FRIDAY, Dec. 15, 2006 - Levi Denham

Friday, December 15, 2006

Solving time: not sure; too long

THEME: none

Many colorful long answers make this an impressive puzzle in some ways, but the puzzle gets many points off for cluing an answer with reference to the horrid "Ally McBeal." Not just any answer, either, but a totally obscure answer, especially given how common the answer (RENEE) is. I mean, 4A: Ally's roommate on "Ally McBeal"? Her roommate?! I mean, you'd have to actually watch the show to know that. If "Soprano Fleming" is too easy a clue here, there must be a dozen other RENEEs out there who were Not part of a show that defines everything that was wrong with the 90's. Zellweger? Russo? "Don't Walk Away, _____"? Here are the two things for which "Ally McBeal" will be remembered. A. Callista Flockhart's anorexia, B. Callista Flockhart's improbable marriage to Harrison Ford, C. the creepy dancing baby. OK, that's three things, only one of which actually has to do with the show itself. Remember when FOX aired half-hour recap versions of "Ally McBeal" simply called "Ally?" No, of course you don't. Let us never speak of this show again. Oh, I should add that I misspelled PRIE (22A: "Je vous en _____" ("You're welcome": Fr.)), with a final "S" instead of "E," and thus was left to wonder what kind of idiotic name RENES was - only on "Ally McBeal"! Interesting coincidence: in the Nov. 1 puzzle I posted a grid that also had an error in the answer RENEE. I had ZED instead of ZEE as a cross, and thus ended up with RENDE. A Commenter called my attention to it just today (he, like many of you, from the land-of-six-weeks-behind). Clearly I have a problem with this name.

"STILL SCREAMING!" - these were the words, scrawled in ALL CAPS at the top of a school bus report form that I saw sitting on my daughter's teacher's desk this morning. Apparently one of Sahra's classmates has a ... screaming problem. I've not witnessed this, but if the bus driver's handwriting is any indication, it's serious. Sahra goes to one of these alterna-hippy-no-rules schools that get an interesting mix of brilliant and, er, colorful kids. Sahra thrives there, and the student body is really diverse, especially for a private school in these parts, but you sometimes see behavior there that wouldn't be tolerated for one second in "normal" educational environments. Not often, but sometimes. And nothing dangerous. Just ... yeah, quirky. Of course Sahra once whacked a girl with scissors, so she's not above occasional bad behavior herself (that sounded worse than it was - perhaps "whacked" is an exaggeration - the "with scissors" part, however, is not). The bus driver's report just reminded me of how the school must look to people from the outside. We're used to certain ... quirks in the kids that would annoy if not alarm the outside world. "STILL SCREAMING!" - "Yeah. He'll do that."

12A: Portrayer of Clouseau's superior, in film (Lom)
16A: She played Eloise in "Mogambo" (Ava)
18A: Tapping target (keg)
12D: Like some resorts (lakeside)

Had a massive problem in the "Bangor" region of the puzzle due to two very plausible wrong answers that I had. Nailed AVA (!) right off the bat (my former Grace Kelly obsession helped here, as there is no other way I would have known what a Mogambo was, let alone who was in it), but I had CAPESIDE instead of LAKESIDE. LAKESIDE is by far the more Google-friendly kind of resort, but CAPESIDE is not without its connections to resorts as well. This gave me COM instead of LOM, which, really, COM, LOM, whatever. Did anyone really know that answer without the crosses. COM and LOM both sound made-up. I also had PEG instead of KEG. Tapping a PEG ... I thought, "sure, that's some kind of construction term ... or something." There appear to be PEGs involved in the tapping of KEGs, which is an odd coincidence. If I'd just played the alphabet game a little more diligently, I would have seen the superior "K" - but I was tired and CAPESIDE seemed so right. Trivia - CAPESIDE is the setting for TV's "Dawson's Creek."

23A: "Take _____," 1985 #1 hit (On Me)

Super Gimme! Along with AVA and (I thought) PRIS (which ended up being PRIE), this was one of the very few gimmes I had in the puzzle. This song, and especially video, was hugely influential on my budding teenage musical sensibilities. I'm going to put it on iTunes right now (yeah, I own it). In fact, this song is the video to me. Can't hear it without thinking about the awesome, black+white, comic-book style video. The sweeping, plaintive, romantic pop song was Very appealing to me. For some reason, this synth-pop band from the frozen climes of ... what was it, Norway? Finland? Anyway, they spoke to my tortured teenage soul. Sad, yes, but no less true. A-Ha = "The most successful musical property to arise from Norway," according to their official website. Which begs the question - what's the second most successful musical property to arise from Norway? I think it might be this chick: If so, she really, Really needs a new haircut if she wants to pass the likes of A-Ha. Has anyone told her her name sounds like a carpet fiber? P.S. look at her name and explain to me why she has not appeared in the grid before. I mean, I've not really heard of her, but Google says lots of folks have.

