"Apollo 13" actor Joe / FRI 4-30-10 / Setting of Hill Air Force Base / Tampico track transport / Subject of a Sophocles tragedy

Friday, April 30, 2010

Constructor: Natan Last

Relative difficulty: Medium


Word of the Day: HIDDEN BALL TRICK (57A: Diamond deception) —

The trick is exactly what its name suggests. It’s a deceptive play in which the runner on base is fooled as to the location of the ball, and is then tagged out by a nearby defender. Most often, this involves one of the basemen making a fake throw back to the pitcher who, for the play to be legal, must be positioned off of the mound.

According to multiple sources, there have been fewer than 300 successful instances of the Hidden Ball Trick in the recorded history of the Major Leagues. Considering that the game has been around for over a century, with each team playing more than 100 games, it’s an astonishingly low number.

One of the earliest known practitioners of the trick was Bill Coughlin, a third baseman who played for the Washington Senators and Detroit Tigers in a career which spanned nine years (1899-1908). While there is no way to verify his claim, Coughlin was said to have been responsible for seven successful executions of the Hidden Ball Trick. His most high-profile exhibition came in Game Two of the 1907 World Series, when he caught Jimmy Slagle of the Chicago Cubs. It is the only recorded instance of the trick in World Series History.

[The Wanna-Be Sports Guy ]
• • •

Hi, everybody. PuzzleGirl here filling in for Rex so he can get some sleep before catching his flight to L.A. at oh-dark-thirty tomorrow morning. My flight doesn't leave until the afternoon, so I told him I'd have plenty of time to do this post. Never mind that I haven't packed yet. And the clothes I want to pack need to be washed. And that I have a thing at the kids' school tomorrow morning. But hey, I printed out a bunch of my back-logged puzzles for the plane, so I'm sure everything will be just fine. Priorities, people!

I thought this puzzle was pretty fun. When I saw it was constructed by one of the Boy Wonders, I had a moment of panic. It's not always easy coming out here and telling you all about the mistakes I make and the stuff I don't know. And sometimes on Fridays and Saturdays, I can't even finish the puzzle. For some reason, when it's a young constructor, it makes me feel even worse about myself. So I'm happy to report that I did, indeed, finish the puzzle with no errors. (Whew! And, by the way, you know I adore you, Natan!)

Let's talk about the 15s. I'm shocked that THE SUN ALSO RISES (20A: Novel whose title comes from Ecclesiastes) doesn't turn up at all in the cruciverb.com data base. I thought for sure it was more common. I guess I'm thinking of "A Farewell to Arms," but even its most recent appearance was back in 2006. "Old Man and the Sea" is also 15. You'd think this Hemingway theme would have been done to death by now. Maybe constructors come up with it and think "Nah. Too easy." In any event, that entry seemed kinda blah to me (could also be because I'm not much of a Hemingway fan) and THE GREEN LANTERN (51A: Justice League member) — weren't we just talking about him the other day? Oh no, that was the Green Hornet. I have trouble keeping up with the comic book characters. Maybe I'm not as much of as dork as people think I am.

Anyway … what I was trying to get to was TRUE DAILY DOUBLE (17A: Risky thing to try for on "Jeopardy!"). Now that's an awesome entry. Here at the PuzzleHouse when we watch Jeopardy! we make fun of the contestants when they don't bet very much. "Come on! Bet it all!" we yell gleefully at the TV. Love that show.

What else:
  • 5A: Bob of stand-up comedy (SAGET). PuzzleKids have taken to watching reruns of "Full House" lately. Every time I hear Bob Saget's voice coming from the television set, all I can think of is his appearance in "The Aristocrats." How is it possible that Bob Saget is the filthiest person in that movie? He's so darn wholesome in "Full House"!
  • 23A: Heat unit? (LAP). I thought for sure this was going to be gun-related, not track-related.
  • 24A: Player of Sethe in "Beloved" (OPRAH). I read the book, but can't say that I saw the movie. I bet it was weird.
  • 42A: Midgets of the 1960s-'70s, e.g. (MGS). This is a car, right?

  • 47A: Image on Connecticut's state quarter (OAK). I tried elm first. Hey, I knew it was a tree!
  • 9D: It might include check boxes (TO-DO LIST). I'm sorry but, "might"? If it doesn't have check boxes … how do you check the things off? I'm confused. And possibly a control freak.
  • 12D: Fit (HALE). With the L in place, I tried able at first.
  • 18D: Brunswick, e.g., once (DUCHY). I'm thinking about including a video of Musical Youth here. What? You'd rather pull your fingernails out one by one? Okay, I'll skip it. You're welcome.
  • 30D: Crushed corn creation (CROP CIRCLE). This is an awesome clue. Everybody was thinking food, right? It wasn't just me?
  • 31D: Total hottie (TEN). I tried to find a video of Roseanne Roseannadanna singing Santana's "Evil Ways," but no luck. ("You've got change your evil way, Bo Derek ….")
  • 34D: Martinez of the diamond (TINO). I admit, my first thought was Pedro, but when I saw it was only four letters, my next thought was TINO.
  • 37D: Disney doe (ENA). Sometimes I'm just grateful for a little crosswordese. Ya know, just to give me a little toehold.
  • 49D: Lara's son, in DC Comics (KAL-EL). Again with the comic book stuff. I started out with Kel-al which is … wrong. Also, I thought Kal-el was Superman's father but it turns out it's actually Superman. His father is Jor-el. His mother, as we know from this clue, is Lara. We wouldn't know that from Superman's Wikipedia page, however, as it doesn't even mention Lara. Not once. Interesting.
If you're in the L.A. area this weekend, please plan to attend the Crosswords L.A. tournament at Loyola Marymount University. It will be a super fun event and it benefits a great organization, Reading to Kids. Hope to see you there!

Love, PuzzleGirl

[Follow PuzzleGirl on Twitter]


Asian spiritual guide / THU 4-29-10 / U.S. term for British saloon / Big name vacuum cleaners / King with statue in Trafalgar Square

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Constructor: David J.W. Simpson

Relative difficulty: Medium (might very well be "Easy" — I did it on the couch while watching baseball, so have no idea how fast I would have been under my "normal" — timed, undistracted — conditions)

THEME: ODD — I'll let 17-Across et al. explain: "EACH ANSWER HAS AN / ODD / NUMBER OF LETTERS"

Word of the Day: Maurice STANS (5D: Maurice of Nixon's cabinet) —

Maurice Hubert Stans (March 22, 1908 - April 14, 1998) was an American accountant, high-ranking civil servant, Cabinet member, and political organizer. He served as the finance chairman for the Committee to Re-elect the President, working for the re-election of Richard Nixon, and was a peripheral figure in the ensuing Watergate Scandal. (wikipedia)
• • •

Did not like. In general, I am not a fan of these types of puzzles — the ones where answer are instructions or explanations. You just have to wait around for crosses to fill it all in — no joy in that — and then ... what? Maybe you connect the dots or fold your puzzle or, as with today, learn about some architectural feature you wouldn't notice if you weren't looking for it. Odd number of letters in each answer. Hmmm. Who. Cares? How does this feature increase my solving enjoyment? What does the this theme add, value-wise? Zero. If anything, it takes up valuable grid real estate with lengthy, inherently dull explanations of its raison d'etre (ETRES = possibly the ugliest Fr. word I've ever seen in the grid — 34D: French beings). "Hey, look what I made." Yep, those are answers with odd numbers of letters, alright. Congratulations?

This puzzle has ZEN MASTER (32A: Asian spiritual guide) crossing ZONKED OUT (32D: Totally beat), clearly the marquee answers of the day. Sadly, they aren't anything close to redemptive. Just an interesting sidelight, a not-quite-successful attempt to make me forget the triple-partial nightmare in the NW — IS A and OR NOT and NO I ... and the last two cross ... and the clue for NO I has "not" in it ... train wreck. Nevermind MST crossing SSW, and ORA, which is essentially another partial disguised as an Italian word (2D: 60 minuti). It hurts.

  • 23A: King with a statue in Trafalgar Square (JAMES II) — ousted in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which brought William and Mary to power. I didn't know the answer here, though (briefly considered HENRY II), and not knowing STANS contributed to this section's being the toughest for me today, by far.
  • 28A: "Interest paid on trouble before it falls due," per W. R. Inge (WORRY) — first, "W. R.?" I had no idea. Second, today appears to be "massive quote" day in the puzzle. There's this one, then 51A: "___ fancy you consult, consult your purse": Benjamin Franklin (ERE), and 48D: Who wrote "I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him" (POE).
  • 42A: Lizard that chirps (GECKO) — did you see where the guy who does the voice in the GEIKO ads (no, not the voice of the GECKO, but the disembodied voiceover voice) got fired for prank-calling some conservative group? Absurd. It's a very calm, non-threatening call. It's just ... you don't prank call and then leave your *actual* phone number on the voicemail. As I understand it.

  • 64A: U.S. term for a British "saloon" (SEDAN) — news to me. How the hell do does our word for a bar in the old west with the swinging doors and card-playing and what not become a four-door automobile overseas? Or vice versa? Absurd.
  • 26D: Big name in vacuum cleaners (DYSON) — I think we have one of these. But not the one with the ball. The older kind. The purple kind.
  • 44D: Mythological subject for Titian and Botticelli (VENUS) — I have a t-shirt with a "Simpsons" parody of the Botticelli painting. Features Marge on a half shell. Bare breast and all. Can't believe it's official, but it is.
  • 47D: Mini-section of an almanac (ATLAS) — The "mini" part threw me, because I associate the word "ATLAS" with bigness.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. this is my final plug for this weekend's "Crosswords L.A." charity crossword tournament at Loyola-Marymount University. Looks like I'm on the judging/scoring team with constructors Tyler Hinman, Doug Peterson, Todd McClary, and Alex Boisvert. Tyler and Andrea Carla Michaels are doing color commentary for the finals. It's cheap, it's fun, you can solve in teams if you want ... more info here. For those of you who are wondering if you are "good enough" to compete — you are. These tournaments are only stressful for the hyper-competitive. For the rest of us, they're just a chance to geek out about puzzles in a low-key, friendly environment. Hope to see L.A.-area folks there.


