FRIDAY, Feb. 23, 2007 - Patrick Merrell

Friday, February 23, 2007

Looking for LA TIMES answers? Go here.

Solving time: 14:44 (on paper)

THEME: Verizon (or, none)

Not a great time, but it took me only slightly longer than Thursday's puzzle, which is heartening somehow. Still trying to hone my paper-solving technique. Today's puzzle was odd for a Friday, in that it seemed somewhat easier than your average Friday, and the grid was not wide open the way Friday grids often are. I like 'em wide open on Friday and Saturday. Today's grid = fussy grid. Nooks and crannies: good in English muffins, not so good in my Friday puzzle. Still, this puzzle had merit.

Why am I claiming "Verizon" as a potential theme for this puzzle? Good question, thanks for asking. Here is why - they provide computer, television (this part's new), and telephone service, all of which are in some way, however tenuously, related to the following group of answers:

1A: Kind of blocker (spam)
14A: Conference intro (tele-)
12D: Show over (re-air)

52A: Pioneering 1940's computer (Eniac)
54A: Business card abbr. (ext.)
55A: Modern phone display (text message)

VERIZON was the most concise heading I could think of under which to bring all these disparate answers that somehow are related to each other in my head. VERIZON probably didn't exist in the days of ENIAC, but whatever. All these answers relate to electronic communication somehow. A TEXT MESSAGE in BROKEN ENGLISH (9D: Difficult means of communication) can be painful, especially if IT'S A LONG STORY (18D: "Too much to go into now") - those last two answers have 180-degree rotational symmetry, by the way - nice!

30A: It works as a translator (RNA)

Had only the "N" and knew this, but god knows why, as my knowledge of biology (beyond the rudiments) sucks. 10th grade Biology class threw this answer up at me, I'm pretty sure. One biological answer I never would have gotten in a million years (without crosses) was the horribly wrong-looking RETE (36D: Nerve network). I can barely stand to look at that "word," so wrong does it look. The "R" in RETE was the very last letter I filled in, Very Tentatively, and only because it made an actual word out of the cross - 33A: Splash guard (fender) - even though I have Never heard of FENDER in any context other than ... oh, wait, do the FENDERs go over the wheels of a car (or other wheeled vehicle)? I somehow always conflated the FENDER and the bumper, I think. They seem, however, to be the part of the body that forms the wheel well - adjacent to but not the same thing as the bumper. FENDER also makes guitars, an instrument favored by Freddie FENDER, I think.

38A: Head (lav)
6D: Like the Mikado and Nanki-Poo (oriental)

These answers are both disturbing, in very different ways. First, I hate all toilet-related imagery in my puzzle. I'm tolerant of lots and lots of dirty, crazy, even outright offensive stuff, as long as it doesn't involve the toilet. Does not pass my breakfast table test. Speaking of toilets, I can barely look at "Nanki-poo," for multiple reasons. You might have properly changed ORIENTAL to ORIENTALIST, in the sense of "at least vaguely racist caricatures of Asian people." My little college had a big kerfuffle over a production of "The Mikado" because some people (one professor in particular) found the play offensive and so did not want it performed on campus. She got a number of well-meaning liberal kids to agree with her. I always love the delicious irony of liberals advocating censorship. Anyway, it was the very early 90's, when "Political Correctness" was all still so innocent, somehow - the very phrase was not in the popular lexicon, and was used only (as far as I knew) among us bleeding-heart liberal kids as a way of checking our own self-righteousness. I still cringe every time I see / hear "P.C." or any of its variants (UN-PC, for instance, from a couple of puzzles back). It's become a meaningless term used by assholes who don't want to hear about anyone's problems (but their own). Some other ORIENTAL - ick, let's just say ASIAN - answers in the grid:

62A: Island shared by two countries (Timor)
63A: Eastern queen (Rani)
25D: Red River city (Hanoi)

Now back to good ol' American fill!

20A: Comment of abandon ("What the heck!")
37A: 1960's TV dog (Astro)
43A: High-waisted ... to the extreme! (leggiest)

[Actually, I repunctuated that last clue to make it sound like a Mountain Dew ad - sorry.]

These answers are all beautifully dated. WHAT THE HECK is a "comment of abandon," I suppose, if you are Elroy Jetson (owner of ASTRO). Most people nowadays would change either the last two letters of HECK to -LL, or the first two letters to FU-. LEGGIEST is hot (in an old-fashioned way) and just makes me wish there was more language from 1930's crime movies in the grid, like DAMES and COPPERS and GAMS.