33A: Prominent Quebec City daily, with "Le" (Soleil)

It was a bad day for my French. SOLEIL is a basic, French I word meaning "sun," but for some reason, not only could I not see it, but for a time I actually wanted SOMEIL here - first of all, it's a misspelling of SOMMEIL, and second, SOMMEIL means "sleep," and what kind of paper would name itself "The Sleep?" Seriously, I tried to justify it by telling myself it must be an evening paper, like many cities used to have. Old-fashioned + quaint = Canadian.

37A: It turns out looies: Abbr. (OCS)

Speaking of Canada ... oh you'll love this. I thought "Looie ... that's a Canadian coin, right? So ... what do Canadians call their treasury?" And when I ended up with OCS, I just assumed it was an abbreviation where the "C" stood for "Canada" or "Canadian," like, let's see, "Office of Canadian Spending" or "Organization of Canadian States" or something. Looking up OCS, though, I got Officer Candidacy School. Puzzled by the apparent abbreviation coincidence, I Googled "looie" and got ... not much. Then it occurred to me that the coin might actually be called a "loonie," so I Googled it and bingo. A weird, dark alley that I and I alone wandered into - and did not come out of until about ten minutes ago. Oh, I should probably add that "looie" is short for Lieutenant.

46A: Air Tahiti _____ (carrier to Papeete) [nui]

Oh, carrier to Papeete, you say. Thanks for the hint! Now if you could only tell me Where Papeete Is and How That Narrows Things Down For Me ... I would still be uncertain about the rightness of this answer if I hadn't seen it before, as a component of a sign-off in e-mails my wife used to send me when we were a-courtin'. AROHANUI is a Maori word meaning, literally, "big love," but used as the equivalent of "all my love" or "love you" ... that is what you were saying, right honey?

39D: Convention roll call (states)
47A: Soon to be heard (on the docket)

This is the unlikely location of my first real toehold in this puzzle. After I'd entered my gimmes and gotten nowhere, I tentatively printed STATES in for 39D. The second "T" in states is the terminal letter in 47A, and for some reason, even though I had no other letters and the answer is 11 letters long, I knew it instantly with an eerie certainty that panned out. I think 1A: Threatening to sue, maybe (scare tactic), which I could not get initially, put the court system in my mind, so that when I saw saw "soon to be heard," its legal context was readily apparent to me. Since we're down here in the SE, I want to know why SEA SERPENTS (52A) are "Mysterious swimmers." What's mysterious about them? I guess sailors have reported seeing such things, but they ... don't exist? Like the Loch Ness Monster? Two more questions: did you have to make the LIOTTA clue as obscure as @#$#-ing possible ("No Escape" star, 1994)? "Hey, remember 'No Escape'?!" "uh ... no." That's one of the worst, most banal and forgettable movie titles in all of movie history - although if you Google "No Escape," the movie is the first thing to come up. This, disturbingly, is the second thing. Was the LIOTTA movie about prison rape? I forget. Or rather, I don't know, because I, like the rest of the world, Never Saw It. Last question: are there really applications that have a line marked "SIGN HERE" (32D: Line on an application)? I've seen little SIGN HERE post-it notes that accountants and what not affix to contracts and other paperwork. But don't applications usually just say SIGNATURE?


Lots. 3D: Charlotte _____ (Amalie) is the capital and largest city of the U.S. Virgin Islands. I, of course, wanted RAE. 44D: Gonitis target (knee) was new to me. The answer was totally inferrable, but Gonitis ... let's just say that I was happy the answer was KNEE, because it sounds like it afflicts a more sensitive region of the body. Insert AD after the N and you'll see what I mean. 21A: Adder's-tongue or Venus's-hair (fern) is also new to me, as is virtually every botanical clue / answer I come across, as I know squat about things that grow out of the earth. I do know something about Milton, but it still took me a bit to get 20A: "Where _____ was thickest fight": Milton (erst), mainly because the answer is pretty ordinary and uneventful. Knew it was one syllable (god bless Milton's reasonably regular meter) but thought it was ONCE. I was close, in sense if not in actual letters.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Unknown 11:59 AM  

1. Couldn't be Russo, because she spells her name like a boy (and mucks things up for American men named René). This, I cannot forgive.

