FRIDAY, Mar. 9, 2007 - Randolph Ross

Friday, March 9, 2007

Solving time - don't know, but longer than normal
THEME: words from outer space (or, none)

As I typed my answers into the applet at the NYT site this morning, I was fairly certain that I had something wrong. I had five different squares circled as possible errors. When I clicked "Done" and the applet responded with "Thanks for playing," I was truly surprised. I was almost hoping that some of them were wrong, so terrible are the "right" answers. This was one of the harder Friday puzzles in recent memory, for me.

1A: He appointed the first chairman of the A.E.C. (H.S.T.) - the "S" stands for ... nothing.
2D: 1987 BP acquisition (Sohio)
22A: Team member (yokemate)

These are your NW all-stars! I'm being facetious, they all suck. First, if I don't know what the A.E.C. is (and I don't) then 1A is a wash (although knowing Truman's initials eventually helped me guess at that "S"). Second, SOHIO ... a defunct, regional gas company??? Yikes. And lastly YOKEMATE, which is absolutely inferrable, but omigod is it bad. [Team member] = OX. It would be YOKEMATE only if you, the solver, were an OX. Are you? No, I thought not. You have to stretch a lot of things to make YOKEMATE acceptable. "Nice pair o' YOKEMATES you got there, Zeke." "Yep." Or, maybe, "Bessie and Hoofster were YOKEMATES," OK. I think this clue is lacking an indication of relationality, if that's a word, and that is bothering me. [Fellow team member] would have bugged me way, way less.

4A: Secretive places (Swiss banks) - I could swear that we had SWISS CHARD in exactly this same grid position a couple of months back. This is an OK clue. I had the SW... AN ... S, and I swear to you that I wrote SWEATGLANDS out to the "G," when I realized it wouldn't fit. I was SO proud of myself for cracking the clue's logic!

14A: Simple choice (A or B) - I always get slightly tripped up by these kind of clues, where a four-letter word is not a four-letter word but a three-word phrase wherein multiple "words" are in fact just letters. You know what I mean.

21A: City at the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers (Easton)
9D: Singer/film composer Jon (Brion)

First, I'm pretty sure I tripped on EASTON several months back, when it was a Completely Different EASTON. Something about Lafayette College ... or is that the same EASTON? It is? Damn, this place gets far too much time for being a crappy little PA town. It's sorta near Bethlehem which is sorta near Allentown (where they're closing all the factories down, I hear), which is sorta near a highway I take from my crappy little upstate NY town to get to Philadelphia. As for BRION - whatever. This guy is officially Nobody. No offense. I'm sure he's a lovely human being, but he has no business being in my puzzle. His name is like some hybrid of BRIOCHE and ION. Is BRION his last name? O my god he is far too hipster for words. Ugh, I'd probably like him if I met him. I'm stopping now.

24A: Without a break (one act) - "Hey, have you seen the new without-a-break play that's running down at the State Theater!?" No, you haven't. Iffy cluing. I get the logic, but ... [exasperated sound here].
28A: Christmas at St. Peter's (Natale) - How did this bit of Italian get inside my head? I have a friend who is an Italian professor; some of her drunken, nonsensical holiday blather must have seeped into my skull somehow. It's about time she came in handy. (I'm kidding. I kid because I love)

30A: First lady before Eleanor (Lou)
26D: Kind of section (conic)

LOU = [Mary's TV boss]. LOU Hoover? Unfortunate name. CONIC seems entirely arbitrary as an answer here. How about something CONE-specific!?!?!

31A: 2000 best seller on social epidemics (The Tipping Point) - Took me way too long to get. I've never read it, but man that book was / is everywhere. I like this answer so so so much better than the entirely made-up phrase 39A: Ability to let a pitch go by (sales resistance). Would have killed for a baseball-related answer here. This answer makes me want to kill, literally. Speaking of baseball, I can't remember the last time I heard the baseball referred to as a POTATO (35D: Baseball, in slang). Isn't this term dated? I know that homers are referred to as TATERS, still, sometimes. I wonder if there's a relation...

37A: Climax at Daytona (bell lap) - great answer. So many "L"'s. I had LAST LAP at first, but BELL LAP is superior. And I hate car racing of all kinds.

44D: Feed for a fee, as cattle (agist) - [awera f23*#(W3f ... sorry, that was me choking on the jagged bone that is AGIST]
45D: Fictional matchmaker (yente) - apparently any letter in the alphabet can follow YENT-
61A: Communist collectives (state farms)

44D is insane, 45D appeared familiar until neither YENTA or YENTL would fit. I was very unsure about STATE FARMS, as I couldn't believe the insurance company would name itself after a "communist collective" (though its logo is red...). I just put my faith in STATE FARMS, and thank Lenin it paid off.

