SUNDAY, Mar. 4, 2007 - Randolph Ross

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Solving time: untimed - but like every puzzle this week, it seems, this one was on the easy side
THEME: "You Can Look It Up" - 63A: Dictionary source for each asterisked clue in this puzzle (Random House Unabridged)

I feel as if I am tempting fate by remarking on the easiness of recent puzzles. I'm sure this means that I'll get eaten alive by the Wednesday puzzle this week. Still, things have been pretty smooth sailing lately. Maybe I'm just getting better and the puzzle difficulty doesn't really need tweaking. I should develop a difficulty level rating system, ranging from PWN3D (easiest) to NO MAS (hardest). I guess these are based on things one might exclaim on completing (or, perhaps, in the case of NO MAS, not completing) the puzzle. I need words for levels of difficulty in between. Suggestions appreciated.

This theme ruled, IMOO. Oh, in case it's not clear, all clues have answers that relate to the placement of the clue's word or phrase in the RANDOM HOUSE UNABRIDGED dictionary, and those answers are themselves familiar phrases. The first theme clue sets this up - 23A: *Where to find para in the dictionary (one below par) - and subsequent themed clues just have ellipses, implying an extension of the 23A "para" question to later words, e.g. 46A: *... Hancock ... (beforehand). Just the sight of RANDOM HOUSE UNABRIDGED running across the length of the middle of the puzzle give me happy feelings. It is true that once you got the theme, you could at least get the beginning part of most of the asterisked clues pretty easily - and yet the cleverness of the whole endeavor, complete with 180-degree rotational symmetry for all asterisked answers, made solving the puzzle a pleasure.

[took a two-hour break for pancakes and for showing a couple of first-graders who's the boss of Crazy 8's]

58A: "The Man Who Knew Too Much" actress, 1934 (Edna Best)

This puzzle got a little sticky at the end, and this answer was one of the reasons. I had EDNA B-S-, and thought it could be BUSH or BEST. Even the "S" was tentative because I didn't really like WHISH (43D: Rustling sound) - SWISH or WHOOSH seemed more appropriate answers. Further, if it was BEST, which it was, the E gave me EMS for 60D: Modem termini? which I did not understand, primarily because the clue appeared (on paper) to be [Modern termini?]. In case you don't understand the clue/answer, "termini" are end points, and "modem" begins and ends with the letter "m" - thus "modem termini" are m's, written out here as EMS. To add to my problems in the Utah region of this puzzle, I did not know who 70A: Actress Kimberly of "Close to Home" (Elise) was - I don't even know what "Close to Home" is (a newish TV drama?). All of these problems might have been taken care of sooner than later if I'd only been able to see 44D: Broad, in a way (ear-to-ear)! When you are thinking a one- or two-word answer, EAR-TO-EAR is quite inscrutable, I assure you.

More stuff I didn't know

57D: Mallard cousins (widgeons)

A widget crossed with a pigeon gets you ... these birds! The word "mallard" always makes me think of this guy, so divorced from nature and immersed in the world of comics am I. I had a little trouble in this little puzzle thoroughfare - the one connecting Virginia with western Tennesse - because of both this answer and the parallel 56D: Take _____ (swing hard) [a rip], which I had as A CUT. It took me far too long to put in FRI for 62A: When "Dallas" aired for most of its run: Abbr. because the "C" from A CUT was where the "R" from A RIP should have been. For a while, I thought the "Dallas" clue might be referring to a time of day ... (9pm?).

76A: Volga feeder (Oka)

Aargh, Revenge of the European Rivers!

77A: Fashion designer Saab (Elie)

Memo to self - commit this dude's name to memory, as you have been busted by him before, and his name is so crossword-friendly that is bound to appear again and again.

11A: _____ II razor (Trac)

OK, I shave, with a razor, and I watch TV, so between the two of those activities, why did I not get this instantly. I blithely wrote in MACH. Then when that proved untenable, TECH. Stupid made-up hard-C advertising names.

109D: Kind of lane (HOV)

Heard of these, but we didn't have them in CA when I was growing up, or if we did, I didn't know. We had diamond / carpool lanes. There is a Jay-Z song (perhaps many) wherein he refers to himself as HOV. I can't explain, but this guy can. Officially, the term refers to "High-Occupancy Vehicle." I would like to add to my street cred by name-dropping not only Jay-Z but DRU Hill (78A: _____ Hill, R&B group), which was a gimme for me. I may even have a DRU Hill song on my iTunes, on one of my MTV dance compilations. Perhaps I should stop now before this gets any more embarrassing. OK, I just changed the music on iTunes from the very hip Decembrists to the very rump-shaking DRU Hill, specifically "In My Bed." I believe the chorus references "Goldilocks and the 3 Bears": "Somebody's sleepin' in my bed / Messin' with my head..."