Self-assembly retail chain / WED 4-28-10 / Foot to zoologist / Holders of some pipe joints / Cardholder's woe

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels and Peter L. Stein

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SPOUT (66A: Teapot part ... or a two-word hint to 16-, 25-, 43- and 59-Across) — "SP" is taken "OUT" of familiar phrases, leaving wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: KATO (28D: Green Hornet's sidekick) —

Kato is a fictional character from The Green Hornet series. This character has also appeared with the Green Hornet in film, television, book and comic book versions. Kato was the Hornet's assistant and has been played by a number of actors. On radio, Kato was initially played by Raymond Hayashi, then Roland Parker who had the role for most of the run, and in the later years Mickey Tolan. Keye Luke took the role in the movie serials, and in the television series he was portrayed by Bruce Lee. // Kato was Britt Reid's valet, who doubled as The Green Hornet's unnamed, masked driver and sidekick to help him in his vigilante adventures, disguised as the activities of a racketeer and his chauffeur/bodyguard/enforcer. According to the storyline, years before the events depicted in the series, Britt Reid had saved Kato's life while travelling in the Far East. Depending on the version of the story, this prompted Kato to become Reid's assistant or friend. [...] On June 4, 2008 Sony Pictures announced plans that they are going ahead with plans for a feature film of the superhero. Set to be released on December 17, 2010, the film is to star Seth Rogen, who will take on writing duties along with Superbad co-writer Evan Goldberg. Stephen Chow had originally signed on to play Kato, but then dropped out. Taiwanese actor Jay Chou replaced Chow as Kato for the film. (wikipedia)
• • •

A type of theme we've seen many times before and will undoubtedly see again. Even as we speak, aspiring constructors are scrawling down all the -OUT (and -IN) words they can think of. TROUT, FLOUT, STOUT, GRIN, CHIN, TRAIN, etc. I feel like Andrea Michaels herself did the SPIN version of this theme not too long ago ... and I am correct. I liked the puzzle OK, but only RING CHICKEN seemed sufficiently funny for this kind of theme. IN THE BOTTLE, on the other hand, does absolutely nothing. Just lies there. Not surprisingly, that section (the west) took the longest for me to uncover. I was looking for something more lively in the theme answer — and then MASSLESS just wouldn't come (40A: Like a photon), and I didn't (and still don't) think MOST could be a "kind" of anything (33D: Kind of votes a candidate wants). I can't think of any situation where "MOST" would be the answer to a "what kind of ...?" question. ELON (36A: North Carolina's ___ University) and ELAN (32D: Zip) just need ELIN (Woods) to show up, and they could have a nice little party. Hey, ELIN — there's the basis for your next puzzle theme right there!

Theme answers:
  • 16A: Attila, for one? (ACE INVADER) — I guess this means he's good at invading?
  • 25A: Cowardly boxer? (RING CHICKEN)
  • 43A: Where to find a genie? (IN THE BOTTLE)
  • 59A: Holders of some pipe joints? (ELL BINDERS) — no idea why this answer wasn't ELL-BINDING, a play on the more common, all-purpose word "spell-binding," and one that gets rid of the pointless plural
Revelation of the day: Tyler and Taylor were WHIGs!?!?! (21D: Taylor or Tyler). I had apparently completely blocked out the fact that that was *ever* a viable American party. This may be partly due to the fact that I taught Jonathan Swift's "Description of a City Shower" yesterday, which has the lines:

Here various kinds, by various fortunes led,
Commence acquaintance underneath a shed.
Triumphant Tories and desponding Whigs
Forget their feuds, and join to save their wigs. (39-42)

So in my mind, at least for yesterday, WHIGs were a purely London phenomenon. I was actually considering whether I knew anyone named Tyler WHIG.

  • 1A: Appetite arouser (AROMA) — Looking for an AMUSE-BOUCHE or the like. I never get AROMA when clued this way, or as a "lure" of some kind.
  • 37A: Jefferson's religious belief (DEISM) — Why some contemporary Christians believe he was one of them, I just don't know. He took a razor to his bible to extract the "supernatural" stuff (you know, the Resurrection and all that).
  • 47A: Polite reply that may be accompanied by eye-rolling (YES, DEAR) — Yeah, your wife *is* a bitch. (i.e. I do not like this clue)
  • 4D: Like towelettes, typically (MOIST) — there's a word I'd be happy never to see again. [Shudder]
  • 28D: Green Hornet's sidekick (KATO) — With the movie coming out later this year, Dynamite Comics has launched a *ridiculous* number of "Green Hornet" titles. Five of them, I think. I am reading only Matt Wagner's "Green Hornet: Year One." Wait, maybe I'm reading the Kevin Smith-penned series as well. It's a little alarming that I don't even know what's being pulled for me at the comic book store each week any more.
  • 37D: Cardholder's woe (DEBT) — was thinking of a different kind of card (playing).
  • 42D: Foot, to a zoologist (PES) — yay, Latin.
  • 45D: First pope with the title "The Great" (LEO I) — boo, random pope who's here only 'cause he's 75% vowels.
  • 54A: Self-assembly retail chain (IKEA) — "Self-assembly" sounds weird — like a robot that somehow builds itself.
  • 60D: "If I Ruled the World" rapper (NAS) — Here you go:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Johnny who used to cry Come On Down / TUE 4-27-10 / Penny-pincher slangily / Seoul-based automaker / Means of staying toasty at night

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Constructor: Oliver Hill

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: SWITCHBLADE (62A: Street weapon ... or a hint to the circled letters in this puzzle) — consecutive circled letters in each theme answers are made up of the rearranged ("switched"?) letters of BLADE

Word of the Day: SAE (55A: Major coll. fraternity) —

Sigma Alpha Epsilon (ΣΑΕ, also SAE) is a North American Greek-letter social college fraternity founded at the University of Alabama on March 9, 1856. Of all existing national social fraternities today, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only one founded in the Antebellum South. Its national headquarters, the Levere Memorial Temple, was established on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in 1929. // Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the largest college fraternity by total initiates, with more than 300,000 initiated members and more than 11,000 undergraduates at 300 chapters in 49 states and provinces at present. The creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, The True Gentleman, must be memorized and recited by all prospective members. New members receive a copy of The Phoenix, the manual of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, for educational development.

• • •

Amazingly easy for a puzzle with a whopping seven (7!) theme answers. Easiness is probably largely attributable to the fact that the grid is something close to 40% three-letter words. Not sure I counted properly, but I've got 30/78 words at 3 letters. And with none of the clues particularly tough today (exc. SAE, what the hell? I never saw the clue and figured it was simply the "self-addressed envelope" abbreviation I've come to know and ... tolerate), I methodically chomped through this one from NW to SW with hardly a hesitation. The puzzle is all theme ... and it's a good theme. Nice use of circles (contiguous, useful in solving). BED LAMP and HEATED BLANKET both seem like basic phrases, but I don't think I'd say either. I'd probably throw "SIDE" into the "BED LAMP" answer, and all the HEATED BLANKETs I've known have been heated by electricity, making them ELECTRIC BLANKETS. Maybe folks are heating blankets other ways these days (or on the prairie in olden tymes).

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Genesis duo (CAIN AND ABEL)
  • 21A: It's found on a nightstand (BED LAMP)
  • 29A: Certain mustache shape (HANDLEBAR)
  • 38A: Means of staying toasty at night (HEATED BLANKET)
  • 50A: American symbol (BALD EAGLE)
  • 57A: Made possible (ENABLED)
All of the very short fill makes the two Long Downs stand out, and I like them. Oddly homey, familiar implements. Fittingly, I got CAN OPENER (6D: One use of a Swiss Army knife) off the CAN and it opened the puzzle right up. Are there HOES that are not GARDEN HOEs (36D: Tool you can lean on)? Oh, wait, BACK HOE. That's a HOE. A HOE you can lean on, too. I would like to make the point now that a pimp can lean on his hoes, too, just so we can get that pun out of our systems. There. I feel better.

  • 11A: MP3 holders (CDS) — this is pretty cheap cluing. People listen to MP3s on iPods and iPod-like devices, not CDS. You can record MP3s to CDS, it's true, but ... :(
  • 73A: Darcy's Pemberley, e.g., in "Pride and Prejudice" (ESTATE) — Hesitated here trying to untangle the grammar of the clue. Had a brief moment where I imagined Pemberley was a person. Then thought, "wait, I've actually read this novel. Several times." And brain said "Oh yeah. That's right. Here you go: it's ESTATE."
  • 69A: Bond girl Kurylenko (OLGA) — Apparently being a Bond girl is like winning a gold medal — automatic puzzle eligibility. The only Bond girl I know is Ursula Andress. And I like it that way.
  • 11D: Penny-pincher, slangily (CHEAPO) — that would be a good name for a disposable lighter. Zippo is for the elites — try CHEAPO, the working man's lighter!
  • 37D: Snick's partner (SNEE) — These guys need an animated show, like Tom and Jerry or Chip and Dale.
  • 53D: Johnny who used to cry "Come on down!" (OLSON) — me: "Uh ... CARSON didn't say that, it was Ed McMahon! Oh wait, wrong show."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Textile city of north-central England / MON 4-26-10 / Widespread language East Africa / Early Fords that put America on wheels / Bygone love interest

Monday, April 26, 2010

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "PLAYING WITH FIRE" (37A: Doing something risky ... or a hint to the last words of 18-, 24-, 49- and 58-Across) — theme answers end with LIGHT, HEAT, FLAME, and SMOKE, respectively

Word of the Day: LEEDS (50D: Textile city of north-central England) —

Leeds is the cultural, financial and commercial heart of the wider West Yorkshire Urban Area, which at the 2001 census had a population of 1.5 million, and the Leeds city region, an economic area with Leeds at its core, had a population of 2.9 million. Leeds is the UK's largest centre for business, legal, and financial services outside London, and according to the most recent Office for National Statistics estimates, Leeds is the fastest growing city in the UK. [...] Leeds has a diverse economy with employment in the service sector now far exceeding that in the traditional manufacturing industries. In 2002, 401,000 employees were registered in the Leeds district. Of these 24.7% were in public administration, education and health, 23.9% were in banking finance and insurance and 21.4% were in distribution, hotels and restaurants. It is in the banking, finance and insurance sectors that Leeds differs most from the financial structure of the region and the nation. The city is the location of one of the largest financial centres in England outside London. Tertiary industries such as retail, call centres, offices and media have contributed to a high rate of economic growth. In 2006 GVA for city was recorded at £16.3 billion, with the entire Leeds City Region generating an economy of £46 billion.
• • •

