SATURDAY, Mar. 3, 2007 - Karen M. Tracey

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Solving time: untimed, but quick - something around 15 minutes

THEME: Celebrity names aplenty (or, none)

I always feel good when I am able to have my way with a Saturday puzzle, so maybe that is skewing my feelings about this puzzle - but, that said, I loved it. Loved it! Heavy on the fun pop culture, light on learned obscurities. Even the long clue involving flora, which I was certain I would end up strangling me, came out smelling sweet - 22A: Woodbine or twinberry (honeysuckle). Once I got that "Y," I think I literally said "aha!" and the NNW, which had remained a bit sticky to that point, finally tumbled. Let's take this puzzle in five parts, each part represented by the celebrity who helped me (or in the case of the NW, didn't help me) unravel it.

Part the First: The Land of Manuel de Falla (Center)

33A: Manuel de Falla opera "La _____ Breve" ("Vida")

OK, so Manuel de Falla is not exactly a "celebrity," and his name's not actually in the grid, but ... he'll have to do. This was the very first answer I entered on the grid. And then it just sat there, as I tried, with no success, to get crosses. But it's important that it was sitting there, because eventually (three corners later) I built back toward it, and it not only opened up the middle, but gave me entree to the NW. So, an important little answer for having so little initial impact. I knew the phrase implied "Life is Short" - from the ancient aphorism ars longa, vita brevis (Hippocrates, apparently) - but wanted VITA there at first. Then, knowing that de Falla was Spanish I thought "what's the Spanish word for 'life?'" Then I remembered the Ricky Martin song "Living La Vida Loca," and I was set. Thanks, Ricky. I probably would have clued VIDA as [Pitcher Blue] or something slightly more clever, but having recently heard a performance of de Falla's excellent "El Amor Brujo," I'm very happy to see him name-dropped in this way. VIDA intersects DELISH (20D: Finger-lickin' good), which pairs nicely with the other creatively spelled entry in the grid, PAREE (40A: "Since Marie Has Left _____" (Sinatra song)). Not sure how I feel about [Finger-lickin' good] as a clue - technically, it's pretty good, but since it is (or was) KFC's (or Kentucky Fried Chicken's) catchphrase for the longest time, it's giving me bad vibes of creepy old plantation owners and chickens being absolutely tortured under modern poultry-processing conditions.

Part the Second: The Land of Norah Jones (The Southwest)

26D: Her "Don't Know Why" was 2002's Record of the Year (Norah Jones)

An outright gimme - seriously, if you got any answer in this puzzle, you probably got this one, as this chick was @#$#-ing ubiquitous several years back. I'm guessing you not only like NORAH JONES a little, you probably even own one of her albums. Admit it, Times readers. Somebody's propping up her career, and you all are my prime suspects. One of the first controversial stances I ever took on This Here Blog was that NORAH JONES was inferior in every way to Merle Haggard (yes, the comparison may seem arbitrary, but it was related to their both being in the puzzle around the same time). I stand by that comment to this day. However - while normally I'm not happy to encounter NORAH JONES, she really, really helped me get this puzzle started, so maybe I should give her a break. I had the entire SW section done inside of a few minutes thanks to her. Other great features of NORAH JONES-land:

36A: Items in many a still life (oranges)
25D: They offer hot links (IHOPs)

As I was writing in ORANGES, I exclaimed "Dammit, how come she keeps getting her name in the puzzle while I continue to be snubbed!?" ("She" being my fellow crossword blogger whose handle is ORANGE). Then, the very next entry I filled in was IHOPS (Plural! Just like in heaven!) and it was as if the puzzling gods were saying "We have not forgotten thee, Rex." Since IHOP is my oft-declared official religion, I take all IHOP references as a tip of the hat to me, whether so intended or not. Apparently the idea that the ORANGES / IHOPS intersection is a dual crossword blog reference has already been put forth at the NYT Forum - the fact that anyone besides me noticed makes me happier than you'll ever know.

