FRIDAY, Nov. 7, 2008 - Kevin G. Der (Doctrine developer of 1823 / Bear cub mascot of the 1980 Moscow Olympics / Self-contained music equipment)
Friday, November 7, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: "K" - there are 11 K's in the puzzle ... K is the 11th letter of the alphabet ...
OK, so there's not really a theme. I just like K's and tend to notice them. Although I'm not sure how anyone could have missed them today. Three of the answers contain two K's, and two of those answers intersect. Right off the bat we get KAWASAKI (1A: Big name in bikes) smashing into KABUKI (7D: Drama in which male actors play both male and female parts), and then we pick up nine more K's, some of them terminal (i.e. kinda ordinary), but still, that's an impressive array of K's.
On the whole, this was a very Kevin Der-esque puzzle, with lots of contemporary technological references - INSTANT MESSAGES (8D: E-mail alternatives), E-TAIL (39D: What PayPal facilitates), LCD (61D: Laptop feature, for short). I'd even throw KARAOKE MACHINES into that category (36A: Self-contained music equipment). My two favorite answers in the grid were GIRL TALK (60A: It's heard at a slumber party) and WHELK (35D: Snail variety). I doubt very much that I would enjoy actual GIRL TALK, but the phrase is fresh, colloquial, in-the-language, vibrant, etc. And WHELK just sounds beautifully disgusting. It's like the sound you'd hear if someone smacked you in the face with a WHELK. It's WHELP meets ELK meets slime. It's great.
I'm really glad that WHELK was a semi-familiar word to me (not sure how...) because that "L" cross was tough to recover. I have seen the space dog LAIKA in the puzzle before, but it's an unusual name, and if I hadn't seen a very recent graphic novel about this dog, I might have been in real trouble. The first "A" in particular would have been a near complete guess - I had no idea about ROSINA (26D: Almaviva serenades her in "The Barber of Seville"). Continuing with Russian animals we get the completely unknown-to-me MISHA (21D: Bear cub mascot of the 1980 Moscow Olympics). I remember 1980, but perhaps because the U.S. did not participate in the summer games (thanks, Carter!), I don't remember the bear cub. Is it the same one that grew up to wrestle Putin? Or did I imagine that in some fevered dream / conflation of images of Russian bears and Putin judo?
There are some problems here and there with this puzzle. I don't like BRAVE MAN (15A: Medal of Honor recipient, say) or ICE SKATE (40A: Half a pair for pairs) as answers. BRAVE MAN doesn't stand alone very well ... or about as well as SAD LADY or SMALL BADGER. And one ICE SKATE. The tricky, clever clue Almost makes up for the sad incompleteness of a single SKATE. The AWAKES / RISER tie-in felt clunky and forced (48D: See 50-Down / 50D: One who 48-Down). "Look at me, I'm a RISER!" Early riser or late riser, OK. Just RISER? Better to clue RISER as a part of a staircase or something else. Besides, just because I AWAKE does not mean that I RISE. Not by a long shot.
- 16A: Doctrine developer of 1823 (Monroe) - The word "doctrine" makes it a gimme. Are there other famous doctrines? The Bush Doctrine? The Powell Doctrine? Man, DOCTRINE is a weird word. If you stare at it too long, it'll start to freak you out.
- 19A: Accessories whose colors may indicate rank (obis) - always nice to learn a quirky fact about crosswordese.
- 10D: Piece of pi? (long I) - Mmm, a "letteral" clue (and a tough one at that). Me: "Three? ... point? ... one ...?"
- 20D: Flavoring in a Tom and Jerry (nutmeg) - never heard of it. Here's Esquire's recipe; at least the "flavoring" in question is not cat or mouse:
Ingredients Tom and Jerry
- 12 egg(s)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 bottle brandy
- Pinch of ground allspice
- Pinch of ground cinnamon
- Pinch of ground cloves
- 1 bottle dark rum
Glass Type: mug
Separate the eggs. Beat the whites until they form a stiff froth, and the yolks -- to which you have added the sugar -- "until they are as thin as water," as the professor advises, gradually adding 4 ounces brandy (spiceaholics will also add a pinch each of ground allspice, cinnamon, and cloves). Fold the whites into the yolks. When ready to serve, give it another stir and then put 1 tablespoon of this batter in a small mug or tumbler. Now add 1 ounce brandy (although some die-hard Dixiecrats prefer bourbon) and 1 ounce Jamaican rum, stirring constantly to avoid curdling. Fill to the top with hot milk and stir until you get foam. Sprinkle a little grated nutmeg on top. This one may require practice and a certain amount of fiddling, but it's well worth the effort. Note: Some people find the milk too rich and filling, so they use half hot milk, half boiling water.
- 23A: Part of a philosophical dichotomy (yin) - and yang
- 24A: Port on Osaka Bay (Sakai) - never ever heard of it. Glad the crosses were all reasonable.
- 27A: "Contact" author, 1985 (Sagan) - I think he taught at Cornell, just up the road from me. Daughter got chosen for some science program at the local observatory, though I'm not sure how happy she's going to be studying space. Space scares her. "It's dark."
- 29A: Research venue: Abbr. (inst.) - had UNIV.
- 41A: Burns into film (Ken) - also, Burns into crosswords (it's true!)
- 43A: Former news gatherer (Tass) - I always think of TASS in association with ITAR (Information Telegraph Agency of Russia)
- 49A: Grass unit (spear) - boo. Grass comes in BLADES.
- 51A: "Wicked Game" singer, 1991 (Isaak) - gimme. First thing in grid.
- 57A: Anatomical part named after the Latin for "grape" (uvea) - gimme. Second thing in grid.
- 63A: "Spamalot" lyricist (Eric Idle) - gimme. I want to say "third thing in grid." Don't remember if that's true. But ... sure. Why not?
- 64A: Depilatory equipment (lasers) - had RAZORS
- 1D: Retail chain popular with kids (KB Toys) - "popular?" It's a sad little store in the mall here, and I'm sure any self-respecting kid would Much rather be at Toys 'R' Us.
- 4D: Warren of the car rental business (Avis) - AVIS is a person!? Wow.
- 13D: Highly sought shares (hot issue) - sounds gross. Never heard this phrase.
- 24D: Thumbing-the-nose gesture (snook) - almost as good as WHELK. If I ever own a boat (the thought is laughable), I will call her the WHELKSNOOK.
- 33D: Activity in which people are not playing with a full deck (skat) - a game I know only from xwords. Here's some quintessential SCAT to round off the morning:
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld