SATURDAY, Aug. 15 2009 — Minstrel percussionist / Cousins of cutters / Wienerwald's whereabouts / They appeared on Ed Sullivan Show 36 times
Saturday, August 15, 2009
"THE COVERS OF / THIS BOOK ARE / TOO FAR APART"
Word of the Day: MR. BONES (26A: Minstrel percussionist) — Form of entertainment popular in the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It originated in the 1830s with the popular white performer Thomas D. Rice, known as “Jim Crow,” who wore the stylized makeup called blackface and performed songs and dances in a stereotyped imitation of African Americans. Blackfaced white minstrel troupes were particularly popular in the U.S. and England in 1840–80 and included groups such as the Christy Minstrels, who played on Broadway for 10 years and had songs composed for them by Stephen Foster. The minstrel show included an opening chorus and frequent exchanges of jokes between the emcee, Mr. Interlocutor, and the end men, Mr. Tambo (who played the tambourine) and Mr. Bones (who rattled the bones), interspersed with ballads, comic songs, and instrumental numbers (usually on the banjo and violin), as well as individual acts, soft-shoe dances, and specialty numbers. Minstrel troupes composed of African Americans were formed after the Civil War; in general, minstrel shows were the only theatrical medium in which black performers of the period could support themselves. Minstrel shows had effectively disappeared by the early 20th century, but the effects of their racial stereotyping persisted in performance mediums well into mid century. (entry for "Minstrel Show" from Brit. Concise Encyc. )
Difficulty-wise, this was a very typical Saturday. Started out floundering, thinking the puzzle was very hard, but as things began to fall, I got a good momentum going and finished relatively quickly, ending with a very average time. There's almost always that tipping point in a Saturday puzzle, when I go from "uh ....?" to "OK, I can do this." Sometimes, getting just the first section of a puzzle set can take up nearly half my solving time. But in a puzzle like this, with minimal segmentation (i.e. lots of ways to come at nearly every answer), once you get a toe hold, thing can flow quite nicely. I would have thought a quip would compound the difficulty of a Saturday puzzle (since unless you know the quot. cold, you *must* piece it together from crosses), but the concision and wit of the quip (and the relative fairness of the all its crosses) helped make it gettable with a reasonable amount of work.
I am normally not a big fan of quip puzzles, which today's a great surprise. My first reaction to seeing a quip was "ugh," but then when the quote finally tumbled, I actually laughed out loud. This marks the first time ever, EVER, that I have found an allegedly funny puzzle quip actually funny. Or LOL funny, at any rate. I think the joke had the right impact because I actually had to work for it, and so the punch line (the last part) had real punch. I got all gummed up in the NW by inferring (wrongly) ALL LOVERS OF for the first part of the quip. I figured he was going to insult the people who thought the book he was reviewing was good ("ALL LOVERS OF / THIS BOOK ARE ..."). Seemed a Bierceian thing to do. But NW wouldn't work, so I changed ALL to THE, and that was better, but stupid 4D: Baby showers? wouldn't fall until finally I took out the "L" in LOVERS and TALCS became obvious. Before that, I figured [Baby showers?] was doing the typical clue trick with "shower" where it means "one who shows" rather than a downpour. First guess: MAMAS.
I have called for a puzzle ban on all playground taunts (just yesterday, in fact, at the L.A. Crossword Confidential blog). Few clues ire me more (exc. maybe the clues that expect me to believe "IRE" is a verb) [shout-out to Joon Pahk, whose IRE at said use of IRE I share]. IS/AM/ARE + TOO/SO/NOT = boooo! I challenge constructors to do anything, Anything, with said phrases except a schoolyard retort (or, in this case [Grade school comeback], IS TOO). I'd have taken a "Goldilocks" partial here ... that's how much I hate this genre of clue. I started the puzzle with ARE SO, which got me INDOOR (8D: Like much plumbing), which got me SRI (6A: _____ Vaishnavism (Hindu sect)), and then not a lot else. I somehow managed to fish a financial abbrev. out of my head today with IMF (16D: Global lending org.), though it GAO and the mysterious WMF were the first things that came to mind. Changed ARE SO to IS TOO and ended up with the whole Northern patch filled in. This left me with -------ANDM---- for 17A: They appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" 36 times. Much as I adore STILLER AND MEARA (and I especially adore the crossword-solving Ms. MEARA), I feel that my initial wrong answer for this clue belongs in some kind of wrong answer Hall of Fame: WAYLAND AND MADAM. (sadly, real "Madame" has an "e" on the end):
- 1A: Brig pair (masts) — proud of myself that I knew it was something nautical. But had SAILS instead of MASTS.
- 9A: Org. that trademarked "Pony Express" in 2006 (USPS) — So that's their solution for making up the revenue lost to email. Brilliant.
- 25A: Reaction dreaded by a performer (boo) — also considered PAN.
- 40A: Old TV ministry inits. (PTL) — "Praise The Lord," with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.
- 43A: Agcy. concerned with ergonomics (OSHA) — never thought to put that word with that org., but it makes sense.
- 46A: Last thing (shoe) — had WILL. I am embarrassed that as of right now, I can't remember how "last" relates to SHOE. Is it another name for a shoe tree? Ah, no, it's the rough form of the human foot used in shoe-making. Where have all the cordwainers gone?
- 47A: Onetime foe of the Navajo (Ute) — had OTO. Why doesn't this clue read [Onetime Navajo foe]?
- 52A: Where sledders start (hilltops) — so proud of getting this off just the "I" and "P."
- 3D: Hucksters' deliveries (spiels) — wanted SHTICKS.
- 6D: Whiplike? (smart) — helped me finally change ARE SO to IS TOO. There are 7 "?"-style clues today.
- 7D: Free, but not for free (ransom) — that is a great clue.
- 11D: Releases from a spring board? (paroles) — and the kidnapper from 7D walks. Where's the justice!?
- 25D: Snake feeder (Boise) — family is from the NW, so this came pretty easily, but if you are from certain parts of the country ("Midland U.S.," wherever that is), "snake feeder" is another term for "dragonfly." There's a trap I was happy not to fall into.
- 28D: Grammy winner Khan (Chaka) — Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan. Chaka Khan Chaka Khan ...
- 32D: They're seen at Venice's La Fenice (operas) — yesterday SCOTTO, today this. Got nowhere with this at first, and when I saw it again later, it was all but filled in, mocking me for struggling with such a simple word.
- 34D: Wienerwald's whereabouts (Austria) — and there was much rejoicing in Wienerwald — AUSTRIA makes the puzzle for two days in a row.
- 38D: Cousins of cutters (sloops) — off the initial "S"; I'm telling you, this nautical stuff is starting to sink in. A lot more thoroughly than the opera stuff, at any rate.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]