49A: Singer who wrote the poetry collection "The Lords and the New Creatures" (Jim Morrison)

As he is a bigger musical legend than NORAH JONES, perhaps it seems unfair that he should be relegated to secondary status in this SW quadrant. But, first of all, to be fair, NORAH JONES handed me a ton of answers with no effort on my part, where JIM MORRISON came to the party late. And second, as he is clued in relation to his poetry-writing (!?) I can't in good conscience give him priority status. When I first read the clue, I swear to you that my first guess (before looking at the number of spaces involved) was JEWEL. Singers who write (crappy) poetry ... first thought = Jewel. And since the answer did indeed start with "J," I thought maybe JEWEL had a last name ... but no, the answer is not JEWEL. It's the Lizard King.

58A: Baja California port (Ensenada)

My family went here on an infamous road trip in, let's say, 1985. I have a picture, which I could scan and post ... maybe some other time. I bought many a comical stuffed frog, and a leather wallet which I used well into the late 90's. Speaking of family trips to Mexico, we'll be doing it all again in April, only this time, Destination: Club Med Cancun. I'm totally serious. Can you blog from there? We'll find out.

45D: Liszt wrote only one (sonata)

Just a neat little factoid, to go with the other musical factoid I learned yesterday, which is that Debussy wrote only one opera: Pelléas et Mélisande. Reader Ultra Vi is surely happy with today's multiple music clues: De Falla, Liszt ... and ... let's see ... ooh, also DALE EVANS (28A: With 8-Down, "Happy Trails" songwriter), Gene KRUPA (24D: He had a 1941 hit with "Drum Boogie"), and one other which I'm holding off on 'til ... well, 'til right now, as he is the celebrity who rules our next puzzle section.

Part the Third: The Land of Xzibit (The Northwest)

1A: Rapper with an MTV show ... whose name sounds like a word meaning "show" (Xzibit)

Best Crossword Fill Ever. Look at his name! This was a gimme for me, though I couldn't figure out at first how "Pimp My Ride" "sounds like a word meaning show.'" Then I realized that the clue is just badly written, and that "whose" refers back to "Rapper" (not the more proximate "show"). . . [cough] . . . ["Nerd!"] .... yes, anyway. Xzibit is a very charismatic man, and I have watched his show several times - in fact, it might be the only MTV show I have watched more than once since Daria went off the air. The "X" in XZIBIT helped me get 1D: Marvel Comics comic (X-Men), which you'd think would be easy for me - I teach comics, for god's sake - and yet I swear to you that my first thought was not the wildly popular X-MEN, but the wildly silly THOR.

Love the intersecting colloquial fill 15A: Defiant dare ("Make me!") and 5D: "Nothing for me, thanks" ("I'm good"). And it's always good to see the handsome, campy Billy ZANE (2D: "The Phantom" star Billy) in the puzzle. "The Phantom," like X-MEN (in a way) is a comic - see the ridiculous, modern, ongoing version in my sidebar (if you dare).

Part the Fourth: The Land of Margaret Atwood (The Southeast)

60A: "Oryx and Crake" novelist, 2003 (Atwood)

Thanks to my sister, who has a massive assortment of ATWOOD novels, including this one, which I feel as if my mother bought for her a couple years back, maybe for Xmas. Or maybe I'm making that up. Anyway, the title "Oryx and Crake" is super-memorable, as both proper nouns look like horrible typos - "'Oryx and Crake' ... that can't be right. She must mean 'Onyx and Cake,' right?" "Yes, because that makes Much more sense."

54A: Pioneer in the development of nuclear power (Fermi)

Crossword solving rule #182: When in doubt, vote FERMI!

Please note the rarely seen phenomenon of the "four-square" here in the SE section of the puzzle. This is the name I am giving to when four squares, all holding the same letter, form a larger square. This one is an "O" four-square, with ATWOOD and RETOOL (62A: Modernize, as a factory) (one of my favorite words, especially when used in relation to sitcoms) intersecting ROOT (55D: Etymologist's concern) and MOOT (56D: Kind of point). Two things about ROOT. My first thought: "What part of an insect is the ROOT?" Second: "A perfectly good opportunity to reference Elihu ROOT, squandered."