Solved this one very differently than I normally do — opened it in the kitchen and called out the Across clues to my wife as she was cooking. Together, we tried them all in order, without looking at any of the Downs. Shockingly (to me), we got every single answer that way save one — AT STAKE (44A: Being risked, as in a bet). We also misguessed MODEL AS instead of the correct MODEL TS (28A: Early Fords that "put American on wheels"). Wife came up with PACK LIGHT (18A: Common advice to travelers) almost instantly, and I did the same for DEAD HEAT (24A: Race that finishes in a tie), and from that, we inferred PLAYING WITH FIRE, and from *that* we got OLD FLAME (49A: Bygone love interest) as well as (after much thought) the most recalcitrant of the Acrosses, HOLY SMOKE! (58A: "Omigosh!") We had to look at the the Downs only to get crosses for AT STAKE, and only needed the first two to figure it out. I don't know if this would have played any faster than usual if I'd been solving normally, but it really felt astonishingly easy, even for a Monday.

The theme seemed pretty rudimentary. Proceeded along fairly typical lines, i.e. take a familiar idiomatic phrase, and then use it as the basis for a handful of theme answers – here, linked loosely by last word. FIRE gives off LIGHT, and HEAT, and SMOKE ... doesn't really give off FLAME. It is FLAME. But close enough for ... whatever the expression is. I want to say horseshoes, but that's a different expression ("close only counts in horseshoes and hand gernades").

  • 3D: Adorable zoo critters from China (PANDA BEARS) — "Adorable" seems pretty subjective / unscientific. Are they really any more "adorable" than the AGOUTI? (OK, yes, they probably are, but I just wanted to say AGOUTI because I can't get that animal out of my head since I began reading "Swiss Family Robinson" with my daughter — the AGOUTI is one of a shockingly large number of exotic animals killed within the first two chapters of that book — a dog devours a monkey, the dogs and boys absolutely destroy a handful of jackals, the youngest boy clubs an unsuspecting penguin in the head, gives it to his mom to cook, and then saves its feet and beak to show his dad and brother, etc. It's all horrifically, hilariously brutal).
That's all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Bygone daily MTV series informally / SUN 4-25-10 / Death Grieg movement / Singer/actress Karen Broadway's Nine / Architect born 4/26/1917

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "MONUMENTAL ACHIEVEMENT" — a puzzle all about PYRAMIDS, and specifically in honor of the GLASS DESIGN BY I.M. PEI (89A: [ ] that was the creation of an architect born 4/26/1917) featured at THE LOUVRE (66A: Paris attraction that features a [ ])

[Note on puzzle reads: When this puzzle is done, the seven circled letters can be arranged to spell a common word, which is missing from seven of the clues, as indicated by [ ]. Connect the seven letters in order with a line and you will get an outline of the object that the word names]

Word of the Day: Larry KERT (119A: Larry who played Tony in "West Side Story") —

In 1955, while dancing in the chorus in the Sammy Davis, Jr. show Mr. Wonderful, Kert was recommended by his fellow dancer and friend Chita Rivera, who eventually won the role of Anita in West Side Story, to audition as a dancer for Gangway during the earliest Broadway pre-production of the Arthur Laurents-Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim musical later titled West Side Story, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in upper Manhattan in the 1950s. Years later while singing at the White House, Kert remembered he was the 18th out of 150 hopefuls to audition, but he was the first one to be cut. A few months later, while he was working for Esquire in an advertising show, Stephen Sondheim approached him after seeing him perform and set up an audition for the part of Tony. Kert was reluctant to accept the offer, but a few weeks later, he was informed that he had the role. // According to Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book for West Side Story, Kert was "a California extrovert, laughing, bubbling, deadly funny, and openly gay." Director-choreographer Jerome Robbins frequently clashed with Kert, publicly chastising him for being a "faggot," despite the fact that Robbins himself, fellow dancer Tommy Abbott and most of the creative team was gay. Kert did not repeat his role in the 1961 film version of the show because at 30 years old he looked unbelievable as a teenager. The role went to former child actor Richard Beymer, whose vocals were dubbed by Jimmy Bryant. Kert was upset at being passed over for the role, because he had hoped that it would jump-start his film career. [...] Kert's last stage appearance came in a touring company of La Cage aux Folles but he missed performances because of illness. Kert died, aged 60, in New York City from complications of AIDS in 1991. His older sister is singer Anita Ellis, noted for dubbing Rita Hayworth and other non-singing stars in their films. (wikipedia)

• • •

This is the first Liz Gorski creation in a long time (possibly ever) that I just didn't care for. Inevitably, I compare this puzzle to her Guggenheim puzzle from last year, and this one just doesn't measure up. The theme was very easy to pick up — I never looked at the note that came with it until I was finished filling in the grid — and then held almost no surprises. No revealing moments. The theme answers were simply dull descriptions of things that are pyramids. Further, I have never heard of the card game "Pyramid" (78A: CARD GAME), and I've been practicing yoga for years and didn't know Pyramid was a pose (it's just not one we do, I guess — what's up with that, Elisa? Are you holding out on me?) (55A: YOGA POSE). No problem. Just picked them up from crosses. So I just sort of ho-hummed my way through the grid. And then was asked to draw on my grid — an act toward which I used to be hostile, though now my feelings are pretty neutral. I just don't count those post-solve theatrics as part of the puzzle's inherent quality. Here, it's a pyramid. I can see it before I draw it. So I don't draw.

