TUESDAY, Feb. 20, 2007 - Jonathan Gersch

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Solving time: just over 8 (on paper)

THEME: SIDNEY POITIER (47A: Actor born Feb. 20, 1927) - lots of theme answers related to "47A"

Happy Birthday, Sidney Poitier. You are a fine actor. That said, I hated this puzzle. I mean, viscerally. I resented it. This was Thursday-hard for me, with many answers I didn't know or had never heard of. Also, there is some crap cluing. I actually froze and had that free-fall feeling that usually occurs only in Thursday+ puzzles. Thoroughly unpleasant. Old people will probably have loved it, as POITIER's career will have reminded them of their youth. Me, no. No no no. Would have liked it, Maybe, on a Thursday. Today, just rotten.

Luckily for you (and me), I have no time to write extensively on a Tuesday morning, so just the highlights (or lowlights).

  • 1A: _____ Island, Bahamas, boyhood home of 47A (Cat) - right away, I'm annoyed. Never heard of CAT Island. What a stupid name for an island. And I know it's considered a constructing feat to cram in as many theme answers as possible, but could you make them good answers? Thanks.
  • 7D: Gallery (loft) - what? WHAT? These are synonymous now? A GALLERY is where I go to see art, and a LOFT is where a farmer puts hay. Or maybe where one lives, if one is a pretentious urbanite.
The following are ALL from the NE section of the grid! (If my initial flat-out guess of REAGAN - 19A: President with an airport named after him - hadn't been right, I think I'd still be working on the NE)
  • 8A: Brook sound (murmur) - Brooks BABBLE. They MURMUR only in Wordsworth poems. I resent this stupid trap, especially on a Tuesday. You clearly know who R.E.M is (52A: Michael Stipe's band), so why the @#$#@ couldn't you have clued 8A as [52A's debut album]?????!
  • 21A: Autobiography of 47A: ("This Life") - Oh, of course, I read it often. Come on!!!! Again, no offense to Mr. Poitier, but this is rank obscurity - made worse by the fact that 11D: Gift givers (Magi) did not end in "S," as most plurals do, so I had "S" where the "I" in LIFE should have been.
  • 16A: Discomfort (unease) - I just hate this word. It's legal, but icky
  • 8D: Classic cigar brand (muriel) - Again, what? MURIEL's a lady's name. EL ROPO is better known to me than MURIEL.
So the NE was the worst of all trouble spots in this puzzle for me. Even the stuff I had no problem with, such as 9D: Intl. grp. for which 47A was named an ambassador (UNESCO), seemed a bit recherché for a Tuesday.

More junk:

35A: Computer acronym about faulty data (GIGO) - a distant cousin of the ridiculous "I GO," I presume. Maybe I've heard of this "acronym" somewhere, sometime, but if so, I can't recall. Yuck.
28A: Film starring 47A with a chart-topping title song ("To Sir With Love") - I enjoyed this film, and got this answer quickly. I love the song, which, to complete the R.E.M. (52A) trifecta in this puzzle, was sung (and recorded) live as a duet by Natalie Merchant and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe at an inaugural celebration for President Clinton in 1993.
44A: Bamako's land (Mali) - whatever you say! This answer intersects the very, very lazy III (40D: Afternoon hour on a sundial) - see yesterday's MLII for a similar crappy use of Roman numerals.
54A: Debut film for 47A ("No Way Out") - does anyone Really know these answers? Or did you have to piece them together from crosses and inference like me!?! NO WAY OUT is a Kevin Costner film, as far as I know.

Here's a cutesy cluing technique I'm not that fond of - clue repetition:

50D: Relative of an ostrich (emu)
59A: Relative of an ostrich (rhea)

When asked what a RHEA is, my wife said, immediately, "It's a kind of a bird that looks a little bit like an ostrich." So somebody's heard of it. Not me. RHEA is the mother of the gods in Greek mythology, as far as I know. I claim that RHEA is Thursday fill, or Tuesday fill if the rest of the fill in the Tuesday grid is normal Tuesday level.

