SUNDAY, Feb. 18, 2007 - David Kwong and Kevan Choset

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Solving time: 21:10

THEME: "Magic words" - Theme is explained by 70A: Magic words ... or a hint to the other long answers in this puzzle ("NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T"); The word "IT" is inserted into and taken out of familiar phrases to make new, odd phrases, which are then clued, e.g. 25A: Einstein's asset (Great Brain) or 27A: Acerbic rock/folk singer (Biting Crosby).

I didn't enjoy solving this puzzle, though in the end I had to admire its cleverness as well as its architectural elegance, with the 21-letter explanatory theme answer (70A) running right through the center of the grid. I could see very early on that the theme had something to do with "IT," but it took me a Long time to get 70A, because of a mistake that I had early on, and actually never bothered to correct: 74D: Words with house or move (on the). I had IN THE (guess I saw the "house" but not the "move" part of the clue), which made 70A end -OWYOUDINT (I forget exactly how many of those other letters I had in place when I made the error) and I was thinking "is this some kind of horrible slang, some botched approximation of black slang, e.g. "O no you dint!", an expression of offended disbelief wherein DINT is a contraction of DIDN'T!?!?!?" So, as I said, I didn't get 70A until almost the very end. I just went around guessing theme answers ("put IT in or take IT out"). The whole experience felt slow, and clunky, and awkward. I got no kind of rhythm. There were times where I just stared at the grid and felt very much in free fall - THEN I spent 3-5 minutes searching for a mistake in the grid (two, it turns out - the one I already mentioned [DINT for DON'T] and another to be discussed below). And STILL my time was respectable. That is, no worse than my average Sunday.

104A: Person at court (baron)

How is this? Is this because a BARON has a court? Of his own? Like a king has a court? Or is he a person at a king's court? The "court" part of this clue seems arbitrary and off. I understand that a BARON may have a court of his own, but if you search "court" at the Wikipedia entry for BARON, the only word it hits is "courtesy," as in "courtesy title," as in a BARON without a "court" to speak of.

1D: Modern workout system (Tae Bo)

Really? Still? I haven't seen Billy Blanks on my TV screen in a while.

80D: Georgia and others, once: Abbr. (SSRs)
81D: Sen. McCarthy ally (HUAC)

It's getting very Cold War over in the "Carmel-by-the-Sea" portion of the grid. And very Abbreviated as well. Nice little sub-thematic juxtaposition.

43D: Boxer nicknamed "Hands of Stone" (Duran)
44D: Año starter (Enero)

What month was it when Sugar Ray Leonard made Roberto DURAN say "No mas!"? Was it, by chance, ENERO? No, it was NOVIEMBRE.

59D: First name in comedy (Whoopi)

Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you said "comedy."

34A: Graf _____ (Spee)

The Admiral Graf SPEE was a German battleship that served in the early stages of WWII. This answer is known to me Only from crosswords, and even then, not very well; I remembered that it was S-EE, but couldn't remember what letter went in that second place. So it's time to play "Better Know Your S-EE Words"

  1. SHEE = [Irish fairy people (Var.)]
  2. SKEE = [_____-ball, arcade game]
  3. SMEE = [Hook's helper]
  4. SNEE = ["Snick or _____": knife-fighting]
  5. SPEE = see above
  6. SWEE = [Popeye's Little _____ Pea]

