SUNDAY, Feb. 25, 2007 - David J. Kahn

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Solving time: mid-high 20's

THEME: "Comic Relief" - All the long theme answers begin with the last name of an OSCAR (67A: With 56-Down, start of eight answers in this puzzle) EMCEE, e.g. 15D: Birding capital of New Zealand (2006) (Stewart Island) - the parenthetical year(s) after the clue = year(s) that the OSCAR EMCEE in question, in this case STEWART, hosted the OSCARs.

I own a book of David J. Kahn baseball crosswords, which I keep by my bedside and enjoy quite a bit. They are of medium difficulty and every one has a baseball theme and lots of baseball fill. Fun. Today's puzzle: not as fun. Or rather, very fun in parts, dismal in others - the bad parts are only partly blamable on the puzzle, to be fair. I have never been so stuck, with so much of the puzzle left open, on a Sunday before - not in recent memory, anyway; for a host of reasons, the earth was scorched from an epicenter somewhere around the area now occupied by DESSERTS (87A: Display on a tray) and extending out about an inch to two inches in all directions. So the problem had its center somewhere around the "Missouri" region of the puzzle, but ripple effects were felt all over. If I could blame one clue for the entire problem, what would it be? Hmmm, let's see. No, it's really a team effort, so here's the team:

24D: Company that merged with Lockheed in 1995 (2001, 2003) (Martin-Marietta)
88D: Transitional land zone (ecotone)
101A: Court grp. (NBA)

I have never heard of MARTIN-MARIETTA. Lockheed-MARTIN is a major employer in the area of the country where I live, and I know Steve MARTIN hosted the OSCARs, so the MARTIN part, no problem. The MARIETTA part ... ???? Nope, not in my ken at All. So why not just get the crosses? OK, the big problem there was that MARIETTA runs parallel for five letters with 73D: Western capital (1979-82, 1984) (Carson City) - which I swear I only just now realized was a theme answers! - and I couldn't see it at all. First, I didn't know if "Western" meant Western U.S. or "Western" the way most first-world countries are deemed "Western," or what. Second, and more importantly, is the tiny 101A: Court grp., which at three letters I thought was a cinch to be ABA. But no, it's a stupid trick clue (the kind that makes me say "@#$# you" out loud to no one in particular), and the actual answer involves basketball players, not lawyers. That one-letter mistake (A for N) took the N out of CARSON CITY, keeping me in the dark for minutes longer than I should have been. As for ECOTONE ... whatever! It's a word. I looked it up. But it sounds like a synthetic compound, or else a ringtone for your phone that plays sounds of the rainforest or something. Not thrilled about ECO (48A: "Baudolino" novelist) and ECOTONE being in the same puzzle, either. MARIETTA, ECOTONE, and CARSON CITY = a lot of empty neighboring squares = work for me. The little crosses and neighboring parallels were not self-evident, either. Did not know that CRIBs were defined by their mobility (83D: Mobile home?) - Oh, I just got it. You hang a "mobile" over a crib. Nevermind. Ugh. We have a mobile - why? - hanging from our hallway ceiling upstairs. There is no CRIB there. If you have ever watched MTV, then you know that CRIB is just slang for an ordinary, stationary home. So I was confused on many fronts. Then there was 83A: Abbr. after Lincoln or Kennedy (Ctr.), which seems fine when you look at it, but when you've got three blank squares, it's not so easy. Scratch that: when you have ONE blank square, it's not so easy - I had -TR and thought for many moments that the answer might be STR., as in "I live on Lincoln STR." Yeah, it was that bad for me. The worst answer of the night, though ... well, it was close. In second place, we have

9D: Florida's _____ Trail (Tamiami)

So much Florida geography this week! We aren't all retirees!! I've never heard of this so-called "Trail" and the answer reads like a cruel joke, in that it has recognizable Florida fill (MIAMI) inside it. I thought LA MIAMI .... but no. No No No. And the winner for worst answer of the grid:

94A: Code word (dah)