63A: Kind of acid used in bleaches (oxalic) - I give up. Puzzle wins. I cry "uncle." All this odd, off, difficult, yet not exciting fill has worn me down. I'm happy to say, though, per my many discussions of @#$#-ing European rivers, that I nailed OISE (69A: River to the Seine) with just the "O"; no great accomplishment for most people, perhaps, but it felt like a stroke of solving genius compared to most of my efforts in this grid.

I know I'm griping like a guy who couldn't even finish the puzzle, when technically I completed it in a vaguely respectable time. And like I said, most of my griping is a day-of-the-week thing. I have Tuesday expectations - I don't mind a snag or challenge, but solving this puzzle felt like slogging through mud. Possibly the hardest Tuesday puzzle I've done since I started blogging - oh, I take it back. I think the PFUI puzzle was a Tuesday. Maybe Tuesday is just a tricky day to get right - or there's just something wrong with me on Tuesdays. Who knows? Must go.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Orange 9:39 AM  

I'll concede it felt Wednesdayish to me, but the applet has a couple people who finished in Tuesday-fast sub-3:00 times.

GIGO has been in a couple other puzzles I've seen recently, though maybe not your NYT. "Garbage in, garbage out."

I much prefer Roman numerals with easy clues to the ones that presume you can place an emperor or pope in the proper century. Compared to that latter type, I even prefer Roman numeral multiplication problems, because at least those are gettable with effort.

Alex S. 10:49 AM  

This one was actually easy for me, but mostly because I had most of the theme answers from just their clues.

Sidney Poitier was the first answer in the grid for me (I don't know why I know he was born in the Bahamas, but I do) and knowing Poitier, then "A Raisin in the Sun" and "Lilies of the Field" and "To Sir with Love" were cake. I did not know "This Love" or "No Way Out" but the downs for them worked it out quickly. DIdn't know Poitier wsa born on Cat Island but I have heard of it so COLE slaw gave that to me.

Now that you've said it, BABBLE does seem the more obvious answer but for some reason, MURMUR was the first thing that came to mind for me.

On the other hand, I suck at music and have no idea who Michael Stipe is so I had REO in there for a long time since that is my standard three-letter music guess.

For me the Texas portion was most difficult as, OISE and PETE are new to me and for some reason HIE and FEE just would not come to me.

Just goes to show that trivia-based themes are going to be mana to some and diabolical to others. I wasn't aware I was so familiar with Poitiers career, but was hoping Sneakers would be in the puzzle.

Anonymous 12:11 PM  

Morning! I had GURGLE for the brook for the longest time, which worked with UNESCO. I thought the cigar was GARCIA, which fit with GURGLE, REAGAN and THIS LIFE.

I thought this was a reasonable Tuesday level puzzle, though I got stumped by OXALIC and OISE (I also hate European rivers).

Anonymous 12:43 PM  

Yesterday in the comments section Rex Parker wrote:

"I am a pale nerd (that probably narrows it down to 98% of the contestants). I am also 6'3", which, according to statistics, narrows it down to about 1% of the room. Lastly, on some day, if not all days, I am likely to be wearing my Homer Simpson "I AM SO SMRT" hooded sweatshirt."

Well I'm going to the ACPT also and that describes me too except my hooded sweatshirt says I AM SO SMRT-ASS. (Ooops, I meant to type SMRT-ASP.)
I'll also wear dark glasses so people will not mistake me for Michael.

Your pal (not your best friend Andrew Nestler),

Al Anonymous

OskiBr 2:02 PM  

So I'm in my regular Tuesday morning staff meeting, and I realize that I'm grumpy, jumpy and just downright unpleasant. Why? Because I expected to have the puzzle done in under 5 minutes as usual for Tuesday and had to go the frickin' meeting with a third of the puzzle still incomplete! I agree with all of your comments, but will add this - Sidney's autobiography, as far as I know and have checked with those who have read it, is called, "The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography" - OK, so there's another one that was presumably written earlier, but this had me stumped. How you can have such Monday fodder as "EKE" in the same puzzle with "OXALIC" still has me pissed off...

