WEDNESDAY, Nov. 26, 2008 - Harvey Estes (Gershwin heroine / Beatnik's "Understood" / Meaning of "one on the city" diner lingo / Prophetess of legend)
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: "THE LAST HURRAH" (49A: 1958 Spencer Tracy film ... and a hint to 20-, 30- and 39-Across) - all the theme answers end in the letter string "OLE," which can also be found at 57D: 49-Across, in this puzzle
Technically, for this theme to work well, "THE LAST HURRAH" should be a bull-fighting picture. Let's see ... nope, it's about a corrupt, outmoded, yet semi-beloved politician who loses an election then has a heart attack and dies. Maybe he shouts "OLE!" just before he dies, imagining he's reliving his glory days as a bullfighter in pre-civil war Spain. This theme barely coheres (three answers that have nothing in common but their last three letters); "THE LAST HURRAH" should bring it together, but the unifying effect of the title is offset, if not nullified, by the fact that the movie has nothing to do with the particular HURRAH in question. Also, OLE gets a really awkward clue. And yet, HOLY GUACAMOLE, the puzzle was still reasonably enjoyable. Lots of good mid-range (5 to 7-letter) fill. If Sarah Palin can pardon a turkey, then I can pardon this puzzle's mild incoherence. Such is the privilege I claim on this day, my 39th birthday (actual 39, not the "39" you might call yourself when you are 40, 41, 42, 55, etc.)
20A: "Zounds!" ("Holy Guacamole!") - 'Zounds = contraction of "By God's wounds," a mild oath. HOLY GUACAMOLE is even milder.
30A: Eight-time Best Actor nominee (Peter O'Toole) - we have his latest movie from Netflix just sitting near our DVD player ... just sitting ... honey, are we ever going to watch that? It's from your queue.
39A: Boneless entree (filet of sole)
The best part of the puzzle, from where I sit, is the BLOOD RED (4D: Vivid valentine color) MASH NOTE (3D: Billet-doux) in the NW corner. Prior uses of "billet-doux" in clues have driven Googlers to my site in droves - apparently this word, meaning "love letter," is not in everyone's vocabulary. With good reason. It's really to be read, not said. Unless you're being ironic. A BLOOD RED MASH NOTE sounds so awesomely gothic, like the premise for a horror/romance novel I might actually want to read. The combination of the two answers, of romance and bloodiness, makes me think of one of the greatest "Simpsons" episodes of all time, "I Love Lisa," a Valentine's Day episode in which Ralph Wiggum interprets a simple valentine from Lisa as a MASH NOTE, and pursues her (like some kind of child Quixote) through the rest of the episode. Oh, and that episode begins and ends with Bill and Marty (radio personalities) trying to play "Valentine's Day"-themed music, and in both cases, mistakenly playing ... "The Monster MASH." Specific "Simpsons" video is Very hard to come by, so you get this:
Wrap it up:
- 23A: "Long Walk to Freedom" writer (Mandela) - just read a semi-scathing piece about him (addressed to him, actually) in Harper's. Worth reading if you can handle hearing about atrocity after atrocity after atrocity.
- 5A: Under, in Umbria (sotto) - news to me. We just had this answer, in a musical context.
- 10A: Gershwin heroine (Bess) - as in "Porgy &"
- 15A: Beatnik's "Understood" ("I'm hip") - wanted only "I DIG," which would not fit no matter how hard I tried.
- 18A: City on the Aar (Berne) - feel as if I haven't seen this city's name since 8th grade geography. Took a few crosses to get it.
- 41A: Meaning of "one on the city," in diner lingo (tap water) - yay, old-timey diner lingo. This one was at least inferrable. Some of the terms get a little loopy.
- 54A: Jetliner name until 1997 (US Air) - someday I'll learn the difference between USAIR and US Airways (which still exists), but the prospect of looking that !@#$ up sounds so dreadfully boring that I can't be bothered at the moment (not how I want to be spending even one second of my birthday)
- 61A: Bristlelike part (seta) - so much better as a plant part than a partial, like [_____ good example].
- 62A: Image crafters (PR men) - love the consonant pile-up answers like this (initials + full word combos) provide
- 5D: Prophetess of legend (Sibyl) - she has a big part in Book VI of the Aeneid.
- 6D: Alphabet ender (omega) - thought this was VWXYZ, and was prepared to be both horrified and exceedingly impressed
- 8D: Funny Fey (Tina) - just read a funny interview with the actor who plays Kenneth on "30 Rock" (the great, Emmy-winning, but pitifully underwatched NBC sitcom). Worth reading if you like the show. Lots of stuff in there about T.F.
- 10D: Mob's money collector (bag man) - great phrase. I imagine a BAG MAN waiting patiently at a diner, too nervous to eat or drink anything but TAP WATER ("One on the city!"), when the attractive woman next to him passes him what he thinks might be a MASH NOTE, but it's blank. Confused, the man looks down and notices his bag is NOT THERE (36D: Missing). He turns to the woman who smiles just before she shoots him three times in the gut, turning his white shirt BLOOD RED. The man's OBIT (31D: Passing notice) mentions none of this.
- 37D: Swiss abstractionist (Klee) - one of the many artists referenced in the fabulous Charles Willeford 1950s noir classic "Pick-Up"
- 44D: Non-head of state who addressed a 1989 joint session of Congress (Walesa) - did not know this, but got it with something like one or two crosses. WALESA went on the following year to become ... a head of state; specifically, head of Poland.