Saturday, March 31, 2007
My fifth and final installment of "The Stamford Experience" is up at my other blog. That is all. Good night.
My fifth and final installment of "The Stamford Experience" is up at my other blog. That is all. Good night.
Solving time: I won't be posting my times any more...
THEME: 7D: With 27-Down and others like 10-Across and others (CONTINUED ON THE NEXT / LINE) - 10 answers run off the end of the puzzle and continue on the next line
I should not attempt to do irregular puzzles like this late at night, especially after consuming an entire bag of chips and something like a pound of guacamole. And a beer. I returned home from a screening of Orson Welles's Lady from Shanghai (during which I almost fell asleep despite the movie's goodness), and sort of poked at the puzzle for a while before finally settling down in bed and tackling the puzzle in earnest. I can't say the experience was terribly enjoyable, though I was briefly happy to finally "get" what the hell was going on. The trick (which I've seen before, and should have picked up more quickly) involved a seemingly normal Across clue that was followed by another Across clue that was simply a dash: "-". I think I last saw this cluing strategy in the Giant "H" puzzle a few months back, where answers traversed the black space formed by a Giant "H" in the middle of the puzzle grid. Anyhoo...
The "continued" answers include:
Part 4 of my Stamford recap is up.
Solving time: as a rule, I do not rush a Quarfoot puzzle
THEME: Republicans of the late 20th century (or, none)
Orange emailed me late last night, as I was writing my seemingly eternal Stamford recap, and assured me that I would like today's NYT puzzle, and she was not wrong. It went immediately into the "Best of 2007" folder I keep on my desktop. One of the shocking things about going to Stamford is meeting all the constructors you admire and finding out that many of them are, in fact, children. OK, so Quarfoot's probably in his mid-20's, but still, he has no business being that young when his puzzles are so damned good. The rule is: if you are great, you must be old and woolly and out of shape so that I have some way to compare myself favorably to you. None of this young, cool, athletic crap. After having Quarfoot pointed out to me at Stamford, I finally went over to introduce myself and he was very friendly and I turned to introduce myself to whoever it was he was with ... and it was Mike Nothnagel, who is another of my favorite NYT Friday/Saturday constructors. Too much young talent in one place. And nice too. Seriously. It was sickening. Oh, and add Patrick Blindauer to the list of baby-faced talent. Also a really nice guy. Anyway, on to today's fantastic puzzle.
26A: "Miracle on 34th Street" director (Seaton)
27D: Greek sea god (Nereus)
How in the world did I, I of all people, end up stumbling on @#$#-ing [Greek sea god]. Had the "E" in the second position and started writing NEPTUNE only to find that it didn't fit. So I thought "Well, OK, what's his Greek name ... uh ... o my god what is it!?" It was only after I got all the vowels and the "S" that I had a vague idea. Now that it's sitting there, yes, I know (of) it. You don't see NEREUS the way you see APHRODITE or ATHENA or ARES. At least I don't. The intersecting answer SEATON was flat-out unknown to me. Again, I don't know how that's possible. Saw the title and thought "Capra?" No.
1A: With 60-Across, much-heard sound bite of 1988 ("Read my lips / no new taxes!")
First "sound bite of 1988" that came to mind? WHERE'S THE BEEF?! But that was from the 1984 campaign, though, not 1988. Didn't Mondale say it about Gary Hart? Ah, Gary Hart. Donna Rice. "Monkey Business." Sometimes I miss 80's politics. All seems so innocent now. Donna Rice really really needs to be in a puzzle. She and Fawn Hall. But back to the actual answer, which is GREAT, and has perfect rotational symmetry to boot. Gorgeous. This grid is heavily laden with notable Republicans, both in the clues and the answers. First, we have George H.W. Bush with READ MY LIPS, NO NEW TAXES, followed by
2D: "With Reagan" memoir writer (Ed Meese)
30D: Dole's successor in the Senate (Lott)
46A: Org. established by Nixon (EPA)
Three presidents, a presidential candidate / senator, another senator, and an attorney general. All Republicans. I'm surprised these guys agreed to share space with YOKO ONO (38D: "Starpeace" performer).
