SATURDAY, Jan. 3, 2009 - Peter Wentz (1986-93 war-themed Marvel Comics series / Cristiano symbol / Santa Claus player in a 2003 comedy)
Friday, January 2, 2009
Relative difficulty: Medium
Rex Parker here. Not supposed to be here. Supposed to be on a plane somewhere over this great country of ours. Sadly, United has sworn eternal vengeance on me and my offspring, or so it would appear, and so I'm stuck here in Carmel until tomorrow morning. As with the trip out, we were very lucky - this time, we hadn't even left the house yet when we found out we wouldn't get to SF for our flight. I checked online and the United site said "canceled" and my wife said "that's a joke, right?" and I said "I must have typed the numbers wrong." No. Canceled. I didn't even bother asking why. It hardly matters. It's really just a minor inconvenience. In fact, at this point, considering I am not sleeping on an airport floor, I can even see some comedy in the whole thing. My wife is not taking it quite as well as I am, but then again, I'm not the one who has to start work again on Monday. Assuming I catch my Sunday morning flight, PuzzleGirl will do the Sunday write-up, and I'll be back for Monday.
OK, the puzzle. It's really fantastic. Feels like it was written this century, which is what I like in my late-week puzzles: freshness. "I HEAR YA" (15A: "Comin' through loud and clear") and "YOU MIND!?" (18A: Curt comment to an ogler) give the grid a sweet, slangy quality ... puts you off your guard a bit, so that when the NAHUATL hits you, it really hits you (55A: Language of Central Mexico). "When the NAHUATL Hits" would be a good book and/or song title. Reminds me of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks"
Started off the puzzle with a bang - a double name bang. Opening gambit = SCHLITZ (1A: Brewer Joseph) to ZADORA (7D: "Butterfly" star, 1981). Which raises the question - how much SCHLITZ would you have to drink before ZADORA's "Butterfly" became watchable?
There were some interesting callbacks today, with SEQ (47A: The following: Abbr.) appearing in almost exactly the same location as last week's fatal ET SEQ, and NEOJAZZ (20A: Hard bop, e.g.) echoing last week's FREEJAZZ (wait ... was FREE JAZZ in the NYT or one of Brendan Emmett Quigley's puzzles? Dang ... I forget ... nope, I'm right, it was Dec. 26 in the NYT, clued as [Bop alternative]). See also EVIL EYE (12D: Supposed bringer of bad luck), which returns in its entirety, fresh off its recent appearance last Sunday. I saw KIKI DEE (63A: Singer of the 1974 hit "I've Got the Music in Me"), with this very same clue, in a Frank Longo puzzle I did on the way out here (if I remember correctly, which it's always possible I'm not). His "Cranium-Crushing Crosswords" is a must-have, btw, esp. if you want to train yourself to get better at tough themeless puzzles like today's. The one negative review over at Amazon has the title "Way too cerebral!" That sounds like an endorsement to me, but to each his own.
There are some fantastic answers in this puzzle - ones that are making me feel real affection for it rather than simple admiration. Let's start with AMY ADAMS (8D: 2005 Best Supporting Actress nominee for "Junebug"), whom I love love love. She is like some adorable combination of Laura Linney and early Goldie Hawn. First saw her in a limited role as Jim's girlfriend on "The Office," where she played completely against the fresh-faced lovable type she has gained fame for in the movies (e.g. "Enchanted," "Junebug"). Next, we have "HEY MR. DJ" (3D: 1993 hit for the R&B duo Zhané) I didn't recognize the act in the clue at all, but got the answer quickly, and happily, from crosses. The tune is familiar, but the title is a phrase that's been in many, many songs, including one by They Might Be Giants. Here's the version mentioned in today's clue:
David TYREE (6D: David who caught a key pass in the 2008 Super Bowl) made the 2nd immaculate reception in last year's Super Bowl. He has a great last name that I hope shows up in puzzles a lot. DEMPSEY isn't spectacular, but the clue sure is (45D: "Honey, I just forgot to duck" speaker). DEMPSEY stands next to ED ASNER (44D: Santa Claus player in a 2003 comedy), who was quite good in "Elf" (the movie in question here). Not Will Ferrell good, but good. The puzzle's got both BOOZE (9D: Hard stuff) and MOCHA (30D: Latte variety), and this week I've had plenty of both. I've also been close enough to the ocean that LOW TIDE (43D: When some sea creatures are exposed) was a gimme. Ooh, you know how I said we saw otters at the aquarium? Well, this morning we saw them in the ocean, just floating on their backs and riding the waves ... until a gull went after whatever they were eating, and they turned and silently went under.
