TUESDAY, Oct. 31, 2006 - Patrick Blindauer

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Solving time: 7:03

THEME: Dracula's least favorite ...

Happy Halloween! Today's puzzle was ... well, it was a little scary, although all the theme clues involved things that would repel Dracula, so the puzzle seemed to be trying to diminish rather than augment the fear (factor). Still, there were some scary words. EVIL-EYED (34D) is pretty spooky, and both SLITS (49D) and EXCISE (10D) can be horrific in the proper context. A SATYR (46A) isn't very scary ... unless he is an excited mood, and looking at you. An OCTOPUS will scare you if he's giant and attacking your submarine. I don't remember Disneyland's Enchanted TIKI Room (47D) as being very scary. The word SCAR is pretty scary (one letter away, actually) but it lies embedded over there in the not-so-fearsome ESCARGOT (39D). And then there's always ASPS (56D), but, alas, not On A Plane. ASPS are such frequent haunters of the crossword grid that they're about as scary as non-black cats. They should take some time off to plan their Next Big Thing, because their capacity to frighten (or even hold interest) died with Cleopatra. Give me VIPERS, COBRAS, SERPENTS, even BOAS, for god's sake. There are a TON of viable anagrams in ASPS, so I challenge constructors to use those, and give ASPS a rest. Then bring them back for Halloween 2026 and / or the Apocalypse, when we will be truly happy / horrified to see them. In defense of ASPS, however, this painting is Hot:
In honor of Halloween (my favorite time of year, if not necessarily my favorite day - the trick-or-treaters get ruder every year!), I will make all of today's pictures very scary.

1A: Clear of stale odors, maybe (aerate)

I would have liked AIR OUT here better. Don't you AERATE crops or fields or something? YES, you AERATE lawns, dammit, and presumably not to "clear" them of "stale odors" (from the body you buried there?). Want to AERATE your lawn? Find out how.

13A: Catastrophic (ruinous)

I had HEINOUS here, having come at the answer backwards (had the -NOUS first), which ended up being, yes, RUINOUS for me, time-wise (note the seven squares that I inked all to hell in the NW). This answer sat just underneath AERATE and atop 16A (THEME): Dracula's least favorite citations? (cross references), and I initially had Wrong answers for all three (with 16A I had the same solving backwards problem, so with -FERENCES in place, I prefixed DIF-). All this was compounded by my ridiculous entry of CHILLY for 1D: Frigid (Arctic) based solely on the "H," which I had from the (wrong) HEINOUS. So the puzzle was a little scary.

7A: Early Ford (Model A)

Knowing nothing about cars, I had MODEL T here. So, for my edification, and possibly yours, here are (Scary!) pictures of the (counterintuitively) earlier MODEL T (circa 1919):
And the more car-like MODEL A (circa 1928)
They're scary because they are from out of the past. Ghost cars! (OK, not as scary as The Ghost Whisperer or Ghost Dad, but I gotta work with what's in front of me)

23A: Cozy inn, briefly (B-and-B)

This little jerk is showing up far more often than he ought to. Twice in the past week. I'm sure a B-AND-B has been the site of more than a few horror movies, but I can't think of any to quote or grab pics from off hand. Imagine your own script.

26A: Historian Thomas who wrote "The French Revolution" (Carlyle)

I was thrown here by the slightly misleading "Historian." I was picturing some slightly portly, bespectacled, possibly combed-over, short-sleeve-button-down-wearing dork of a modern professor, or one of the more tweeded and pipe-smoking early 20th-century variety. Thomas CARLYLE was a Scottish essayist, satirist, and (yes) historian of the Victorian period. Unlike many things about this puzzle, Carlyle's writing was scary, in that his firm belief in Heroic Leadership gave philosophical underpinning to later fascist movements. Once he was a pal of liberals like John Stuart Mill, but towards the end of his life he was suggesting slavery never should have been abolished. Nice (and scary). The best, best, best fact about The French Revolution, if Wikipedia can be said to contain facts, is this:

After the completed manuscript of the book was accidentally burned by the philosopher John Stuart Mill's maid, Carlyle had to begin again from scratch.
What the hell? Did she use it for kindling? "Blimey, this neatly-stacked pile of paper with ink scribbles all over it will make for a loverly fire. I could use a spot of tea just now, I could .... gov'nuh." I just want to know what happened immediately after Carlyle found out. I'm sure that was scary. For the maid. Here's a scary portrait of Carlyle by Whistler:

22D: Robert of Broadway's "Guys and Dolls" (Alda)

I think I knew that Alan Alda grew up in a stage-acting family, but lately I don't tend to pay close attention to what Alan Alda says unless I'm rewatching a 1990s Woody Allen movie or I happen across one of those PBS specials on how the brain works, which Alda hosts. Very cool. Anyway, Robert is Alan's dad. He has a very, very, very long list of movie and TV credits, to say nothing of the stage. For today, however, I choose to remember him thusly:
29D: "Miracle" team of 1969 (Mets)
52D: Home to the 29-Down (Shea)

See, this would have all worked out so much better, timing-wise, if the Mets had at least been in the World Series this year, as they were supposed to be. But instead, we get the Cardinals. And thus FOX gets an early Halloween scare when it sees its TV ratings plummet:
The Cardinals' five-game victory over the Detroit Tigers averaged a record-low 10.1 television rating and 17 share, Fox said Sunday. This year's rating dropped nine per cent from the previous bottom, an 11.1 for a four-game sweep by the Chicago White Sox over the Houston Astros last year.
(thanks to Andrew for foisting that quotation on me, though I'm not sure of its source)

55A: Director Kurosawa (Akira)

This amazing director's career spans several decades (six of them, actually) and includes an astonishing variety of films, from adaptations of Shakespeare in Ran and Throne of Blood to the hugely influential samurai films Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, which provided the imaginative spark for so many American Westerns of the 1960s (and thus Clint Eastwood's early career). One of Kurosawa's greatest films, which is one of my, let's say, TEN favorite films of all time, is a little noir crime drama he made just after the end of WWII, during the American occupation. It's called Stray Dog and it is an astonishingly gripping story, as well as a melancholy assessment of all that Japan had lost and would continue to lose, culturally, in the grip of Americanization. It also features a very young and very sexy Toshiro Mifune, the Legendary Japanese actor, before anyone knew who he was. Please see this movie.