11A: "The Human Stain" novelist (Roth)
16A: Emperor for only three months (Otho)
12D: It was first performed at Whitehall Palace in 1604 (Othello)
As a lisping solver would say, OTH-ome! ROTH was a gimme and the first entry in the grid. OTHO is a mythical creature as far as I'm concerned, but I'd seen his name before and figured there were too many OTTOs for the answer to simply be OTTO. So, OTHO. OTHELLO was in yesterday's puzzle, which is weirdly coincidental. Nobody ever answered my question about whether the game OTHELLO had a racial component, i.e. are the pieces black and white to signify miscegenation? Inquiring game-players need to know.
My third installment of "The Stamford Experience" is up - it goes through the first round of puzzles on Saturday (Puzzles 1-3).
ANYONE CAN COMMENT - NO PASSWORD REQUIRED (I fixed the settings)
All the best
Solving time: low 7's
THEME: anagrammatic phrases - 5 theme answers are each made up of three 5-letter words that are anagrams of one another:
17A: Harvests more Anjous than needed? (reaps spare pears)
23A: Judges the crying of comic Johnson? (rates Arte's tears)
39A: Imposing look from an angry king? (large regal glare)
51A: Tiny parasites spring from a Los Angeles newspaper (Times emits mites) - I like how the New York Times wants to make it clear that it's the LOS ANGELES Times that has the infestation...
63A: Freshest stories? (least stale tales)
I had some dumb, dumb mistakes sitting in this grid for a while, including PARES SPARE PEARS - I think my mind came up with the anagram quickly and so I failed to re-consult the clue to see if it made any sense (answer: no). I also wrote the correct YAP for 46A: Kisser, but when I couldn't get 48D: Pair of nappies? to work starting with a "P" I somehow misremembered the clue for YAP as something having to do with talking, and changed the "P" to a "K," giving me YAK. This gave me K--- for the "nappies" clue, which didn't work either. Eventually I rooted out the errant "K" and put back the "P" - giving me PEES for the [Pair of nappies?] clue. (Side Note: the recent clue [Third of September] (pee) sent hundreds of people Googling their way to my site, even after they had the answer right, just to figure out what the @#$ it meant). Lastly, as far as stumbles go, I confused one WWII-era answer with another, writing in ETO (European Theater of Operation) when what I wanted was of course EDO (60A: Old Tokyo). Now maybe you're thinking "But Rex, the EDO period ended in 1867 - it's not WWII-related at all." Yes, but Japan is, so in my American brain ... it's all good. Eventually I figured out that ETO was wrong because ITEAL just made no sense for 52D: Old toy company that made Rubik's Cube (Ideal).
1A: Watermelon rind, e.g. (waste)
6A: X-X-X part (tac)
9A: Development units (homes)
The first three across answers, right along the top edge of the puzzle. What did I have? TRASH / TAC / PLOTS. One out of three ain't bad. Oh wait, yes it is. Was unsure of the "A" in TAC because it could have been TIC (hell, it could have been TOE, I suppose), and I was getting Nothing for the Down cross 7D: Culturally advanced (avant). I have never heard AVANT used in English in any way except in the phrase avant-garde. There's also the French phrase occasionally heard in English, avant la lettre. But AVANT on its own? No, not in my world. HOMES is an OK answer for the 9A clue, but as you all know, I am still waiting for the day when it receives its perfect clue, [Great Lakes mnemonic].
15A: Ex of Artie and Frank (Ava)
A gimme. She is crossword gold. I have to stand up for her, though, and say that I'm a bit tired of her being clued by reference to how many men she's been with / married. She gets clued in reference to multiple men more than any actress I know. Maybe if Elizabeth Taylor showed up in the puzzle more, Ava would have some competition. It just seems mildly disrespectful that she gets more credit for the guys she slept with than for the many movies she starred in - like The Killers. That's a great movie. Try that next time.
20A: Coastal flier (erne) - CAW!
