TUESDAY, Nov. 7, 2006 - Bruce P. Douglas

Monday, November 6, 2006

Solving time: 8:39 (details below)

THEME: Red State / Blue State - 6 theme answers, 3 clued "Red state," 3 clued "Blue state"

Before I begin my response to today's election-day, election-themed puzzle, I'd like to take some time to answer Viewer Mail. Our first letter comes from "Catherine" at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. After lavishing much-deserved praise on yours truly, she writes:

As both a crossword nerd and a plant nerd, I feel that I have to point out an error [in the Sunday, Nov. 5 puzzle commentary]. The picture of a “pawpaw” you have on your Sunday entry is actually a papaya. Although people in other countries call papayas pawpaws, the American use of the word applies to the native tree species Asimina triloba. The clue in the puzzle refers to an old children’s song believed to be written in Kentucky.
I am grateful for the correction, and I want to apologize to the many readers I quite unintentionally misled. But I mean, come on. Can you blame me? Believe me, if you were doing a Google Image search of "pawpaw" and you were lucky enough to get THIS picture as a hit:you would not ask questions. You would just take the picture and run with it, because that picture is money. Sadly, though, it's misleading, and so I'm forced to correct myself and, as part of my atonement, show you this perfectly accurate but far less entertaining picture of the American pawpaw (the one actually referred to in the crossword clue in question):
PS, I am happy to be corrected, but only by professionals. As many of you know, I don't take correction easy, and often enjoy persisting in my wrongness; but when the Brooklyn Botanic Garden says you're wrong about a plant, you'd probably better listen.

PPS seriously, though, if you see an obvious typo, help me out ASAP with a gentle private email nudge. Thanks.

Solved this puzzle on the Applet (is that what you call it? when you play against the clock at the NYT site and then your time is posted against everyone else's?) for the first time last night, and it was a bit ugly. There's only one answer on the entire grid that was unknown to me, and yet I was still slow. I type very fast, but this is actually a drawback for someone like me whose mouse-keyboard dexterity is not yet refined, because if my cursor is in the wrong place, or I'm oriented Across instead of Down or vice versa, I can $#@$ up a lot of grid in a split second. Blog-wise, doing the puzzle on the Applet is not convenient, as I can't print the puzzle out in its scanner-friendly completeness (and I can't see where I had wrong answers - those are usually half the fodder for my commentary!). Today, after I'd finished the puzzle on-line, I just printed out a clean grid and filled it in, which is a joyless experience, let me tell you...

...Unlike the puzzle itself, which is actually quite nice, if a bit theme-crazy ("election" language is all over the grid and clues, more like an occupying army than a theme). In addition to the six Red state / Blue state clues, there are, let me count, six clues that directly reference elections, and then a handful of others that are explicitly or implicitly political. Now they say that the NY Times has a liberal bias, and while I generally discount such suggestions as just so much conspiracy-theory nonsense, this puzzle makes me wonder. On the day after Daniel Ortega (apparently) gets elected in Nicaragua, the puzzle just happens to have LEFTS (5A) and COMMUNISM (34D) as answers, while Uncle SAM (46A), the paragon of American patriotism, is dragged through the mud, defiled by close contact with not only COMMUNISM but PIGS (32D)! Of course the puzzle's also got GORE standing shoulder-to-shoulder with EVIL in the SW corner, but that's probably just because the pinkos at the Times are trying to exorcise Gore's bloated political corpse because they know he's a liability and they don't want him #$$%-ing up today's election. The puzzle seems to want to stir OUTRAGE (24D) against the DESPOTS (23A) - liberals' histrionic word for the current administration - but I think proper outrage should be reserved for the real liberal agenda hiding in this puzzle: BAWDINESS and rap music (RHYMERS) and GANGS and ... let's see, is there anything gay in here? ... SPAS? OK, yeah, those are almost like bathhouses. Anyway, I can't prove any of this. I'm just sayin'... oh, and they even trot out Christopher REEVE (65A) to try to play on your heartstrings and get you to support the "science" of stem-cell research (another ungodly, liberal pet project). I'm telling you, this is the best puzzle-related evidence of liberal bias in the Times since the infamous 1996 puzzle that installed Clinton as president before all the votes had been cast and counted.

