MONDAY, Feb. 12, 2007 - Lynn Lempel

Monday, February 12, 2007

Solving time: 3:50

THEME: "LAST DANCE" (64A: 1978 Donna Summer hit ... or a hint to 18-, 25-, 39- and 56-Across)

Today is officially my fastest solving time ever for an NYT puzzle. I shattered my previous record by something like 30 seconds. The top part of the puzzle felt a little creaky as I was doing it - I was having to jump around a lot, and a number of answers didn't come to me quickly. But by the time I hit the middle of the puzzle, I could do no wrong. I don't think I had to backtrack or correct anything in the bottom half of the puzzle. It felt magical. As I look at the puzzle now, I realized that there are several clues I never saw - thankfully, as they would have slowed me right down. They include 68D: Vardalos of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (Nia) [ick, even typing that title makes me cringe] and especially 46D: Navy building crew (seabees) - an answer I recognize but could not define. For some reason COPYEDIT (3D: Tweak, as magazine text) gave me a little trouble, despite that it's an activity I have engaged in frequently in my life. The answer that gave me the most trouble was 29D: Ohio college named for a biblical city (Antioch). ANTIOCH was pretty much the turning point, the line in the sand, the beginning of the end, whatever metaphor fits - once it fell, the rest of the puzzle didn't stand a chance.

This is a great Monday puzzle, and not just 'cause I smoked it. The theme is genuinely clever and elegantly expressed. The theme answers all feature DANCEs as their LAST element, though not only do the dances appear in non-dance contexts, but they are buried inside other words. Here they are:

18A: Sharp-toothed Atlantic swimmer (conger eel) => REEL
25A: Overabundance (plethora) => HORA
39A: Doohickey (thingamajig) => JIG
56A: All-time winningest N.F.L. coach (Don Shula) => HULA

If you look closely, you can see other dance words throughout the grid. ROUND (a form of dancing) can be found in GROUNDER (42D: Alternative to a fly ball), and one might dance in a HALL, which can be found in SHALLOW (2D: Not deep). The best non-theme dance answer, though, is surely A TEASE (11D: Relaxed).

Here's a subtheme: Japanese corporations!

9D: Big video game maker (Sega)
31A: Toyota rival (Honda)
26D: Tokyo electronics giant (Toshiba)

Random Thoughts

Lots of olde-timey movie answers in this one, including 17A: Film director Frank (Capra) - that did not come to me instantly, as it should have - 20A: Ron of Tarzan fame (Ely) - never saw it, which is good, because I blank on that guy's name like I blank on the Cowardly Lion actor guy's name - and 24A: Actress Gardner (Ava), who is ubiquitous. I was grateful for the "Simpsons" clue, 36D: Lisa, to Bart Simpson (sis), especially since you could have gone a million other ways on that clue. I don't think I've seen GAY clued as 41D: Not straight before. I mean, it's perfect, but I thought puzzles were iffy on direct references to homosexuality. Glad to see that's not (entirely) true. I can tell you that no one has ever called me TEACH (5D: Class instructor, informally) before; I'm not sure anyone has been called TEACH since "Welcome Back, Kotter" went off the air. It's very surprising that my time was so good (for me) considering I completely muffed the very first clue I looked at: 1A: "My Fair Lady" horse race (Ascot). I know nothing about "My Fair Lady" except 'enry 'iggins and "The Rain in Spain." Am I even thinking about the right movie? Anyway, I always get ASCOT confused with another super-common British horse racing answer: EPSOM.

Double Your Pleasure

67A: Tennis's Agassi (Andre)
57D: Huge hit (smash)

I just like that these intersect. I also like the Double Wonder-ness of these clues:

22D: Cry of wonder (Ooh)
12D: Musical Wonder (Stevie)

The music of Stevie WONDER (and Donna Summer, for that matter - love her!) will make you dance for sure, though probably not any of the dances featured in this puzzle. Hard to HULA to "Superstition," though "I Just Called to Say 'I Love You'" might work, I suppose.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 9:51 AM  

Question: Is the ACPT competition peformed on paper or computer -- if it's on paper, it's not as fast. Do they, if it's done on paper, take points for erasurers or strikeovers, and is there an equivalent demerit programmed into the computer puzzle (if that's what they have)...

Orange 10:39 AM  

It's on paper, and you're right, Donald—once you get accustomed to solving online, it's faster than solving on paper. The judges don't mark off for erasures or write-overs, and tend to give the benefit of the doubt with messy printing. As detailed here, you get "10 points for every correct word you entered across and down; a bonus of 25 points for each full minute you finished ahead of the suggested solution time — BUT reduced by 25 points for each missing or incorrect letter (but not beyond the point the bonus returns to zero);and a bonus of 150 points for each completely correct solution." One wrong square deprives you of the 150-point bonus and 20 points for the across and down entries that square's in, and reduces your speed-bonus points.

Anonymous 11:46 AM  

Does anyone recommend going to the tournament just for fun even though there's no way in hell I would come close to placing at this stage of my solving career? Does everyone use pencils or does it matter? It sounds like a blast.

Rex Parker 11:58 AM  

Do you honestly think *I* have a hope in hell of winning anything at the ACPT!? HA ha. Please go to the tournament. The more hack solvers the better, I say.


Anonymous 12:25 PM  

Rex, "hack solver" are far from the words I would use to describe the present state of your abilities. Most days I can't solve an entire puzzle without at least some help from somewhere else. Mondays and Tuesdays I'm getting better at, though.

Orange 1:33 PM  

Most of the people who attend the ACPT do so because it's fun to spend a weekend with other people who dig crosswords.

And yes, most people use pencils. I like the Eraser-Mate pen, personally.

sonofdad 2:59 PM  

These people call their professor teach.

Rex Parker 4:18 PM  

Oh yes, there IS a reason I hate musicals. Now I remember... :)


klochner 5:02 PM  

were you joking with "a tease"?

Howard B 5:38 PM  

I can only say I had a great time last year, with no goal of personal times or rankings whatsoever. I think that made me enjoy it even more. As long as you have a love for all things puzzly, I'd definitely recommend it.

Wait a minute, Rex - I enjoyed 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' (if not the title so much)! Besides, NIA is a nice, friendly 3-letter answer.

Orange 6:10 PM  

Nia Long's got a better resume than Nia Vardalos, no?

Anonymous 6:32 PM  

I got screwed up for way too long for having SONY in 9D instead of SEGA. I may be wrong but I was under the impression that SONY was a waaaaaaay bigger video game maker nowadays. Does anyone even still own a sega?

Anonymous 7:07 PM  

I was wondering where were your posts from Jan 2-5 2007? I think my
stupid computer is spazzing by going no lowere than Jan 6th

Rex Parker 8:08 PM  

I'd like to see NIA Peoples get some action.

As for A TEASE ... what do you think?

Anon, I don't know where Jan 2-5 went. Maybe if you Google "rex parker January 3" something will happen...?


Anonymous 4:16 PM  

I don't know about you guys, but I think of the "A Tease" clue as "At Ease". Maybe that's where the question is arising? Seems more fitting that way, at least to me..

Anonymous 6:10 PM  

I laughed out loud (hopefully not obnoxiously) when I realized the second "not straight" answer was "gay," considering the first "not straight" answer was "bent." My mind flashed to the likelihood that real-world Archie Bunkers ala Pat Robertson would consider the two answers to be synonomous as well.

It felt good to laugh (in a "oh, you poor pathetic fool" kind of way) at that sort of knee-jerk bigotry rather than get angry. A commentary on how far things have come, I think.

D in CO

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