21A: Quart halves: Sp. (pintas) - educated guess! So Columbus's ships were named "The Little Girl," "The Saint Mary," and .... "The Pint?" Was it very tiny? Or was it like a floating pub?
27A: Long or short measure (ton) - totally stumbled on this one. I don't know my tons. As far as I know, a ton is 2000 lbs. That, apparently, is the "short ton" - the U.S. ton. The "long ton" was a British Imperial unit of measurement equal to 2240 lbs. Except for its use in the shipping industry, it has been replaced in Britain by the metric tonne - 1000 kg. For all your ton info needs, go here.
43A: Hawaiian coastal area (Kona)
38D: Fragrant necklace (lei) - Hawaii. Reminds me of my family's trip to Hawaii two years ago. Next family trip: Cancun! In Nine Days! It just occurred to me ... how will I blog from a beach in Mexico? I think the answer to that question is: Yes, I will have another margarita, thank you.
61A: Bum (heinie) - gross. I have nothing against asses, but that word just rubs me the wrong way. I really, really wanted the answer to be some version of HOBO, and with the "H" in place, believe me, I was trying desperately to make it happen.
6D: Swinelike animal (tapir) - got this fast, off just the "T" - he will make a nice addition to my crossword zoo (which currently includes OKAPI, ONAGER, MARTEN, ELAND, ORIBI, TIGON, and LIGER. Oh, and of course, their fearless leader, ERNE).
58D: Modern pentathlon gear (epées)
68A: _____ fixes (obsessions) (idées)
Intersecting French feminine plurals! Hot. These answers joins PEES, TEPEES (4D: Conical abodes), and LESSEE (41D: Time-sharer, e.g.) in a Double-E Extravaganza (which sounds like a bra sale for plus-sized women ... but isn't).
29D: 1972 Nixon host (Mao)
30D: Ash holder (urn) - I had some eye-skip problem over here in the west for a second and I honestly, though very briefly, thought that the answer to [Nixon host] was URN. Me: "Was he cremated?" Me again: "That's a pretty cruel way to refer to a dead president."
47D: Kutcher of "Punk'd" (Ashton)
69A: Either actress twin on "Full House" (Olsen)
What kind of pop culture hell are you trying to create down here in the SW corner? And ew, gross, these answers intersect. Get a room!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS I'm tempted to let ENOL (25D: Hydroxyl compound) into the Pantheon, as I've seen it many times in crosswords and Nowhere else. I don't really like it, though, so maybe I'll discriminate against it based on its ugliness - it'll be just like belonging to a sorority! "Sorry, ENOL, you're smart and nice and all, but you're kinda pudgy and your clothes are totally 1995. See ya."
The second installment of my Stamford Tournament recap is now up at my other blog, for those of you who care.
Solving time: 5:29
THEME: Public Transportation PSA - four theme answers are all highway warning signs that are likely to force you to slow down - e.g. 17A: First sign of a highway headache (Road Work Ahead) - and then 66A suggests that there is an "alternative to avoid the headaches" of those signs. That alternative?: the TRAIN.
[updated, 2pm - see green print, below]
I'm back on track with today's puzzle, which seemed quite a bit easier than yesterday's to me. No strange words or phrases in this one at all. I actually went slower than normal because I was aware on Monday of making a ton of general typing and grid navigation errors. I do not have mad keyboard skillz yet. Not at all. So I was methodical, and it worked out. I've seen road sign themes before in puzzles, but this one has the nice twist, with the public transportation alternative to driving showing up in the far SE (where theme keys and twists often show up - like a little afterthought). A little too much crosswordese in the grid (e.g. ALAI, IGOR, DELE, EKED, ARIA, AMOR), but the main attractions here are the fairly colorful theme answers, so OK. There is some non-theme fill of note, including 26D: Deli pancake (latke) and 30D: Battleship blast (salvo). If I ever wanted to start a food fight in a deli, I would start with a LATKE SALVO for sure. I can barely look at the word DELI right now, though ... it is a treacherous, evil little word for what it did to me this past weekend. . . let's just say it took another, nicer little word and gagged it, bound it, shoved it in a basement, and then assumed its identity. And I bought the impersonation hook, line, and sinker.