57A (THEME): Dracula's least favorite time? (Daylight savings)

[late addendum: reader "Andrew" claims that Daylight Savings (plural) Time is technically incorrect. It's in common parlance, however, and puzzles make use of colloquialisms all the time. It seems also that "Daylight Savings" - as a shortened way of saying "Daylight Saving Time" - is not uncommon. See this FOX News "article" (first and last time you'll hear me say that), which has "Daylight Savings" in the title, but "daylight-saving [hyphen!] time" in the body of the article. NPR slips up and uses both the "S" and non-"S" version in its discussion of Daylight Saving(s) Time. Curious.]

Now this is the best theme answer of the lot, because, since Daylight Saving Time just ended this past weekend, the clue suggests that we now have reason to fear a resurgence in Dracula's power. While there have been many powerful Draculas over the years, my B-movie predilections prevent me from honoring any one but the camp-tacular Christopher Lee.
Pleasant dreams!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Oct. 30, 2006 - Nancy Salomon

Monday, October 30, 2006

Solving time: 4:34*

THEME: "Comment on bumping into an old friend" (4 of 'em)

Woke up with that beautiful extra hour in my pocket only to find myself taunted by ESPN's "Ultimate Highlight" - not just a highlight, but a sort of sports music video with so much testosterone that you know it can't possibly be gay, man, no way - which featured not only "highlights" from the Cardinals' World Series victory over the Tigers, but accompanying music by a band from my little alma mater (called We Are Scientists - surely the first band from the college ever to receive the "Ultimate Highlight," uh, Honor, I guess). So there I am, forced to watch and listen while my fellow alums are made complicit in this travesty of a World Series celebration, with nothing but my morning cereal and my faithful dog beside me on the couch for consolation. The band is cute, by the way - if the Beastie Boys played pop-punk and had a very telegenic front man, this is what they'd look like.
Finished today's puzzle in Rex-record time, which makes me wonder how those of you who do it in HALF that time do it. I don't think I can write that fast. I love today's theme, maybe because Ms. Salomon has made something beautiful out of a set of exceedingly banal and cliched utterances. The best part is that I can easily imagine someone saying All the theme answers, one on top of the other, in order: "HELLO STRANGER ... [turning to family member(s)] ... LOOK WHO'S HERE ... HOW'VE YOU BEEN? LONG TIME NO SEE." Sweet, sweet, empty filler. Delicious.

Note also the graceful thematic tie-in at 42D: Meet unexpectedly (run into).

[*ERRATUM, which is very sad to me, yet also possibly funny: I had two wrong squares today because I didn't check the crosses. For 39A: "Forget about it!" - well, let's just say I imagined that phrase uttered by some beefy, track-suited, morally suspect New Jersey guy, "Fugettaboudit," or however you spell it - which I always understood as an AFFIRMATIVE: "You need the body hidden? I can take care of that, no problem. Fugettaboudit!" So I had YESIREE, when it turns out the clue was much more literal: "No, seriously FORGET about it because there is no Way I am doing that. NOSIREE!" Ah, I love the smell of wrongness in the morning.]

36A: Pistol, e.g. (hand gun)
25D: Carrying a weapon (armed)
46D: Wanted felon (outlaw)

I detect a subtheme here. A dark and shady subtheme. My kind of subtheme. Underneath the friendly banter of this puzzle lies a hardboiled crime story. Yes, it turns out that the puzzle's real theme is: You RUN INTO an old friend, who is also an OUTLAW to whom you OWE [40D] money. OOPS [51A]! When you notice that he is ARMED with a HANDGUN, you start saying all this trite stuff to try to stall for time while you look for an escape route, or a policeman to flag down, all the while praying to God that this friend from out of the past does not BASH [1D] your ULNAS [61A] until you HOWL [63A]. Fugettaboudit!

34A: Hi-_____ monitor (res)

One of about three places in the puzzle that slowed me down. To me, RES is "thing" in Latin. I do not own a Hi-RES monitor. I don't even own a DVR. I'm like a technology savage, watching shows only during their original air times, and only if I remember they're on. Even my iPod is big and clunky and memory-challenged. It's a wonder this blog gets published every day, frankly, what with my hamster-powered iMac and my decidedly Low-RES scanner. The only digital camera I own is a 12-decapixel piece of junk that lives in my phone, which, coincidentally, I just dropped in a (PUBLIC!) toilet the other day, so it's Dead. My birthday is coming up ... as is Xmas ... anyone?

62A: "Agreed!" (deal)

Even now, writing up this entry, I still wanted to write DONE! for the answer. DEAL is completely acceptable, but I like the more emphatically monosyllabic DONE, with its implication both that the DEAL has been DONE, and that the DEAL involved an action that is as good as DONE. Coincidentally, later today I will be teaching the poetry of John DONNE.

57D: "_____ Beso" (Paul Anka song) [Eso]

Classic crosswordese, as I understand it. It's not a song I've ever heard, but it's handy because you can clue fully four answers off of it: ESO, BESO, PAUL, and ANKA, all very crossword-friendly in their ways. Here, for your Halloween Eve enjoyment, is the floating head of Paul Anka, coming in for the kill, I mean kiss. Duck!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld



Sunday, October 29, 2006

Please excuse all errors and formatting issues today (again). Blogger is having some sort of myocardial infarction and the doctor is in the break room eating donuts, in blissful ignorance, it seems. If everything somehow looks good, ignore this message. Thanks, Rex.


