WEDNESDAY, Feb. 28, 2007 - Elizabeth C. Gorski

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Solving time: untimed, but fast (on paper)
THEME: The sound of "TIE" - three long theme answers all begin with homonyms:

20A: Establishment with spicy sauces (Thai restaurant)
36A: Martial art (Tai Chi Chuan)
54A: Finish the job (tie up loose ends)

Not an astonishing theme, but a fun one nonetheless. I've been practicing TAI CHI CHUAN for years, so that was a nice long gimme. I like Gorski puzzles; they are almost always elegant, with no straining for effect, and very little forced fill. All esoteric fill in this one had reasonably gettable crosses - with one exception, and it is not only the top issue in today's commentary, but the subject of my newest crossword crusade:

Operation: Stop Referencing "Ally McBeal"

Never has a show that ran for such a short period of time, that was cancelled so long ago, that sucked so hard, gotten so much attention. You might say, "But Rex, I can remember only one other reference to 'Ally McBeal' in recent months." I say, "Yes, two references - two too many." Calista Flockhart, while I'm sure she's a nice person and all (married to Harrison Ford, by the way), represents everything that was horrible about the late 90's, and everything hateful about TV in general. Superficial self-indulgence masquerading as avant-garde entertainment. Stunt TV ("I know, let's take our semi-popular hour-long show and re-air it that same week in a bite-size half-hour format!"; computer animation sight gags; and that dancing baby, dear god I didn't even watch "Ally McBeal" and that baby haunts me for days after any time I see it or hear a reference to it). "Ally McBeal" was pretty much the death knell of feminism, too; or, rather, clear evidence that feminism had been bought out by Disney, which had decided to retool feminism in order to make her more consumer-friendly, more emaciated. "We'll let you have a high-powered job, just like the guys! In exchange, you agree to look more f@#!able, and don't bring up issues of gender inequality ever again except in that cute, idealistic way you sometimes do before we pat you on the head and / or ass and send you dismissively back to your desk. OK?" "Ally McBeal" represents the apotheosis of the "empowerful" woman, and is directly responsible for causing a generation of young women to idolize not women of substance or genuine courage, but those hateful, superficial @#$@#s from "Sex and the City." "Ally McBeal" was a terrible show built around an insufferable character who managed to set both progressive politics AND good television back about a generation by convincing a handful of people who should have known better that it was something special. Further, both of the "Ally McBeal" clues in recent months have referenced secondary, if not tertiary characters! The assumption that I or any right-thinking person was So tuned in to that show that we would remember characters such as NELLE (65A: "Ally McBeal" role) or RENEE (from Dec. 15 puzzle) is insulting. When I said "let us never speak of this show again," I wasn't f#$#ing kidding!

My reaction today might not have been quite as extreme if NELLE hadn't intersected 56D: City south of Moscow (Orel) at the "L" - and while the answer was inferrable (what other letter could go there?) I get a little peevish when my ignorances cross.

By the way: Harper Lee's given first name: NELLE. Good to know.

In other puzzle news:

19A: Sufficient, once (enow) - I do love the Olde Tyme spelling

23A: Brazilian-born bandleader Mendes (Sergio) - is this the same guy who had a minor hit in 1983 with "Never Gonna Let You Go"? Yes! Damn, that's some good remembering. Summer camp '83. Other significant pop culture event of that year (well, the previous year, actually) - the launching of USA Today. Why oh why do I remember that - because for some reason I remember seeing some dork at summer camp that year wearing a "USA Today" baseball cap (!?) and thinking, even then, "Why would you do that? That's not even a real paper."

27A: Table scrap (ort) - I just love this word. Should be in the Pantheon. I learned this word from crosswords. I defy you to find it used, unironically, outside of crosswords in the past quarter century.

Some mystery fill

31A: Romanian composer Georges (Enesco) - I was able to get this from -CO, but I don't know why. I'm going to have to check into this guy's music. His name is interesting in that it is just one letter different from the fairly common UNESCO, and only two letters off from one of the first authors I ever read in French, Eugène IONESCO.
9D: Powdered wig (peruke) - I sort of knew this, as I believe it is related to the French word for wig (perruque), which is still stored in my brain somewhere. Still, it looks weird, especially the more you stare at it, and definitely stands out as among the trickier bits of fill in today's puzzle.
21D: Perfumer Nina (Ricci) - I'm more familiar with Christina RICCI of Addams Family and The Ice Storm fame. "Perfumer" is an odd-sounding title. I mean, she doesn't actually go around perfuming thing / people ... does she? I can see from Google that "perfumer" is preferred by a huge margin to "perfumist," and yet I prefer the latter, so please accommodate my preference in the future. Thank you. Oh, and you should read Perfume by Patrick Suskind, if you haven't already. It's unbelievably great - and short. Read it today on your lunch break. Do it!