Part the Fifth: The Land of Ian Fleming (The Northeast)

12D: "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" author (Ian Fleming)

Like the HONEYSUCKLE clue (with which I opened today's ridiculously long blog entry), I psyched myself out here, figuring it would be some strange British woman I'd never or barely heard of. Little did I suspect that the author of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" was also the creator of James Bond.

10D: Something that has long needed settling (old score)

Such a great great clue / answer pairing. The "needed" part was throwing me - seemed a rather subjective, qualitative judgment for the puzzle to be making. I was halfway hoping the answer would be WEST BANK if only to see the giant controversy that would stir up. But no, OLD SCORE. Perfect. I do love vengeance. If you wanted to settle an OLD SCORE, why not MARAUD (9D: Freeboot) ... you know, DEMOLISH (7A: Total) a few buildings ... it's fun!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Linda G 12:11 PM  

Absolutely loved seeing IHOPS cross with ORANGES, so I can imagine how it made you feel. You two are so famous.

Need to brush up on my California cities. Once I got Ensenada from you, the rest of the SW fell into place.

29A Steps on a scale -- had WEIGHS at first, which made that whole section ridiculously difficult. KRUPA was a gimme, though. My dad was a drummer many, many years ago and Krupa was his idol.

Rex Parker 12:43 PM  

ENSENADA is a Mexican city, technically - on the Baja peninsula.

KRUPA was a weird, serendipitous answer, because yesterday I plucked SNAREDRUMS out of the air with absolutely no crosses - the freakiest correct long guess of my life, given that the clue was the very general [Band components]. And today, in about the same area of the grid (though vertical and not horiz.) - one of the most famous drummers of all time, KRUPA.


Anonymous 12:54 PM  

i thought that the "setting at 0 degrees long." had to be GMT. Where do they get GST? Does "s" stand for standard? Too many literary and/or pop culture names make for either an extra easy or extra difficult puzzle depending on your predilections.

Orange 12:57 PM  

If you like four-square fanciness, check out Matt Gaffney's Sip & Solve Hard Crosswords book. Puzzle #1 has a four-square containing Z, Q, X, and J, meaning four intersecting entries each with a pair of oddball letters in the middle.

I never heard of de Falla before, but now I am ready for his next crossword appearance. Thanks for the info!

Linda G 1:14 PM  

Geez, I need to brush up on geography in general. How embarrassing! It wasn't required in high school or in college (love those electives), so the last I had was in sixth grade -- around the time JFK was assassinated.

Orange 1:36 PM  

I kinda thought Ensenada was in California (and I like geography!). Must be thinking of Encino.

Anonymous 1:42 PM  


I thought I'd give you an interesting perspective on the entry XZIBIT because of your comments in today's post:

This is the first ever use of XZIBIT in the NYT. About two and a half years ago, I tried to put the same entry at 1-Down (1-Across was XMRADIO), but Will rejected the puzzle because he thought the name wasn't well known enough yet. Surprisingly, the show Pimp My Ride survived over this time span (and spawned other shows like Trick My Truck). Also, Xzibit's Google hit count has gone from 1.5 million to 2.7 million in that time. I gotta say that it's really neat working in an industry that is everchanging, but the whole experience taught me the lesson that it's good to be on the forefront with your entries, just not the extreme edge.


mellocat 2:12 PM  

Wow, that is an interesting anecdote, DQ. Glad I didn't know it when I submitted the puzzle, or I might have revised XZIBIT out of the upper left corner. (Though I really liked having XZIBIT at 1-Across.) I only discovered XZIBIT through crosswords (from a NY Sun puzzle clue, specifically). When I saw it I thought "cool name!" and eventually got around to trying to put it in a puzzle. I actually can't stand listening to rap/hip-hop, but I think they have some of the most marvelous names.

Thanks for the comments, I'm glad most seemed to enjoy this one!

Anonymous 2:40 PM  

Rex, I read the NYT and had not a clue about the Norah Jones answer. Just so you know ... anomalies are everywhere.

I too am scratching my head over the GST instead of GMT. GST is a Canadian sales tax, to me. But some additional research reveals that sometimes GMT is known as Greenwich Sidereal Mean Time, or GMT, but I was too bored by that revelation to probe further.

Lastly, you know the blog has permeated your consciousness when, as you're filling in IHOP and ORANGE, you're also going, "Rex will be thrilled by this." ;)

Rex Parker 2:45 PM  

DQ, serving notice of his ahead-of-the-curve credentials. That is a great anecdote. I can't believe that Will rejected XZIBIT with a Google hit count that high. On the other hand, he is right that XZIBIT is super-obscure to his (Shortz's) core audience.

Rap is good for you, Karen! I'm listening to Eminem right now. He starred in the very good 8 Mile, which featured a small but noteworthy performance by ... XZIBIT.


Anonymous 11:57 PM  


I had to emerge from my usual lurking to laud the visual image of Rex Parker in heaven amidst a sea of IHOPS. That received a Jolly Exclamation from yours truly.

I wasn't as openly thrilled about the puzzle, although this may be the first Saturday I've completed sans Google. On second thought, a milestone like that is worth getting jazzed about! Cheers and keep up the good work!


Anonymous 3:21 PM  

This one was ultra fun, for all the above-mentioned reasons. Rex, when I saw IHOPS and near DELISH and ONE AM, I knew how proud you'd be! You're famous!

I share your sentiments about KFC, though...ugh.

And thanks to Karen Tracey for SONATA and DO RE MI and all the other musical bits. Even DONA was a gimme from knowing Dona Anna in Don Giovanni. (He DECOYED her into ruin in the Mozart opera.)

Anonymous 7:18 PM  

Six weeks later here and I agree, a fine puzzle. No odd or forced answers (expect maybe delish). The only place I got hung up was NE and thats because I thought the rapper was flavor flav, (flav sort of rymes with play = show). Once I got makeme and erased flavor I got the whole corner in less than a minute. No googleing either, but I asked my wife (a plant person) if she had ever heard of woodbine or twinberry and she gave me honeysuckle. BTW I live in San Diego so ensenada was a gimme.

Anonymous 11:41 PM  

Like Jae, I felt the only mild quibble was that DELISH was perhaps a bit forced, but then I remember the work that must go into the construction, and become very forgiving. I notice posting above from the author, and another constructor. It hadn't occurred to me that the authors of our pleasure would be hanging around on occasion. DUH.

I didn't finish it in one setting.

The fact that I got DALE EVANS right away, but had to ask my son about XZIBIT reveals that I haven't listned to music much since John Lennon was asassinated.
My only trip to Google was to check the spelling. I typed XHIBIT and Google was right there for me.

I asked Hanne, my wife of 30 some years, who is green to the elbows, about HONYSUCKLE, but only after it emerged from the grid.

I was so sure NORAH JONES was NORA EPHRON. (see reason above) When MORRISON emerged, I was back in my musical element and the S/W fell without NORAH JONES' help.

RANIS for DONAS (Madras for Madrid) made the N/E the last holdout.

I assume that if I enter my web page URL below that my name will show up as a link.

It is under construction, but if you wish to know me a bit, my resume is up and a bit of a disjointed essay about the windmills I am tilting at.


Anonymous 11:47 PM  

Ah, it only links to another blog.

Here it is:

BTW, Rex,

Any navigation tips for us latecomers? I open the clock and count back six weeks, then search the date.


Rex Parker 8:19 AM  

Ah, the IHOPS ORANGES puzzle. Yes, I remember.

As for navigation, I may leap to newer Blogger format, where sidebar will allow you to find individual date rather easily, as a single file in nested folders (Year > Month > Day). We'll see. Last time I tried that, it reformatted everything to this ugly single-spacing after first paragraph.

Will check out URL. For future reference, you can enter limited HTML code in comments, including link code, which is

followed immediately, no spaces, by

"yourparticularURL"> (in quot. marks, just like that), then

whatever text you want to be the link, e.g. title of site, followed by

to round things off.


Deb 3:56 PM  

I didn't get around to doing this puzzle until last night while watching Brothers & Sisters (I hate commercials so much that I usually have a crossword in my lap to turn to). What a freaky coincidence when two families on the show were playing a cutthroat game of charades and one of the movie/book titles they were acting out was "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!"

This was one of the easier Saturday puzzles, but I had to ask my daughter to get the Norah Jones fill.

D in CO

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