SUNDAY, Oct. 29, 2006 - Elizabeth C. Gorski

Solving time: 42:00

Theme: "Sandwich Man": Theme answers are familiar two-word phrases with "MR" sandwiched in between the two words, e.g. 16D: Putting up a guy in the bath? (Housing Mr. Bubble)

Considering how (relatively) easy today's theme was, I was surprised by how challenging it ended up being overall. Lots and lots of opportunities for writing in the plausible but Wrong answers (as evidenced by how inky my grid is in places). Actually, I say that the theme was easy - what I mean was, once I figured it out, it was easy to solve the theme answers. The figuring out part, however, took some time, primarily because I, I took a road less traveled, and that road, while hilarious in retrospect, was a dead end. See, I got seriously misdirected by the first theme clue, 23A: Cheery fellow in the neighborhood? (Jolly Mr. Rogers). Now, I had the "MR" and the penultimate "R," and so I was nearly certain that the answer would have to have something to do with the Beatles song "Mean Mr. Mustard." I mean, come on. Surely the "cheery" part of the clue would involve a reversal of "Mean" - and then there's the damn puzzle title, "Sandwich Man," which solidified my belief in "Mean Mr. Mustard"'s rightness. Sandwich ... Mustard ... the way I saw it, I had this theme / answer in my sights and it was going down. Only MUSTARD wouldn't fit in the spaces allotted to it. I tried to force it for a while, then just abandoned the NW part of the puzzle entirely. Oh, and my Certainty that the theme involved sandwiches was perpetuated by what my brain thought was the Gary Cooper movie in question at 36A: Excellent portrayal of a Gary Cooper role (Good Mr. Deeds). My mind went immediately to GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS. Why? Well, there's the #$%#$-ing GOOD at the beginning of the answer, which ended up being Correct. And then CHIPS. CHIPS go with SANDWICHES, don't they? I had MUSTARD, and CHIPS... I was thinking there'd be a whole lunch menu theme (I'm not saying this to try to be cute; I honestly believed that the lunch counter was the key to puzzle victory). If I hadn't been so excited at the thrill of the theme chase, I might have remembered what I knew at the time but chose to forget: that Sidney Poitier, not Gary Cooper, was in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (and now I am laughing because I just Googled "Mr. Chips" and it's not Poitier at all - Poitier was Mr. Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night and its sequel, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! - whereas Goodbye, Mr. Chips was a 1939 movie about a beloved boys' school teacher starring Robert Donat, who won the Best Actor Oscar that year ... for the record). This is all to say that I was way off in sandwich-land at the beginning, but once I did crack the theme (way down in the SE corner), the puzzle fell quickly (well, quickly if you're me). The theme is quite cleverly revealed, by the way, at 61A: Something to "call me" per an old song ... or a hit to this puzzle's theme (Mr. In-Between). I quite enjoyed this Sunday puzzle, and was grateful for the opportunity to recall many campy advertising icons, including Mr. Clean and Mr. Peanut.

["Closing Time" by Semisonic just came on my iTunes. Why do I own this song? Is it just to remind me how horrible 1998 was? God, I don't even like the look of that year, "1998." I'm not convinced it really happened.]

Let's start in the "Montana" portion of the puzzle, since it's rare that anything of consequence happens there.

9A: Kind of case in grammar: Abbr. (Obj.)
21A: Shetland turndown (Nae!)
11D: Bach's "_____, Joy of Man's Desiring" (Jesu)

In retrospect, the answers in this little nook of the puzzle should have fallen before me like so many adoring subjects. I mean, it's got two of my favorite things (grammar and Scotland) shoved into the side of Another of my favorite things (Bach). Oooh, I like that "shoved into the side" metaphor, as it recalls the piercing of Jesus's side while he was on the cross. In certain awesomely gruesome versions of the story, blood shoots from Christ's side into the eyes of the spear-wielder, Longinus, who is instantly and miraculously cured of his blindness. Holy Gore! Anyway, as I've said, this looks easy, looking back. But my Latin-loving mind saw the "B" in 9A and wanted not OBJ. but ABL. (for ABLATIVE, my favorite grammatical case, particularly when it's ABSOLUTE). So that gave me an "L" for the beginning of the Bach answer, which led me (for reasons unfathomable) to enter LEDA for 11D. "LEDA, Joy of Man's Desiring?" From Bach? Maybe "LEDA, Joy of Zeus's Desiring." As with ELIHU a few puzzles back, I ultimately got JESU when the ultimate "U" became indisputable. JESU is great Middle English, another thing I'm supposed to know something about. O well. For your edification, here is Longinus's official trading card, courtesy of the Catholic Church:
PS if you do a Google Image search of "Longinus," you get a curious mix of religious imagery and (homo-)erotic anime.

47A: Social breakdown (anomie)

Twice this week now I have pulled an answer from thin air, knowing it without knowing why. Actually - I know precisely where this answer comes from. Not from my knowledge of the term firsthand, that's for sure. I was 18 and sitting in my American Government class during freshman year, surrounded by kids from prep schools who made me and my public school education in Fresno look retarded by comparison. I remember Professor ... oh, what's his name. Big, black man ... Smart, humorless, old skool ... Come on ... nope, not there. Anyway, he asked if any of us knew what some concept was called (I was too intimidated and / or tired to be paying proper attention to what he was saying, apparently), and I remember this young woman confidently raising her hand, saying the concept was called "anomie," and then defining it, as if she'd been training for that moment all her life. I was like "O come on! Who knows shit like that at 18!?" I went back to my dorm room and looked her up in the Look Book and her name was Elizabeth Sargent and she came from ... I want to say Georgetown. D.C. Anyway, that's when I knew I was in way over my head at my overpriced little college. Later on in my college career, I would think of Ms. Sargent as something of a superficial ditz (which I'm pretty sure she's not), but at that moment, I wanted to go back to the school where I was the smart kid. And that's what ANOMIE means to me. The End.

57A: Charlotte _____ (Russe)

What is this? Whoa, it's a horribly tacky clothing store! Who knew? You have no idea how badly I wanted the answer to be RAE:
73A (THEME): "The A-Team" actor on the cover of GQ (Model Mr. T)
By far my favorite "MR." in the whole puzzle. I pity the fool who didn't get this one instantly! To make this clue a bit tougher, I would have clued it by reference to Rocky III, or, better yet, D.C. Cab:
17D: Among other things (inter alia)

Rex used this phrase in his initial applications to graduate school just so he could seem super-smart (hmm... plausible) and Latin-literate (absolutely false at the time). I believe I used it when listing the various areas I wanted to study, thereby unwittingly suggesting that I was unfocused and hadn't really thought things through. Another "fun" fact about the phrase INTER ALIA: I learned it from the NYT Crossword Puzzle. God Bless Eugene T. Maleska. INTER ALIA is up there with ADIT and RE-UP as one of the most iconic answers in my crossword-solving career. (I'll explain the importance of the latter two some other time)

53D: Natural bristles (awn)

What is this? Oh, plant anatomy. I see. And now you can see too:
90D: Aptly named author Charles (Reade)

Very cute. I'm going to have to dispute the aptness of his name, however. I mean, I see what the cluer is getting at: his name is READE, and one READ(E)S books by authors. Fine. Only, it doesn't seem that anyone is actually READING Mr. READE - the first of the "Charles Reade Websites" listed here is entitled "Charles Reade: A Neglected 19th Century British Author." Add to that the fact that I can't even get Firefox to READ said website, and ... well you can see that clearly the gods don't want anybody actually READing the (it turns out) ironically named Charles READE - though I will say, if this illustration from one of his books is any indication, his writing was pretty hot:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld



Saturday, October 28, 2006

Just a note to say that Blogger is being VERY bad today. Bloggers have been unable to edit/republish blogs all day long, but apparently only on IE and Firefox browsers. When I use Safari, all is cool. Hope you can see everything OK. Thanks for your patience. -- Rex


SATURDAY, Oct. 28, 2006 - David Quarfoot

Solving time: about 40 minutes, 20 of which were spent staring at an empty SE corner

THEME: WrestleMania! (or, none)

All hail King Quarfoot - or he will sic his pack of sweet but vicious puzzles on you and they will tear you to pieces before you can clear the castle wall. Here's the thing - there's so much playful, pop-cultury fun in a Quarfoot puzzle that if you're like me (under 40, raised on TV, slightly cocky) you can get a good rhythm going in a Quarfoot puzzle and start feeling pretty good about yourself. There comes, however, the inevitable moment wherein I hit a brick wall (an immovable object, if you will), and the little voice that lives in my head goes "...sucker." That moment came the second CRANIAL, with great uncertainty, dipped its big toe down into the swampy Everglades of this puzzle, which we'll call "Lake Okeechobee" if only for all the improbable letter combinations. The -IAL in CRANIAL (which, by the way, is an Awesome answer for 26D: Heady? and made me think of the time that Apu tried to excuse the presence of a teddy bear head in one of his bags of ice by claiming that the bag was "chock full of ... heady goodness!"). Where was I? Oh, the -IAL in CRANIAL just dangled there, like a very ineffectively baited hook, catching Nothing. It all ended with a NEOCENE / NEOGENE smackdown, and while NEOGENE appears to have won, NEOCENE refuses to leave the ring.

And the Cardinals won the World Series, thereby redefining the word BATHOS. So good for them. To show that I am not the sorest loser in the world, I hereby acknowledge that at least one Cardinal in that team's history was indeed Great. BOB GIBSON, one of the four best pitchers in the history of baseball (with Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, and Pedro Martinez):
2D: Wifely (uxorial)
14A: Leading evidence (exhibit A)

To understand the high on which I started this puzzle, consider that UXORIAL was the First word I thought of when I saw "wifely," and that when I crosschecked it, its correctness was immediately borne out by the manifest rightness of EXHIBIT A. If I can pull 7- and 8-letter answers out of thin air, really, what can't I do? [I'd like to take this moment to thank my wife for being UXORIAL, and apologize if I have been insufficiently UXORIOUS]

17A: "Way to go, bro! (you da man!)
18A: TV title role for Brandy (Moesha)

It's like God created a puzzle Just for Me. Not only are these two answers awesomely contemporary and sure to be completely esoteric in twenty years time, but they are right across the hall from each other on the grid. Even though "you da man!" is something I imagine white people saying in the misguided belief that they are sounding black, I still have to believe that somebody on Moesha, at some time, must have uttered that phrase. Remember UPN?

25A: small finch (serin)

Even my sometime bird-watching wife couldn't get this (it's not technically cheating on my part if she couldn't answer the question, right?). Isn't this a nerve gas? Oops, nope, I'm one (very important) letter off. Look how cute!
35A: Wrestler once called the "Irresistible Force" (Hulk Hogan)
15D: Wrestler once called the "Immovable Object" (Andre the Giant)

Not only does Mr. Quarfoot beautifully literalize an abstract hypothetical concept, but "Force" and "Object" collide at their exact centers. What happens when an Irresistible Force meets an Immovable Object in real life? Sadly, this:In keeping with the wrestling theme, the names of these wrestlers end up functioning a bit like ropes, dividing the grid into four discrete rings (why is it called a ring when it's square?). Warning: you do NOT want to go into that southeast ring without some protective gear.

56A: Aged (got old)
63A: Cursed (doggone)

Good examples of how simple little words can be very, very difficult to get because of the trillions of potential ways of interpreting them. I love GOT OLD because it is so perfectly, straightforwardly literal. No references to wine or cheese. Just GOT OLD. Nice. DOGGONE was the first "aha" moment that I had in the swampy SE corner, and despite my taking forever to get it, I LOVE it (as often happens with these Quarfoot clues - they bring out whatever latent masochism I have). I stared at it for so long wishing the answer could just be DOOMED. Then I tried to convince myself DONE FOR might actually be a synonym for "cursed." No good. Once I imagined "cursed" as having two syllables (easier to do when you've been teaching a lot of Renaissance poetry), then there it was. And it was so sweetly colloquial that I just wanted to pinch its cheeks.


Let's take the northern part of the lake first:

30D: Menotti boy (Amahl)
40A: Warren resident (Ohioan)

What happens when you a. know almost nothing about opera, b. have recently been reading Watership Down, and c. try to do a David Quarfoot puzzle? Answer: nothing. Nothing happens, and it keeps happening. It wasn't until I had the improbable but certainly correct "IOA" combination that I got that the clue must have something to do with the state of Ohio and not the place that rabbits live. For a while I tried to convince myself that ORIOLES lived in warrens. No dice. Amahl and the Night Visitors is apparently a very famous American opera. Never Heard of It. According to this website, it was "first performed Christmas Eve, 1951, by the NBC Television Theater." Mmm, inauspicious!

41D: Comment when you're almost done (one to go)
42D: Influence (act upon)
43D: Latter part of the Tertiary period (Neogene)

This increasingly-tricky triad jumped up and down on my sternum for the better part of a half hour, but eventually fell, in order, though I'm still not sure NEOGENE isn't a Cylon. First, ONE TO GO. God, it's good, but it's not a phrase that rises to the surface of your brain when you have NO crosses. "Comment when you're almost done ..." doing what!?!?! JUST A SEC would be great if a. it fit and b. the frame of reference were the bathroom. IN A BIT ... too short. Clearly I had it in my mind that whatever the answer was, it was being said to an impatient person who wanted you, or wanted to do whatever you were doing or use whatever you were using. Once I imagined a hot-dog eating contest, the answer came swiftly (helped along by my fearless entry of TARRAGON at 61A: Rémoulade ingredient, despite my having no idea what a "rémoulade" is - this gave me the penultimate "G" in ONE TO GO). ONE TO GO gave me the "N" in LANCE (for 47A: Sticker) which in turn gave me the "C" that helped topple ACT UPON. That leaves 43D, which at that point looked like this: NE__ENE. I knew that the answer was likely Greek, so NEO- for the prefix, and I had heard of geologic ages ending in -CENE, so that's what I entered, despite the fact that that gave me TUC for 55A: River tower. So confident was I of my NEOCENE coup that I was willing to accept TUC, imagining it to be a piece of Welsh arcana (like CWM and other improbable words), despite the manifest rightness of TUG ("tower" = "one that tows" = TUG boat, duh). I was solidified in my wrongness by the post-puzzle Google search of NEOCENE, the definition of which (and I can't stress this strongly enough) MENTIONS THE TERTIARY PERIOD. In fact, after all my reading, I'm not convinced that NEOCENE couldn't also be considered correct (you know, if it weren't for the very wrong TUC). But I know squat about rocks, clearly. If you want to enlighten me on the finer points of geologic time, you are hereby invited to do so.

54D: Prominent puppet show producer (Sarg)

Ultimately got this right, but had to Google it: apparently Tony SARG was "one of the fathers of modern puppet theater," a phrase that makes me laugh just typing it. Oh modern puppet theater! I see... To me, there are two eras of puppet theater. The first looks like this:
And the second, more evolved kind looks like this:
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, Oct. 27, 2006 - David Bunker

Friday, October 27, 2006

Solving time: 22:00

THEME: none

Switched to Firefox browser yesterday and the whole Blogger interface is Bizarro to me right now - looks Sorta right, but is clearly new, different, off, probably better, but as yet partially inscrutable to me. The automated coding is a million times bulkier for some reason, but everything seems to be better integrated and working more smoothly. Oh Yeah, I just noticed these tabs at the top of this window where I can instantly flick over from this HTML page and see what this entry will look like when it's published. Hot. And this interface has a built-in spell check that red-underlines all my typos, woo hoo! That's what I'm talking about!

Really liked today's puzzle, but I always like it when my opening gambit is hugely successful on a Friday or Saturday puzzle. Today (last night, actually), I made a quick late-night snack of the NW corner (thanks to memories of TV ads for King Kong, a movie I never saw), drifted down to the SW and then stopped short, even with my heroic and correct initial guess of USTINOV for 36D: "Memed My Hawk" director and star, 1984, which makes me laugh just looking at it. Is "Memed" a name? A past participle? What was Ustinov smoking? [actually, the movie was based on a book by Kurdish writer Yashar Kemal (1955)]. I then assayed the NE (or "Bangor") corner and got very, very stuck. In fact, I have two mis-entered squares. Ugh. It's all explained below. I was like Hector in the "Bangor" portion of the puzzle. Valiant struggle, ultimate defeat. Unlike Hector, I was done in by a fishing vessel and a unit of currency.

1A: "King Kong" co-star, 2005 (Jack Black)

9 squares filled in right off the bat. Nice. I don't have anything snarky to say about Mr. Black, except if I have to see one more clip of Nacho Libre (what am I watching that I'm seeing promos for the DVD release All The Time?), I'm going to do something drastic. Nobody wanted to see that movie when it came out. Take a hint and quit desperately inflicting its memory on those of us who were kind enough initially to express our distaste merely by politely staying out of the theater. If you try an audience's patience enough, there will be B(l)acklash. Mr. Black was one of a bevy of actors featured in today's puzzle, including the aforementioned USTINOV, SHARON TATE (43A: "The Fearless Vampire Killers" actress, awesome), and the super-obscure (to me) Pola NEGRI ("Passion" actress, 1919). Oh, and NELLY (54A: "Dilemma" rapper), if you consider his breakout performance in the recent remake of The Longest Yard.

17A: Fictional king with an enormous appetite (Gargantua)

I had to read Rabelais as a kid learning French in high school and college, and Gargantua and Pantagruel were among my favorite works, mainly because it was the first time I realized that over-indulgence and gluttony and bodily-function comedy might be considered a part of Real Literature. I was All About Real Literature when I was a kid - weirdly highbrow for a teenager, and for someone who played so many video games. In later life my brows have lowered considerably. For instance, I'm currently surrounded by stacks of comic books, many of them featuring superheroes with ridiculous muscles and / or bosoms.

49A: Turkish province or its capital (Adana)

I channeled this answer from somewhere I don't know. I had Nothing here, and ... maybe I was just thinking ANKARA and fudged it a little, but for some reason I Knew (without Knowing) the right answer here. Second Turkish answer of the day - Memed, My Hawk author Yashar Kemal is from Anatolia. There were many pairs in this puzzle, both at the clue and answer level: two clues written as "Bakery gizmos" (nice), a beautiful little symmetrical arboreal dyad with 30A: Buttonwood (sycamore) and 39A: Arboriculturist (forester), and a pair of similarly-phrased clues in succession: 38A: "What a toddler might pull" followed immediately by 39A: What a scammer might pull (PANT LEG and FAST ONE, respectively - both of which are Great Fill). Speaking of FAST ONE, here is one of the most fabulous paperbacks in my collection: Paul Cain's Fast One (Avon, ca. 1952):
5D: Chutzpah (brass)

I had the B from JACK BLACK. And so, of course, I had the much better BALLS written here initially. But since the Times would never deign to go so, er, low, I had to revise my thinking. Actually, the Perfect answer here would have been a happy marriage: BRASS BALLS.

9D: African livestock pens (kraals)

Obscuritatus! And yet, when I looked it, I instantly knew it to be true. Looks like Afrikaans to me. I would make a horrible joke about what (white) South Africans used to keep in KRAALS, but instead I'll err on the side of Truth and Reconciliation.

Here's "Bangor"!

I was SO proud of the fact that I hacked, struggled, huffed, puffed, and clawed my way to the triple stack of 10A: Magazine subtitled "The Horse Owner's Resource (Equus), 16A: Aachen appetizer (zuppe), and "Passion" actress, 1919 (Negri). Only the problem was that I didn't have NEGRI. [late addendum: that was NOT the only problem; the correct answer to 16A: Aachen appetizer is SUPPE - my ZUPPE is Italian plural, not, as it should be (I think) German singular - this puzzle now officially represents the Wrongest I've been about a puzzle since I began This Blog! Now back to the original post...] I had NEGRA (an absolute guess). So that Wrong "A" rendered 14D: Some fishing boats as SEA_ERS. Then, my cross at the missing letter was 22A: Thousandth of a yen, which I'm sure long-time solvers knew instantly, but not I. I had RI_. And though I could think of no word in my limited Japanese lexicon that had an "L" in it, I put it there thinking that the Only possible answer to 14D was a morbid SEALERS (as in, boats for catching SEALS). Of course that would have been the right answer to "Some clubbing boats," not "some fishing boats." So a thousandth of a yen is a RIN and the fishing boats are SEINERS. OK. Yuck. I'm taking points off for crossing arcana at multiple points in a word.

34D: Contributions to them are not tax-deductible (ROTH IRAs)

An eight-letter gimme, sweet! We just opened a couple of these and got our first statements in the mail this week, so this clue was fortuitous. It's also just great fill.

51D: 1944 Pulitzer correspondent (Pyle)

Here is an answer I would not have gotten so quickly had I not been a collector of old paperbacks. I think I have one called "This is Your War," which is a collection of Pyle war correspondence published in the 50s by Lion Books. I'll check... I'm completely wrong. The book I was thinking of isn't by Pyle at all, and has a very unsexy cover. So here, instead, I will leave you with something that has nothing to do with war or (as you can probably tell) a Pulitzer prize:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Oct. 26, 2006 - Todd McClary and Dave Tuller

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Solving time: 20:23 (on-screen)

THEME: SEE [blank] (long clues ask you to "See" another clue/answer, which ends up being the second word in the clue, e.g. 17A: See 59-Down [where 59-Down=FIT ... so "See Fit"] (deem worthy))

First things first. Chocolate. If you live in or near the Ithaca, NY area, you must, must, must head to Sarah's Patisserie and start eating everything in sight. Sarah herself brought a box full of chocolates and primarly-chocolate pastries to my office yesterday and O My God. Everything was beautiful *and* delicious. Sarah even included a little chocolate duck for my 6-yr-old daughter. Sarah's wife, Tammy, is the executive chef and owner. Her desserts are featured at Willow restaurant (also in Ithaca, also Great). This is what one of her desserts looks like. It's called "The Sixth Avenue." My wife and I had one last night, and it was the best chocolate experience I've had since I went to Jacques Torres's place in Brooklyn last summer (completely coincidentally, M. Torres was Tammy's chocolatiering teacher). If Sarah's Patisserie Only Had a Website (!?) I would have a link to it HERE.

Why did I do the puzzle on-screen when I had Just vowed never to do so again? Who knows? Self-inflicted misery. I guess part of me imagines that I will have a massive solving-time breakthrough; instead, I end up stuck in the utterly foreseeable morass of mis-typing and mis-clicking. And once again, my ensuing crankiness is inflicted upon the puzzle and its talented, well-meaning constructors.

Can a puzzle simultaneously be clever, too clever, and not clever enough? If so, this is that puzzle. There is the undeniably clever use of "See [another clue]," which is a crossword cluing convention so common that you would never suspect it of trickery. The best kind of trick is the one that is hidden out in the open. The Purloined Letter trick. Plus, they managed to pull off this cleverness without choking the puzzle with obscurities (47A: Mexican Indian tribe (Huastec) being the one exception). So, this puzzle, it's clever. Yet, it's too clever: I don't like looking all over Hell and Gone to figure out what my clues are. Cleverness has impeded the Pleasure Principle (never wise). Then there's not clever enough: there is no pattern to the clue / answer pairings - those we are asked to "See" are not in any consistent relationship to the answers they clue, and they are (maddeningly, to my OCD brain) NOT symmetrical; worse, they are Almost symmetrical, as if the constructors thought they might be able to pull it off, but were forced to bail out of their plan at some point. So all the answers we are asked to "See" are vertical answers that touch the corners of the puzzle (we See RED, See THINGS, See FIT) ... except in the NE, where, if the puzzle Were symmetrical, we would have to "See BEEPER" (not an expression I know ... ABOUT is sitting sheepishly just three clicks to the west, like an actor who missed his mark). And if the concept is clever, the execution is not (so much). There's no real pop or life to the clue/answer pairings - I do like HALLUCINATE at 11D: See 43-Down [=THINGS], but TAKE CARE OF and BECOME ANGRY are kind of lifeless, and DEEM WORTHY is a Stretch for "See Fit" (the former implicitly applying to a person, the latter, to a situation or action - or so my morning brain tells me). This puzzle is wonderful in its conception, weaker in its execution (which is almost word-for-word what one of my grad school professors wrote about my written work in a letter of recommendation that I attempted to read by holding the sealed envelope up to the light...).

