Saturday, April 19, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: "SPACED OUT" - eight theme answers contain (in circles) the names of each of the eight planets in the SOLAR SYSTEM, from nearest to farthest from the SUN (9D: Center of many revolutions).
This puzzle came with a Notepad note (in Across Lite format):
When the puzzle is done, the letters in the following squares spell a bonus phrase: 7A - 3rd letter, 31A - 5th, 65A - 4th, 104A - 6th, 136A - 3rd, 151A - 1st, 149A - 4th, 133A - 4th, 100A - 1st, 62A - 1st, 29A - 6th
The phrase you get when after you go through all of that rigmarole?: SOLAR SYSTEM. Cute. I'm not much for gimmicks that have nothing to do with the completion of the puzzle - when I'm done with a puzzle, I'm done - but this gimmick is cleverish. Overall, the theme was overly easy - I got the MERCURY answer, saw how many circles were in the next theme answers, and filled all the circles in the puzzle in immediately. This made even rough theme clues like 82A: 1972 Harry Nilsson hit ("Jump into the Fire") easy to get. I liked that the planets are situated reasonably accurately relative to the SUN in this puzzle - SUN's at the top, MERCURY is the closest planet, while NEPTUNE's way the hell down at the bottom, with exiled PLUTO nicely nearby and perpendicular. I have never ever heard PLUTO used as a 131D: 2006 neologism meaning "to demote". I like it, though, and will try to work into my everyday vocabulary.
- 24A: 1941 Henry Luce article that coined a name for an era ("The American Century") - weirdly, my wife had just uttered this phrase no more than a few hours before we did the puzzle. Context - discussing the role of China in the world today, i.e. the 21st century will not be "The American Century."
- 34A: Closeout come-on ("Everything Must Go!")
- 52A: Novel that ends "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody" (The Catcher in the Rye) - my life is cliché in at least this respect: The Catcher in the Rye was the first real "grown-up" book I read as a kid (aged 13 or so) and it Blew My Mind. It was like I was reading a book that saw the world the way that *I* did, not in some idealized or made up or (to take a word from Holden Caulfield) "phony" way. Such a typical boy moment. My mom gave it to me, of course. I feel as if I read it on a plane, possibly during the trip with my mom to NY and Boston in 1983, when Billy Joel's "An Innocent Man" album was massively popular (don't ask me where that association came from - who knows how my brain works?).
- 75A: Artful deception (smoke and mirrors)
- 107A: Prime eatery (five-star restaurant) - while in NY in 1983, I ate at the famed Russian Tea Room. It's featured in my favorite movie, "Manhattan." Also, my dad once barfed in the decorative bushes just outside the Russian Tea Room. I was either very young or yet to be born. Fun factoid.
- 125A: Stanley Cup finalists of 1982 and 1994 (Vancouver Canucks) - and the puzzlers of the Pacific Northwest rejoice, as the puzzle finally recognizes their existence.
- 138A: Head of a special government inquiry (Independent Counsel) - I had INDEPENDENT COUN-E- and I told my wife "I'm about to be very annoyed at 138A." At that point, I thought I was looking at INDEPENDENT COUNTER (!?).
Found the non-theme fill a little dull ... when it wasn't completely arcane. Three answers stand out for their weirdness, against a sea of decent but forgettable answers. Let's start with:
- FRUSTA (45A: Truncated cones, in math) - completely unknown to me. Sounds like a refreshing summer drink. Or a skin disease.
- ECHT (106A: Geniune: Ger.) - it's bad enough when the puzzle goes to German (my nemesis language). But ECHT? That's more exclamation of disgust than it is valid word. I know 20th century American writer Ben HECHT. I know playwright Bertolt BRECHT. I do not know ECHT. The first three letters of ECHT were the very last squares my wife filled in (all correctly!).
- NMI (27D: Application letters) - this is about the worst three-letter answer I Have Ever Seen. My wife and I were making each other laugh trying to imagine what the letters stood for: Not My Interest? New Mexico Institute? No More Indians!? Then we guessed that the "application" in question must be a mortgage or credit card application, and NMI must stand for Net Monthly Income. Now I'm going to see if we were right ... Oh we were very wrong. Here is the first definition I found, from Wikipedia:
A non-maskable interrupt (NMI) is a computer processor interrupt that can not be ignored by standard interrupt masking techniques in the system. It is typically used to signal attention for non-recoverable hardware errors. (Some NMIs may be masked, but only by using proprietary methods specific to the particular NMI.)
