SUNDAY, Nov. 19, 2006 - Tony Orbach

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Solving time: about 40 min (explanation below)

THEME: "What's More" - theme answers are familiar phrases that have "er" added to make modified phrases, e.g. 38A: Stalwart plumber's credo? (The Show, er, [shower] Must Go On)

I tried to solve this last night while sitting in front of Taxi Driver, which I hadn't seen in years, and so I kept stopping to watch (it was on AMC, so slightly edited, but not much - my wife had somehow never seen this movie and was engrossed, by which I mean she did not fall asleep even though the movie went past 10pm). Being distracted by the movie also made me totally lose focus in the far North of the puzzle (discussed below), where I stared at near-blankness for what seemed like forever (reality = 10-15 minutes) because no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times I went Through The Alphabet, I just could not see what turned out to be a very ordinary, obvious answer. So I started doubting perfectly correct crosses and ended up with the inky mess you can see on my grid. And it turns out that only one of the words up there is particularly obscure or difficult. Ugh. More on Taxi Driver later in the commentary.

As far as the theme: Not sure how I feel. It's not terribly complicated. I think I would have loved it, actually, if all of the ER's had been medial; if the theme is "WHAT'S MORE," then there should be MORE after the ER - and yet 17D: Rooster? (Chicken Broth, ER), 23A: 33.8 ounces? (American Lit, ER), 52D: Like some C.S.I. evidence? (Caught in a fib, ER), and 83A: Oddly colored shoe? (Olive loaf, ER) all have their ER's at the end. I just this second realized that the ER might be simply the -ER suffix associated with comparative adjectives, e.g. fastER, longER, strongER - where I'd been thinking all along that it was the sound of hesitation in speech, used when one is thinking of what to say NEXT. Hmmm. My way is better, but the simple -ER suffix way seems to have been what was intended. I don't really get what's clever about it, but whatever.

1A: Most distant (iciest)
1D: Eastern inn (imaret)

The yin and yang of my puzzle solving experience are encapsulated here within these far northwestern crosses. ICIEST was a bold initial and correct guess, whereas IMARET ... is still not in my vocabulary. I would like someone to write a poem in which IMARET is made to rhyme with IN A PET (84D). By the way, IMARET means "an inn or hostel for pilgrims in Turkey."

7A: Big Twelve team (Kansas)
21A: Philippine port (Il Oilo)

Ah, the icy North, or "Calgary," of this puzzle. When I see "Big Twelve team" I think GIMME! But because I had Taxi Driver on in the background, and, more importantly, because I had that final "S" in Kansas first, I assumed (ASSumed) that the answer was a plural and was therefore the team name, e.g. Longhorns, Jayhawks, etc. Since neither 7D: Light (kindle) nor 9D: Harmful (noisome) would come to me, I had the following for 7A: "_ A _ S A S" - which, when you look at it, when I look at it now, screams KANSAS. But I believed the answer to be a plural, not a state name, and so I tried to remember all the teams in the Big Twelve, blanked on half, started throwing in teams from the SEC for some reason ... disaster. Even after I got the "N" from NOISOME, I was still lost. Still not sure how I finally got the initial "K" to come into view. The whole experience might have been considerably shorter if it hadn't been for the wretched IL OILO, an answer which, when you Google it within quotation marks, yields only 156 hits. You heard me: ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-SIX. That's a "port" that BARELY EXISTS!!!! EL PASO gets 19.7 MILLION hits. LA PAZ gets almost 4.4 million. IL OILO, I repeat, gets 156, or .000156 million. Whoops, it just went up to 158 somehow! "IL OILO: A City on the ... Grow!" [late addendum: Iloilo is ONE WORD and it's a Philippines province. It's still terribly obscure by N. American standards, but not 156/158 Google hits obscure]

16D: John of "Freaky Friday," 1977 (Astin)

OK, I don't know who this is, but I do know that Jodie Foster was in Freaky Friday, just as she was in Taxi Driver a year earlier. Watching her scenes in Taxi Driver last night was a lot of fun. She was an astonishingly good actor for being, whatever she was, 13? 14? She doesn't have that many scenes, but the one scene of her and DeNiro in the diner having breakfast - where he tries to convince her that she needs to be "saved" from prostitution, while she pokes holes in his logic, in between playing with her peanut butter sandwich and switching in and out of different wacky sunglasses - is enough to see how talented she was. I like that she was tough and mature, but in this very limited way, where she couldn't quite disguise the fact that there was an actual (allegedly) 12-year-old girl behind the street-smart facade. In that one scene alone she seems to be 20 one moment, 10 the next. Great, great (if disturbing) stuff.