Rex Parker 2:09 PM  

Al - Don't be such a stalker. Anyone who wants desperately to know my real name can find it out easily. Calling Andrew out by his full name is just creepy. I'm not erasing your comment, but I will take down any future comments that either aren't clearly well-intentioned or aren't about puzzles in any material way.

Thank you, rinehartg, for validating my criticism of this puzzle, at least a little. I am halfway through my day and feel less angry at the puzzle than I did earlier. I didn't like the puzzle, but I could have expressed that fact more kindly, I think.


Orange 2:20 PM  

rinehartg, the Wikipedia article on Sidney Poitier cites both the earlier This Life (1980-ish) and his new Oprah-blessed book.

sonofdad 2:32 PM  

Amazon doesn't even sell "This Life." I think it was a bit obscure for a Tuesday, especially considering that it was placed in an area with a lot of other...tricky...fill and that there is a more recent, better known Poitier autobiography.

Linda G 3:09 PM  

I'm beginning to appreciate my age. It's come in handy for a couple of recent puzzles. My husband gave me REAGAN (since Kennedy wouldn't fit), but the rest of the puzzle just fell into place.

I still think that brooks babble, but it wasn't getting me a cigar. I kept trying to picture the lady on the cigar boxes we used in first grade (before the days of plastic hinged pencil boxes).

And I so wanted 49D to be NEOCEO. Sounds like such a cute name for a blooming financier.

Howard B 5:47 PM  

Yeah, I was piecing together a lot of this, since once I saw the theme, I knew guessing at the other theme answers (except the center, which I could figure out) would be frustrating; so I just attacked the Down clues as best I could, until the rest eventually caved in. OXALIC, ESSAI, MURIEL were all a bit nasty. MURMUR wasn't so much, since I was working more off the Down clues). Pretty tough nugget for a Tuesday.

If it's not a later-week puzzle, switching directions can sometimes save a bit of grief on puzzles like this. Not my favorite type either, personally. Unless, of course, it's something I know a lot about.

Anonymous 7:02 PM  

Don't know if it was any way planned, but I thought it interesting that OKRA, the gumbo ingredient, showed up on Fat Tuesday. Had some myself for lunch. Could have been a more interesting puzzle if it had had a Louisiana cuisines theme, with PO BOYS and BEIGNES and such. Although I tend to do well on these showbizzy deals because I know way too much about it and the people who make their living in it. And yes, brooks do not MURMUR. That was peculiar at best.

Orange 7:36 PM  

Wait, does Mel Brooks MURMUR? Or Albert? Or James?

Anonymous 8:46 PM  

Sorry. No offense intended. Rex Parker identified his best friend by his full name in the blog for the Sept. 26 puzzle so I'm not guilty of exposing him. Actually, I thought he was a made up figure and I referred to him in an apparently misguided effort to join in the fun. No disrespect to you or your friend who I now realize is a real person and one of great distinction at that.

Your blog is a service to puzzlers everywhere. Give my best to "GrandpaMike" (who commented in one of your early blogs) and I hope he now understands that your blog is not the mistake he once thought.

Al Anonymous

Anonymous 8:57 PM  

I like murmur, always disliked babble -- murmuring stream, murmuring brook, babbling brook, but babbling stream? Water that kvetches? Oy, eau de pfui!


Anonymous 9:27 PM  

I feel I must share a spooky coincidence with you. This morning on my way to the store to buy the NYT, I ran into a lady I'd talked to only once about a year ago. Muriel, when she'd introduced herself to me, told me to think of the cigar brand. I remembered this and greeted her thusly this morning; thirty minutes later I ran across her in the crossword. Spooky! From Mary who always enjoys reading your comments

Rex Parker 10:34 PM  

OK, that MURIEL thing is indeed spooky.

Al - no harm done. Your tone was hard to read, that's all.

r. kane - your litany of IGO and IGO-inspired words ended up being quite prescient, as far as today's (now Wednesday's) puzzle is concerned.

[spoiler alert!?!?!?!]