15D: "Go easy" ("Be gentle") - [or, what one might say before a 36D]
36D: Dental routine (oral exam)

These two have a very nice synergistic rotational symmetry thing going on.

And I'm done with this ragtag commentary.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 10:38 AM  

You never heard "Buon Natale?"

And "S" did stand for something:

Truman was born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri, the second child of John Anderson Truman and Martha Ellen Young Truman. An elder boy had been stillborn. His grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young, could not agree on what Harry's middle name should be, and so Harry was given only a middle "initial" of "S", which stood for Solomon or Shippe, depending on which side of the family one asked.

This was also confirmed in the biography "Truman" by David McCullough.

"agist" was gist stooopid.

Orange 10:45 AM  

The AEC (Atomic Energy Commission, IIRC) became the NRC (Nucular Regulatory Commission). Was HST president when the US dropped the atomic bombs on Japan? Or was that FDR? Honestly, I get the initial presidents of the '40s jumbled together at times.

Wait, you think SALES RESISTANCE is made up? On Seinfeld, Jerry once said, "What causes homophobia? What is it that makes a heterosexual man worry? I think it's because men know that deep down we have weak sales resistance."

Over in the NYT forum last night, Dan Chall mentioned another S....BANKS option that relates to a "secretive" function.

Whoever typed in the "Allentown" lyrics here had fun with it:

But I won't be getting up todaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy
aaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaah.

Rex Parker 10:53 AM  

Truman was given a middle initial, but no middle name; thus, the "S" stands for nothing, though it might in fact be a tribute to / reference to the people you mention. All other middle initials Stand For a name, usually legally. Exceptions = Truman and ... oh, what were they, Orange? Let's see

Jesus H Christ
Alfred E Neuman
Wile E Coyote

Maybe a couple others.

HST was the bomb-dropper, not FDR. And citing Seinfeld will get you Nowhere with me.


sonofdad 11:06 AM  

Wile E. Coyote's middle name is Ethelbert, actually. It was a Final Jeopardy answer (question, clue...whatever) a few months back, which is the only reason why I know that.

Rex Parker 11:21 AM  

I have to challenge a bit, Jeopardy be damned.

Here is some interknowledge I dug up:

Wile E. Coyote, a pun on "wily coyote". His middle name was revealed to be "Ethelbert" in the story "The Greatest of E's" in Gold Key Comics officially licensed, 1973 comic book, Beep Beep the Road Runner, although its writer, Mark Evanier, says he never intended it to be canon.

If this is true (big If), then Ethelbert hardly counts. Some guy writing Gold Key comics does not get to ascribe a meaning to a classic Looney Tunes character. No way, no how. For more on this, go here and scroll down to "The Name Game."


Anonymous 11:52 AM  

A reference to Harry Truman is generally understood to mean the same person as Harry S Truman. It is interesting though that a reference to Wile Coyote or Alfred Neuman may not be understood readily. In the case of the latter two the middle initials may (or may not) stand for a name but they are essential to the ready identification of the characters. At least IMOO.
(I am a fan of both of them.)

Anonymous 11:57 AM  

If you're going to compliment someone on their "nice pair of YOKEMATES," Rex, I would not expect that person to be named Zeke.

Orange 12:43 PM  

Hey, Zeke was my college nickname, and people were always complimenting me on a nice pair o' yokemates.

RP (Republic of Philippines!), I know you're a Seinfeld hater, but you can't pretend that it doesn't reflect (or spur) awareness of a phrase in the general population.

Also, my brother-in-law, even though he's worked as a car salesman and should know better, has zero sales resistance. When he was a single man (and a slob...who never reads), he purchased an expensive vacuum cleaner and a set of non-premium encyclopedias from door-to-door salesmen. True story.

C zar 1:19 PM  

EASTON was my home town in Connecticut, and I remember driving through Pennsylvania and thinking, "wow, they have one here too." Guess it finally paid off all those years later.

Orange, I had just gotten the lyrics from Allentown out of my mind from last night when I did the puzzle, and there you go putting them back in! At my house we sing it "We're landing here in Allentown" because a few years ago during a Christmas blizzard our plane was forced to land in Allentown rather than Westchester as planned.

Speaking (writing) of lyrics, I knew AEC from Tom Lehrer's song "The Wild West is Where I Want to Be"

Along the trail youll find me lopin
Where the spaces are wide open,
In the land of the old a.e.c. (yea-hah!)
Where the scenerys attractive,
And the air is radioactive,
Oh, the wild west is where I wanna be.

Anonymous 2:13 PM  

The parabola, the hyperbola, the ellipse and the circle are called conic sections because they are obtained by intersecting a double-napped cone with a plane.

Anonymous 2:54 PM  

When I was in the service (many decades ago) I was assigned a middle name: NMN. I guess everyone had to have one. It stood for, you guessed it, No Middle Name.

Anonymous 4:32 PM  

Middle initial nothingness in fiction -- Hitchcock's "North by Northwest"

Eve Kendall: Roger O. Thornhill. What does the O stand for?

Roger Thornhill: Nothing.

Rex Parker 5:44 PM  


That bit in N by NW is a joke about David O. Selznick, as I recall. Selznick's "O." stood for nothing, or so he claimed.


Linda G 6:32 PM  

I have it on good authority that the H stands for Harold. When I was five or six, I overheard my mother swearing. She may have been surprised when I asked her what the H stood for, but she didn't miss a beat. She was somethin' else.

This puzzle kicked my butt. I got the three long entries in the NE and the SW but not much else.

Anonymous 9:00 PM  

Selznick quote: "I have no middle name...I had an uncle, whom I greatly disliked, who was also named David Selznick, so in order to to avoid any growing confusion between the two of us, I decided to take a middle initial and went through the alphabet to find one that seemed to give me the best punctuation and decided on 'O'."

Anonymous 4:09 AM  

Wikipedia: David O. Selznick's real name was simply David Selznick. It is sometimes claimed that the "O" stands for Oliver, but, in fact, the initial was an invention of his. The book Memo from David O. Selznick[2] starts with this autobiographical memoir:
I have no middle name. I briefly used my mother's maiden name, Sachs. I had an uncle, whom I greatly disliked, who was also named David Selznick, so in order to avoid the growing confusion between the two of us, I decided to take a middle initial and went through the alphabet to find one that seemed to me to give the best punctuation, and decided on "O."
Alfred Hitchcock made subtle reference to this in North by Northwest where Cary Grant's character Roger Thornhill uses the monogram ROT and says the O stands for "nothing". He also dressed the antagonist of Rear Window to look like Selznick.

Anonymous 6:23 PM  

Six weeks later here. I got here late last night and everyone had gone. Just as well, I screwed up gripers and hangover and didn't really feel like talking about it. This puzzle seemed easier to me. Maybe I'm getting better or maybe being a government scientist in a past life has benefits (e.g a.e.c & Std. Dev). The NE was easy for me as HST, Shue, and Sohio were gimmies.(I'm originally from Ohio where there were many Sohio stations). Had the same lurkies about statefarm as Rex. I checked later and Yente turns out to be the matchmaker in Fiddler. (Yentl is also a fictional matchmaker, I believe.) Agist almost made me egest!

Anonymous 9:41 PM  

Three cups of tea today. Consulted the atlas for EASTON; no googling.

I concur with pretty much all above.

Unknown 12:11 AM  

I'm with you Jae. I also found this puzzle to be easier than yestrday. Being a Vikings fan helped the central Pacific coast fall quickly and knowing that a Friday "pitch" would mean a sale rather than a game of POTATO helped a lot. I also liked 54A Artful gossip and 59A Common elevator stop, which quickly gave me the SW downs I needed for [can it really be?] STATEFARMS. AGIST: Yech. Short for agriculturist??

Catherine 12:26 PM  

Bah. Hate for Fridays. However, my first word in was actually THE TIPPING POINT, as I'd read it, it seemed to fit the clue, and the length was right. And it was a Friday, so WAGs are totally allowed in my book.

Anonymous 11:28 AM  

This puzzle had too many damn' initials. But it made for good commentary.
I always thought the H in Jesus H Christ stood for Holy.
Body shops: thought of whores (verb). Guess that would be body-shops though (besides not fitting).
What the hell is a tutee!? Oh. Tutor/tutee. Sheesh.
Lou *Henry* Hoover!? Didn't know the first lady was ever a gentleman. Too bad Orange's sales resistance story didn't use the British term for her brother-in-law's expensive purchase...At any rate, I thought that was a good clue, precisely because the obvious impulse is to look for a baseball-related answer.
Choking on a jagged bone...ouch....OUCH! And AGIST seems like it should be an adjective. All I see in Webster's on line is an alternative spelling of AGEIST...but the unabridged gives me some interesting information.
YENT[any letter]. Yes! (Was just talking about Fiddler on the Roof last night...)
I like that STATE FARM association too.
And finally, ah, Tom Lehrer...

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