WEDNESDAY, Dec. 13, 2006 - David Sullivan

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Solving time: roughly 10 min.

THEME: "... in Tijuana?" - familiar phrases have "O" added to end of word in the phrase to create a Spanish word, creating an odd phrase that is then clued, e.g. 17A: Sign above a Tijuana A.T.M.? (Late-night dinero)

Not sure what was up with my time, as I felt like I moved pretty fast. Got hung up only in the SW corner (second day in a row I've had trouble down there). I enjoyed this little theme - little in that there were only four theme answers, and little in that the whole trick involved the adding of only a single letter. Thought 46A: Tijuana air freshener? (Bano deodorant) was the worst of the four, both because the "N" in BAN (the deodorant brand) changes to an "Ñ" in the Spanish word BAÑO, and because in all the other theme answers, "O"s are added to the key noun in the phrase, which changes the phrase's meaning in a dramatic way, whereas here, well, one kind of DEODORANT becomes another. Plus the word DEODORANT is just unseemly, somehow. But three out of four is pretty good.

11D: Jim Carrey title role (Ace Ventura)
20A: 2004 Will Smith thriller (I, Robot)

Double bill in the upper half of the puzzle, only half of which I would (and did) pay to see. I'll let you guess which half. No, I won't let you guess, as I have to comment, which will give the answer away. ACE VENTURA is great ... crossword fill. Jim Carrey has a good and an evil side, and the AV side is pure evil. For Good, see The Truman Show or Dumb and Dumber. That's right, I said Dumb and Dumber. Don't believe me? Ask my friend Shaun - her husband and I bet her that she would laugh out loud at least five times during that movie, a bet she foolishly took and lost. I don't remember what the stakes were, but the point is that Dumb and Dumber was surprisingly funny given how stupid it was. Other great movie-watching experiences I shared with Shaun and Steve include seeing Before Sunrise on the weekend I wrote my Ph.D. exams (30+ pages in 72 hrs.) and watching Dazed and Confused on video over and over and over (30+ times in less than two years). Bad movie experiences include the colossally ill-conceived video rentals of The Scent of Green Papaya - we were all asleep inside of ten minutes - and Clifford - not the Big Red Dog, but the small ... well, Marin Short played a kid, OK? A creepy, annoying kid. It was horrifying (The "User Comment" @ is perfect: "Martin Short is funny ... Isn't He?"). In other news, I, Robot was pretty good, as Will Smith movies go.

5D: Point out the pluses and minuses of (critique)

I point out this clue only because I CRITIQUE student papers for a (sort of) living and yet I could not get this for many, many seconds, even with the CRIT- opening! I obstinately thought "well, CRITICIZE won't fit, so what else could it be?" I don't use CRITIQUE as a verb. If I use it (rarely), it's a noun. CRITIQUE sounds too fluffy, like BOUTIQUE, and I can assure you that when I get a hold of a student paper, well ... that student ... will not feel as if he or she is shopping ... in a boutique ... that's for sure. CRITIQUE has the virtue of being more economical, syllable-wise, but it's far too polite for my tastes. What I do to student papers really requires the "Z" that only CRITICIZE (and possibly TERRORIZE) can give (in America - in the UK, I don't know what you do).

4D: Plant yielding a fragrant oil (bee balm)

I'm including this only because I didn't know BEE BALM was a plant. I thought it was just a high-end version of ChapStick. Here is some BEE BALM I found with Google (by the way, why has Google's logo been a picture of Munch's "The Scream" these past two days?):
[reader Jeremy tells me that yesterday was Munch's birthday ... guess someone just forgot to take the Scream logo down. Or is it still yesterday somewhere in the world?]

12D: Emoticon element, for short (paren.)

I like the contemporary, computer-related clues and answers. In this puzzle, see also 25A: One listed on MySpace (friend). I wanted to use this appearance of the word "emoticon" in a puzzle to call attention to my favorite new comics characters, whose name is, in fact, Emoticon. He appears in the debut issue of Welcome to Tranquility, a comic about a town where old (WWII-era) heroes and reformed villains come to live out their retirement years in, well, tranquility. The whole town is very small-town America circa 1950. So this upstart young kid named Emoticon comes into the diner and starts making trouble. His schtick => his face (or mask) shows only emoticons, and he speaks partially in chatroom-speak, saying things like "LOL" and "All Caps" out loud. Here's a picture, which I love primarily for the gigantic EMO chain around his neck:
He's in the Chick'N Go!! restaurant, hence the enigmatic coinage "chickensluts" (i.e. waitresses). Just realized that this would segue nicely into 27A (THEME): "Why did the chicken cross the road?," e.g., in Tijuana (pollo question) - that is, if I had anything to say about it, which I don't, except "Why Tijuana?" Is it just the funniest-sounding Spanish-speaking city the writer could think of? It's a pretty dismal tourist town, hardly indicative of Mexico writ large. In fact, there is probably more English spoken in Tijuana (given all the gringos) than in any other Mexican city, making it the Least apt town for these clues. I'm just sayin'...

41A: Israel's Dayan (Moshe)

Very versatile name, this one. We've seen first and last name as answers in just the past week or so. I'm not sure I could have told you who he was before last week's DAYAN answer, which was clued something like "6-Day War hero." Until recently, his name was like ANGKOR WAT to me ... a familiar grouping of sounds floating around somewhere in my brain, the meaning of which I do not know. Recent Sun (it was Sun, right?) puzzle taught me what ANGKOR WAT is, by featuring it as an awesome long answer. And now I know who MOSHE Dayan is. Hurray for the superficial knowledge that only solving the puzzle (and reading my blog) can provide.

49D: Davis of "The Matrix Reloaded" (Essie)

"Ossie Davis was in Matrix Reloaded? ... but O-LEVEN (49A) is not a "Morning hour" ... is it?" Tricky tricky tricky. Never ever ever heard of ESSIE Davis, pictured here. Of course, I put the entirety of this movie right out of my mind the second it was over, so the fact that I can't place her should not be surprising.

29D: "Gimme a break" ("Let's be fair")

I just don't think these phrases are synonymous. I had LET'S BE REAL ... LET'S BE FAIR is too straightforward, uncolloquial, and unsarcastic-sounding to be a good stand-in for "Gimme a break." My problems with the end of this answer led to my only significant problem in the puzzle: the SW (home of ESSIE Davis and the oddly-spelled ISIAH (62A) Thomas). I had no, I mean No, idea that Jose Canseco was HAVANAN (42D: Baseball's Jose Canseco, by birth). Also, I had no idea you could adjectivize Havana that way. Or is he a (noun) HAVANAN? That's a little better. Though LET'S BE FAIR kind of stinks, some of the other longish fill was pretty good. I especially liked RAN RIOT (10D: Went wild) and YEAH YOU (44D: "Me?" response).

30D: A Tolkien Dark Lord (Sauron)

Absolutely spaced on this one. Couldn't remember his name at all. Never read the books and found all the movies dreadfully plodding and painfully sincere. Can't remember anything about them except that they were filmed in and around Otago on the South Island of New Zealand, one of the most beautiful places in the world, and, coincidentally, where my wife grew up. Interesting fact: all hobbits were exterminated in the late 60's after they were declared a nuisance to the local agricultural economy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 10:04 AM  

Edvard Munch's birthday was yesterday. Why is The Scream still up today? No idea.

Anonymous 10:12 AM  

Oh, one other thing. Rex, your gripe about Tijuana could also be the argument for it. You say that Tijuana is a Mexican city where you might find more English than Spanish . . . isn't that just like the four themed solutions? And don't tell me that the themed solutions don't really count as spanish because it's bad spanish (read: bano instead of baño). When was the last time you visited Tijuana with a large group of gringos?

All that said, I've been reading your blog every day for the last few weeks (in conjunction with picking up the NYT crossword again) and I have really enjoyed getting your running commentary every day. It's wonderful!

Rex Parker 10:18 AM  

Hmmm, Jeremy makes a good point. I see. Intentional badness, eh? Hard to disprove ... Yes, maybe the mangled Spanglish quality of the answers could, in fact, be found only in Tijuana. OK.

Unknown 10:24 AM  

There's also the consistency of every +O word changing its pronunciation outside of the addition of an O, most notably in POLLO.

A HAVANAN might call himself a Habañero in Spanish, no?

It's always a little disappointing to hear "Gimme a break!" and not then be offered a segment of Kit Kat bar.

Isn't Moshe Dayan the one who wore a jaunty eyepatch? War injury + eyeball = pirate chic!

The 14-year-old boy part of my brain loved Dumb and Dumber.

sonofdad 10:35 AM  

I'm willing to bet that about 75% of the New Yorkers who did this puzzle made some sort of face or gritted their teeth when they read "Hoops coach Thomas." I know I did.

Anonymous 11:39 AM  

On a trip a few years ago to New Zealand we went to Glenorchy, a small village on Lake Wakatipu. We were told that much of the population served as extras in the Ring movies. "Most of them were Orcs" our bus driver said, "and they didn't need any makeup either!".

Anonymous 6:39 PM  

Speaking of comics.....and you about a moment of silence for Martin Nodell aka Mart Dellon, creator of the Green Lantern? Obit in today's Times.

Rex Parker 6:42 PM  

And another moment of silence for the great Peter Boyle.

Thanks for the comix news.


Anonymous 7:08 PM  

Re: Dumb and Dumber, I maintain that I laughed 5 times because you and Steve made me laugh, not nec. the movie. So.

Re: LOTR. OMG! (in honor of Emoticon) Your geek cred -- I can see not liking the films (though I did), but never reading the books? My 7yo has just started the first book and is digging it. Because in this family, you're born geek and you stay geek.

Unknown 7:41 PM  

I know another geek with massive geek credentials who has never read the LOTR trilogy—which I, of course, read in high school. What I liked even better a few years earlier was Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series.

Anonymous 1:54 AM  

"17A: Sign above a Tijuana A.T.M.? (Late-night dinero)"

"Dinero" is Spanish for "money", actually.

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