My main issue today, though, was how much really, truly subpar fill is populating this grid — an avalanche of wince-inducing short stuff. ASE'S (115A: "___ Death" (Grieg movement)) over KERT probably hurt the worst, but I'd count all of the following as less than optimal (no one thing is pure abomination, but taken in toto, wow, it hurts): ASE'S, AKERS (102D: Singer/actress Karen of Broadway's "Nine"), KERT, FOSSAE (81D: Anatomical cavities — actually, somewhat cool, but clearly a word of convenience, and the second -AE plural in the grid), the whole middle of the puzzle (OLEOS next to STOAS next to ALTUS), CTS crossing SSNS, LEY, UBS (36D: Financial inst. that bought PaineWebber in 2000), MNOP, singular SCAD, AM TO (?), CLONAL (!?!?!) (12D: Like some cell growth), BES (where I'm from, "WANNABE" is one word), etc. etc. None of it caused much of a struggle, but with each one of these, my pleasure diminished and diminished — and with no wow factor to redeem it, I ended up feeling like I was just going through the motions. I am a huge fan of The Gorski — her name is usually one of the first names out of my mouth when people ask me "Who do you think the best constructors are?" Perhaps my standards for her are too high. Perhaps. But I'm going to keep them there. Her ambitious creations make me happy and hopeful even when I don't think they quite come off.

Theme answers:
  • 55A: [ ] — YOGA POSE
  • 78A: [ ] — CARD GAME
  • 20A: Resident of a country that's 97% mountains and desert (OMANI) — klassic krosswordese, but with an interesting klue
  • 31A: Gwen who sang "Don't Speak," 1996 (STEFANI) — as the lead singer of the group No Doubt; "Don't Speak" was a huuuuuge hit.

  • 59A: Glossy black birds (DAWS) — speaking of birds that are neither glossy nor black, I got attacked by a wild turkey in the woods yesterday. OK, "attacked" is a mild overstatement. But I swear, I heard a bit of rustling nearby, and then an explosion of leaves as 20+ pounds of maniacally flapping awkwardness seemed to just levitate from behind the bushes right next to me and start to fly right overhead. My thought: "There's No Way that stays airborne." So I duck but the bird proceeds to go higher and higher, clearing me easily and ending up quite near the treetops, from which it simply stretched out its wings and glided down the hill. I had no idea turkeys could get that much air, or soar so gracefully. Crazy. My dogs ... absolutely failed to notice anything remarkable going on.
  • 60A: New York City transport from the Bronx to Coney Island (D TRAIN) — got it off the "D." Did anyone ever sing about the D TRAIN the way they did about the A TRAIN?

  • 103A: Network that airs "WWE Raw" (USA) — If I had to name a USA network show, I think the only one I could come up with is "Night Flight" — an early music video show that seemed very cool and cutting-edge and grown up to 11-year-old me (soooo much cooler than the teen-and-tween-centered "Total Request Live," aka "TRL" (74D: Bygone daily MTV series, informally) of '90s MTV.

  • 104A: Breakdown of social norms (ANOMIE) — a word I think I've heard exactly once, in Government class, in 1988.
  • 13D: Part of a Virgin Atlantic fleet (AEROPLANE) — strangely, I would not have pegged this as British. I would have pegged it as 19c / Jules Vernian. Shows what I know.
  • 17D: Like Berg's "Wozzeck" (ATONAL) — despite being a very ordinary word, puzzle-wise, ATONAL took me longer than probably any other word in the grid. Fozzy Wozzeck was a bear ...

  • 51A: 1980s Chrysler debut (K-CAR) — for no good reason, I really like this answer. If a car is going to be named after a letter, that is the letter to name it after, I say.

And now your Tweets of the Week, puzzle chatter from the Twitterverse:

  • @marcusyeagley I've been defeated by a Monday NYT crossword puzzle. Not a fine way to start the day. #fb
  • @virgikneecap http://twitpic.com/1hwy8n - Mike is not helpful with crosswords.
  • @amandahesser Another tip-top @michelehumes Food Crossword for your weekend of leisure: http://bit.ly/cVWmxo
  • @jocakern Will you share your crossword puzzle? Come on,it is not a toothbrush...
  • @sesamestreet Cookie Monster: Ate newspaper crossword puzzle today. Gordon said it was “a piece of cake”. So me ate it. Not very moist.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Viking poet / SAT 4-24-10 / Like some harrows / Summer salon service / What 1776 got in 1969 / Title role in 1983 black-and-white film

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Constructor: Thomas Heilman

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: KIBEI (54A: U.S.-born Japanese educated in Japan) —

Kibei kibei (帰米?, literally "go home to America") was a term often used in the 1940s to describe Japanese Americans born in the United States who returned to America after receiving their education in Japan. (wikipedia)
• • •

Mostly wonderful puzzle that felt easy, but final time says normal. Three potentially killer answers, but all of them crossed fairly. Studied medieval literature in grad school and still never heard of a SKALD (3D: Viking poet). My "wacky medieval words for 'poet'" list begins and ends with SCOP (it's Old English / Anglo-Saxon, and if you haven't seen it in the grid, you will). No clue about the Barbra Streisand "hit," though "STONEY End" (23A: "___ End" (1971 Barbra Streisand hit)) turns out to be a Laura NYRO composition that has been recorded by many, many people, including Diana Ross and Linda Ronstadt. The scariest mystery word of the day, however, has to be KIBEI. I reflexively wrote in NISEI without properly reading the clue, but then 29D: Very full ended up ending in -ACNED. Not likely. So I waited on JAMPACKED and then GAME TABLE (31D: Play furniture?) to give me the "K" and "B," and they just prayed that KIBEI was, in fact, a word. And it was.