There's some Old Skool crossword fill in today's grid, including ESME (58D: Salinger dedicatee) and CERF (21D: Early "What's My Line?" panelist) - Maleska-era gimmes. Shortz-era gimmes include PENH (2D: Phnom _____), RENEE (16A: Girl's name meaning "born again"), SFO (26A: W. Coast airport - though it coulda been LAX, I guess), and OSCAR (19A: 8 1/2-pound statue - timely, what with the OSCAR ceremony being held this Sunday). The deep SW of this grid had some iffy fill and cluing: 49D: No longer working for the Company (ex-CIA) seems like a jerryrigged term, but it gets nearly a million Google hits ... and I kinda like it, on further inspection. I do not, however, like ATOMS for 50D: Smithereens. I get it - very small particles. But would they really be used synonymously? Did people used to say "I'll blow this place to ATOMS!?" Maybe on that episode of "The Jetsons" where Elroy and ASTRO get heavy into drugs, causing them to turn to crime and hold an entire shopping mall hostage unless their ransom demands are met. ATOMS is just more in keep with the whole futuristic space theme of the show than "Smithereens." The SW is ultimately redeemed, however, by BEETS (48D: Common sugar source), which used to make me think of my wife, who is the only person I know who likes them. Now it also makes me think of Dwight Schrute, who owns a BEET farm with his cousin Mose. Since I like my wife and I like Dwight, I now like BEETS (the word, not the actual plant, gross).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Orange 10:10 AM  

Okay, cute food trick for the kid: Take a few nuggets of cooked beets and mash them into a dollop of mashed potatoes. You can't taste the beets, but the spuds become princess-pink. (Dwight was particularly insane in last night's Office episode.)

I'm waiting for [Red River city] to be FARGO some day. (Fargo's river area is more picturesque than Wikipedia suggests.)

I think RETE (a word I learned from crosswords) is related to reticulum and reticulated.

Anonymous 10:12 AM  

I don't know if this puzzle was easy, but it was one of my faster Friday solving times--10 minutes on paper. (Thursday's took me 17.) The west coast fell quickly right along the San Andreas fault of ALTAMONTE and ITSALONGSTORY. DREW CAREY was a gimme that made the east half of the country cave in. (Sorry about the national destruction metaphor.) Honestly, tho, I do like my Fri-Sat puzzles to be tougher--more like 40-minute brain busters. But every now and then a 10-minute Friday is good for the ego.


Anonymous 10:33 AM  

>makes me wish there was more language from 1930's crime movies in the grid, like DAMES and COPPERS and GAMS

If you've never read Dashiell Hammett's "Continental Op" stories, you may want to. The language is fabulous, authentic to the period (the 20s).


Alex S. 10:54 AM  

For a couple minutes I was impressed by Shortz's willingness to take on the easily offended by using WHAT THE HELL as fill. But I quickly figured out that BROL had to be BROK(EN ENGLISH).

Instead, he chose to offend Asians by referring to people as ORIENTAL. My (Japanese) wife hasn't done today's puzzle yet, but I'm expecting an IM when she does.

Because SFO or SEA (SeaTac) seemed too easy, after getting the S I had SNA (John Wayne Orange County Airport, in Santa Ana) for a long time. I hate airport code clues since they're all 3-letters and often share a letters in common. There are only about a dozen west coast airport codes that share a letter with SFO (particularly the initial S).

So I don't like those, might as well just offer the clue "Three random letter selected to make the puzzle work."

Orange 11:41 AM  

Alex, I could swallow ORIENTAL only because the clue cited fictional 19th century characters. The Wikipedia article on The Mikado reports that some contemporaneous Japanese people expected to find the show offensive, but didn't. (However, the original lyrics include the N-word!)

In conversation, I find the word Oriental comes in handy—it offers an easy way to identify speakers who haven't caught up with the terminology tht doesn't offend Asians and Asian-Americans. (Alex, you might've missed my rant on Monday about the word GOOK—clued non-racistly—appearing in crosswords.)

(I think SFO, LAX, LGA, JFK, and ORD are among the airport abbreviations that many people are familiar with. I just now looked up BWI, which I've seen in crosswords but didn't's Baltimore/Washington International.)

Rex Parker 12:54 PM  

A. - yeah, not only do I teach Crime Fiction, I have a massive collection of old paperbacks, so Hammett is a good friend of mine.

Alex, way to overthink the airport clue! Sometimes it's good to be naive and blithely assume that there are only two airports on the west coast.

Haven't you ranted about GOOK before, Orange? Maybe that was just privately. If you outlaw all words that might also be racial slurs ... well, SLANT would be gone. And CHINK. I have to agree that there's something particularly icky about GOOK, though.


Rex Parker 12:59 PM  

One other thing - the issue of BALTO's being short for BALTIMORE came up a few puzzles back (can't remember if that was an answer or whether someone just remarked that people call it that). Anyway, I saw BALTO used in print. Where? On a very old matchbook (I have a giant box of old matchbooks that I got ... somewhere). Here it is: can you even read the very, very tiny text at the bottom?