Speaking of going under - writer Donald Westlake died on New Year's Eve. Collapsed while vacationing in Mexico - apparent heart attack. He was my favorite living crime writer (up there with James Ellroy), and one of my five favorite crime writers of all time. He was a real working writer who Churned It Out. Wrote every day, all the time, and in the early days, he wrote in whatever genre he could sell (including softcore sex stuff - highly collectible, by the way). His prose is propulsive - lean, smart, funny, unpretentious, effortless. A born storyteller who never graduated from college. He wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Stephen Frears' fantastic movie "The Grifters" (based on the novel by another 20th century master, Jim Thompson). That movie brought noir style (and Thompson) back into public view, and back into style. In recent years, as I've tried to gather the discipline to write every day, he's been the writer I've turned to most often as a source of inspiration. He wrote my idea of the airplane or beach novel - entertaining, breezy, but not stupid or insipid or insulting to your intelligence. It sucks sucks sucks that he is dead, but his body of work is enormous, so I'm happy to know that I probably won't live long enough to finally get to it all. Next time you're in a used book store, pick up anything - literally anything - by him, and read it. You won't be disappointed.
- 8A: "America This Morning" outfit (ABC News) - "outfit" makes me laugh. Like the consonant pile-up in this one
- 16A: Region south of Silesia (Moravia) - I don't think I've heard of either of these; I know I haven't heard of "Silesia"; sounds fictional.
- 23A: Clothing store bargain fodder: Abbr. (Irrs.) - the worst part of the puzzle, and it's just four letters long, so I hardly care
- 26A: Greek goddess of youth (Hebe) - beware of her minions, the Jeebies
- 30A: Like the Topoxte archaeological site (Mayan) - blah blah blah. Got it easily from crosses
- 35A: Mistress of Charles II (Nell) - ooh, also a laughable 1990s movie staring the otherwise fantastic Jodie Foster, whom I just rewatched in the original "Freaky Friday"
- 51A: Magellan visited it (Venus) - I can't believe I waited this long to discuss the part of the puzzle that did me in! See - it's the new, kind me, burying the griping six feet deep. The real problem was VALUE / MENU (51D: With 41-Down, cheap fast food offerings), which I entered as VALUE / MEAL, a far far more in-the-language phrase that I never for one second questioned, even after it resulted in VEAUS ... I just thought it was French. It also resulted in NAHLATL, and as you can see, that's hardly any more ridiculous than the real answer.
- 58A: Noted Venetian army general (Othello) - yes, I noted him back in November. Great play.
- 1D: It rejects the caste system and idolatry (Sikhism) - oddly easy. The "K" took care of things (that is its way)
- 10D: Cristiano symbol (cruz) - The cross. And a Houston Astros outfielder from the 70s-80s.
- 11D: 1986-93 war-themed Marvel Comics series, with "The" ("Nam") - "The NAM!?" I had to look that one up when I was done to be sure, but there it is. Well before my comic-reading time.
- 26D: "Treasure Island" hero (Hawkins) - Haven't read it in 30 years, if at all. Got it mostly from crosses.
- 32D: "Eldorado" grp. (ELO) - in three letters, and an abbrev.? It's ELO. It's not R.E.M., because that band's name is not Rapid Eye Movement, and therefore doesn't require a clue that signals abbrev.
- 40D: Something great, informally (all that) - awesome, already dated slang. The phrase "ALL THAT and a bag of chips" was great while it lasted - as long as the chips didn't have OLESTRA - yuck (39D: Ingredient in some chips)
- 55D: Giant, e.g., briefly (NL'er) - I assume this answer doesn't shock anyone anymore. The S.F. Giants play in the National League in baseball - hence NL'ER.
- 56D: Patron saint of surgeons (Luke) - This is why surgeons are taught to "Use the Force"
- 59D: Energy expressed in volts: Abbr. (EMF) - known to me only as a flash-in-the-pan early 90s band
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld