WEDNESDAY, Oct. 18, 2006 - John Farmer

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Solving time: 9:03

THEME: "UNCLE" - 9 starred clues were famous uncles, a theme revealed in answer to 42A (see my complaint about 42A, below)

Still have a cold, though I slept OK thanks to drowning myself in water and tea and ingesting two ibuprofen (at my wife's suggestion) just before bed. I am not one to take drugs or pain-killers or medicine of Any type unless I am quite desperate - I like to obsess about my symptoms, not mask them - but I decided ibuprofen was safe enough in small doses. And the pills took the edge off my horrible headache and I slept very well, all things considered. Got up and immediately felt gross again, but I'm taking the day off in an effort to marshal my recuperative powers. It's "marshal," right, not "martial?" If I'm wrong, blame the cold.

Camille Paglia was very entertaining last night. In an eerie coincidence, two people in the audience decided to carry on a conversation throughout her talk, and they were sitting in Exactly the same relationship to me (two seats to my left) as the people who talked during the Philharmonic concert three days earlier. This time, however, the culprits were two dumbass college boys who were trying to impress each other with how little they cared and how much disdain they had for people who do care, about anything. I think they were trying to show non-gay affection for each other by bonding over their mutual contempt for (read: absolute inability to comprehend) anything intellectual. It was a bit sad, really. I could not figure out why they were there. Maybe their teacher made them attend, but I saw very few undergrads who weren't *my* students, so I don't know. Paglia was utterly disorganized and talked a million miles a minute and was quite vicious toward her imagined enemies, most notably Ivy League schools, French theorists, and the poet Jorie Graham (by far her favorite punching bag). Yet in spite of the self-serving, highly performative aspects of the talk, or maybe because of them, I was enthralled. It was refreshing to see someone so nakedly, unabashedly liking what she liked and thrashing what she didn't, with an honesty and passion and immediacy that lectures by professors almost never have. She was in Binghamton to honor her teacher and mentor, Milton Kessler (who died a few years back and after whom the lecture series is named), and there was something very endearing about her desire to channel something of her mentor's spirit, to convey to us what made him such an outstanding teacher and an influential force in her life. Watching her trying to make sense of 40-yr-old lecture notes (which she had saved!) was occasionally awkward; at times her notes devolved into something like free association, and when she somehow got on to talking about Julia Child and the revolution in cuisine and the importance of fresh food, my friend Matt and I simultaneously started laughing and I whispered (WHISPERED, mind you): "Where has this lecture gone?" But that fearlessness of hers, that weird confidence that following where the mind takes you will lead to something enlightening, something revelatory - it was something close to inspiring.

Sorry to delay your puzzle pleasure with such an extensive lecture review. Here we go.

1A: "Back in Black" rock band (AC/DC)

I am sensing that eventually I will have to burn a "Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle" soundtrack CD, and I will be more than happy to put this great song on it. AC/DC, and the Back in Black album in particular, reminds me very strongly of my stepbrother circa 1980. He was a teenager and drank and slept with girls and owned a Mustang (or two - I think he totalled one) and listened to hard rock. He was male pubescence personified and I did Not like him (I like him now, for the record). My own adolescence was refreshingly (OK, sometimes painfully) free of high-risk behavior, and I probably unconsciously defined myself against the model of my stepbrother. I will say, however, in retrospect, that he was the one who (completely unbeknownst to him, I'm sure) introduced me to AC/DC and Zeppelin and other rock music that I now love but that I then hated with all the new-romantic, new-wave fervor I could muster. While he listened to Back in Black, I wore out my copy of Duran Duran's Rio, if that tells you anything. Songs about having actual sexual intercourse with women vs. enigmatic, sexually-ambiguous warblings about wolves and chauffeurs. Actually, I can't lie. I still love Rio.

20A (THEME): *Title fellow in a 1971 #1 McCartney hit (Albert)

I got this very early, which helped me get the theme very early, which is something that almost never happens to me. I was at first reluctant to put in ALBERT because, as the song played through my head, it sounded more Beatles than McCartney solo. But since I could recall no McCartney songs about albinos, I figured ALBERT must be right.

42A: 1960's TV hit ... whose last word completes the answers to the nine starred clues (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.)