1A: Mammoth (giant) - I entered GREAT - a mistake, but one that still allowed me to guess (correctly) 1D: Encircled (girt). Sometimes mistakes are felicitous. This happened at least once to me this past weekend during the Tournament. I guessed an entire theme off of an answer that turned out to be flat-out wrong. Dumb, dumb luck. The other initial wrong answer I had in the grid - I somehow thought that Eisenhower went to BAMA instead of the US Military Academy. - 16A: Ike's alma mater: Abbr. (USMA)
25D: Prince Andrew's ex (Fergie)
32D: TV word before and after "or no" ("Deal")
Pop Culture from the 80s and today. Actually, we could reclue FERGIE in a contemporary fashion - how about [Vocalist on "My Humps"] or [She sang about her "lovely lady lumps"]. Half of you know what I'm talking about, and the other half are puzzled, horrified, or both.
33A: Nasser was its pres. (UAR) - United ... Arab ... Republic? Yes! I'm right. Man, this country barely ever existed. 1958-1961!
48A: Nashville sch. (TSU) - total guess. Had the "S," knew Nashville was in TN, did the math.
21A: U.K. heads (PMs) - a far more decorous clue than the one I would have used
Oh yes. There is an iconic NZ comedian whose alter ego is/was "Fred Dag." His theme song was "where would you be without your gumboots." Most Kiwis my age could sing that to you.13D: Entertainer Max or Max, Jr. (Baer) - BOHR, LAHR, BAER ... all prominent crossword names whose spellings I will botch no matter what.
Using the word in a sentence: You would say "he's a real dag," or, when referring to a funny incident or person, "what a dag."
Other meanings/useage: to rattle your dags = get a move along (comes from the original meaning of the word, which is the dried poop on the rear end of sheep, which will indeed rattle as sheep move across the paddock).]
I have posted Part 1 of my tournament write-up, "The Stamford Experience," over at my other blog (which has no clear theme or purpose yet, actually) - this is to keep from spoiling the puzzles for readers of this blog who haven't done them yet. Most of what I write isn't about the puzzles themselves, but still, I wanted to keep the write-up in a separate place from my daily Times write-ups. I have So Much to say that it's going to take me several days to get it all down. So, you can read Part 1 now, and Parts 2 and later as they become available. I think there will probably end up being something like five parts.
[updated 5:15 pm]
Solving time: unknown (Sat), unknown (Sun), 6:27 (Mon, ugh)
Saturday, Mar. 24: none
Sunday, Mar. 25: "OOH!" - theme answers have familiar phrases ending in "OOH" sound, where "OOH!" word is respelled to a homonym and then clued, e.g. 122A: Sitting Bull being evasive? (Run-Around Sioux)
Monday, Mar. 26: Fauna - three theme answers have the words CREATURE, BEAST, and ANIMAL in them, respectively
Snap shots of each puzzle:
SATURDAY, MAR. 24
This puzzle, particularly its upper half, was harder than anything I encountered all weekend during the ACPT. Maybe my feeble attempts to solve it on Saturday morning - I didn't stick it out; too distracted by anticipation stress - were part of the reason that I was so off my game for Puzzle 1 on Saturday (one of two puzzles wherein I had a mistake, from what I can gather from my scores). At any rate, Rich Norris's puzzle was brutal. I think I rode in the elevator with him at least once this past weekend. FYI.
58A: Drink mentioned in Rupert Holmes's song "Escape" (pina colada) - if you're like me (and god help you if you are, really) you were as grateful as a potential drowning victim being thrown a life preserver when you got to this clue, one of the puzzle's few true gimmes. I read the clues for the entire first half of the grid and got nothing. Finally I scanned around for SOMETHING I knew, and this was it. Thus the SE corner was the first thing to fall, and my pre-competition morning was not a completely demoralizing disaster. I was also aided significantly in the completion of this puzzle by another fairly obvious alcohol-containing clue: 39A: Some come with twists (martinis) - though I was in such highly-wound tournament mode that my first thought was GANGSTERS (you have to go way down the list of "twist" meanings to make that one make sense).