Problem Fill
  • 61D: Hammer user (nailer) - true enough, but such a crappy word - one of the horrible "Odd Jobs" I like to gripe about - that it would not come to me even after I had most of its letters
  • 99D: Beams (girders) - I have no idea why this answer took so long to come, as it seems quite ordinary now that I look at it. I just know that I took many, many passes at it before it came into view. I think I thought the word was a verb.
  • 6D: French film director Allégret (Marc) - didn't actually give me problems because I never saw it. Good thing, because I have Never heard of this guy.
  • 50A: Faulkner character _____ Varner (Eula) - sadly, I did see this one. No idea. Never heard of her (it's a her, right?). Why is that? Because I've read but one Faulkner novel in my entire life: As I Lay Dying - I don't remember the plot of that book, and I know next to nothing about the plots of his others. Best line from As I Lay Dying: "My mother is a fish." That is, literally, all that I remember about that book. EULA Varner is a character in The Hamlet, a novel which, I swear, I had never heard of until just now. It was made into a movie called The Long, Hot Summer in 1958, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and featuring Lee Remick as EULA Varner. If my cursory research is correct, EULA kills herself with a pistol. I guess I should have said "Spoiler Alert."
  • 41D: Word in many a Nancy Drew title (Clue) - I was happy to see the "C" there and immediately entered the obvious CASE - forgetting, of course, that CASE was already taken by The Hardy Boys (one of whom was played on TV by Parker Stevenson, as I established in a recent entry and / or comment).
  • 85D: Literally, "instruction" (Torah) - I'm embarrassed to say I had no CLUE about this answer, even with the "T" in place. Wasn't until I had the terminal -AH that it became obvious.
  • 78A: Percolate (leach) - never in my wildest dreams would I have put these two words in the same universe. STEEP seems more closely related to both of them than they are to themselves, if that pronoun pile-up makes any sense. I think LEACH is how Robin spells his name. I would have spelled it LEECH on a spelling test.
  • 125A: "_____ Dream" ("Lohengrin" piece) (Elsa's) - I blew an ELSA clue a few months back, so I sort of remembered her this time. Sort of. I should say that that ELSA clue, the one I muffed, resulted in an avalanche of hits to this website from people searching for her name. Common fare to crossword pros, a mystery to hacks (sadly, I'm still more latter than former).
  • 38D: Dagger (dirk) - a perfectly good word that was stored away in my brain from my D&D days (circa 1981). Unfortunately for me, it was stored away so well that I actually couldn't retrieve it. It wasn't 'til I got AIKMAN (62A: 1993 Super Bowl M.V.P.) that the "K" dropped into place and DIRK became visible. I like that DIRK intersects 48A: The Henry who founded the Tudor line (VII), mostly because DIRK seems like a word that would have been in common parlance in that era. Unlike now, when it's best known as the first name of the NBA's greatest German.
  • 22A: Sinatra's "Meet Me at the _____" (Copa) - My era = COPA Cabana. In the future, please clue this word via Manilow.
  • 102D: _____ Society (English debating group) (Eton) - so, so, so many ways to clue ETON, and this is what you give me. A school, a collar, "The _____ Rifles," etc. I would have preferred them all.
  • 123D: What barotrauma affects (ear) - aaargh. Simple little answer. Since a barometer measures atmospheric pressure, I figured barotrauma affected the AIR. I swear that it makes a kind of sense.
  • 115D: Citation of 1958 (Edsel) - I'm guessing that the Citation was a make of car. I think Citation is better known as a racehorse. My god, how did I know that? The weird detritus that floats around in my head... Speaking of HORSES (109A: Engine capability, slangily (horses))... that's it, just that clue, right there. I got it fast, for which I was very proud of myself, considering I know less than nothing about cars (or other things that might have engines).
Always happy to see John Kennedy TOOLE in the puzzle (47D: "A Confederacy of Dunces" author) because that novel is great. It reminds me of my mom, who gave me my first copy when I was young(er). Something about the "North Carolina" portion of the puzzle is making me happy today, specifically, the pile-up of multiple-word phrases, where IN TURN (56D: Sequentially), ON THE (74D: Words with house or move), NO SIR (75D: Polite refusal), and TWO P.M. (Soap time, maybe) all intersect ERE NOW (79A: Heretofore) and NOT SO (88A: "Baloney!") - not to mention NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T. TWO PM is precisely the time that my soap, As The World Turns, comes on. When I discuss As The World Turns with Andrew (who has been watching Way longer than I have) we abbreviate the show to ATWT - which, I forgot to mention in a recent puzzle, occurs occasionally in puzzles as an abbr. of Atomic Weight. I'd really really like to see ATWT clued with reference to the soap, which I believe would be legal, as the only sites that come up on a Google search of [ATWT] are soap-opera-related.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Linda G 1:19 PM  

Had some good wrong answers. My soap was on at THREE. I haven't seen Days of our Lives for almost 25 years, and they still have at least three of the same characters. And they were already adults at the time.

Once I made the garage ONECAR instead of two, I had the whole NW, although I had no idea why BITINGCROSBY was there. But the downs seemed to work with it, so I hung in.

This is my least favorite type of puzzle, although I do admire the cleverness.

I was with you on 99D -- thought beams was a verb and tried to fit in something with GLAD or GOOD.

Anonymous 1:37 PM  

Donald, thanks for the tip. I think that perhaps you meant "voila" instead of "viola," but that is OK because I play the viola. Sunday's puzzle - not too difficult, but what the heck is a HET? See 63A: Worked (up). HET up? Is this some past tense form of "heat" that I have never heard of?

Rex Parker 1:44 PM  

On the origin of the phrase HET UP - the following is mildly interesting:

You are indeed correct about its being an equivalent of "heated."


Anonymous 1:53 PM  

Think Carla BARON and court TV

Anonymous 2:21 PM  

I have many bones to pick with this one. If the BARON connection is supposed to be with Court TV then that clue is even worse than I thought it was. Far too much of a stretch. 126A "Space; Prefix" should be ASTRO, surely (it ain't astrphysics); never heard in God's green world of TAEBO. Rex was right: this one was clunky, gnarly, didn't allow you to get into a rhythm, and in the end was highly unsatisfactory, the kind that makes me contemplate, after many years of doing these puzzles, that I should get a life and give them up.