Are acronyms words? Something seems off about suggesting that an acronym "completes the answers to the nine starred clues." For the record, "U.N.C.L.E." stood for "The United Network Command for Law Enforcement," and their constant foes were T.H.R.U.S.H. (The Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity). The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was tremendously popular during the 1960s, when espionage stories were all the rage. The show spawned a number of paperback TV tie-ins, which themselves spawned many imitators, including Agent of T.E.R.R.A., and, my personal favorite, The Man from O.R.G.Y.. Here are a couple of paperback covers for your historical edification:By the way, O.R.G.Y. stands for "Organization for the Rational Guidance of Youth." Just in case you thought it might have something to do with sex...

65A: Polio vaccine developer (Sabin)

I, of course, always want Salk here. Sabin's vaccine was later and LIVE, which put the US off it despite the many advantages (easy to take, no need for booster shots). Salk played up the dangers of Sabin's vaccine, but eventually the US tested Sabin's vaccine and it became the standard vaccine. And yet Salk gets all the glory because he got there first.

11D: Rink move (axel)

I wanted DEKE (which was in a very recent puzzle) but got AXEL (also in a very recent puzzle, and the puzzle before that, and before that, ad infinitum, ad nauseam; I would like a one-year moritorium on "AXEL" - unless it is clued with reference to Beverly Hills Cop)

23D: Punch line to "What's the longest sentence in the English language?" (I do)

Good one, Andy Capp. Now why don't you go back to drinking and beating your wife? I've never understood the whole ball-&-chain mentality. You don't like it, GET OUT. Stop bitching about your spouse, because nobody but your equally miserable, oaf- and/or shrew-marrying friends wants to hear it.

25D (THEME): *"My Three Sons" housekeeper (Charley)

He spells his name like a dog (see Steinbeck's Travels with...), which means I had the end misspelled as -IE, which means it took me Way longer than it should have to get 53A: 1941 Stanwyck/Fonda comedy, with "The" (Lady Eve), which crosses at the (absurd) Y in CHARLEY. Despite his inability to spell his own name correctly, Uncle Charley is of historical importance as a role model for future gay tv uncles.
27D: 100-lb. units (cwts)

As of this second, I can only guess at what this answer means. And yes, the C=100, as CWT is an abbreviation for a Hundred Weight, a unit of measurement created by US merchants in the late 19c.

28D: Actress Lindsay (Lohan)

A very respectful way to clue this young woman, given all your options. "She says her breasts aren't fake" or "Valderrama plaything" would have been too crude. For the record, Sahra and I really enjoyed her work in the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap. I also nearly enjoyed her in the 2003 remake of Freaky Friday.

35D: Christopher Robin's creator (Milne)

"Hello, my name is Long John Baldry..." Sorry, that was just for my wife. We have a recording of the story of the origins of Winnie the Pooh, and that's how the recording starts. Milne evokes very strong memories of childhood, specifically of my mother reading to me from Now We Are Six: "James James / Morrison Morrison / Weatherby George Dupree / Took great care of his mother / Though he was only three. / James James / said to his mother / Mother he said, said he / You mustn't go down / to the end of the town / if you don't go down with me."

49D: Boxer Laila (Ali)

Coincidentally, Ms. Ali has been much in the news in the past day or so as a possible opponent for the Clown Prince of Boxing, Mike Tyson, who has said that he would be interested in sparring with a woman as part of his boxing exhibition tour for charity or whatever nonsense he and his tribally-tattooed face are up to these days. Not that I wouldn't love to see Ali beat the #%&$ out of Tyson - I just fear Tyson has an advantage; when it comes to beating women, he's had some practice.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 7:08 PM  

So did any T.H.R.U.S.H. agents try to break up the skulduggeries of O.R.G.Y., or has my sense of propriety gone A.W.O.L.?

Rex Parker 8:16 PM  

I'm gonna go with the latter.

"Skulduggeries" is a nice plural, though. Turns out it can be spelled with one OR two L's. Twice as many Google hits for the double-L version, but that's probably just because people who are guessing are going to go with the version that's got a recognizable word ("skull") in it. OED lists only single-L version, though some of its quotation examples have double-L, and one example has "C" instead of "K."

I like the one-L version. Economical.

Factoid: "skulduggery" derives from Sc. "sculduddery," slang for fornication. And the word dates only as far back as the early 18c. - weird, since it sounds so Shakespearean.

Anonymous 8:08 PM  

You must be aware that Tyson is also allegedly signed on to Heidi Fleiss' new stud farm venture. Really, who wouldn't want to pay to sleep with a convicted rapist?

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