Some names you should know:

46A: Rapper Lil' _____ (Kim) - someone in yesterday's comments wondered aloud whether George Michael was in or out of jail, and I am currently wondering the same thing about Lil' KIM. I feel like she broke some law ... ah yes, I am correct; from Wikipedia:
On March 17, 2005, Kim was found guilty of conspiracy and perjury for lying to a grand jury about her friends' involvement in a 2001 shooting outside the Hot 97 studios in Manhattan — involving the entourage of rap duo Capone-N-Noreaga and her reported fellow Brooklynite rival Foxy Brown. She claimed not to have known that her manager (Damion Butler), and another friend (Suif “Gutta” Jackson) were at the scene, despite video footage showing all three exiting the building. Both men have pleaded guilty to gun charges since. In July 2005, she was sentenced to a one-year-and-a-day in the Philadelphia Detention Center. She had requested to go to a camp center in Connecticut to be closer to her mother, but instead was ordered to report to the Philadelphia Detention Center. Many people were outraged over this stern sentence because Martha Stewart, who was also convicted of perjury during the same time period, was only sentenced to 5 months in a small women's camp in Alderson, West Virginia.
In the mid-90's, Lil' KIM was discovered and promoted by Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G., a hip-hop icon fatally shot in 1997, in case you didn't know.

29D: Phil who sang "Jim Dean of Indiana" (Ochs) - know him only from crosswords, where he shows up not infrequently.
53D: Swiss miss (Heidi) - HEIDI's name is easy; her creator's name, SPYRI, is not. Remember it, as it will show up in your puzzle eventually.
58A: Sundance Kid's lady (Etta) - near-Pantheon material, but I always botch it, thinking it's more oddly spelled than it really is (ETNA ... ESTA ... EMRE ...?)

I have never heard the term TAX BITES (36D: They're felt in mid-April). I had TAX TIMES in there for a little bit. Google says "TAX BITE" is a legitimate phrase, so fine. I hope that our TAX BITE this year is not SO BIG (4D: Pulitzer-winning Ferber title) that we cannot afford to go on our semi-planned cross-country road trip to MN/WI this year. Oh, yeah, Shaun, if you're reading this, maybe I should have told you first before announcing it to the world - you might have house guests in August.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


sonofdad 9:56 AM  

I was looking forward to the Ally McBeal rant. It did not disappoint.

Also, re: ort, I learned that word from Nature's Classroom, a 3-day sleepaway trip in 5th and 6th grade. After every meal we had to throw whatever was left on our plates into some disgusting bucket, and then the hippies who ran the place would weigh it and give us an ORT REPORT, which consisted of a bar graph and admonishments that we needed to waste less food. I honestly thought the word was made up until I saw it in a crossword.

Orange 10:00 AM  

Thank you for the thoughtful discourse on Ally McBeal, Professor Rex. You might also have worked in a mention of the √ľberprofessional Miniskirts of Empowerment.

Oh, how my teenaged self loved that horrible rhyming SERGIO Mendes song. Speaking of my teenaged self, she did indeed use "ort" unironically 24 years ago in a high-school term paper. The teacher circled the word and left a mystified question mark in the margin. (No crossword solver, he.)

Is that the Perfume that was adapted into a movie recently? The one with the psycho who bottles dead women? Hmm, that's kind of icky from a feminist standpoint. (And any standpoint.)

Anonymous 10:02 AM  


Orange 10:02 AM  

Wait. I think Chris and I both repeated the same ort anecdotes we did last time you wrote about the word, Rex. But I'm glad to read Chris's again, because I like that story and had forgotten it.

sonofdad 10:05 AM  

Yeah, I know I wrote that story on either this blog or yours. Don't remember which one, though.

Rex Parker 10:13 AM  

Don't worry about confusing Amy's blog with mine. It's happening a lot lately, to some very good people. I too love the ORT story.


Linda G 10:14 AM  

Thankfully missed out on Ally McBeal but very much enjoyed your tirade. I worked for a woman who obviously got her ideas for appropriate office wear from that and similar shows, but with much more cleavage.

Fun puzzle. Had to stretch to remember what follows TAICHI; that is, could pronounce it but unsure how to spell it.

Jumped around a bit in the SW corner, so ended up with ---TTIP for 40D. Huh? Easy acrosses to the rescue.

Etta Place -- I always loved her name. Didn't Katherine Ross play her in the movie? I seem to see her in my mind with Robert Redford.

Rex Parker 10:18 AM  


Well, see, re: Perfume - the book does not try to convince you that the killer is a feminist. And that, my friends, is the difference between a fictional, mass-murdering, 18th-century perfumist and Ally McBeal. In case anyone asks.


Alex S. 12:42 PM  

Also never heard of TAX BITES so the only thing I could come up with for TAX --TES was TAX DATES. That kind of worked with RED (SOX) being a foe of the YANK(ees). So I was stuck wondering if TAE UP LOOSE ENDS was a pun of some sort.

Until reading your post I didn't notice that it was Perfumer Nina and not Performer Nina.

I liked FIXINS and feel it is a sign of my solving education that I can immediately put in APSE as a gimme.