[Taking a break to walk down the street to the local middle school, where I vote].

I'm back. I just voted for a Republican for office for what I believe is the first time in my life. So did my wife. Of course we voted for a Socialist and a Green Party candidate too. We like to mix it up.

22A: Intentionally vague statement (hedge)

I harangue my students on a regular basis for HEDGING in their papers. Commit to your ideas. If you believe in something, sell it! Don't be afraid of your own authority, you cowards! (OK, I don't call them "cowards"). Another good way to clue HEDGE would have been by way of reference to the recent movie Over the HEDGE, which Sahra saw many times this past summer, once with me in tow. It's supposed to be a parody of America's mindless consumption of material goods. That, or a warning that the furry animals of the world are on the verge of hatching a violent plot to interfere with our God-given way of life. Because they hate Freedom. To its credit, the movie had a great Ben Folds soundtrack, on which he redoes his song "Rockin' the Suburbs," minus the profanity. I almost want to buy it. I can claim it's for Sahra. Yes. That will make a good Xmas present. For her.

45A: Nasty vipers (asps)

Jeez, the ASPS are like Norm on Cheers. They practically live here. "Ssss, don't tread on us! Hey, you guys seen ASTA anywhere?"

43A: Former Saudi king (Faisal)

This one is new to me. Holy crap, he looks scary. Is FAISAL here to remind us of the importance of having a reasonably stable democratic process and peaceful transition of power? Because his story is pretty gruesome. In 1973, he withdrew Saudi oil from the world market, quadrupling the price of gas and helping cause the massive "energy crisis" of 1974. Gas lines like we haven't seen since (post-Katrina Louisiana excepted). He was assassinated shortly thereafter. Here are the details, from Wikipedia:
On March 25, 1975, Faisal was shot point blank and killed by his half brother's son Faisal bin Musad, who had just come back from the United States. The murder occurred at a Majlis, an event where the king or leader opens up his residence to the citizens to enter and ask him questions.

Prince Faisal Bin Musad was captured directly after the attack and declared officially insane. He was later found guilty of regicide and in June 1975 he was beheaded in the public square in Riyadh.
Mmm, you can almost taste the Justice. Just whetting your appetite for the coming Saddam execution.

61A: "Metamorphoses" author (Ovid)

If I had to be any author, this is who I'd be. He's like my best friend (uh, when regular people and my dog aren't around). I learned Latin largely by immersing myself in his Amores and Ars amatoria, which are beautiful, hilarious, tongue-in-cheek (mostly) treatises on how to score with women. The opening of Amores is one of the cleverest openings in literary history: Ovid states that he set out to write an epic (in the dactylic hexameter proper to epics), but then Cupid came down and stole a foot from the second line, turning his poetry from noble dactylic hexameter to the lesser elegiac couplets more proper to love poetry. So it begins with aspirations to grandeur, which are then immediately deflated. Ovid likes to make fun of himself. And others. Sometimes powerful others. Did I mention he died in exile on the Black Sea? Not clear why, but it seems to have involved "a song and a crime" (carmen et crimen) of a sexual nature. Lesson: Don't #$@# with female relatives of the Emperor.

6D: Rob Roy and kin (Scotsmen)

I have nothing to say here. I just wanted occasion to put up a picture of my favorite Scotsman:
44D: Chicago-based food giant (Sara Lee)

Growing up, I always thought that the jingle went "Nobody does it like Sara Lee!" But apparently it's the more grammatically tortured "Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee!" Which makes me (guess what) NOT LIKE SARA LEE. Their prepackaged treats are too sweet and full of preservatives anyway (he said, fresh off an excursion to Dunkin' Donuts). Apparently I'm not the only one to mishear the jingle. Sara Lee even addresses this ... controversy? ... in its website's FAQ (who is checking that!? I mean, besides me).

