MONDAY, Dec. 18, 2006 - Donna Levin

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Solving time: 6:36

THEME: The War on Christmas - one week before the birth of Our Lord, the Times decides that Christmas is just another "holiday," along with KWANZAA and HANUKKAH - somebody call Bill O'Reilly! or Stephen Colbert! Where's the outrage!?

Seriously, though, the theme was "Holiday decoration" - a clue used for three different 15-letter theme answers: 17A: CHRISTMAS WREATH, 37A: KWANZAA UNITY CUP (new to me), and 57A: HANUKKAH MENORAH. God knows (really, he does, I'm sure) how to spell HANUKKAH in English. I think there are at least two different spelling conventions, if not more. That, and the mysterious UNITY CUP thing kept me from flying through this the way I like to on a Monday, though I will say I felt like I was flying. I never stopped typing - but I had to correct a lot of wrong fill along the way, and never got a good rhythm going. O well. It's a cute little holiday puzzle.

2D: Liniment target (ache)

Without blinking I wrote ACNE, and so instead of seeing that the long theme answer at 17A began CHR... which would have given me at least five more letters as gimmes, I was presented with the baffling CNR... another rebus, perhaps? Who knows, I'm too busy madly bouncing around the grid and pounding the keyboard to find out ('til very late in the game). I used to think of OCALA (14A: Central Florida city) as a real puzzle player, a Pantheon prospect, but I think this is the first I've seen him in three months of blogging. Where has he been? Injured? Traveling? He should get out more often. Besides ACNE (for ACHE), other fill I got wrong initially included FUSE for WELD (6A: Solder), MALL for MART (53A: Shopping place), IOTA for WISP (46A: Fleeting trace), and, most appropriately, OOPS for OH NO (25A: "This looks bad!") and MUFF for GOOF (35A: Flub).

41A: Memo opener (in re)
60A: Abbr. before a colon (attn)
10D: Shorthand pro (steno)

It's like a generic 1950's office in here, what with STENOs writing memos that read ATTN so-and-so, IN RE: this and that, etc. IN RE is fabulous short fill that I know only from puzzles. Rarely use it (or see it) in real life. My first thought on seeing the clue for 60A was that the answer must be RECTO-, but it doesn't it, and doesn't quite pass the breakfast table test. Plus RECTOCOLON is a very uncommon term, returning only 183 Google hits. 976 if you put a hyphen in there. By the way, doctors recommend that you don't put a hyphen in there.

11D: The "E" in Q.E.D. (erat)
21A: Numbered work of a composer (opus)
42A: Plural of 21-Across (opera)
49D: Famed Roman censor (Cato)

Latinity! First two were gimmes, but o my god my years of Latin training disappeared when I hit 42A. I mean, if you had asked me that in casual conversation, I probably could have told you without thinking, but in the middle of puzzle frenzy, my brain came up empty. Weird feeling, like forgetting your mother-in-law's name or what day of the week it is. Puzzle-solving has made me hyper-attuned to how quickly (or slowly) my brain is able to retrieve information. I feel as though it's all downhill from here - any time I make up through practicing solving puzzles will be lost by the slow but inevitable decline in mental agility and ... my god, even writing this sentence is taxing my knowledge-retrieval abilities. Must move on. I don't think I knew CATO was a "censor." He is the author of a history of Rome, many political speeches, and many maxims, and was a staple of Latin education throughout the Middle Ages - though a group of very popular writings called The Distichs of Cato, which circulated in the Middle Ages, is probably not by Cato at all; but the fact that it was attributed to him tells you what kind of cachet his name had, especially where Latin learning and history were concerned. Hey, did you know that (according to Wikipedia) "In 205 BC, Cato was appointed quaestor?" Woo hoo, "Var." of QUESTOR (see yesterday's puzzle)! ["Why is he so excited?" "I don't know - let's just move on"]

34A: Like a pitcher's perfect game (no-hit)
28D: Hopeless, as a situation (no-win)

These intersect at the "O" - nice. They are not opposites, but they're close. With OH NO (25), we have three appearances of "NO" in this puzzle. NO NO NO. Where's the HO HO HO? I mean, is this a CHRISTMAS puzzle or isn't it?

4D: Business that routinely overcharges (clipjoint)
35D: Ship-to-shore accessway (gangplank)

This may be the most glorious long fill I've ever seen in a Monday puzzle. Makes me think it probably should have been a Tuesday (see my time), but whatever. Will's the boss. I own a fabulous novel by Fredric Brown called The Fabulous Clipjoint (part of my fabulous ginormous vintage paperback collection) - and though I've read the novel and I've stared at its glorious cover a billion times, I don't know that I could have told you what the word "clipjoint" meant before right now. I had the first four letters of that answer and thought "Huh, must have something to do with coupons..." and had to move on and come back to it. GANGPLANK - man, that's a great word, and it creates a nice, big "K" pile-up at the bottom of the puzzle, what with HANUKKAH and its crosses OINK (44D) and KAT (58D: Krazy _____ of the comics) down there. And I haven't even mentioned the pretty great GYPSYMOTH (36D: Insect whose larvae destroy foliage), with its two "Y"'s. All four of the nine-letter non-theme answers cut across two Theme answers. Seriously, this is a Monday puzzle?

56D: Lt. Kojak (Theo)

Who loves ya, baby?! This is some TV obscurity, especially (again) for a Monday. ["Cosby Show" son] might have been more readily gettable. [Sox GM Epstein]? [Cager Ratliff]? But no, go for the lollipop-licking Lieutenant, the bald badass himself. Telly! Is "Kojak" on DVD, because I'm getting a craving.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Orange 11:51 AM  

I actually watched Kojak back in the day. Haven't seen THEO clued as Vincent van Gogh's brother for a while.

Doctors recommend even more vehemently that en and em dashes should never be inserted, unless you want a visit to the E.R. Nothing sharper than a comma, they say.

So, your daughter didn't bring home marker-decorated Kwanzaa information when she was in kindergarten or preschool? Ben's classes learned all about it. I recall the kinara candle holder more clearly than the unity cup, and Ben once wove a Kwanzaa mat out of red, green, and black construction paper.

I wouldn't object to a Bill O'Reilly–themed crossword with entries like LOOFAH, FALAFEL, LAWSUIT, and TELEPHONE.

Anonymous 2:54 PM  

Is Kojak on DVD?! Watch your mailbox, baby! Needless to say, we've watched all of Season One and long for next.

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