Rex Parker 12:51 PM  


I had the same inclination re: [Yank's foe], and the same feeling of exhilaration when APSE was the first thing that came to mind for [Vaulted area] - or whatever the exact clue was.



Orange 1:41 PM  

"Tax bite" in the singular is a fairly common phrase. This Aussie business even offers a Tax Bite cafeteria. I don't know that I'd pluralize it, but that's a minor point in ths puzzle.

Anonymous 5:29 PM  

A visit from His Royal Rex-ness and the court? Oh, I think that's worthy of a general press release. Plus this should give me just about enough time to muck out the guest areas -- you know, hide the Sex and the City box sets, practice my Boggling, alert the local IHOP. . .

(Actually I've never seen even one minute of SITC, and no more than 30 minutes of Ally total, for reasons already explained by Rex.)

Perfume -- hmm, the Shaun : "friends who liked Perfume" ratio keeps growing. What can I say, the book was not for me.

Unknown 7:40 PM  

Isn't it really "fixin's" and therefore an abbreviation?

Anonymous 8:14 PM  

For those of us philistines relatively new to your NYT blog, what do the shaded (gray with one blue letter) squares represent? I was thinking either first or last answer but that doesn't seem to work.

Loved the AMcB rant!
TD in OP

Anonymous 8:42 PM  

A moment ago I noticed that the crossword fiend copyrights her blog. It seems prudent to do so. What about yours?

A Fan of both Rex Parker and Orange

Anonymous 9:56 PM  

The only thing I sort of liked about the AMcB answer was that NELLE was the character played by Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres' current love interest, Portia De Rossi. So it's sort of timely, if nothing else.

I'm showing my age here, but Sergio Mendes had a group called Brasil '66 back in the, well, 60s, at a time in popular music when radio stations played a whole lot of crazy stuff no matter what the genre. So you had the Latino stuff like Mendes and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass mixed in with the British Invasion, surfing music and Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck. Good times. None of this approved playlist bs that we have today.

I want to go on record as saying that this might be the first Wednesday puzzle that I did completely without having to look anything up. Progress!

Orange 10:29 PM  

Anonymous from 8:42, the guy who writes this here blog holds the copyright to it even if it doesn't say so. By the act of writing your comment, technically you own the copyright to your comment, too. I added a copyright notice really just to tack my name on each page!

Anonymous 10:59 PM  

Dear Rex,

Brilliant rant/mini-lecture on she-who-shall-not-be-mentioned-ever-again. I concur.

For some great Georges Enesco (sometimes spelled Enescu) chamber music, look for the string octet in C major. It rocks!

Well, in a classical sort of way, of course...

Anonymous 1:01 AM  

Dear Rex, I come here everyday to check my answers. Just want to say thanks for keeping such an awesome blog. English is my second language and it takes me the whole morning to solve maybe only half of the puzzle in my International Herald Tribune, but let me have a year, and I will come to your blog with all the squares filled (whether they would be the right answers I am not so sure)!

So please keep on blogging for us beginners!

Seoul, Korea

Anonymous 7:02 AM  

Hi Rex:

Loved the rant, what a howl.

Ionesco on the other hand -- now there was a true feminist.

Pen Girl :)

Anonymous 10:54 AM  

To the Anon Who Asked About The Shaded (colored) squares:

To us readers the shading has no significance. Apparently it marks in the applet where the cursor last rested. Useful to online solvers, pointless to us.

One of the Other Anons

Anne-onymous 1:51 PM  

Today's blog, "You're on!" Theme, 1a can't possibly make sense as "blur" since 3 down is "Orem" (I live in Provo...only one way to spell it.)

Anonymous 9:29 AM  

I had no idea that there was another word that came after tai chi. I was going for some form of tae kwon do for a while. And having REAP instead of CROP slowed me for a while in the middle section.

I gotta gripe about the roman numerals fill again, though. You shouldn't have to rely on on the crosses to resolve ambiguity.

cornbread hell 11:45 AM  

not knowing lil KIM, and somehow writing ethEne for ETHANE led to an audible, "huh?"
bob dole = MENSAN???? hahahaha.

sorry, but it was pretty funny when it happened.

as always, great blog.

Unknown 10:57 PM  

From the 6-weeks-out club: I finished the puzzle at work and couldn't wait to come home to savor the much anticipated Ally McBeal rant. Rex Rants are the stuff that keep us coming back. They are always consistent (can be anticipated even), and they simply demonstrate a collective higher expectation for a puzzle of such stature as the NYT.

Anonymous 1:24 AM  


anonymous 10:33 AM  

I agree completely with the content of the rant. But please, from one word lover to another, promise that you will never again use "reference" as a verb....

Anonymous 3:22 PM  

Hi, I'm still trying to figulre out the 3 lttr word for York's foe and ur blog was the first one to pop out, interesting views, pretty entertaining ....

Anonymous 3:22 PM  

Hi, I'm still trying to figulre out the 3 lttr word for York's foe and ur blog was the first one to pop out, interesting views, pretty entertaining ....

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