13A: Last of the Minor Prophets (Malachi)

Had the first three letters of this one and then just guessed - correctly, it turns out. I have no familiarity with the "Minor Prophets." I'm shaky enough on the Major Prophets as it is. But I do know something (however limited) about 1980s horror movies, and I know that the leader of the Children of the Corn was named "Malachi" (in the movie credits, it's spelled with a penultimate "A," but so what). I never saw that movie, or its sequels, because even the cheesiest horror films scare the hell out of me. But I appreciated the Children of the Corn ads for their camp value.

95A: Karate teacher (sensei)

Sahra was awarded a Yellow Belt by her SENSEI this past Friday after passing her test, a moment that made her light up like a Christmas tree.

114A: And others (et alii)

Well, yes, technically, but who writes / says ET ALII? It's ET AL., right? They mean the same thing, the latter being simply a conveniently shortened version of the former. Since this grid is mostly free of obscurities and Forced Fill, ET ALII is perfectly palatable to me, as archaisms go. Tastes a hell of a lot better than IL OILO, I'll tell you that. The part of my brain that does cryptic crosswords wants to clue ET ALII in a way that exploits the happy conjunction of Greek letter ETA and Roman numeral LII.

73D: Film company (AGFA)

Rejected corporate catchphrase #483: "AGFA - it's Pig Latin for 'Fag!'"

104D: Captain of the Nautilus (Nemo)

I love me some Captain Nemo. Screw that clown fish, this is the real Nemo. I had to write an article on "Revenge" once, and Nemo was one of my primary literary examples. Here's what I said:

In Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the mysteriously vengeful Captain Nemo [...] chooses an alias that in Latin means "no one"; Edmond Dantes [The Count of Monte Cristo] and Gully Foyle [The Stars My Destination] take on new names; and Batman struggles to conceal his real name. Part of this name-hiding is strategic, but symbolically it represents the powerful capacity of the quest for revenge to overcome and change the very nature of the avenger.
In Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, we know that Nemo is vengeful, but against whom, and why, we have no idea. Apparently the original manuscript had Nemo as a Polish nobleman who wanted revenge against the Russians for the death of his wife and child during the Polish insurrection of the 1860s - but the publisher nixed that idea, and Nemo's motivations remained hidden (though we do know he lost his family). The sequel to 20,000 Leagues, entitled The Mysterious Island, reveals Nemo to be an Indian prince whose anger is fueled by the British conquest of India. He builds an electric submarine, the Nautilus, and travels the world "battling injustice, especially slavery" (Wikipedia). He is a great, imperious, enigmatic character, and one of the models for the antagonist in the greatest revenge movie ever made, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. "Khan!"
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 2:31 PM  

Everyone knows who John Astin is. He played the dad in the Addams Family, not that I ever saw that show. I remember him well from the very short-lived 1985-1986 Mary Tyler Moore sitcom "Mary" in which he played Ed LaSalle, the paper's entertainment reviewer.

Rex Parker 2:42 PM  

You mean "everyone knows him by sight." I contend that not one in twenty people who would recognize him from "TAF" could name him.

Thanks for the obscure "Mary" trivia.

Anonymous 2:54 PM  

Unfortunately for your contention, John Astin is one of the most famous television and film character actors alive.

This weekend's remastered Star Trek episode is Khaaaaan.

Rex Parker 2:56 PM  

He's alive?

Now SEAN Astin - HE's famous By Name.

Isabella di Pesto 3:00 PM  

I think John Astin was once married to Patty Duke.

Futz: Etymology: perhaps part modification, part translation of Yiddish arumfartsn zikh, literally, to fart around
slang : FOOL AROUND 1 -- often used with around.

A little bit of Brazilian, Yiddish, and Latin, spices up a puzzle.

Said Joseph to Mary,
"I'm in a pet,
cuz there's no room
at the imaret."

Rex Parker 4:12 PM  

OK, why don't you all go start the John Astin fanclub, unless it's already the most thriving fanclub in the universe, in which case, join.

Etymology of "in a pet," please? All Googles lead to people who are "in a pet store" or "in a pet care facility."

Lovely rhyme. Reads like rap.

Orange 6:00 PM  

John Astin is famous. You just haven't been paying attention.

I agree with your wife: A movie has to be really good to make staying awake worthwhile.

You're joking about Il Oilo, right? It's a Philippine province with a four-syllable name.