Literary Training Pays Off (somewhat)

47D: Old mythological work (Edda)
53A: Like some Keats works (odic)

OK, that second one is an adjectival groaner, but I like that these answers are both quaintly literary and intersecting. I had EPOS for EDDA at first. That clue in four letters could also accommodate SAGA.

62D: Monastic title (Fra)

Know this only from the Robert Browning poem "Fra Lippo Lippi," which is also the name of a Norwegian synth/pop band.

55A: Rival of Cassio (Iago)

Ooh I sadly tanked this one. I was thinking of watch brands (or keyboard brands), not Shakespeare characters. Turns out that CASIO the electronics brand is spelled, well, like that.

Final Thoughts

"I ain't fer it, I'm AGIN it!" (50D: Votin' no on) - I just like quoting Abraham Simpson any chance I get, even if it means repeating the same quote I used last time AGIN was in the puzzle. Some answers I admire include:

DAS BOOT (84A: 1981 German-language hit film)
CRAP GAME (71A: Shooting match?)
DOOFUS (1D: Pinhead) - I can't see this answer enough; really really love all the words my sister might have called me when I was a teenager (or ... now, I guess)
BRALESS (85D: Without support, in a way) - [!]
LESAGE (24D: Writer of "Gil Blas") - OK, I don't exactly like this, I'm just dead curious about who the hell this guy is, as he's been in many of my puzzles lately; whoa, 18th century! Old School.

OK, must lunch, then walk in woods (as it's FINALLY warm enough to do so without physical pain), then prep for my teaching week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 2:07 PM  

I liked today's puzzle - not too difficult once I changed dictionary to unabridged in 63A. I, too, was thinking of watch brands for 55A. Preferred the clue to something with Othello in it. Gives the old brain some additional exercise. Feel the same way about 77A - Elie Saab insteasd of Weisel- freshens things up a bit. And, one of my favorite words at 34A - enigma. Don't know why. Just love that word.

Mary Rose

C zar 2:21 PM  

Not much to my liking. Theme was lackluster, missing "ah-hah" solutions, and requiring a workman-like approach-- get the first half of each theme clue with just one or two letters, the second half often requiring slogging through the fill. Also a bunch of "who the heck is that" clues and answers: Lesage, Elie Saab, Edna Best, Elise Kimberly (or is that Kimberly Elise?). Bring back Xzibit anytime and Pimp my Ride! ODIC? OKA? pa-leese!

Also, I somehow got off on weird tangents; I was convinced, I don't know why, that 27 across referred to the Minnesota Lynx, that 64 down was looking for a geometry term, and, like Rex, was convinced Cassio was a watch (despite the fact that I usually devour Shakespeare clues for lunch).

Orange 2:32 PM  

Somehow I knew you must've been at IHOP.

I believe the proper spelling is pwn3d rather than p3wned, but the dictionary is not helping here. Maybe quicksand for one notch below no mas?

In addition to the ELIEs Wiesel and Saab, there's also another fashion designer, Elie Tahari.

Kimberly ELISE played Oprah's daughter in Beloved, which, crikey! was released nine years ago. I would've guessed maybe four years ago.

Solving tip (drat, I don't think this is in my book but it should be): Though it's not exactly a rule, often brand names are used in clues when the entry can't be clued another way. Thus, if MACH is in the grid, the clue's almost always going to reference the speed of sound or the root of this eponym, physicist Ernst Mach. Something like ATRA or TRAC, though...there's not much to use other than razor brand names.

Anonymous 5:15 PM  

Fra Angelico

(born c. 1400, Vicchio, Florence [Italy] — died Feb. 18, 1455, Rome) Italian painter and Dominican friar active in Florence.

Rex Parker 5:37 PM  

Is the liqueur Frangelico related to Fra Angelico?

Thanks for the heads up on the PWN3D "misspelling," Orange.


Orange 5:45 PM  

Naw, it's named after Fran Gelico.

Actually, see Wikipedia.

Anonymous 6:43 PM  

I believe Fra, meaning brother, was a title given to an Italian friar or monk. Having spent several years with the Capuchin Franciscans, the noun was common.

Anonymous 7:39 PM  

Tell us Donald:

Who or what spent several years with the Capuchin Franciscans? Surely not the noun?

Or am I once again naively missing some kind of inside joke?


Anonymous 8:27 PM  

This exact theme/gimmick has appeared previously in the NYTimes, and it was a tad tiresome seeing all those prepositions prefacing phrases again! Still, a good brain exercise, as always.

I got stuck for a long while in the EAR-TO-EAR/IDEST region. EDNA did not help. I kept wanting her to be Doris Day, but she (Doris) would have been only 10 in 1934.

HA! Just checked, and DD was in the 1956 version with Jimmy Stewart; EB was in the '34 version with Leslie Banks. So there.

Alex S. 9:39 PM  

I was so happy with the DORIS DAY gimme until much later I looked again and noticed the 1934 year. And while I could picture the woman I didn't know her name and had no accrosses since DORIS DAY was blocking everything.

I really didn't like WHISH. I don't even accept that as a word. WHOOSH, sure, but not WHISH. So, when it was WHIS- I went with WHISP which screwed up RANDOM HOUSE and sent me down the wrong track of thinking it was a sentence ending with USE UNABRIDGED. As always, once I get wrong thinking in my head I prove very difficult to move off of it and that hurt bad.

I really liked the presence of DOOFUS. My wife was really pleased with herself for getting BROCADES without any help.

WIDGEONS screwed us up. My wife said PIDGEONS and I said "no, that's not now it is spelled, though Rebecca PIDGEON is married to David Mamet." But in the end I (having never heard of a widgeon) decided that PIDGEON and APARE must be words. Stupid me.

And why has knowing who David Mamet is married to never come in handy?

Rex Parker 9:50 PM  

Rebecca Pidgeon! I know her too. She is Scottish, I think, and most certainly sang with a group called Ruby Blue, an album with at least one song with lyrics by ... David Mamet. I wore my Ruby Blue album (tape, actually) out about ... 13 years ago, and I don't think you can get it now, anywhere (it was a 1990 album, entitled Down from Above).

Explaining how I know all this about Rebecca Pidgeon would involve my wandering into "Women I Never Should Have Dated" territory, and I'd rather not.

Anonymous 10:04 PM  

Pidgeon, schmidgeon. I'm sure that Sandy (I think it is?) is much nicer.

Margaret Schwartz 10:36 PM  

bless you, sir, for providing witty and intelligent relief to what have been until now highly private agonies. i suspect, however, that i've graduated to a new realm of agonies, in which i resist the spoiler (i do the nyt xwords in syndication...i've got a sort of old-mass-media nostalgia for the community paper) as well as the temptation to read ahead for bits of info that just might stick.

Anonymous 12:33 AM  


Having spent several years with the Capuchin Franciscans, (I found)the noun (Fra) was common.


Having spent several years with the Capuchin Franciscans, the nun was common.

Just brevity at the oost of clarity.

Anonymous 12:35 AM  


Anonymous 1:27 AM  

In descending order:


How's that for starters?


Rex Parker 8:34 AM  


Some of those are good, esp woot (a "backronym!!!") and D'OH and PFUI. I veto the rest for being drawn from shows / books I don't care for much. But we're making headway.


PS I saw "pwn3d" in print yesterday (well, e-print) but it was written "powned" which is an interesting variant. Instead of the typical typo of "p" for "o," you get the less often seen but still fairly common double-letter typo of "po" for "o." Actually, I saw it in "Yet Another Comics Blog" (sidebar)

Orange 8:55 AM  

My best friend once had a boyfriend who thought she looked like Rebecca Pidgeon. (She doesn't.)

Anonymous 2:14 PM  

AHA! I've been reading your blog for a month and FINALLY we have had a similar experience in solving a puzzle. Usually what you call "gimmes" I find to be headscratchers and I end up feeling like a second-rate puzzler. Now I feel I can hang with the pros - woohoo!

Anonymous 12:10 PM  

I'd like to take 'a rip' at Wil Shortz on Fri (not CBS) for making me stay on 'trac' with this puzzle. 'Random' or not, I found your Blog. And I was suprised to find someone 'following suit' with my 'enigma'. So as not to have 'the last word' or to be compared to one who 'drones on'I shall simply sat 'bravo'!

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