62D: "_____ Doubtfire" (Mrs.)

If you doubted the liberal agenda of this puzzle in the beginning, I give you this (horrifying) answer as final proof. As I understand it, this movie is about a complete loser who decides to become a drag queen in order to pose as a nanny and thereby violate the restraining order against him. The Democrats want you to buy into their cross-dressing, child-stalking agenda. Democrats: Soft on Queers, Soft on Crime. They also apparently don't want you to laugh. Ever.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 11:04 AM  

Remember when we climbed up to the Rob Roy Glacier?

Rex Parker 11:12 AM  

That's good, honey. Give everyone the impression that I'm the rugged, mountaineering type. I like that.

The Rob Roy Glacier is on the south island of NZ, near Lake Wanaka, and I'd say we climbed towards it more than we climbed "up to" it. It is called "Rob Roy" because everything down there is named after something Scottish. It's like Scotland upside-down down there. For instance, my wife is from Dunedin, which is just a slightly uglier way of saying "EDINburgh." Not that Dunedin's ugly. Cloudy, but hardly ugly.

Anonymous 1:02 PM  

"You have selected ... REGICIDE."

Orange 1:18 PM  

Sheesh, you write a lot. Yes, that's the applet. The dexterity gets much better with practice. Excellent liberal conspiracy-theorizin'. I voted for one Republican for the second time in 20+ years. The Curious George movie also has great songs by Jack Johnson, but I haven't bought the soundtrack.

Howard B 3:15 PM  

As far as the applet goes, I worry even less about times than normal. On top of trying to just trying solve the thing, there's also typing ability to take into account. So if you're one to compare your own times, applet to paper can be like comparing apples and oran-- er...papayas. Although like AcrossLite (and unlike some of the weaker newspaper applets), at least you can use the up/down arrows to switch Across/Down direction. That saves some uncomfortably awkward mousing. All in all, it's not too bad to get the hang of, although I still prefer AcrossLite.

Off-topic, if the candidates I voted for do not win, I will also blame that on the Times applet. Another conspiracy, I tell you.

Jeff Neary 7:33 AM  

Holy senates!

Anonymous 11:24 PM  

I do the crossword via The Vancouver Sun, which leaves me about six weeks behind, so this is a bit belated - but is the "infamous" 1996 puzzle that announced Clinton the winners not the same puzzle that also announced Bob Dole the winner? It was my understanding that certain clues had two possible answers, so that the answer could be either "CLINTONWINS" or "BOBDOLEWINS", depending on the approach you took. But now I'm confused. I suspect I picked this bit off information up by watching Wordplay, and I can't imagine you wouldn't have seen that. So either I'm mistaken, or you left that out in order to increase the funniness of this blog. Which there is no shame in doing, of course.

Rex Parker 9:13 AM  

I think you figured out my intent in the process of writing your comment, Anonymous. I was ranting in the voice of an ignorant jackass, thus one who would not understand that the puzzle didn't pick Clinton at all. The two possible answers for the puzzle clue in question were CLINTON and BOBDOLE.

Hello, Vancouver! I went to Expo '86 in Vancouver when I was a teenager. Good times. I believe that was at the exact moment that Prince Andrew married Fergie. The Duchess, not the Black-Eyed Peas "singer."


Anonymous 1:01 AM  

Sometimes I'm a little slow but, as you say, by the time I hit "send" your intention was fairly obvious. My first kiss, if you can call it that, was in the Space Drop, so Expo 86 holds a special spot in my heart.

In any event, please (PLEASE) keep writing this blog. I happened upon it one afternoon while using google to fill in the SE corner of a particularly tricky puzzle (for me, at least), and the blog has since become a favourite part of my day. I think this, or something like it, might be what the internet idealists were imagining.

Rex Parker 10:36 AM  

You, Sir Anonymous, are my new best friend, and I am going to use your positive review in all my promotional material.

Thanks for reading,

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