I hope the part about how some NON-MASKABLE interrupts "may be masked" did not make your head explode. But, it turns out, that's not the NMI of which the puzzle speaks. Apparently NMI simply means No Middle Initial. Huh. Wow. Weird. I have a middle initial. My wife ... has two (seriously - this causes no end of address-label-related hilarity). Never heard of such an abbreviation. Here's an interesting tidbit. I claimed (in my head, just now) that I have never seen NMI in a puzzle. When I checked cruciverb.com's database, I saw that NMI has in fact been in the NYT puzzle. Last time: Sept 24, 2006, the day before I started writing this blog.
This puzzle was pretty easy overall, as I say. The one part I had some trouble was the far far SE corner, the upper part of which was oddly hard to get into. If I'd had any clue that PLUTO meant "demote" (which I still doubt), the corner would have been much easier. But as it was, 131A: Couple (pair up) was too vague for me to get a clear idea of the answer, and even with the Y in place I struggled to come up with LYRICS for 136A: Lorenz Hart specialty. Throw in the mysterious 121D: "Into the Wild" actor Emile (Hirsch), and the almost equally mysterious 122D: Home of Gannon Univ. (Erie, PA), and the whole area becomes a bit of a mess. Also didn't know what CPI was (147A: Inflation meas.). I thought it was some kind of pound per inch measure of pressure, like in an "inflated" tire. Wife said no, that's PSI. PSYCHS! (120D: Charges (up)).
All puzzle long, and after I was done, I kept asking my wife "Did you get 100A yet?" She would say, 'no.' Then I would giggle. I love that you can have words like TITS (100A: Chickadees' kin) in the puzzle if you clue them correctly. Then my wife and I started listing all the, uh, suggestive words you could cram into your puzzle with the right, perfectly decent, breakfast-table worthy clues: TITS, COCK, BALLS, BOOBIES, ASS, BUTT, PRICK ... yes, I am eight years old. In my soul. Some days that's a plus. Others ...
- 1A: Thing in a case (res) - Latin! In "Kiss Me Deadly," the thing in the case is nuclear, I think. The beach house explodes in a mushroom-like cloud, so I'm assuming the case was nuclear.
- 29A: Tevye creator _____ Aleichem (Sholom) - no idea. Wife, during puzzle: "Can someone actually be named SHALOM!?" [this answer isn't "wrong," as many of you are writing to tell me - SHOLOM is an accepted variant of SHOLEM ALEICHEM's name. See this site, among many others.]
- 33A: Celine Dion's "I'm Your Angel" duet partner (R. Kelly) - I wonder if R. KELLY ever made any of his underage sex partners sing this with him. R KELLY was best immortalized, I think, on "South Park," in the justly infamous Scientology episode. You have to watch at least some small part of R KELLY's mammoth, multi-part, narrative "song" "Trapped in the Closet" to understand why the "South Park" parody is so good.
- 42A: Work of Seigneur de Montaigne (Essai) - yes, that "y" is an "i" in French. 7 years of French occasionally come in handy.
- 43A: "Your Moment of _____" ("The Daily Show" feature) ("Zen") - great new clue for this word.
- 64A: 1990s-2000s English tennis star Tim (Henman) - would have spelled his name HINMAN, possibly because of crossword tournament champion Tyler, possibly because of the fact that a HINMAN is a building at the school where I work.
- 72A: "Tancredi" composer (Rossini) - isn't there a Senator or Governor named TANCREDI? Oh, no, it's TANCREDO I'm thinking of - a Congressman from Colorado.
- 81A: Suffix with billion (-aire) - I spent many seconds wondering what in the word AIREBILLION could possibly mean. "Oh ... SUFfix ..."
- 90A: Windsor, e.g. (neck tie) - my wife rightly grumbled here. "Windsor" is a knot.
- 101A: Laughing gas and water, chemically (oxides) - Thought the clue was asking what the combination of the two would make. I sure didn't know.
- 134A: He played Krupa in "The Gene Krupa Story" (Mineo) - an actor whose name was built for crosswords. You see his first name a lot, too: SAL.
- 1D: "Number 10" Abstract Expressionist (Rothko) - here is the painting by ROTHKO:
When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,
She looked so limp and bedraggled,
So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,
Or a wizened aster in late September,
I brought her back in again
For a new routine--
Vitamins, water, and whatever
Sustenance seemed sensible
At the time: she'd lived
So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer,
Her shriveled petals falling
On the faded carpet, the stale
Steak grease stuck to her fuzzy leaves.
(Dried-out, she creaked like a tulip.)
The things she endured!--
The dumb dames shrieking half the night
Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,
Me breathing booze at her,
She leaning out of her pot toward the window.
Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me--
And that was scary--
So when that snuffling cretin of a maid
Threw her, pot and all, into the trash-can,
I said nothing.
But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,
I was that lonely.
- 8D: Botanist Gray (Asa) - Zane Grey spells his name differently, but I'm still going to use this occasion to direct you to my vintage paperbacks blog, where the last two entries have featured Zane Gray.
- 15D: Spanish sherry (Amontillado) - never would have got this if I hadn't read the Poe story "The Cask of AMONTILLADO," which is the only way I know that word.
- 26D: Kupcinet and Cross (Irvs) - no idea. IRV Cross sounds familiar. Is he a sportscaster? Yes! For once, I guess correctly.
- 29D: Some namesakes: Abbr. (Srs.) - it was SRS or JRS, and I figured the Aleichem guy's first name was probably not JHOLOM.
- 35D: Change of a mortgage, slangily (refi) - easy, though it threw my wife, who had, I believe, RE-UP. Plus, I have to write about any clue that features the word "slangily," as that word can be found virtually nowhere but in crossword puzzle clues.
- 46D: Biblical queendom (Sheba) - "queendom" is a word you don't see often.
- 51D: Hills of Yorkshire (wolds) - here's one where my wife was Way ahead of me. I've never heard of this word and it looks completely insane / wrong to me. Like someone with a cold, or depression ... possibly Eeyore ... trying to say WOODS.
- 53D: Monster hurricane of 1989 (Hugo) - thought the hurricane was going to have a "monster's" name, like, I don't know, WOLFMAN or SASQUATCH or something. Instead, it has a French author's name.
- 59D: Bleeth of "Baywatch" (Yasmine) - again, strangely, wife was ahead of me on this. I knew it was YASMINE, but did not know the spelling. -EEN? IJN? Wife knew. I doubt she has ever watched an episode of "Baywatch," but she knew.
- 67D: Executive's charter, maybe (air taxi) - took me a bit to figure out what was meant by "charter."
- 69D: Flat-bottomed boat (skiff) - great nautical word that you rarely see in xwords, for obvious reasons - that letter pattern.
- 83D: "Vega$" star Robert (Urich) - You gotta love a title with a symbol in its name. Robert Urich was Spenser, for Hire, which my mom watched and enjoyed in the 80s.
- 84D: Nick Nolte movie based on a Kurt Vonnegut novel ("Mother Night") - one of many Vonnegut books we had floating around my (mom's) house in my youth.
- 91D: Jean who wrote "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (Kerr) - who? Where is Deborah when you need her!?
- 94D: Virginie ou Pennsylvanie (état) - more handy Frenchness.
- 98D: Subject of the book "Many Unhappy Returns": Abbr. (I.R.S.) - timely.
- 102D: _____ Zagora, Bulgaria (Stara) - whoa. No idea. All from crosses. That's one of the awesomer sounding place names I've ever heard of. "The bomb is hidden .... in STARA Zagora! You have 24 hours to find it! Godspeed!"
- 117D: "Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus, for one (TV idol) - this clue / answer sucks in about a billion ways, but I'll just stick to the made-up answer. American Idol and "matinee idol" are phrases. TV IDOL?! Frowny face.
- 123D: Author of the "Elements," ca. 300 B.C. (Euclid) - helped me out a ton in that pesky SE.
- 125D: Singh on the links (Vijay) - named after America's Victory over Japan ... not really.
- 126D: Demean (abase) - as I told my wife last night, I thought this clue was an adjective - as if DEMOS was a place, and people from there were DEMEAN. E.g. "Hercules slayed the NEMEAN lion, but the DEMEAN lion tore him to shreds."
Later today: READER MAIL and COMMENTS OF THE WEEK! [Addendum - I just realized that I can't do these segments on Sunday, because by making reference to puzzles from the past week, I will spoil those puzzles for solvers who do the puzzles in syndication - they're 6 weeks behind, except on Sunday, when they're only one week behind - thus, if I made reference to this past weekend's fiasco of a puzzle, I'd be giving away answers to puzzles they haven't seen yet. So look for READER MAIL, COMMENT(S) OF THE WEEK, and WORD OF THE WEEK ("Pluto?") tomorrow -RP]
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS, OK, this isn't "Reader Mail" exactly, but it's mail I just got from my best friend (CA), and I needed to share it. It reads:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwYxuV2dVzwSo, if you want to know what that hypothetical love child looks like, or you just want to laugh at one nerd's obsessive attempt to visit every Manhattan Starbucks store in a single day, click the link. -RP
OMG, you, personally, have to watch at least until the 3-minute mark. This is pretty good, actually. Plus the guy looks like your and my lovechild.