Anonymous 6:01 PM  

Hey, alleged superhero fan: In addition to starring in every TV show you ever saw in and from the 1970s, John Astin played The Riddler on Batman, and he starred as the crusty dean in Teen Wolf Too, which you never hesitate to remind people was filmed at your alma mater. Also he was Uncle Joe on Charles In Charge. Today he is 76 years young.

Rex Parker 7:57 PM  

RE: Iloilo

HA ha, it's one word!?! That's rich. Sadly, I wasn't joking.

I stand by my contention that that Astin guy is not famous by name, not by contemporary standards of famous. Rita MORENO (13D) is famous. ETTA James, Stephen REA, *all* of them are more famous, by name if not in actuality, than John Astin. Steve Austin is more famous, and he's fictional. Ashton Kutcher: more famous. Austin Powers, etc.

Rex Parker 8:00 PM  

Wait, TODAY is John Astin's birthday?

I have never mentioned Teen Wolf Too on this blog, not once. Til now. Nor have I mentioned Over the Top, Beaches, or The Sure Thing ... all filmed at said alma mater.

Orange 8:54 PM  

The second Mighty Ducks movie was filmed in part at my alma mater, which is nowhere near Hollywood and thus doesn't show up in many movies. What purported to be the cafeteria was actually the Great Hall downstairs from where I lived junior year.

My husband says anyone who's into pop culture ought to recognize John Astin's there.

Rex Parker 9:43 PM  

Oh well, if your husband says so...

Mighty Ducks II, nice. Not quite as cheese-tastic as Teen Wolf Too, but horribly memorable nonetheless.

Howard B 12:24 AM  

Besides all that, I also remember Mr. Astin from his occasional role on Night Court in the 1980s - he was one of those eccentric characters that would pop in from time to time for comic relief - check out his IMDB page if you haven't hit it already; he's got an insane quantity and variety of roles; most definitely not the Iloilo of the entertainment biz. Learn something new every day. Sometimes even two things, if you're lucky.

Rex Parker 9:17 AM  

What I love about this site is how I am shamed everyday by the exposure of my ignorance. ILOILO. Ugh. That one hurt.

Never thought an offhand mention of a character actor who wasn't really the topic of my commentary at all would lead to such a rich discussion of that actor's career. You're welcome, Mr. Astin.

Howard B 10:01 AM  

It's not ignorance; it's realizing how much stuff there is out there that we don't know. To me, that's one of the unexpected benefits of solving these things. Of course, watching almost any non-celebrity episode of 'Jeopardy!' will also do that for me, but you get the idea.

For what it's worth, 'Iloilo' stung me a bit as well. I thuoght that word was just the constructor putting a big magnifying glass over us poor little ants trying to solve. Or maybe like the gods in 'Clash of the Titans' moving those little mortal chess pieces around for their amusement. Pick whatever bizarre analogy you wish; it's Monday and my brain is not yet functioning.

Rex Parker 10:10 AM  

Thank you for mentioning Clash of the Titans, beloved movie of my childhood, which I will take in a heartbeat over all your Troys and Alexanders and Gladiators any day of the week. I don't care how horrible the special effects were - that movie was memorable and entertaining! And it had gods, as you say, gods which were absurdly cut out of Troy. I mean, taking the gods out of The Iliad?!? "Hey, we wanna remake Lolita, but, uh, this time: no Humbert Humbert. Brilliant!"

Sorry for the digression. As you say, Monday, brain not up yet.

Anonymous 10:15 PM  

I'd recognize John Astin anywhere. To me, he is indeed among the famous. He and Patty Duke were married for well over a decade.

On the other hand, I have no idea who Stephen Rea is.

Howard B 10:51 PM  

Agreed, I'm in the same boat as carol on Stephen Rea; my knowledge of that name will stay limited to puzzles, i think.

Rex - I remember Clash of the Titans pretty well. We need more Ray Harryhausens, I think. That said though, I'll go out on a limb and say that the little mechanical owl had to be the Jar-Jar Binks of its time. I can suspend disbelief quite a bit (after all, it is mythology), but a robot owl?!? Athena is sitting somewhere shaking her head over that one. Still a fun flick.

Rex Parker 7:47 AM  

Stephen Rea was in The Crying Game and V for Vendetta and has been acting professionally since the mid-60s. He's Irish, and was not an Addams, so perhaps less immediately recognizable to Americans ... of a certain age.

I'm familiar with the work of Patty Duke.

As far as I remember, the mechanical owl was not a dim-witted racial caricature (see Jar-Jar) and did not incite the homicidal hatred of millions of viewers (see Jar-Jar again).

Howard B 8:03 AM  

But... but... It was offensive to owls and all others of avian persuasion. OK, that's a stretch. You got me there.

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