The very last square I filled in was the "D" in this answer, and I did so with absolute uncertainty. Ironically, my first thought was Morse Code, but wouldn't that be DASH? What is DAH?!?!?! The only good part about this answer is that it's one letter off from D'OH, which I know to be an actual word, and was what I found myself saying a lot while trying to solve this puzzle. DAH is how the DASH in Morse Code is written out in English. Because DASH is already taken??? It's a real word. It just Sux. The very worst part - and this wound is entirely self-inflicted, nobody's fault but mine - is that when I went to check my grid at the applet, I kept getting rejected, and I was certain the D in DAH was to blame, and I went over and over ways that I could make it different - then plugged in literally every letter in the alphabet into that slot. When that didn't work, it began to dawn on me that I might have other errors. But a scan of all the Acrosses turned up only valid fill. So I could Not get a grid accepted by the applet forEver. Eventually, instead of just checking all the Acrosses, I checked all the Downs, and found DEAR SSNTA instead of DEAR SANTA (11D: Opening in the North Pole?). Sadly, that wrong "S" gave me an Across of TSE, which is so Pantheonic that I hadn't blinked at it when I'd scanned the Acrosses earlier. The actual, weirder-looking answer is TAE (39A: Inventor's inits.). So I actually had the puzzle filled in correctly on paper, but wasted 20+ minutes trying to get my grid accepted by the applet because of a simple typo.

I'm running on too long this a.m., so just a few more quick observations before I close things out. Here's some stuff I liked:

  • 4D: Popular Bach work for keyboard (1994, 1996, 1999, 2002) (Goldberg Variations) - This work sits near the top of my iTunes "Playlists," and it's beautiful - always nice to have a gigantic gimme in the puzzle. How many times does Whoopi have to host the OSCARs before people finally realize it's not a good idea. Four non-consecutive terms, come on! Nobody should get that many chances. To her credit, she made fun of herself very effectively on "30 Rock" lately.
  • 29D: Words from Pope's "An Essay on Man" (1940, 1942-43, 1960-62, 1965-68, 1978) ("Hope springs eternal") - "... in the human breast." Another huge gimme, even before I knew the theme of the puzzle. Damn, HOPE hosted a lot!
  • 43A: Ecdysiast Blaze and others (Starrs) - I just love the word "ecdysiast!" So much classier than "stripper."
  • 23A: First mate's greeting? (Madam, I'm Adam) - easily my favorite answer of the night. Palindrome! I got it right away - one of the few harmonious wavelength moments I had all night.
  • 52A: Year Constantine the Great became emperor (CCCVI) - I thought it was CCCIII, but whatever, I knew the century, at least, which really really helped take care of the "Oregon" section of the grid.
More crap I didn't know, or barely knew, or generally said "ugh" to for some reason
  • 1A: Stick used to swat flies (fungo) - here I've been calling it a "fly swatter" all these years; what a chump - think of all the syllables I could have saved if I'd only known.
  • 32A: Actors Max and Max Jr. (Baers) - pulled this from somewhere, but this last name is like LAHR (of Cowardly Lion fame) in that the only part that's solid in my head is the "R."
  • 62A: 1970's HUD secretary Hills and namesakes (Carlas) - man that is a Long way to go for a CARLA.
  • 65A: C8H8 (styrene) - ugh, chemistry. Not my strong suit.
  • 97A: Old computer (Tandy) - A beloved actress ... and she can do your taxes!? I hate to tell you, though, that she's not just OLD, she's dead.
  • 45D: Sirtaki dancer in a 1964 movie (Zorba) - way to hide the fat Greek guy inside a sultry Japanese woman (that's what a "Sirtaki dancer" looked like in my head before reality came crashing in)
And for your and my edification, here is a map showing where the ARAL SEA is (91D: Waters fed by the Amu Darya):

According to this article, the ARAL SEA will kill us all (in fact, should have done so already). Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 10:59 AM  

OSCAR (67A) EMCEE (56D) which form a cross in the middle of the puzzle seem to be a better choice than OSCAR HOST -- actually they are considered EMCEEs.

