FRIDAY, Jan. 19, 2007 - Karen M. Tracey

Friday, January 19, 2007

Solving time: 22:20

THEME: none

Long story, but I have to keep this Seriously short today. I am blogging from campus, and I am using a crappy version of Safari, and none of my usual shortcuts work, and it all feels very last century, and I feel like something might break, or I might gently tap the wrong key and send my life's work for these past four months into some kind of black hole - or, better yet, into ... what's the name of that floating square in outer space where the Kryptonian felons are sent to spin for eternity at the beginning of Superman? Anyway, things feel precarious, so I'm keeping it short. I'll clearly have to download Firefox to this computer very, very soon. Not now.

Dentist appointment went well yesterday, by the way - thanks for asking. My hygienist took one look at Will Shortz's Greatest Hits and said "I hate crossword puzzles." Then we had a discussion about why that was. Then we had a discussion about her girlfriend who is moving in with this guy who is newly divorced and has three kids, and isn't that likely to end badly? (answer: yes). Then we had a discussion about her recent pregnancy, during which she was sick - not just morning sick, but constantly sick, all the time, couldn't keep anything down, nearly hospitalized sick. Then she put on latex gloves and had at my teeth. I love my hygienist because she's super sweet with my Very sensitive back upper molars and wisdom teeth (never removed) and she compliments my dental hygiene and smells vaguely like fresh strawberries.

Today's puzzle: man it was hard. I didn't quite go into freefall (i.e. staring at blank space with a feeling of helplessness), but I was very, very close. Many parts took some serious machete-hacking to get through. The whole thing felt very old-school Saturday, to me, and the only heartening thing about the experience was seeing how many very competent solvers this puzzle ate alive. My usual competition was scattered: some beat me, but many were way, way back. Given how hard this puzzle was, I can live with my visually icky 20+ minute time. Usually the Sun puzzle takes me longer than the NYT, but today I was nearly ten minutes faster on the Sun (which, by the way, you can get to via "Puzzle Pointers" link in my sidebar).

9A: Expedient (tactic)

Uh, is "Expedient" a noun or is TACTIC an adjective? I'm guessing the former, but either option is pretty gross. The first "C" in TACTIC was the last letter I filled in. No, wait, the last letter might have been the "B" in the Down cross 11D: Trinidadian, e.g. (Carib), which took me ForEver to see, first because of TACTIC (???) and second because of the "B" cross 26A: Whammy (blow). Yeah, it BLOWs alright. The only thing "Whammy" makes me think of is "Big bucks, no Whammies!" (oft-uttered phrase on the long-defunct game show "Press Your Luck"). Other stumpers up here in the NE included the dreaded AMARNA (16A: Modern site of an ancient Egyptian capital) and 9D: _____ particle (tau)). Man, as I look at this corner now, I'm surprised I got through it at all. Even the identifiable fill was clued oddly or puzzlingly, e.g. 10D: Switch letters (AM/FM) and 12D: The Barsetshire novels novelist (Trollope) and 30A: Spawn (ova). OVA is practically Pantheonic, but I always think of "Spawn" as something that has actually hatched, and, quite possibly, is evil. OVA is pretty anticlimactic fill. I had such high hopes for this quadrant, as I got 17A: Fictional character who says "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" (J Alfred Prufrock) right away (although, to be honest, the first thing that went into the grid was ALFRED J PRUFROCK. I think ALFRED E. NEUMAN interfered with the information processing).

3D: Longtime role for Danson (Malone)

The closest thing to a gimme I had in this puzzle - besides PRUFROCK. I watched a lot of "Cheers" in my time, and Sam Malone not only owned the bar where the show was set, he was also a former pitcher for the Red Sox (my favorite team until I instituted my Lame Team Outreach Program last year, which entailed my adopting the Tigers ... who promptly went to the World Series; I feel like I should adopt someone new this year - spread the Rex Magic around). Two great answers up here in the NW - 1A: Plot device in some science fiction (time warp) and 15A: Saint born in Newark, N.J. (Eva Marie) - didn't help (much) with some Ruthless Down crosses, including 1D: Music style that often includes an accordion (tejano) [which I predict many, many people will be Googling six weeks from now when this puzzle comes out in syndication], 2D: "Terrible" czar (Ivan IV) [oh, Ivan FOUR, I see...] and 4D: Generator output: Abbr. (EMF) [also the name of one of the more forgettable, and regrettable, "bands" of the early 90's]. Not sure what this clue / answer means: 22A: Discoveries in Al Hirschfeld drawings (Ninas), but if you don't know it straight off, let's just say that nothing is going to help you. If you could get NINAS by inference, you are a better solver than I by far. Had to change the last letter of TEJANO very, very late in the game - I had TEJANA (and was wondering aloud what AVEN could possibly mean (27A: Rack holder (oven)).

