THURSDAY, Nov. 30 - Patrick Merrell

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Solving time: about 24 minutes (I'll explain)

THEME: don't get me started... - apparently the names GEORGE and JOAN can each be the name of either a man or a woman. GEORGEANDJOAN (36A) gives you a "She/he pairing" (21A: SAND AND MIRO) and a "He/she pairing" (55A: BUSH AND BAEZ)

I know that my grousing about themes must be tiresome, but I have to be true to my soul, which cries out to heaven to make the torturous themes-that-are-not-themes Stop. OK, let me back up. I took this puzzle to bed with me right at 10pm, but I got distracted doing something else, then was on the verge of falling asleep, when I remembered I hadn't done the puzzle, so sat up, somewhat bleary-eyed, and started in. I do not recommend this pre-sleeping strategy if your goal is speed. Or happiness. I nailed two top-of-the-puzzle gimmes right off the bat (always good) and then promptly slowed to a crawl. Beautiful 1A: Son undone by the sun (Icarus) and easy-for-someone-who-teaches-Arthurian-Lit 11A: Sorceress Morgan le _____ (Fay) gave me high hopes, but despite the help of ICARUS the NW would Not budge, and because I misspelled FAY (had "E" for "A"), I couldn't see 12D: Beloved ("A"dored), and the "F" and the "Y" in F[E]Y were giving me FIESTA (wrong - correct fill = FAJITA) and jacksquat, respectively (when I finally saw that the "Y" answer was 13D: Musician who takes a bow (Yo-Yo Ma), I physically wilted ... so much more obvious an answer than my ridiculous guess, YEHUDI). So frustration set in, which is never good. Again, I was too tired to be solving, so take everything I say with some grains of salt. I mean, I blanked on the very obvious (to a Beethoven-lover) 18A: Highlight of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (Ode to Joy), despite owning it, listening to it with reasonable frequency, being able to hum it on command, etc. So I was not on all cylinders.

And yet, even in the cold light of day, with all my faculties, this so-called theme is bothersome. Look, if GEORGEANDJOAN meant anything - if those names were a well-known comedy act (GEORGE AND GRACIE), or a sports radio broadcasting team or, well, anything, I would not be so annoyed. JULESANDJIM? TOMANDJERRY? Give me Something. GEORGEANDJOAN ... I spent much of my dejected 24 minutes trying to think what the catch was. I had -NDMIRO hanging out at the end of 21A for a while and all I could think was "well that's wrong." Also had -ORGEANDJOAN and still could not bring myself to write in the initial "GE-" because, well, GEORGEANDJOAN is an arbitrary pairing. Arbitrary, I say! If I hadn't been a huge fan of Miro (my very favorite artist of all time ever ... except maybe Cezanne), I'm not sure how long the puzzle would have taken me. Worse, once I'd completed it, I did not see the gender-bending twist At All. All I could think was "yep, those are Georges and Joans alright ... So What!?" The idea that both GEORGE and JOAN had a unisex quality that was being exploited in this puzzle occurred to me only en route to the bathroom at 1:30 a.m., after I'd already slept for two hours (which tells you something about what a little sleep will do for mental clarity). Still, STILL, even with that late-night revelation, Ceci n'est pas un THEME!. When the clue to your theme answer has NO content besides 36A: 21- or 55-Across, then you know you don't have a real theme. Not that there isn't real cleverness in conception and execution here. I just ... look, I'll take it all back if GEORGEANDJOAN turns out to be a real famous pair of people. [And please don't try to pass this duo off as famous]

Speaking of my problems with themes, I screwed up yesterday and gave you only Half the actual theme. All I saw was the apparent oxymoronic quality of the entries, e.g. WHITEFACED BLACKBEARD. I was also supposed to notice (as two readers have since pointed out) that every answer had body parts in it. But they are not "oxymoronic body parts" because, well, they're not. COLDHOTLIPS would be oxymoronic. COLDHEARTED HOT LIPS is ... well, it is somewhat ironic, as both HEART and LIPS are associated with amorousness in some way. Even WHITEFACED BLACKBEARD has a certain ironic quality, in that you would not expect a fearsome pirate to be ashen with fear (or seasickness). But SMALL-MINDED BIGFOOT is not ironic. It's expected. So ... I don't know, the theme's still a jumbly mess. But I'm sorry I didn't see its full complexity yesterday.

OK. Last thing before puzzle specifics: I'd like to randomly vent about the NYT Solvers' Forum site for a moment. Now it's a valuable place to visit, and most folks over there are kind and lovely. But. There can occasionally be a certain prevailing attitude of superciliousness that makes me want to punch something/one. The following is my favorite recent post, in that it is my least favorite, and typifies the worst kind of pedantry that goes on over there (almost to the point of seeming self-parodic). Some guy writes:

Co says:

'the placement of the theme clues doesn't phase me at all.'

The word, of course, is faze.

There seems to be a lot of this sort of thing recently.

I see discrete when the writer means discreet.

"This sort of thing" - what a prick. I love the absolutely arbitrary last sentence. What I wanted to reply, but didn't, was:

"Really, you see 'discrete' when the writer means 'discreet?' That's weird, because I see 'asshole' when the writer means 'I'm a smart word guy.'"

And I'm done.

15D: Physics units also known as centigrays (rads)

Question: what is the only award that Rex Parker, English major, ever won for academic achievement in college?

Answer: The Physics I prize! A cool $50, oh yeah. And yet ... I did not know this answer. Add it to the pile of answers I didn't know (a large pile for a Thursday) including 20A: West Coast beer, familiarly (Oly) (I'm FROM the West Coast, dammit), 23A: People of the Southwest (Pima) (one letter away from my favorite brand of sportswear), 60A: "Help!" song (I Need You) (and here I thought the "Help!" song was "Help!"), 40D: Synthetic rubber (Neoprene), and 48D: Tuberous plant of the Andes (oca).