Rex Parker 11:17 AM  

HA ha, yes, it might help if I actually Looked At The Grid when writing up my entries. OSCAR / EMCEE, just like the grid says. I'll fix my mistake. Thanks, Donald.


sonofdad 11:32 AM  

Fungo actually has to do with baseball. When you toss a ball up to yourself and smack a fly ball, that's a fungo. I picked up the reference to baseball while solving, but had to look this last part up: There's apparently a fungo (bat) that's lighter, longer and narrower than a baseball bat.

I used to hit fungoes in my back yard with tennis balls when I was younger and not very strong. I was playing with my dogs a few years ago and instead of throwing them a tennis ball, I decided to fungo (not really a verb, but it should be) one to them. I crushed the hell out of it, deep into the woods. The dogs were confused. I decided to throw them the next one.

Rex Parker 11:40 AM  

Re: FUNGO. Sometimes when I'm being facetious, I sort of leave the building, if you know what I mean ...

I know about FUNGO bats, if only vaguely, but while I was solving I was thinking buzz buzz flies, not pop flies. So thanks for informing my readers about the actual meaning of FUNGO in a way that I was too lazy / incoherent to do.


Anonymous 11:52 AM  

I was expecting an Oscar themed puzzle today. Couldn't for the life of me think of an emcee named Wellington. Assume 6D refers to Chevy Chase, but I can't recall him hosting. Must have been in the 70s. Husband had to help with that one. If it weren't for him giving me sports related answers, (he knew fungo) I'd never solve one of these. Loved the palindrome. Have a daughter named Hannah...I think Max Baer Jr played Jethro. Anyone know? And isn't there a Max Baer or something similar who shows up in puzzles frequently who's a boxer?

-Mary Rose

Alex S. 12:08 PM  

The boxer Max Baer (who was shown prominently in last years Cinderella Man as the feared opponent) was the father of Max Baer, the Jethro of Beverly Hillbillies.

Norrin2 12:37 PM  

I'm surprised you didn't have anything to say about 110 Across GREEN GOBLIN. I'm a comic book fan too, but I had a hard time with this one, kept wanting it to be Doctor Doom or The Red Skull.
I enjoy your blog.

Rex Parker 1:00 PM  

Saying something about GREEN GOBLIN would have meant having to admit that I blanked on it, even after having GREEN in place. And why would I want to expose my own ignorance / slowness that way?


Anonymous 2:55 PM  

The Tamiami Trail goes from TAMPA to MIAMI. I leave the rest to you.

Love your work, or maybe play!

Anonymous 3:27 PM  

Well, I got Martin-Marietta right away because we had one of those here in Ohio before the merger, but had no idea where it was leading me for quite some embarrassing length of time. Those parenthetical dates just didn't suggest anything to me, which is just sad when you think about it. Even then, I couldn't think of what MARTIN it was right off, so I wasn't sure if it was first or last names we were after. Major dumbkopf today.

Thought it was clever for 107A that any one of the words, CENTERS, DISEASE and CONTROL could have worked and I was doing some major mental gymnastics to try to pinpoint it. (I picked CENTERS first, naturally. Wrong again!)

Did you notice TATA (See ya) and TADA (there!)? Cute. However I would like to suggest to whatever tribunal deals with these things that some other clue be used in future if OGDEN needs to be the answer. I mean, does anyone know *anyone* who goes to Weber State University? This is the third time I can think of where that's shown up. (Watch, there'll be someone on here who does.)

Rex Parker 3:38 PM  

Weber State is known to the vast majority of America ONLY by its seemingly perennial presence in the NCAA basketball tournament. I actually had no idea until today that the school is in OGDEN. How else are you gonna clue OGDEN (besides via the poet Nash)?