56D: "_____-in His Lamp" (Bugs Bunny classic) ("A Lad") - Another clue I was very happy to see. Not a total gimme, but close. Didn't know it, but it was inferrable.
32A: Fedora feature (snap brim) - I, ridiculously, entered WIDE BRIM, but that BRIM part really helped me out, so sometimes wrong answers aren't all bad. As long as they're temporary, I guess.
15A: "Pretty fishy, if you ask me" ("I smell a rat") - If your fish smells like rat, I would advise that you not eat it and call the Health Code people immediately. This answer came to me out of nowhere, when I had absolutely nothing in the NW. It didn't help much at first, but the little traction it did give ended up being enough. The most brutal Down cross for me up here was 8D: They're pressed into service (iron-ons). I had IRONERS, and then the fabulously made-up IRONORS. I briefly considered IRON ORE before realizing that the stupid shade of green they wanted at 28A: Shade of green was NILE, putting the "N" where I had had an "R" and giving me a nice, belated, somewhat deflated little "aha" moment.
30A: The Rams of the Atlantic 10 Conf. (URI) - that's University of Rhode Island. They are occasionally in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, but not this year. Not even the NIT for them this year. Did I mention that there was NCAA Women's Basketball action (I think that's what it was) in Stamford at the same time as the ACPT, and so the hotel workers had little referee uniforms on? I thought they were dressed up for us. But no.
21A: Group that included the L.A. Express (USFL) - awesomely dated football reference. I remember this league Very Clearly. The Boston team had some kind of sine wave on its helmet. The Breakers, maybe? Anyway, this league lasted about as long as the much later, much goofier football spinoff, the XFL. Has HE HATE ME been a puzzle answer? Best Jersey Name Ever.
48A: Shakespearean title (thane)
33D: _____ B'rith (B'nai)
49D: Hanger? (noose)
55A: Black on the screen (Karen)
These answers all have something in common. Only tournament attendees will know what it is. I will tell you all later.
Please stand by for a report on the 30th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which just finished up this afternoon at the Marriott in Stamford, CT. I still need to find out whether it is kosher (or "Unkosher" - which was a clue I ran into this weekend - or did it run into me?) to discuss Tournament puzzles, and how much. If I do so, I will probably do so on my other blog (linked from this site), so that people who come to this blog and do NOT want to know about the puzzles (because they plan on solving them themselves) can avoid my discussion.
So, stand by. My Stamford write-up is forthcoming. Lots to say.
Also, I apologize for promising and not delivering blog entries this weekend. I will make up for it with a super-sized entry tonight - Saturday, Sunday, and Monday puzzles, all in one blog entry!
Talk to you soon,
Solving time: too long
THEME: long answers that eluded me for ridiculous amounts of time (or, none)
Running out the door, almost literally, so Mr. N's amazing puzzle gets short shrift. I had to cancel my dermatologist's appt because I have so much ticky tacky organizational crap to deal with before I hit the road in the early afternoon. So ... I hope that funny looking mole doesn't mutate over the weekend (I'm Kidding ... I have no such mole, though my dad did once, and it was malignant ... he's OK now ... but you see why I have to get checked ... and I'm telling you this why?)
Sahra really wanted to see "the big puzzles" from the final round of the tournament, so I showed her the very end of Wordplay this morning before school. She was very interested in who would win - "looks like Trip's winning!" - and was Especially curious about Al's empty boxes fiasco at the end (in case you haven't seen it, guy who finishes first doesn't double-check his grid and leaves two squares blank, squandering a sure victory). It was so weird to be able to say to her "I'm going to be in that room tomorrow." She keeps saying "I hope you win" despite my many assurances to her that I will not. Her mom: "It's like karate ... you just do your best." Sahra, to me: "... but what if you win?" Me: "That's not going to happen, honey. Maybe someday, but not now." Sahra: "Oh ... I hope you win." Etc. She looked all over the house today for a good luck charm, and somehow decided on a feather she found on the street many months ago, I think. It's awfully beat-up, but I'll be damned if I'm going to spurn Any good luck charm handed to me by a beautiful, earnest six-year-old girl. So I'll be the one with the ratty gray feather. And possibly my squishy Krusty the Klown toy. No crossword clothing of any kind - though I do have this weird desire to try to get Will Shortz to sign my Partridge Family "Crossword Puzzle" album. Maybe another year.