6A: Moonfish (opah)
6D: Daily TV staple since 1986 (Oprah)

Not sure if this is brilliant or lazy, but there's something oddly pleasing about these conjoined near-twins. Oprah is ubiquitous, but her show does not run "daily." Is "weekdaily" a word?

28D: City founded by Cadmus (Thebes)

Ah, my comfort zone. I love all things Theban - it's where all the most horrible things on earth happen, where family does things to family that should Not be done to family (Home of Oedipus REX). Cadmus is banished from Tyre by his father Agenor for failing to find his abducted sister Europa. So Cadmus heads off to settle a new land called Boeotia. Things do Not go well - all the people he brings with him are slaughtered by a giant serpent. Cadmus avenges their deaths by killing the serpent. Then he sows the serpent's teeth, and a new race of men emerges from the earth like plants. And then these new men immediately set to killing each other until only five remain. So the city is basically born out of family harming family, brothers killing brothers, civil war. Here is Ovid, from Metamorphoses (trans. Martin):

Now all of them were equally enraged!
These brothers of a moment slew each other,
until young men, whose lives had just begun,
lay beating the breast of their ensanguined mother. [nice!]
And now just five remained: one was Echion,
who, warned by Pallas, threw his weapons down,
seeking and giving securities for peace
among his brothers; these were the companions
Sidonian Cadmus had when he built the city
granted him by the oracle of Phoebus. (153-62)

And they all lived happily ever after.

42A: Product that prevents gas (Beano)

Awesome. Contemporary. Flatulence-Preventing. The only reason I am aware of this product is because I would often find it lying around the home of my friend Steve - super-smart, super-funny, super-gassy. At least I think it was Steve's. It could have been his wife's...

43A: "Boyz N the Hood" role (Tre)
45A: Kind of round in a tournament, informally (elim)
54A: Canceled (no go)

I don't like any of these. The first is pretty obscure, and makes me think of the early 90s, which you all know is a time in my life which I'd just as soon forget. Plus, whenever I see that movie title, I cringe. Spell it right, or go all the way and change "the" to "da." That's what I say. The second answer (ELIM) ... I don't hear it much if at all, and I've been in some tournaments. It works, it's just not as colloquial as I'd like. The last (NO GO) seems quite off. How can something be "canceled" if it was never allowed to "go?"

62D: Pop music's _____ Vanilli (Milli)

OK, if I must be reminded of the 90s, this is the way it should be done. If you're going to go dark, go very, very dark. So dark that it's Funny. Allow me to remind you that Milli Vanilli won the Best New Artist Grammy in, let's see ... 1989? (won it in 1990 for the year 1989, yes). Also nominated that year: Indigo Girls. Who did I start dating that year?: the sister of one of the Indigo Girls. It's true. Didn't last, or end well, but it's a nice little bit of trivia for the future Rex Parker bio (unofficial versions of which are surely already in the works).

63A: Classic rock group with a name from Greek myth (Styx)

O yeah. The late 70s and early 80s I am happy to remember. And the mythology theme (ERATO, THEBES ... uh, XENA) continues. There are two great moments in the history of the song "Sailing," by Styx. First, Cartman's version. Second, the use of the song at the school dance at the end of the pilot episode of Freaks and Geeks, one of the very greatest shows ever to be canceled (or should I say NO GO) after just one season.

2D: "For Lycidas is dead, dead _____ his prime": Milton (ere)

A thousand ways to clue ERE, and these guys decide to go through Milton. God bless them.

18D: Dungeons & Dragons creatures (orcs)
22D: "The Simpsons" bus driver (Otto)

Two gimmes, one right after the other. The fact that these two were gimmes tells you just about everything you need to know about Rex Parker (and his early and late nerdiness).
29D: Asian oil capital (Baku)

I had Bali here for a while, temporarily forgetting that that is a tourist resort, not an oil town. I have never heard of Baku. It sits in the part of the world about which Rex knows least (Russian Asia). BAKU is the capital of Azerbaijan, and it lies on the western side of the Caspian Sea. It is also the home of Aku, Dark Lord and nemesis of Samurai Jack:
Procter & Gamble brand (Gleem)

I just now guessed that this is a toothpaste, but I was thinking initially of household cleaners and air fresheners and other things that depressed housewives use in their futile-yet-never-ending War on Germs. This product falls under the "wacky spelling" category of brand names, which I hate so much. I want my teeth to GLEAM. GLEEM suggests they will give off some weird, radioactive glow. Good for Halloween, bad for ... well, every other situation one might find oneself in.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld



Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Citizens of CrossWorld: today was the one-month puzzle-versary of "Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle"! If Rex may be sincere for a moment: he is ... I am super-grateful for the positive (and negative) feedback, and for the small but loyal (and growing) community of solvers (and people related to me by blood or marriage) who read what I write on a regular basis. I will continue to write about the puzzle every day for the foreseeable future. Please let me know what I'm doing right and wrong, by way of a comment or a private email. I love the NYT puzzle and I love writing about it and I'm thrilled that anyone besides my wife reads me at all. That's all. Thanks.


PS about my typos -- TELL ME when you see them (privately, please). I hate typos, but I write under considerable time pressure sometimes, and they slip through. By the end of the day I usually catch them all, but I need extra eyes. So take pity on me and help me clean up the slop.