33A: "The Deep" co-star, 1977 (Nolte)

NICK Nolte. NICKANDNORA ... see, THAT would have worked as your theme. Well, it wouldn't have worked, because there are no guys named "Nora" that I know of, but you see what I mean. NICKANDNORA are a known duo - you can play the theme off of famous names like that; having the theme-defining answer be a phrase or concept that is common knowledge helps anchor the puzzle and give it Zing. Also, NICK AND NORA would have appreciated the face time: you gotta have some pity on a pair of very talented actors (Powell and Loy) who, crossword-wise, are routinely upstaged by a dog. Not just A dog. The Dog.

7D: Shoeless hero of fiction (Frodo)

"Shoeless"! Really, that's your clue for FRODO? This was one of many clues that felt off or forced to me, including 6D: Ship's passage (strait) (come on ... SOME ships, but very few ships, I would imagine, relative to all the ships there are in the world), 43D: They might have springs (resorts) (I ... guess), 35D: Objects, e.g. (nouns) ("Nouns in the mirror may be closer than they appear"), and, much worse, 51D: Word often preceding 35-Down (the), which is my least favorite way that a definite article has Ever been clued. Arbitrary, once again (it's my word of the day). THE precedes virtually all parts of speech: THE quick brown fox, THE badly behaved boy, etc. Why not clue THE: "Not just a" - that works. I'm just sayin'.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


sonofdad 12:03 PM  

We're on the same page regarding the theme. After I finished the puzzle, I Googled George and Joan to make sure I wasn't missing some pop culture reference from before my time, and the first hit was that Jabberwacky thing. That didn't satisfy me, to say the least.

If the two last name pairings turned out to be common phrases, or at least resembled common phrases, the randomness of the George and Joan pairing wouldn't have bothered me. But as far as I know, Bush and Baez, and Sand and Miro don't mean anything.

Anonymous 4:49 PM  

So what's next?

DARRYL AND ALICE - giving us HANNAH AND COOPER up top and HALL AND HAMILTON down bottom?

It's a cure observation more than a theme.

Anonymous 4:51 PM  

Make that a CUTE observation. Perhaps Freud is telling me to go see a doctor.

Rex Parker 6:07 PM  

Wow, DA, I like your hypothetical alternative. Though I ... don't know who ALICE HAMILTON is.

How about



Grid would have to go to 16, but look how pretty...

Orange 7:23 PM  

I don't get your objection to [Ship's passsage]. A touch of Thursday mislead with thoughts of a corridor on a ship? Can't very well go with [Country singer George] because he'd muck up the theme. And a straightforward factual clue would be awfully dull in a Thursday puzzle. [Firth] would be accurate (according to Wikipedia's article on "strait"), but boy, would that be pesky.

I'll bet if you'd started the puzzle this morning after your coffee, you'd have enjoyed it a lot more. I usually regret it when I'm sleepy but insist on doing a crossword anyway.

Rex Parker 7:35 PM  

Look, Orange, I already qualified the whole commentary with the context of my sleepy non-alertness. Grains of salt and all that.

I love FIRTH, esp the FIRTHOFFORTH. Great word. Ach!

[Passage for SOME ships] - is that too easy? The clue as it stands is not out of bounds ... would never have blinked at it if it hadn't been for all the other things that were bringing me down. [Snug jacket]? [Knopfler was a Dire one]?

Why can't you clue STRAIT [Country singer George]? He'd muck up the theme? WHAT theme? Oh, you mean you can't mention GEORGE in the clues because it's a part of the alleged theme of GEORGEANDJOAN? OK. Hmmm. Thank god a new puzzle comes my way in just over 2 hrs.

Isabella di Pesto 10:24 PM  

Just watched "Rebecca" yesterday.

GEORGEsanders and JOANfontain.

Other GeorgesandJoans:


GEORGEharrison and JOANJett

GEORGEgobel and JOANrivers

I hated this puzzle.

Rex Parker 8:12 AM  

It's always nice when I'm not hating a puzzle by myself. Today's (Friday's) was better.

Anonymous 10:53 AM  

Here is the theme



36A: says 21A or 55A b/c The he/she pairing answers both relate to those first names

Anonymous 11:04 AM  

to add to my anonymous quote (b/c i can't remember my password)

It's more my explanation of the "why" these answer are what they are, however it isn't much of a theme, those people don't even matter to each other.

Anonymous 5:40 PM  

Love this blog -- but I'm six weeks behind the rest of you, so you probably won't even see this comment. Alas... Not my favorite puzzle either, although I did get resorts, rads and neoprene pretty quickly.

Anonymous 6:45 PM  

got this CW in sandiego on thursday it didnt get better with age

Rex Parker 9:27 PM  

Hey junkman-

All comments get sent to me as email, so I see them (if nobody else does ... although there are many many like you doing the puzzle six weeks after the fact).


Anonymous 6:39 AM  

Welll, here it is January 11th and I gave up and googled "shoeless hero of fiction" only to find your marvelous blog! What a relief to find out I am not alone in finding "today's" puzzle a big pain in the rear. And ha ha I GOT "pima" because I live in Arizona. It's gotta be good for something. Cheers!...

Rex Parker 7:01 AM  

When I got your comment just now I had to go back and look at what I'd written because already PIMA had slipped from my mind. There is a small rodent with a similar name that I also didn't know and blogged about ... and right now I also can't remember ITS name. What good is all this blogging if I can't remember stuff?! Unh!


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