Here's how I broke this one open. After my typical few moments of "huh?" "wha?" "don't know it" "Oh come On!," I got SNOG (5D: Make out, in Harry Potter) and ZELIG (19A: Title role in a 1983 black-and-white film) in quick succession. That "Z" was precious, as it allowed me the educated guess of IBIZA at 1D: One of the Pine Islands, which gave me the first letters of all those long Acrosses up there. Those Acrosses didn't come right away, but luckily the little 3s up there (HIM (6D: Exclamation at a lineup), AWE (7D: Something to gaze in)) were easy to get, and gave me enough leverage to bring down the long Acrosses after all.

Made a fantastically good guess at 12D: Person prone to proneness? (LAZY BONES) with just the "Y" in place. Or maybe I had the "B" from (wrongly) guessing BSA at 25A: Org. with the motto "Start With Trust" (BBB). Yeah, I know, "Be prepared." Maybe orgs. can have more than one motto, what do I know? Anyway, LAZY BONES was enough headway to lay that whole corner to waste, despite my not having any clue about Ariel the mermaid's sisters (16A: One of Ariel's sisters in "The Little Mermaid" => ALANA), and never having heard of 33A: Broadway's "Never GONNA Dance" — does it really belong to *all* of Broadway, and no one particular show?

Rebooted in the SW, once I finally changed TID to TER (35D: Thrice, to a pharmacist), which instantly got me PTER- (41A: Wing: Prefix). TER / PTER = not a great cross, but there was too much goodness for that to matter much. Then there was the aforementioned KIBEI encounter. Rounding the corner to the SE proved easy. Finally closed in on ELIO, which was bugging me, as it's a name I know I've seen but just couldn't retrieve today (37D: Chacon of the 1962 Mets). Finished things up down in the SE, which is my least favorite area today, due primarily to the uninspired Downs. The FIRESTORM (55A: Violent outburst) / FLUMMOXED (59A: At a loss) pairing is pretty hot, though, so I can't be too mad at that corner.

  • 15A: Summer salon service, for some (BIKINI WAX) — I was like "summer? summer? why summer?" And now I know.
  • 29A: One with an ear and a small mouth (JUG) — Frustrating! Knew what clue was going for but could come up with only EWER (?)
  • 38A: Quietly tells a tale (MIMES) — Pretty sure that's "Silently ..."
  • 51A: Target of some leg-pulling (CRAB MEAT) — that is a most decent clue.
  • 2D: Like some harrows (TINED) — Confused "harrows" with "barrows," and I barely know what "barrows" are. Disaster. At least I know TINED is a word. A "harrow" is a farm implement that is dragged over ground to level it, break up clots, etc.
  • 14D: Remove graffiti from, in a way (SAND BLAST) — Sounds extreme. Does SAND BLASTing use actual sand? Here's more than you'll ever want to know about abrasive blasting.
  • 21D: Wide receiver Welker (WES) — for a guy who's only 5'9", he's kind of a big deal. Major offensive force for the New England Patriots. His late-season knee-injury kept him out of the this past year's playoffs. New England didn't get far.
  • 24D: What "1776" got in 1969 (TONY) — More Broadway. Lucky me :( For whatever reason, I could only think of "Barry Lyndon" (1975)

  • 48D: Leader who died 27 days after his election (LEO XI) — early 17th century pope. He gives you an "X" and a lot of vowels. He's very crosswordesey. My favorite wikipedia fact about him: "He was nicknamed Papa Lampo ("Lightning Pope") for the brevity of his pontificate."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

PS Happy Birthday to PuzzleGirl, my friend and (most) trusted blog assistant / administrator / adviser / fire-putter-outter. Andrea (of Carla Michaels fame) and Doug (Peterson) and PuzzleSister (who comments here sometimes as @addieloggins) put together a little puzzle in her honor, which I'm told should be generally doable (i.e. no special PuzzleGirl knowledge required). You can get it here. I haven't done it yet, but if there's nothing about Iowa Wrestling in it, I'll be shocked.


Favorite card game of Winston Churhill / FRI 4-23-10 / Lizard fuel beverage maker / 1886 Alcott sequel / 1040 subjs / Palate stimulus

Friday, April 23, 2010

Constructor: Brad Wilber

Relative difficulty:

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BEZIQUE (51A: Favorite card game of Winston Churchill) —

Bezique, is a 19th century French melding and trick-taking card game for two players derived from Marriage via Briscan by the addition of more scoring features, notably a peculiar liaison Q ♠and J under the names Bésigue, Binokel, Pinochle, etc., according to the country. [...] The game gained its greatest popularity in Paris by 1860 and in England a few years later. Perhaps the most famous proponent of the game was Winston Churchill, an avid player and early expert of Six-Pack, or "Chinese" Bezique. But since the late nineteenth century the game has declined in popularity. There is some evidence that the English writers Wilkie Collins and Christina Rossetti were also enthusiasts. (wikipedia)
• • •