Here is the flip side, with awesome-o graphix.


Alex S. 1:49 PM  

I agree that the cluing of ORIENTAL isn't incredibly bad (but I did get the expected IM), particularly since unlike many other slurs it is a word that continues to have legitimate non-offensive uses (things can be oriental, people aren't).

While I expect Shortz will get letters, I wouldn't be among them. I'm just surprised he didn't edit into a more acceptable direction.

ORIENTAL is definitely the word that would have been used contemporaneously to the play but then "Joe, e.g., to Huck" probably wouldn't pass as a clue to get NIGGER. Though, of course, that word's offensiveness is much more universally recognized. I run into people all the time who don't realize that referring to my wife as oriental isn't really appreciated.

Makes me wonder, how would a puzzle that used non-offensive cluing for potentially offensive racist terms be received? Could be an interesting exercise and comment on the fluidity and power of language.

I know I over thought the airport code and I have to force myself to remember that to some degree the puzzle has a New York knowledge-base slant. Living on the West Coast, I know the codes for half a dozen West Coast airports that start with S (Seattle, San Francsico, San Jose, San Diego, John Wayne-Orange County, Santa Rosa) but don't know the airport code for Newark. That's why I hate airport code fill, if you don't know them there is no easy way to work them out and if you do know them well it is very difficult to narrow them down (particularly on a Friday when obscurity is fully in bounds).

Anonymous 6:00 PM  

I suggest the theme today is "broken english" (9D) aka slangy phrases


Anonymous 11:47 PM  

Beets rule!

However, this puzzle took me a long time to finish, as I had the following missteps along the way:


And I wanted to put SHOES for KNEES and ODYSSEUS for KING LEAR, but didn't. Actually couldn't remember if Odysseus had disasters, but I figured he must have.

My brain has been sufficiently taxed for the day!

Anonymous 11:51 PM  

P.S. Awesome matchbook cover. Wouldn't it be fun to find some John Waters/Balto movie trivia in a crossword someday?

Rex Parker 7:10 AM  

Oooh, I made the BETA (blocker) instead of SPAM (blocker) mistake too! Bond!

Odysseus was not tragic. He was triumphant. Unless you read Dante, where Ulysses is excoriated as a figure of Fraud (being constructor of the Trojan Horse makes him a very bad man in Dante's book) and left burning in hell, in a twin flame with Diomedes. In Inferno, Odysseus tells Dante / Virgil the story of what happened After he returned to Ithaka and kicked suitor ass. Apparently he was just too ambitious and curious about the world, and he left his homeland and wife once again. He set off with another crew to try to see more of the world, but his ship went down and the sea closed over his head, "as pleased Another" (i.e. God).

Lecture over.


Anonymous 9:30 PM  

I just did this puzzle (due to an incredibly hectic friday full of scholarship stuff) and Beta instead of Spam was the first clue I filled in :( I was very irritated with TEAR because I had always associated it (in terms of movement) with anger. And this is the closest definition in the OED
9. a. intr. To move with violence or impetuosity; to rush or ‘burst’ impetuously or violently. colloq.
Sometimes with the notion of a force that would tear its way through obstacles.

Bad clue. Also, 80, not that fast, either. That's about normal on a Michigan freeway.

I did however enjoy 15a IRON (26 on a table). Hehe. Yay chemistry.

Anonymous 4:47 AM  

I also could swallow ORIENTAL.

Anonymous 11:58 AM  

Orange said "(Dwight was particularly insane in last night's Office episode.)", which I was agreeing with when I remembered that I'm in the six-week time warp. Just goes to show you that some things don't change.

Anonymous 3:22 PM  

Do you think anyone would have the guts to create a crossword full of old words that were once okay to say, (Gay, slant, gook, cracker, whitey(Ford) etc.)but now are "too offensive" to someone??? Since when did people have the right NOT to be offended?? Aren't mean people just a part of life? I really dislike the sugar-coated world where CRACKER is now an offensive word. Can I only call them SALTINES now? I don't get what is wrong with Oriental. Maybe I'm naive, but doesn't it just mean they're from the Orient?? Isn't that just another word for Asia? Who decided it was politically incorrect? Help.

Unknown 12:42 AM  

I completely agree with Orange w/r/t ORIENTAL being an acceptable term, given setting of, as well as production, of "The Mikado". Besides, this is very possibly my favorite G & S operetta, and I'm always glad to see it referenced. So there.

Don't do Bond (assuming James Bond), so didn't have the BETA snag, but I'm old enough that the "Phnom____ clue left no doubt as to the validity of SPAM.

I like how King Lear instersected with ITSALONGSTORY. It is. Even if it's a darn good one, any daughter's mother will assure you it's a long one.

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