35A: Movie buff: Var. (cinéast)
38A: 1993 Peace co-Nobelist (De Klerk)

These are the Acrosses at the middle of the puzzle. Just brutal (especially considering I didn't have DEKLERK's "K"s for a good while, especially the first one, which crossed with someone I'd never head of, 29D: "Mame" director of stage and screen (Saks)). As for CINEAST - I could hear the collective groan of hundreds of solvers around the world as it finally dawned on them what the hell this answer was. Doesn't help that CINEAST intersects with two of the puzzles most arcane answers: 36D: First opera to premiere at London's Savoy Theatre, 1882 ("Iolanthe") [in case it's not clear, IOLANTHE starts with a capital "i" and not a lower CASE "L" (48A: Word with legal or lower (case)], and 28D: George of old vaudeville (Jessel). Come ON! Could your frame of reference get any Older??? Well, yes, it could: 42A: Homer's home (Hellas) (I wanted SPRINGFIELD), and 62A: One side of the Battle of Thermopylae (Persia) (I had SPARTA here, as I was probably supposed to - the intended trap; sadly, for me, I also had ATHENS here before I ever entertained the possibility of PERSIA). The upcoming movie 300 (an adaptation of Frank Miller's comic of the same name) is about this battle, specifically the 300 Spartans who block the advancing Persian army, ensuring the escape (and eventual triumph) of the outnumbered Greek forces and dealing heavy losses to the Persians, though all 300 knew their deaths were certain. Speaking of Persia, this puzzle also contains SHAHS (51D: Abbas I, II and III).

45D: Store, in a way (ensile)

This answer hurts my eyes. It looks like it needs more letters to make any sense (perhaps a "T-" or "PREH-"). Why isn't the word ENSILO!? "To store in a silo." Perfect. I actually think some of the fill down here in the southern hemisphere is pretty colorful, if difficult to see without a whole bunch of crosses: 40D: Like some consonant stops (plosive) - which, like ENSILE, appears to be missing letters - and 61A: Wagner opera setting (Valhalla), not to mention the highly unusual 63A: Drill command ("Eyes left!"), which must be military, unless it's something out of Drumline or the more recent Stomp the Yard.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 12:58 PM  

Nina is hirshfield's daughter...he typically hides her name somewhere in each of his drawings...

Anonymous 12:58 PM  

Phantom Zone

Alex S. 1:23 PM  

Very difficult day for me with only NINAS, CINEAST, and CARIB (though that was just pure inspiration, don't know where it came from) as pure gimmes.

Lots of equally valid pairs: De Klerk and Mandela. Hellas and Greece. Sparta and Persia. MALONE was almost a gimme but he was also BECKER for six seasons. Dallas had not only VAL, but SUE and PAM.

Oh well, such things keep you from filling in but at least once things start to come together they fall in quickly.

Rex Parker 1:34 PM  

Wow, those are some exotic gimmes - every one of them tripped me.

Phantom Zone! Yes, thank you, sir.


Alex S. 4:59 PM  

Yeah, as I always tell my wife when she laughs at someone for missing and easy question on Jeopardy:

They're all easy if you know them.

I used to subscribe to Cineaste magazine and wasn't thrown by the "Var." I'm familiar with Al Hirschfeld (or rather, for some reason have clear memories of his obits when he died a few years ago) so that was there for me.

Meanwhile, I haven't looked it up so I still don't have a clue who or what a J. Alfred Prufrock is.

Linda G 5:03 PM  

Well, I did go into freefall, for a time anyway. Believe it or not, St. Francis Xavier was a gimme for me. Something else that came from spending eight years in Catholic school -- other things include good posture, impeccable grammar (adjusted for blogging), and the ability to memorize just about anything. Glad to hear that accomplished solvers had a problem. This took me well over an hour -- good thing I'm on sabbatical. By the way, Rex, your hygienist might wear strawberry-scented gloves. Mine wore bubblegum until I told her it made me want to hurl. She quickly (cleverly) changed scents.

Rex Parker 5:10 PM  

O no no no, not strawberry-scented gloves, ick. I would have hurled for sure. We actually had a long discussion about "flavored" gloves (which she doesn't use). She just smells nice is all.


Anonymous 5:48 PM  

Al Hirschfeld was born in 1903 and lived to be 99 years of age. I met him in 1986 when he was 83. His daughter Nina was born in 1945. Hirschfeld drew her name in the background of the theatrical drawing, for the play Are You With It, that he did that day. The flowing lines of the N I N A were occasionally worked into the folds of drapery or strands of hair. It became a game he played with his audience. In 1956 he actually appended a numeral after his signature to tell his fans how many NINAs he'd hidden. His work appeared in The New York Times for over 60 years.