Rex Parker 2:22 PM  

Who the #$#@#! is "Carla BARON?"


PS Court TV is about the last channel I would ever watch. Right below Lifetime and YES in the pecking order.

Orange 2:31 PM  

Bluestater, TAEBO has been in the NYT crossword three times in the last year (including today's puzzle). Have you been skipping the weekday puzzles all this time?

Rex, you should know that Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller are slated to play the Hardy Boys all grown up, in The Hardy Men, a non-parodic (!) buddy comedy. Because don't they seem like brothers?

Rex Parker 2:36 PM  

How can The Hardy Men be non-parodic? Stiller is famous for *parodying* Tom Cruise. The MTV Movie Awards did a whole skit about it once. Is there any way I can not only Not see a movie, but negatively see it? As in, "I've seen that movie -4 times!"?


Campesite 2:39 PM  

This puzzle didn't bother me that much--I sort of liked the "IT" included on the west coast and ommitted on the east. Early on in the NW I was trying to force in David Crosby, having been thrown off by the folk singer bit of the clue.
I would've cast Owen & Luke Wilson as the Hardy Boys.
Love your blog.

Rex Parker 2:47 PM  

Wow, I really wish I'd noticed the E / W divide. NOW YOU SEE is on the W side of the grid, where all the added ITs are, and NOW YOU DON'T is on the E, where all the words with subtracted ITs are. That's pretty sweet. Still, as I was doing the puzzle, I was not feeling love for the theme. I feel more love in retrospect. Thanks for calling attention to something I missed, "campesite."


Howard B 3:15 PM  

Hadn't noticed the West/East thing either, nice!

By the way, I'm planning to see 'Wild Hogs' at least -2 times, possibly even -3 if I don't have enough time. I'll let you know how it wasn't.

Anonymous 4:16 PM  

Ultra Vi said... Donald, thanks for the tip. I think that perhaps you meant "voila" instead of "viola," but that is OK because I play the viola.

Wow, glad I made that error! So I'll now guess that you must be an excellent viola player Ultra Vi, good handle!

sonofdad 12:36 AM  

Nice catch about the E/W factor. I seem to miss the subtler aspects of Sunday themes, probably because I try to race through them to prove my self-worth and don't look them over afterwards. Maybe I should slow down a bit.

Anonymous 10:31 PM  

"Pursuit of the Graf Spee" is a fairly accurate 1956 Anthony Quale
film about the WWII Battle of the River Plate in Uruguay...

Stan 12:32 PM  

oh man .. IT's subtracted on the west side!
circu(it)s.. ah, now 'I see'

Stan 12:34 PM  

oops .. above should read 'east' side.

Anonymous 4:44 PM  

As one who gets the puzzle a week later than everyone else, my comment will also be way behind. Rex, Citation was made by Chevy. An ugly little car. I think they were only made in one color scheme, shades of brown. Just for future reference.

Unknown 2:37 AM  

Rex - I stumbled onto your blog a few weeks ago when I was googling a clue. I'm in Dallas, so I am also a week or more behind you.

Two questions/comments:

1. I am finding tremendous comfort in reading your thoughts on some puzzles! Your blog is becoming one of my favorites :)

2. Is it, in your opinion, "cheating" to google clues?

Rex Parker 7:48 AM  

Unless you are in a tournament setting, there is No Such Thing as "cheating" at crosswords (unless you lie about whether you looked up answers, in which case you have a serious character flaw). How the hell would you get any better if you didn't persevere Somehow, learn Something? Dear god, if no one Googled answers, my audience would be cut in half. Please, Google away. I would say, however, that you should practice patience if you want to get better - that is, stick with the puzzle even when it seems impossible, for as long as you can - I mean, if it's down to one square, then take your best guess and then look up the answer(s), but if you've got a whole blank section - stay with it. It's how you get better. Eventually you will realize that you can solve just about any puzzle completely if you are patient enough.


Anonymous 1:50 AM  

I also get my puzzles a week later than most people. I wanted to ask you last week what a rebus was in reference to crossword puzzles?

Rex Parker 8:19 AM  

A rebus puzzle is one where single squares hold more information than a single letter - very often you can draw a picture in the square to symbolize what's missing. I've seen this done (recently) with [CAT] and [DOG] where the entirety of the words were made fit into single squares repeatedly thru/o the grid.


Anonymous 2:35 PM  

I think that the answer "Biting Crosby" went with the "it" theme of this puzzle. I found this puzzle frustrating. I'm glad that Mr. Parker is very intelligent, otherwise I probably would have never finished this puzzle! Love your Blog, WELL DONE!

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