SUNDAY, Nov. 16, 2008 - Merl Reagle (Meshed foundation in lace / "Song of the Islands" co-star Jack / Iron Man co-creator Larry / "Loverboy" actress)
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: "Sounds Like Somebody I Know" - puns on the names of famous people
This puzzle will be featured - in some fashion - in tonight's all-new episode of "The Simpsons," which is all about crosswords (FOX, 8pm). Read more about it here. [There's lots of talk of a "hidden message" in the puzzle ... I just learned that there are actually two of them, which almost certainly explains why the puzzle feels so wonky in places ... anyway, watch the show tonight!]
Well, this has Merl Reagle written all over it. Feels like Will really handed over the reins on this one, because there is an insane playfulness that NYT puzzles normally don't have - and as is typical with actual insane playfulness, the results are both exhilarating and disastrous. Nobody can run two long theme answers right alongside each other like Merl Reagle - I feel like this is a signature move of his. His Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday puzzles are often full of long, gutsy, punning answers that stretch the limits of the imagination (and, occasionally, good taste). The man is an artist, and I take the good with the bad happily. I wish more people wrote puzzles with the verve, panache, and some other fancy noun that Merl does. (Which reminds me - be sure to check out today's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle - another Merl creation, and another "Simpsons"-themed puzzle; if you solve with Across Lite software - which you can download for free via the NYT Premium Puzzles site - you can access Merl's puzzle from here)
The punny theme answers are almost uniformly fantastic, and as we all know, I'm not a pun fan. I learned a new word today: PTOMAINE (!?) (from MARISA PTOMAINE) - I could barely bring myself to fill in the letters, so strange does the word look. Botched RAYMOND CHANNELER at first because I thought it was supposed to be CHANDELIER and then because it wouldn't fit I figured I just screwed up the spelling of CHANDELIER. My favorite theme moment is NIKITA CRUISE CHEF over LINDSAY LOW HAND. Painful yet gorgeous. I have not read much of anything about tonight's episode of "The Simpsons," so I'm not sure how all this is supposed to play out. I'll just wait and see. But kudos to Merl for working both D'OH! (35A: Exclamation from a blockhead) and BART (115A: Driving alternative in S.F.) into the puzzle.
- 17A: "Loverboy" actress who made the cast sick? (Marisa Ptomaine)
- 21A: Seance-loving crime writer? (Raymond Channeler)
- 40A: Hall of Fame golfer who invented the all-plastic club? (Arnold Polymer) - it only just occurred to me that "club" here refers to a golf club. I was thinking "Who or what would belong to an all-plastic club?"
- 53A: All-telling gossip queen who repeats everything she says? (Rona Parrot)
- 72A: Avant-garde composer who sat around a lot? (Erik Settee)
- 82A: Passionate tennis star? (Monica Zealous)
- 105A: Moscow V.I.P. who like to cook on a ship? (Nikita Cruise Chef)
- 111A: "I have no face cards" actress? (Lindsay Low Hand)
There were some moments that made me wince, though, I have to say. First of all, there were just a Lot of words I'd never heard of - I probably should know PTOMAINE, but RESEAU (33A: Meshed foundation in lace)!?!?! That seems arcane and technical beyond belief. Beyond tolerance, even. I read comics, but who the hell is this LIEBER guy (90D: Iron Man co-creator Larry). Besides the co-creator of Iron Man, I mean. How many people besides hardcore comics nerds know that? That (rough) SE corner brings me to another gripe I have: OH HELL (88A: "Rats!")? First, that seems awfully close to profanity for a NYT puzzle. It does not offend my sensibilities at All, but I was Not expecting it and went with OH HECK and stayed with OH HECK for quite some time. I had another good reason for going with OH HECK, besides prudishness: "HELL" is in one of the clues - 106D: Hell _____ handbasket (in a). That makes "HELL" what we call a "dupe" and dupes are NONOS (86A: Some etiquette rules).
More gripes: two horrible crossings. I am four square against crossing foreign words unless one or both are super common. Thus the SEHR (103D: Ilse's "very") / SOTTO (103A: Lower than: It.) crossing irked me. I inferred it from the SOTTO in the phrase SOTTO VOCE, but SEHR I did not know (no German, sorry Ulrich et al.). Not cool. No crossing foreign words. The other crossing that blew (for me) was ROOTED (85D: Rummaged) / ROLL (85A: Yaw relative, on an aircraft). I had LOOTED / LOLL, not knowing what the hell the "Yaw" clue was going for. It never occurred to me that "LOOTED" was not the absolute right answer, though clearly, in retrospect, it's a bit off, given the clue. Stop yaw and roll? And what's with SML (65A: Letters of sizes). That feels awfully made-up. I would have tripped all over the obscure OAKIE (93D: "Song of the Islands" co-star Jack) if I hadn't already tripped all over him earlier this month. ROMANA took forever, but that's my own damned fault (45A: Alla _____ (pasta style)).