I liked this puzzle quite a bit, until I discovered that I had an error. BAZIQUE / AVA instead of the apparently correct BEZIQUE / EVA. I consider this crossing, with this cluing, an editorial failure. If I am alone in my error (or, more specifically, if one or the other of these is common knowledge to the majority of you all), then I will stand corrected, but ... for the moment, let's see if I can explain why this crossing is objectively bad. Actually, the crossing is not bad. What is bad is the cluing on EVA (52D: 2006 Bond girl ___ Green). Do people know this Bond girl? If they do, did they know she was an "E" EVA and not an "A" AVA? BEZIQUE is one of exactly two words in this whole grid that, because it is odd and exotic, requires very fair crosses (UHRY is the other — 9D: Pulitzer winner for "Driving Miss Daisy" — and its crosses are just fine). Crossing that first vowel with a word whose first letter is going to be a total toss-up — that's just lazy editing. I'm happy to know BEZIQUE, but I couldn't care less about this unidentified, alleged Bond girl and whatever movie she is from. There was *no* need to go to some random, marginal EVA in that clue. Doing so didn't make the puzzle any tougher. It just made it shrug-worthy. Sad, because the grid is pretty sweet overall. Prickly in that way that good tough puzzles always are. Reasonable EVA clue would have made this puzzle highly satisfying all around.

Had trouble getting traction. Lots of floundering in the NW. Put in LOBBY at 19A: Room in Clue (STUDY). Put down ACNE for 20D: Cosmetologist's concern (instead of where it ultimately belonged, at 32A: Bad marks gotten in high school?). OLD SAW for 14D: Chestnut (CLICHÉ). And so on. Got my first real toehold with ZITI (48A: Tubes in an oven) / ZINC (48D: Calamine component), and built the puzzle up from there. There were some fat gimmes that I just didn't manage to see at first glance, like GO-GOS (31D: "Our Lips Are Sealed" band) and SOBE (33A: Lizard Fuel beverage maker) — any time "lizard" and "beverage" get together in a clue, the answer is SOBE. Coming out of the SE proved pretty easy, especially the SW, which went down lickety-split. The "X" in SUSSEX (41D: Area where the hoax Piltdown man was found) made ROLODEX (56A: Spinner with numbers) a cinch, and the fact that I've got Alcott on the brain (just bought the new Graphic Penguin Classics version of "Little Women," designed by Julie Doucet, and am preparing to read it once my wife is done with it ... the book opens with a quote from Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," which I just happened to teach today ...) made "JO'S BOYS" a snap as well (49A: 1986 Alcott sequel).

NE was toughish, partly because of UHRY, partly because I didn't know "Bad" was a German place, so couldn't make sense of 17A: Bad setting (GERMANY). Had to come at the section from below. Much respect to GAYDAR, which made me say 'wow.' Good clue (13D: Sense of orientation). Another good (tough) clue on NINE PIN (12D: One standing at the back of an alley). Honestly, the corners are just good all over today. For a reasonably high word-count themeless (72 words), the fill is remarkably interesting and (mostly) not burdened with IFFY (43A: Not settled) or stale junk. Nothing squirmy or forced. Just nice. My last stand was back in that pesky NW, which was harder than the rest of the grid By Far for me. At various points, I had LETTERS (?) for LECTERN (16A: Address location), ACTS for OPTS (3D: Gets off the fence), ATF (?!) for HUD (26A: Govt. org. associated with auctions), and the aforementioned OLD SAW for CLICHÉ. Also AIR for EAR (5D: Attention). I was thinking "AIR TIME," I think. Most major gaffe up there, though, has to be entering LAST LINE for EXIT LINE (29A: Blanche DuBois's "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," e.g.) – major because I entered it triumphantly and certainly, which kept all the longish Downs up there invisible to me for quite some time. Is that line the LAST LINE? It certainly is the last *spoken* line in the musical parody version performed some time back on "The Simpsons" — "Streetcar!"

  • 7A: Response of mock subservience ("YOU RANG?") — Guessed this off the "YO-" but had *no* confidence that it was right. Very happy to see it pan out. No idea where it comes from or why it's so familiar, but I love it.
  • 18A: 1040 subjs. (IRAS) — Man, "subjs" is a weird-looking abbrev. I don't know what I had here at first. Maybe DEPS? (Dependents?)
  • 31A: Founder of experimental physiology (GALEN) — ancient physician. Name is familiar from multiple encounters in graduate school.
  • 41A: Palate stimulus (SAPOR) — One of those weirdo words that has stuck with me for some reason. Related to the weirder SAPID.
  • 2D: Owner of Martini & Rossi, Dewar's and Grey Goose (BACARDI) — I was expecting something out of left field, like SARA LEE.
  • 28D: He played an attendant at Wally's Filling Station in 1960s TV (NABORS) — another gimme. Smooth-singing Jim NABORS played Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show."

[...Words fail...]

  • 33D: 2007 hit comedy with a character who dubbed himself McLovin ("SUPERBAD") — it occurs to me that some of you will not know this movie, and that that might affect your BEZIQUE-hunting chances. Negatively.

[... in which "McLovin" gets name-checked ...]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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