1A: Moguls on a ski run (bumps) - damn it, I was thinking it was a trick question, with a different meaning of "moguls," but no. Just BUMPS. Why even have "on a ski run" there???
6A: Gimcrack (whim wham) - words that went through my mind: HOOHA, THINGAMAJIG, BAUBLE, TRINKET, and such and such. Never heard of WHIM WHAM, but it's a nice phrase (it's not one word, is it?)
20A: Vikings, e.g. (NFC team) - this is a great answer, because you start out thinking Norsemen, and then you get football, but of course your first answer is NFL TEAM, which thus prevents you from seeing the very long 21D: "Enough joking around!" ("Can the comedy!") for a while because instead of a "C" you've got an "L" in the first position. A beautifully orchestrated little trap.
26A: _____ -humanité (lèse) - Yesterday it was ETAT clued via "Homme d'_____" instead of "Coup d'_____" and now its LESE clued via "-humanité" instead of "-majesté." Good example of how nutso cluing often hides a very common, or at least familiar, answer.
23A: Stoker of literature (Bram) - Gimme! Another Dracula-related answer (see yesterday's VLAD). Still, I would have liked to see an answer here where "Stoker" meant "one who stokes." Any good "stokers of literature" you can think of?
31A: Really succeeds (goes to the top) - Waterloo! I had GOES TO THE -O- and could not think of a thing, which from where I'm sitting right now seems Impossible. But it's true. Without the "P" here, LIPREAD (26D: Not hear a single word?) remained impossible for me to see for very long. That LIPREAD clue is great, by the way.
34A: Spans (stretches across) - as in "This answer STRETCHES ACROSS the entire grid," which it does, right ACROSS the middle. Clever.
44A: _____ Galerie (Manhattan art museum) (Neue) - One of maybe five words I know in German. DANKE, NEIN, EINE, HAUS ... and I'm done.
45A: Christmas entree (goose) - I've only ever seen this in Dickens's A Christmas Carol, but nonetheless I guessed correctly, and this answer saved me when the bottom half of the puzzle was a vast wasteland.
47A: Means (of) (dint) - "Oh no you DINT!"
49A: Hoydens (tomboys) - @#$#-ing awesome word, and I'm so proud of myself that the synonym TOMBOYS came to me almost instantly. For other things you might not want to call a woman, see 3D: Femme fatale (man-eater): "Watch out boy / She'll chew you up." Man, I am so playing that song right Now on my iTunes.
52A: Sweet wine (muscatel)
24D: Light, white wine (moselle) - wine names routinely kill me (see the recent RETSINA!) and these two ... their horrid little twins. MOSELLE is the evil twin, in that I Really didn't know that one, whereas I'd heard of MUSCATEL from the song "Red, Red Wine" by The Replacements (not the Neil Diamond / UB40 song, but a much harder rock song). Paul Westerberg shouts about lots of different kinds of alcohol in that one.
54A: Pitcher Don of 1950's-60's Cubs (Elston) - New to me.
58A: "Acoustic guitar" or "push lawn mower" (retronym) - hot hot HOT. Best answer in the grid. I struggled over it for a while, and the struggle was worth it. Word "retro" shows up in another clue, though - 1D: Some retro chairs (bean bags) - is that legal? Usually grid and clues don't share words.
5D: Priory of ____, group in "The Da Vinci Code" (Sion) - probably a gimme for half of America, but not for me. I've avoided this book like the plague that it is.
9D: Teacher, in dialect (marm) - great word.