We've got NOGO! And (in the same family?) GOOGOO! Intersecting WOO! In the vicinty of EROO! The whole mess is very Seussian.


Anonymous 12:11 AM  

Keep it up rex - I love reading your witty discussions of the puzzles!

That Muriel story is totally freaky - amazing! Now i'll never forget that brand. . . too bad i don't smoke.

Anonymous 9:17 AM  


I've been reading you blog daily for about a month, since I stumbled across it, & usually find it entertaining & informative. Today's rant got to me, though. They're called CROSSWORDS for a reason; if you can't ge a solution one way, you get it another. Today aside, keep up the good work.


Rex Parker 9:37 AM  

Yes, they're called CROSSWORDS for a reason: because they occasionally elicit CROSS WORDS from people like me (well, actually, just from me, and occasionally from Bluestater, whom I should keep around just to make me look nice). I stand by all my complaints about this puzzle (if not my tone, which was exceedingly hostile). Again, my critique of the puzzle concerned the day of the week it appeared on more than the puzzle's contents per se.

I am not here just to stroke every puzzle (there are others who will do that) - nor am I here to gripe all the time (as you know); I like to mix it up. Again, you're not supposed to like what I say every day. But you know that.


Anonymous 8:22 AM  

Rex, I'm about 10 years older than you are, but EPRO was a gimme for me from paying attention to the musical interests of my teenage kids - I even have it on my iPod! You're going to learn plenty from your daughter - there's always something interesting to be found amongst the dreck.

Anonymous 6:33 AM  

Hey Big Cheese (that's a compliment where I come from), I'm one of those crossworders who looks at your posted times, and wonders, "What does he do with the rest of his day?"

But for some reason, this puzzle, and the "pfui" one babbled effortlessly from my brain (though I started 8A with "gurgle"). Is it an age thing, or mindset?

Keep on Blogging.

Anonymous 11:03 AM  

No Way Out is a 1950 black-and-white film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz starring Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell and Sidney Poitier. No Way Out earns its place in the history books thanks to the searing feature film debut of Sidney Poitier, offering a formidable performance as a doctor tending to slum residents whose ethics are put to the test when confronted with blind racism, personified by Richard Widmark as the hateful robber Ray Biddle. For about this movie go to the following link. I had the same out as you did. I thought of the Gene Hackman/Kevin Costner movie also.


Anonymous 11:37 AM  

I did this one in just over 6 minutes, not knowing a thing about Poitier, except that he was an actor. I saw OISE in a puzzle a few days ago and remembered that one straight off. The only wrong fill I had was cup of TEA instead of JOE. It's an ok puzzle, but the ESSO/HESS and RHEA/EMU stuff was a little weird.

Anonymous 1:53 PM  

Maybe I'm weird, but your ranting and raving about this puzzle made me laugh out loud more than once (even though you identified me as an old woman for cinching it!). From just the i_ld I figured out "Lilies of the Field" and the rest just fell into place. Even "oxalic" came to me with no effort.

Anyway, the main reason I'm popping in six weeks late (yet again) is to share this quote from a "diary entry" by Matt Gaffney in Slate that I ran across when I googled "Matt Jones:"

"This year, my contribution to society will consist of writing 200-odd crosswords and editing about 150 more...If I do it right, there'll be a lot of people shouting cusswords at my crosswords, trying to erase non-erasable ink."

So, the next time someone calls you out for being overly-angry, tell 'em you're just doing what the evil-bastard-constructors want. And you're giving at least one old woman lots of hearty chuckles!

D in CO

Anonymous 3:28 PM  

Apparently, the Minneapolis paper is way behind in using the NY Times puzzle as it just appeared in the Apr. 3 edition. In looking for an answer I ran across your rant. I know someone else already gave some background on GIGO, Garbage In, Garbage Out, but have a little more to add. I learned it in 1975 in college computer classes, back when we had to create a punch card for each command, and feed the cards into a mainframe computer. It must have been one of the first computer acronyms--too bad it got lost along the way. It fits so many situations!

D in MN

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