WEDNESDAY, Oct. 25, 2006 - Adam G. Perl

Solving time: 12: 05

THEME: "Quip from a returning vacationer" - quotation, running through four puzzle-traversing, 15-letter lines: "THE TOWELS IN THAT / HOTEL WERE SO BIG I / COULD JUST BARELY / CLOSE MY SUITCASE"

Not a long entry today. Much to do. Sometimes Rex has to tease you with a short entry (!), leaving you wanting more, making sure you come back tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow ... So today, just a taste to whet your appetite (FACT: until Rex was in his mid-20s, he believed that the phrase was "Wet Your Appetite" - which, if it is hilariously wrong, has the virtue of being infinitely sexier than its "right" counterpart)

Rex is not a big fan of the quip-theme puzzles. Not really a big fan of the word "quip," either, actually. Too quaint. Quips usually make me think "oh ... I get it ... that's cute ... in a Family Circus kind of way" (actually, I would love to see a Family Circus where they steal towels. Breakin' the Law, Breakin' the Law!). Seriously, this "quip" is something Beetle would say to Sarge or Garfield would say to Odie or For Better would say to Or Worse (that last one's not really true, it just sounded so good to me that I had to use it). More to the point, quips slow you down ... until you get the quip, that is, and then you get to fill in all kinds of squares, woo hoo! This quip did not gel quickly today. Still, I admire this puzzle for non-theme reasons. Before we get to that:

Speaking of towels! Here is a bookmark (those seven words have never before in the history of the universe been written in succession like that) from Holiday Inn, promoting a book they have produced about the history of their fine lodging establishment, called About the Towels, We Forgive You: Absorbing Tales of Borrowed Towels. The idea was that Holiday Inn was acknowledging that many people had stolen towels over the years ... they even declared a towel-theft amnesty day, apparently. Anyway, here's the bookmark: And my wife's response - or the gist of it: "Ew, those are not stories I'd want to hear!" If these towels could talk, I'm guessing they wouldn't reminisce about the wonderful people they've encountered; rather, they would horrify you with a litany of the unimaginable variety of fluids they'd been forced to absorb over the years. Said one old towel to another: "You think blood is bad, you should try bile! In 1963 ..." Etc. (ugh, this entry was supposed to be Short)

Quip me!

Rumble, e.g. (set-to)

Rex likes to put hyphens in words that don't warrant them, apparently, and since my Google of "set-to" just got me a bunch of sites where people were "set to do something or other" - and a Google of "set-to rumble" got me many sites about volcanoes, I'm just going to keep the hyphen here, and leave it here even if I'm proven wrong. Such is the way of Rex. "Set-to" always seems very antiquated, like a "donnybrook" - "melee" is good. "Set-to" sounds horribly improvised, so I'm not sure why it stuck. Would you go see Jackie Chan in Set-To in the Bronx? I thought not.

I screwed up the dead center (or "Omaha") of this puzzle something awful. For example:

37A: Norwegian saint (Olav)

Looking this up right now, as the whole "F vs. V" thing is Bugging me. Now please imagine Rex's head nearly exploding as he realizes from a Google search of "Saint Olav" that Nobody Seems to Care which Way You Spell It. Totally Interchangeable. Rex feels better about having had an F at the end for several minutes. Speaking of that final letter, which turned out to be a V: I am none too fond of the cross at that point (32D: Turn inside out (evert)). Its solid Latinity cannot be denied, but o my god you would never say this. I should start saying this to Sahra in the mornings, as - since she largely dresses herself now - her shirts are in constant need of everting.

45A: Lifesaver, maybe (hero)

Well I had VEST for a good long time, and let me tell you why. First, I had the E for sure. Second, I was Way way off on my answer to 30D: Root of diplomacy (Elihu). Can anyone guess what I had there instead? It had the V from VEST in the fourth position ... That's right, I had OLIVE. But an olive is not a root. But an olive tree has roots, doesn't it? And of course it was easy to convince myself of OLIVE because, well, diplomacy ... the proverbial OLIVE branch ... I persisted with OLIVE until the cross at the final letter turned out to be a rock-solid U (from COULD JUST BARELY in the quip). And then I recalled, from somewhere deep in the recesses of my considerable brain, that there was somebody named ELIHU Root who did something important before my time. And then "Omaha" fell before my ragged onslaught. Elihu Root was a Republican US Senator and Secretary of War in the early 20c. (TR administration) and won the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize, largely, it seems, for his important role in helping to arbitrate various international disputes. Here we see that in addition to being one of America's greatest administrators, he was also a zany, zany, fun-loving man:
8D: Libertine's feeling (lust)

Why did it take me forever to get this? I was thinking in the realm of "happiness" or "satisfaction" or "pleasure" ... so I was on the wrong (which is to say, post-coital) end of the libertine equation. And it's such a simple word to trip on. Ugh.

27D: Croc's head or tail? (hard C)

My very favorite clue / answer of the day because it is exactly right but Very hard to see when you only have a couple of middle letters. I knew the answer was about the C's, but CEE (even CEES) wouldn't stretch that far. So I was thinking ... dangerous? SCALY, maybe? No. Hard C. Fabulous.

12D: Kenneth Grahame's ____ Hall (Toad)

None of this made any sense to me. If I'd only recalled that Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows ... nope, that wouldn't have helped either. Until I looked this up, I thought the answer was some kind of historic London theater (that is, theatre).

46D: Gambols (prances)

I don't believe I knew what the hell "gambol" meant before this very moment. I had the -ANCES part, and initially wrote in CHANCES - you know, a GAMB(O)LER takes his CHANCES... Uh huh. So I Googled GAMBOLS and discovered that in addition to its prancing meaning, it is also the name of a long-running comic strip book that I have Never heard of. Seems to be a cross of Honeymooners and Blondie. It was (is?) published from the early 50s through 1999! Here is a sample cover (Rex LOVES covers). See the rest for yourself, here.

Would write about WADE Boggs now, who was a hero of mine growing up - but he finished his career with the Yankees, so screw him. [late addendum: I was wrong. He won a World Series with the Yankees, but he finished his career with the Lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays. So, screw him, but less so, out of pity.]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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