33D: Parlor piece, for short? (tat) - puzzle was well over before I understood what the hell this meant. But when I figured it out - it's short for TATTOO - I had to concede its greatness.
45D: Were friendly (got on) - I hope I can say that you tournament-going people "were friendly" when this weekend is over. I'm out of here.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
Solving time: untimed, but very fast, possibly my fastest Thursday ever - maybe 6 minutes?
THEME: "Case closed!" - four theme answers all have "Case closed!" as their clue. The answers are as follows:
17A: "End of discussion!"
24A: "I've heard enough!"
41A: "Not another word!"
54A: "We're done talking!"
This puzzle could have been harder. That is about my only complaint. The long colloquial expressions in the theme answers are all really lively, and while some of the non-theme fill was mysterious to me, the vast majority of it was quite good, with a couple of stellar clue / answer pairings. Today is Thursday, so a necessarily short entry. Sorry, Karen.
Solving time: 9-something (on paper)
THEME: OSCAR (26D) WILDE (32D) quotation: "Work is the ruin of (17A) the (40A) drinking classes (61A)."
This will brief, as there is not a lot to like in this puzzle. I am not a fan of quotation puzzles in general, and this quotation - I don't really get it. I'm an English Ph.D., and I'm just sort of shrugging at it. I guess it means that work sucks if you like to party. Of all the OSCAR WILDE quips out there, this one is surely among the lamest. I do like the puzzle construction here, with OSCAR running down the far west coast and WILDE symmetrically positioned on the east. But, now that I think of it, I do not, at all, like the way that THE (40A) is made to anchor the quotation, and the whole grid, with its central position. I like definite articles in answers when they are part of a phrase, but THE cannot handle this kind of puzzle pressure on its own. As far as non-theme entries go, most of it is yawn-inducing, and some of it just unlikeable. Standout fill includes 26A: Shaped like a plum tomato (oblong) - I had trouble with this one, but ended up admiring it in the end - and, especially, 46A: Plan for peace, in modern lingo (road map) - very current, very in-the-language, fabulous.
15A: Blue matter (smut) - I'm seeing SMUT a lot lately (in the puzzle, I mean!). Would have liked "material" here instead of "matter," but I see what you're going for: playing off of phrases like "gray matter" and "reading matter." I briefly thought that the answer had something to do with IBM ("Big Blue"), but after a cross or two, the answer was obvious.
11D: "Is so!" retort ("Ain't!") - uh ... I challenge. This is the worst of the "schoolyard retort" brand of answers that I've ever seen. Surely, even in the heart of Hickville, USA, the imagined child in question would say "No it ain't!" I have a hard time imagining even the most mentally-challenged southerner just shouting "Ain't!" all on its own.
1D: Toddler's cry when thirsty ("Wawa!")
29D: With 2-Down, toddler's game (peek- / a-boo)
First, toddlers do not deserve to have fully three grid answers given over to them. Second, PEEK and ABOO are in insane spatial relationship to each other. If you're going to split a phrase like this, make the relationship between the two parts interesting / pleasing. Third, 1D and 2D make the NW corner read WAWA / ABOO. Too many nonsense phrases too close together. I kind of like WAWA as an answer, though when I was a child, I (or was it my sister) used to ask for WADEER (accent on the second syllable). I think I have that right. My mom will let me know.
29A: Relief measure of Elizabethan times (Poor Law)
I do not like, and I don't know why. Maybe I wanted it to have a more spectacular, interesting, and possibly Olde Tyme name. POOR LAW just lies there. Dead behind the eyes. It's not even very descriptive.
38A: Cramped space (cubby)
CUBBIES are where first-graders keep their hats and mittens and assorted detritus from the school day. I know this because I witness said first-graders and their CUBBIES every week. "Cramped" is an awfully weird adjective to describe a CUBBY. I know that CUBBY means a small room, technically, but something about "cramped" just seems wrong. What are you trying to fit in there, for god's sake?