Howard B 6:10 PM  

Did the same thing as you, SPARTA first, before PERSIA. Mr.PRUFROCK was about the only early one that I figured out early in the game, and I thought it would be a smooth run from there. Oh, was that ever the kiss of death. The top-right nearly had my head spinning a la Linda Blair in the Exorcist (without the pea soup, thankfully). When you have one answer completely out of your ken, it's doable; two in the same area, and you've got some trouble. Three or more as with me (that meaning of TACTIC, AMARNA, TROLLOPE all completely foreign to me) and you've got a lot of wild letter guessing to look forward to.

We made it through, so for that I say congratulations. The next IHOP order's on me, solvers!

Anonymous 6:13 PM  

A few years back (and I apologize for not remembering the constructor) there was a very clever Sunday puzzle riddled with hidden Ninas, in honor of Hirschfeld. It (the puzzle) received quite a lot of feedback, both on the puzzle forum and in the letters to the editor column, as I recall.


Orange 7:00 PM  

It was David Kahn who did the hidden-NINA puzzle (2/9/03), with 16 NINAs lurking word-search-style in the grid.

C zar 7:56 PM  

Takes me back... I grew up with the New York Times, and since there were no funny papers to read on Sunday, kids would pull out the Arts section to find the NINAs in Hirschfeld's drawings. This would be before I graduated to the puzzle page.

Could you hear that pounding sound? That was my head against the wall, trying to remember Danson's character name (Diane, Frazier, Woody, Coach, Cliff, Norm, Carla, and... ARRRGH where did those brain cells go?).

Anonymous 9:29 PM  

If you were a young adult in the seventies, as I was, we know where our brain cells went!

Anonymous 10:24 PM  

I would have been happier if the answer to "The Barsetshire novels novelist" had been ANGELA THIRKELL, which would have fit. Would have been just as correct and very out of the mainstream. Love her novels.

Anonymous 4:57 PM  

Have never had to look up so many answers but in the process found this site (Google got me here via "amarna")--so reassuring and strangely comforting to have the same probs as everyone else.
Glad to know you're out there; you're now bookmarked and I'm on to Saturday's puzzle.
Thanks for the help
Overland Park Kansas

Rex Parker 5:37 PM  

Yes, "strangely comforting," I like that. It should be my blog's motto.

I'm going to start using AMARNA as if it were the functional equivalent of ALOHA and see what happens.

Thank you, Overland Park!


Anonymous 12:26 AM  

Totally didn't get this puzzle solved without extensive help from google, but I was rather proud of getting J. Alfred Prufrock and Eva Marie - which was purely by the virtue of my campus having a theatre named after her and all sorts of historical facts about her in the theatre. I had Athens before I had Persia, which really screwed me up for a while.

Rex Parker 8:48 AM  

Do you know the (fabulous) song "Rattlesnakes" by Lloyd Cole? The first time I ever heard Eva Marie Saint's name was while listening to that song. The lyric:

She looks like Eva Marie Saint
In "On the Waterfont"
She reads Simone de Beauvoir
In her American cicumstance

Don't know what that last bit means, exactly, but the song is quite infectious.


Anonymous 1:35 AM  

I was not familiar with the song, but now it is happily playing on my itunes and it is rather fabulous. Thanks for the rec!


Rex Parker 8:53 AM  

Damn it Corinne, now you have me jonesing for Lloyd Cole, and the CD's in my wife's car, and she's at work! So now I'm listening to Alphaville, which, while lovely in its melancholy 80s synth-ness, is a poor substitute for one of the seminal albums of the 80s.


Anonymous 11:23 AM  

they're reaching on this puzzle!!!!

Anonymous 1:17 PM  

I kinda liked this puzzle, and finished in 23 minutes (average for me for a Friday). Somehow I just "knew" several of the answers, including AMARNA and HELLAS and CRACKS UP. I though THE U.S. was weak.

Wrong fill: GLOTTAL for PLOSIVE

Anonymous 5:01 PM  

As for 62A Drill command, I was in the US Navy/Seabees, and I was the RCPO (recruit chief petty officer)in boot camp, and I got to march around the rest of the girls in my company. Eyes left, or eyes right, (depending what side the General, Admiral, etc. is on) is a command used while you "pass in revue" (march past the higher-up). As you get close, you say "eyes left", turn your head toward the higher-up, while saluting. When you're clear of the higher-up, you give the command "eyes straight" (or was it "eyes forward"?'s been 25 years) to then stop saluting while turning your head straight forward again.

Although in my experience, we never had an Eyes Left, because you salute with your right hand and the higher-up was always on the right side for some reason.

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