2. Any clue pertaining to Inspector Clouseau and friends should invariably trigger thoughts of Herbert LOM—at least if one has done too many crosswords. No idea what he looks like, but the name's a gimme now.

3. It's not SEA SERPENTS, it's SEASER PENTS. Mysterious!

4. LIOTTA should always be clued with Goodfellas or Operation Dumbo Drop. I was gonna say The Last Seduction and Donnie Brasco, but somehow my vivid memories of him in those movies are entirely hallucinatory.

5. I'm a medical editor. I started learning medical terminology when I was in junior high. I've seen an orthopedist for my knees. "Gonitis" and whatever knee-related root it has? Completely unknown to me. Fortunately, I got KNEE through the crossings and never even saw that clue, because it would've irked me.

Rex Parker 12:04 PM  

Wow, you sure feel strongly about the name RENEE.

Yes, LOM reeks of high-end gimme. I, sadly, am still middle-to-low-end in my capabilities.


sonofdad 12:46 PM  

The "No Escape" clue was a gimme for me. That movie came out when I was in...third grade, maybe second, and it was a pretty violent movie about an island penal colony where the prisoners were hunted by the island natives, or something. I don't remember the details, but there were a few particularly violent scenes that my friends and I thought were TOTALLY AWESOME! I'd watch it whenever it came on HBO. Good times.

As long as I'm going down memory lane, I'll tell you about one of odd kids in my "progressive" private school. This kid was absolutely crazy. I'll call him John. John would hide under tables and yell when everyone was supposed to be practicing their ABC's (or whatever it was that we used to do), stomp around the room knocking things over and know, normal kid stuff. Instead of actually disciplining him, the teachers would let him roam free and would just tell us all to ignore his yelling and generally crazy behavior.

Then one year some other kid in my class spent a really long time making and painting a clay dragon, and he was really proud of his work. The teachers put it on display by the window...and within a day or two, John took it and smashed it on the ground. Many tears were shed that day. I think that was about the time that my teachers actually started disciplining him for his behavior.

In high school, John was still kind of weird, but he was also one of the smartest kids I knew. Go figure.

Unknown 12:46 PM  

I do, I do. Comes with the territory of having a husband with a male name that the more obtuse assume to be female. When someone calls for "Mrs. [husband's full name]," they're usually looking for him, not me.

Alex S. 2:55 PM  

I readily admit that I suck at crosswords and Friday pretty much stresses me to my limits.

So I was very happy when almost the entire puzzle fell together quickly.

Except the SE corner which I was so certain of a couple wrong words that I couldn't change my thinking enough to fix.

It started with having the EA in sea serpents which I immediately put in as sea monsters.

I might have recovered but unfortunately I just so happen to know that Bob Barker has three emmy's and that fit the R in monsters.

And then I was betrayed by my great grandmother. She says "pinchem" as in "put in a pinchem of salt." I always thought this was just some weirdness on her part since I've never heard anybody else say it. But it fit in the puzzle (on the M in monster) and I thought happy thoughts about my great grandmother.

Those three locking together had me so convinced that they were right I was never able to disabuse myself of them.

Rex Parker 5:39 PM  

Wow, that's some serious, multiply self-reinforcing wrongness. Happened to me a few puzzles back - wrongness that goes 3-4 answers deep. My sequence of wrong answers involved ETUI.

PINCHEM sounds like a sadistic party game, or like something some poorly-parented 12-year-old girl would have written across the ass of her sweatpants.


Howard B 11:08 PM  

The No Escape LIOTTA clue was only made easier by the fact that I was a college kid ushing (sure, ushing is a word...) for textbook money in a movie theater at the time that came out. My job at the time was to usher in/out the five or ten people who came to see the movie in the smallest theater squeezed into the mini-multiplex. Odd, random life experience translated into puzzly goodness.

Chance 9:26 AM  

I knew Ally's Renee immediately; haven't seen the show in years but remember it with great affection.

Usually, I am clueless when it comes to TV, not having one and not watching much at others' homes.

Just shows what some people consider a valid clue.

BTW, brilliant blog --- but you probably knew that.

Rex Parker 9:34 AM  

Thank you, Chance. Glad my hatred of "Ally McBeal" didn't put you off ... too much.

RP (writing from the fyooooture, i.e. Feb. 1, 2007)

Chance 9:37 AM  

Well, you know, crosswords have a pretty long shelf life. :)

I was stymied by the "Take _____" song, myself. I kept trying to fit Madonna's "take a bow" in there, though (as I know now) that's not from 1985. Love that a-ha song, though.

I thought the theme was prepositional phrases: At an impasse," "In disbelief," "on the docket." I guess that's not much of a theme.

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