48A: Andy of TV's "Andy's Gang" (Devine)
Means absolutely nothing to me. The only DIVINE I know spelled his name with the "I" and was a major cult movie figure for his standout roles in many John Waters' films. Whoa, "Andy's Gang" was a kids' show that ran throughout the late 50's, and featured ... well, I'll let imdb tell you:
"A TV Show where Andy, with a studio audience full of loud screaming kids, would show movies. At the opening of the show he had a puppet friend called "Froggy". To get the frog to appear Andy and the audience would have to scream "Plunk your Magic Twanger, Froggy". There would then be a big puff of smoke and the frog would appear."
That has got to be the best / worst / most insane and potentially innuendo-laden catchphrase ever featured in a children's show. Another phrase I must learn to work into conversation. I believe I will ritualistically utter the phrase just before I start each of the tournament puzzles this weekend.
34A: Bill killer (vetoer)
43A: Slow-pot (cooker)
The first falls under the much reviled category of Odd Jobs, where -ER ending is added to a word, resulting in a noun that is technically legal but nowhere in the language. See also "I'm the Decider" and "I'm a Uniter, not a Divider." Sadly, the person who uttered those phrases is also, in fact, a VETOER. I'm surprised he has not publicly declared himself such. These weak -ER words are made worse by their close, symmetrical relationship to one another, hugging the heart of the puzzle, the aforementioned THE. VETOER THE COOKER! Yeah, that's a hell of a creamy middle, that is.
67A: Cries of regret (ays)
Am I supposed to take that seriously? This makes me think of Bumblebee Man wailing "Ay ay ay, la policia!" The definition I came across says that AY is "Used before me to express distress or regret." So ... it's really HALF a cry of regret.
4D: Nunavut native (eskimo)
19D: Pianist José (Iturbi)
Well, if nothing else, today I learned where Nunavut is.
As for pianist ITURBI, that's a great name. I half knew it, in that I had written in ITURRO and then ITURBA before FINAL (41A: Event before vacation, maybe) put that final "I" in there. That was actually where I finished the puzzle: at the FINAL / FRET (41D: Feature of some necks) intersection. It was hard because not knowing José's name, I had --NAL for FINAL (and despite giving FINALS every year, I couldn't see it), and not knowing DEVINE's name (above), I had -R-T for FRET, and the only "necks" I could picture were human. Sadly, WATTLE was too long to fit.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
The war was over by the late 1980s, although supporters of Betamax have helped keep the format going in a small niche market. Betamax production in America ended in 1993, and the last Betamax machine in the world was produced in Japan in 2002."The Last Betamax" would make an awesome name for a parody of a Hollywood movie. Tom Hanks has to escape from a P.O.W. camp and swim to Japan to find The Last Betamax because it contains the tape that has conclusive proof that Jesus fathered a son and that the bus will explode if it goes under 50mph.
When Bart complains he never gets any mail, Marge gives him the family's junk mail. Bart is only interested in a credit card solicitation from MoneyBank. He fills out the application, and when pressed for a name, he uses Santa's Little Helper (the company reads the name as "Santos L. Halper"). Amazingly, the credit card application is approved, and before long, Bart is sporting his very own credit card.
Solving time: 4:27
THEME: POT _____ - first words of four theme answers can all be preceded by POT to form a familiar phrase, e.g. 17A: Sinuous Mideast entertainer (belly dancer)
SINUOUS!? That word always makes me think of some ropy, wiry guy whose SINEWS I can see. Turns out, those two words (sinuous / sinews) are unrelated, "sinuous" being derived from L. sinus, curve (I thought sinus mean cavity more precisely, but whatever). The adjective to describe the ropy, wiry guy above would be "sinewy." Clearly "sinuous" is not in my vocabulary. I would never, ever, in a million years, have called a BELLY DANCER "sinuous" (not the one I have in my mind, anyway). The word now makes me think simultaneously of sinews and sinuses, neither of which are sexy. To me. I like the gender equity of the puzzle, as BEEFCAKE (37D: Muscle mag photos) balances out BELLY DANCER in the opposite corner of the grid. Eye candy for everyone.