Anonymous 4:01 PM  

well, let's see, shall we ... there was a linguist named CK Ogden who came up with something called Basic English. There's a "cutting edge" music venue in Denver called the Ogden. How about "where Everwood (or Fletch or Dumb and Dumber or Con Air) were filmed." Or, "site of the curling venue in the 2002 Winter Olympics". Hell, I'd prefer "birthplace of the Osmonds" to the continuing reference to Weber State. Even an Odgen Nash clue like "author of 'Candy is dandy; But liquor is quicker'" would be more tantalizing at this point. I'll go quietly now ;)

A.G. Argent 4:10 PM  

Your LatinKingNess - Sorry, I kinda enjoyed this one. Wasn't too bad, corniness-wise. I often enjoy the immediately topical ones, once I twig to the theme. The host thing was Ok, except, yeah, I don't remember C. Chase hosting but who remembers 1988 anyway? Hell, I had to wrack the head to remember who last year's emhost was before I started forming Stewart. Liked him as host, by the way. Didn't he get panned? The only answer that frustrated a bit was one that often frustrates; the ol' ETA v. ETD bit. And glad to hear someone else blurts out profanities at the printed page. Also, if that's your daughter?, dude, well done. AG

Rex Parker 4:39 PM  

I think I just got tired of OSCAR-themed puzzles - NY Sun had them all week long, or so it seemed (which is hardly Mr. Kahn's fault). I think there was even one that had as its theme the names of previous hosts disguised in the theme answers somehow. I do too many puzzles now to be able to recall precisely.

I choose the "curling venue" clue as my favorite non-Weber State option for OGDEN.


PS I most certainly made the ETA for ETD error. Oh yeah.

Anonymous 10:27 PM  

Yep, this one took a while, mostly because I spent too much time the past couple of decades practicing and not enough time watching the Oscars. I barely comprehended the theme even when it was staring me in the face. And I had to resort to googling for several answers, to my shame (styrene and, yes, fungo, for two).

Got the Goldberg Variations right off, though!

Oh, well. Rex, your daughter is adorable, and your blog, as always, is hugely entertaining. Thanks for keeping things so lively!

Anonymous 3:41 AM  

Aral Sea: According to Wikipedia, the anthrax was cleaned up in 2002 with US assistance.

Anonymous 4:51 AM  

Funzo makes play time fun.

Anonymous 1:29 PM  

As you have cleared up so much i will return the favor.

sunday's crossword 1A

Fungo - stick used to hit flies as in fly balls not house flies.

Steven 1:03 PM  

Obviously the area of the country in which you live is not MARIETTA, Georgia, (the area of the country I'm from), which is home to many thousands of Lockheed-MARTIN employees.

Anonymous 1:11 PM  

I suspect there are commercial reasons why those of us who live in your past wait six weeks for the puzzle. Usually no problem, but at even one week's remove the Oscar's are too far away to clue me in. Not to worry--probably wouldn't have helped me anyway.

It would be generous of you to include, under "other posts", a pointer to "six weeks ago".

You might consider removing that whole south centre area to the pantheon: dah, snee, ctr, ear.


Derek Allen

Anonymous 2:21 PM  

In Comic Relief, I absolutely LOVED your comment about A1 (fungo stick) and your using too many syllables all these years! BUT, I was pleased with myself in knowing 24D was Martin Marietta, and 9D was Tamiami Trail. Two of the few that I knew that you did not...depends on where you've been.

Stan 2:52 PM  

6A: and 69D: coats and ben, I hung on but they were so wrong. 23A: I didn't get this after I got it. I didn't get this until I read this blog. Madam-I-Madam (?)
I'm now going to fit 'fungo' into all possible conversations.
Love your blog!

Anonymous 8:46 AM  

Rex,Love to check your blog for the background on some of the answers; visually pleasing, too. Thought Alamo mission was "Remember" instead of "rent a car" so that really set me back. And some day I'll remember that I'm getting the puzzle a week late so that I can figure out the theme. Thanks for the blog.

barb 2:06 AM  

Believe it or not, my biggest problem with this puzzle was 84 down, "Davy Jones' locker", which, I think, refers to the bottom of the ocean, not the whole ocean. But once I figured out "Oscar Emcees" I didn't have too much trouble. Thanks for your blog; it's great!

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