- 10A: Attorney's favorite sweets? (tortes) - there seemed to be more of these cutesy "?"-clues than we normally see from Will. I'm guessing most of the clues here are Merl's originals. He's a seasoned editor - he knows what he's doing.
- 28A: Abbr. after Ted Kennedy's name (D-Mass) - nice to give the ailing legendary senator a shout-out
- 39A: "O.S.S." star, 1946 (Ladd) - he was just in a puzzle, and that double-D ending can't be many other folks, so I got this easily despite having no idea what "O.S.S." is.
- 48A: Planned site of the Geo. W. Bush Presidential Library (SMU) - I guessed WACO but it wouldn't fit.
- 50A: Young wife (age 18) of Charlie Chaplin (age 54) (Oona) - once a crossword staple, now an odd curiosity, like ADIT. This clue is not typical Shortz stuff - this is a trivia / story clue, giving you way more info than you need for the sole point of dispensing curious information. See also 67A: Yul Brynner died the same day as _____ Welles (odd fact) (Orson) - I cannot recall seeing a Shortz clue like this before, where a non-quotation complete sentence has a fill-in-the-blank answer. It just feels weird. "(odd fact)" is right. I love how we apparently need to be told that it's an odd fact. "Oh, odd fact ... I see ... now."
- 55A: Letters of commerce (GATT) - a treaty. Took me a while.
- 56A: Laying-on of hands? (back rub) - Also took me a while, primarily because of a pair of kooky krosses - BONEMAN (56D: Guy who digs fossils) and ROSE SLUG (57D: American Beauty pest) - both of which took a while to come and felt iffy when they did.
- 69A: Relatives of TV host Tom (Snyders) - another one that took some patience, because of the evasive CHOIR BOY (30D: Tenor, perhaps) - I had CHOIR and then No Idea what came next.
- 81A: Prima donna Norman (Jessye) - at first I was thinking "they call men 'prima donnas?'" Hey look, it's Jessye Norman singing ERIK SETTEE:
- 104A: Disney pirate, 1953 (Smee) - thought it was a gimme (and it was) but ran into all kinds of trouble in the SW corner that made me second-guess even this.
- 110A: Eban of Israel (Abba) - ditto
- 6D: Noriega's weapons (armas) - why even bother changing the name for the next Across clue, 7D: Delgado's rivers (rios)? I feel almost the same way about back-to-back foreign words from the same language as I do about intersecting foreign words generally.
- 4D: Hall of Fame coach Ewbank (Weeb) - aargh. I wrote in WEBB, forgetting about this guy's phenomenally weird name.
- 17A: Freeboot (maraud) - OK, that is awesome (see yesterday's puzzle, which featured this clue/answer pair in reverse)
- 29D: Teutonic name part (von) - this puzzle is sure in love with foreign languages. I ridiculously had "SON" here (where was I, Sweden?)
- 18D: Old IBM offering (PC, Jr.) - HA ha, was this a real thing? I love this answer: PCJR looks All Kinds of Krazy in the grid.
- 31D: Enos Slaughter's team for 13 yrs. (STL) - had the "S" and couldn't think of a three-letter abbrev. to save my life.
- 32D: Roo's donkey friend (Eeyore) - I assume this is a gimme for everyone, but you neeeever know.
- 35D: "Wagon Master" actress Joanne (Dru) - no clue. She and OAKIE may have starred in pictures together, for all I know.
- 45D: Patrick Macnee's 1960s TV co-star Diana (Rigg) - funnily enough, wife and I both blanked on her name the other night, and then later both remembered it. So this was a gimme.
- 37D: Assigner of G's and R's: Abbr. (MPAA) - Motion Picture Association of America
- 46D: Opus with singing (oratorio) - Opus reminds me of the cartoon penguin of the same name (that's what happens when you read comics voraciously before you learn Anything about music).
- 70D: Gallantry-in-war medals: Abbr. (DFCs) - no idea. I'm guessing it's way better than a KFC. Let's see ... Distinguished Flying Cross. Looks like this:
- 63D: Old aviation magazine _____ Digest (Aero) - saw the four letters, wrote in AERO on a hunch. Bingo.
- 91D: Mythical piper (pan) - true enough
- 107D: Y.A. Tittle scores (TDs) - His name makes me laugh.
- 77D: Vacation destination for sandwich lovers? (Delhi) - HA ha. Inventive...
- 108D: Org. with a five-ring logo (IOC) - International Olympic Committee; wow, in addition to lots of foreign words, there appear to be LOTS of Abbreviations. Price you pay for magical theme answers, I guess.
- 73D: Big name in tea (Tazo) - cool. Corporate, but cool. Fresh. Current.
OK, I think I'm done. This episode of "The Simpsons" better rule. Crossword puzzles and "The Simpsons" ... My two great passions in life ... colliding? O god, the results can only be disappointing ... no, I must keep hope alive. Yes I Can!
See you later.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld