Superficial self-indulgence masquerading as avant-garde entertainment. Stunt TV ("I know, let's take our semi-popular hour-long show and re-air it that same week in a bite-size half-hour format!"; computer animation sight gags; and that dancing baby, dear god I didn't even watch "Ally McBeal" and that baby haunts me for days after any time I see it or hear a reference to it). "Ally McBeal" was pretty much the death knell of feminism, too; or, rather, clear evidence that feminism had been bought out by Disney, which had decided to retool feminism in order to make her more consumer-friendly, more emaciated. "We'll let you have a high-powered job, just like the guys! In exchange, you agree to look more f@#!able, and don't bring up issues of gender inequality ever again except in that cute, idealistic way you sometimes do before we pat you on the head and / or ass and send you dismissively back to your desk. OK?" "Ally McBeal" represents the apotheosis of the "empowerful" woman, and is directly responsible for causing a generation of young women to idolize not women of substance or genuine courage, but those hateful, superficial @#$@#s from "Sex and the City." "Ally McBeal" was a terrible show built around an insufferable character who managed to set both progressive politics AND good television back about a generation by convincing a handful of people who should have known better that it was something special. Further, both of the "Ally McBeal" clues in recent months have referenced secondary, if not tertiary characters! The assumption that I or any right-thinking person was So tuned in to that show that we would remember characters such as NELLE (65A: "Ally McBeal" role) or RENEE (from Dec. 15 puzzle) is insulting. When I said "let us never speak of this show again," I wasn't f#$#ing kidding!
My reaction today might not have been quite as extreme if NELLE hadn't intersected 56D: City south of Moscow (Orel) at the "L" - and while the answer was inferrable (what other letter could go there?) I get a little peevish when my ignorances cross.
By the way: Harper Lee's given first name: NELLE. Good to know.
19A: Sufficient, once (enow) - I do love the Olde Tyme spelling
23A: Brazilian-born bandleader Mendes (Sergio) - is this the same guy who had a minor hit in 1983 with "Never Gonna Let You Go"? Yes! Damn, that's some good remembering. Summer camp '83. Other significant pop culture event of that year (well, the previous year, actually) - the launching of USA Today. Why oh why do I remember that - because for some reason I remember seeing some dork at summer camp that year wearing a "USA Today" baseball cap (!?) and thinking, even then, "Why would you do that? That's not even a real paper."
27A: Table scrap (ort) - I just love this word. Should be in the Pantheon. I learned this word from crosswords. I defy you to find it used, unironically, outside of crosswords in the past quarter century.
31A: Romanian composer Georges (Enesco) - I was able to get this from -CO, but I don't know why. I'm going to have to check into this guy's music. His name is interesting in that it is just one letter different from the fairly common UNESCO, and only two letters off from one of the first authors I ever read in French, Eugène IONESCO.
9D: Powdered wig (peruke) - I sort of knew this, as I believe it is related to the French word for wig (perruque), which is still stored in my brain somewhere. Still, it looks weird, especially the more you stare at it, and definitely stands out as among the trickier bits of fill in today's puzzle.
21D: Perfumer Nina (Ricci) - I'm more familiar with Christina RICCI of Addams Family and The Ice Storm fame. "Perfumer" is an odd-sounding title. I mean, she doesn't actually go around perfuming thing / people ... does she? I can see from Google that "perfumer" is preferred by a huge margin to "perfumist," and yet I prefer the latter, so please accommodate my preference in the future. Thank you. Oh, and you should read Perfume by Patrick Suskind, if you haven't already. It's unbelievably great - and short. Read it today on your lunch break. Do it!
46A: Rapper Lil' _____ (Kim) - someone in yesterday's comments wondered aloud whether George Michael was in or out of jail, and I am currently wondering the same thing about Lil' KIM. I feel like she broke some law ... ah yes, I am correct; from Wikipedia:
On March 17, 2005, Kim was found guilty of conspiracy and perjury for lying to a grand jury about her friends' involvement in a 2001 shooting outside the Hot 97 studios in Manhattan — involving the entourage of rap duo Capone-N-Noreaga and her reported fellow Brooklynite rival Foxy Brown. She claimed not to have known that her manager (Damion Butler), and another friend (Suif “Gutta” Jackson) were at the scene, despite video footage showing all three exiting the building. Both men have pleaded guilty to gun charges since. In July 2005, she was sentenced to a one-year-and-a-day in the Philadelphia Detention Center. She had requested to go to a camp center in Connecticut to be closer to her mother, but instead was ordered to report to the Philadelphia Detention Center. Many people were outraged over this stern sentence because Martha Stewart, who was also convicted of perjury during the same time period, was only sentenced to 5 months in a small women's camp in Alderson, West Virginia.In the mid-90's, Lil' KIM was discovered and promoted by Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G., a hip-hop icon fatally shot in 1997, in case you didn't know.
29D: Phil who sang "Jim Dean of Indiana" (Ochs) - know him only from crosswords, where he shows up not infrequently.
53D: Swiss miss (Heidi) - HEIDI's name is easy; her creator's name, SPYRI, is not. Remember it, as it will show up in your puzzle eventually.
58A: Sundance Kid's lady (Etta) - near-Pantheon material, but I always botch it, thinking it's more oddly spelled than it really is (ETNA ... ESTA ... EMRE ...?)
I have never heard the term TAX BITES (36D: They're felt in mid-April). I had TAX TIMES in there for a little bit. Google says "TAX BITE" is a legitimate phrase, so fine. I hope that our TAX BITE this year is not SO BIG (4D: Pulitzer-winning Ferber title) that we cannot afford to go on our semi-planned cross-country road trip to MN/WI this year. Oh, yeah, Shaun, if you're reading this, maybe I should have told you first before announcing it to the world - you might have house guests in August.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld