WEDNESDAY, Mar. 21, 2007 - Ed Early

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Solving time: 9-something (on paper)
THEME: OSCAR (26D) WILDE (32D) quotation: "Work is the ruin of (17A) the (40A) drinking classes (61A)."

This will brief, as there is not a lot to like in this puzzle. I am not a fan of quotation puzzles in general, and this quotation - I don't really get it. I'm an English Ph.D., and I'm just sort of shrugging at it. I guess it means that work sucks if you like to party. Of all the OSCAR WILDE quips out there, this one is surely among the lamest. I do like the puzzle construction here, with OSCAR running down the far west coast and WILDE symmetrically positioned on the east. But, now that I think of it, I do not, at all, like the way that THE (40A) is made to anchor the quotation, and the whole grid, with its central position. I like definite articles in answers when they are part of a phrase, but THE cannot handle this kind of puzzle pressure on its own. As far as non-theme entries go, most of it is yawn-inducing, and some of it just unlikeable. Standout fill includes 26A: Shaped like a plum tomato (oblong) - I had trouble with this one, but ended up admiring it in the end - and, especially, 46A: Plan for peace, in modern lingo (road map) - very current, very in-the-language, fabulous.

15A: Blue matter (smut) - I'm seeing SMUT a lot lately (in the puzzle, I mean!). Would have liked "material" here instead of "matter," but I see what you're going for: playing off of phrases like "gray matter" and "reading matter." I briefly thought that the answer had something to do with IBM ("Big Blue"), but after a cross or two, the answer was obvious.

11D: "Is so!" retort ("Ain't!") - uh ... I challenge. This is the worst of the "schoolyard retort" brand of answers that I've ever seen. Surely, even in the heart of Hickville, USA, the imagined child in question would say "No it ain't!" I have a hard time imagining even the most mentally-challenged southerner just shouting "Ain't!" all on its own.

1D: Toddler's cry when thirsty ("Wawa!")
29D: With 2-Down, toddler's game (peek- / a-boo)

First, toddlers do not deserve to have fully three grid answers given over to them. Second, PEEK and ABOO are in insane spatial relationship to each other. If you're going to split a phrase like this, make the relationship between the two parts interesting / pleasing. Third, 1D and 2D make the NW corner read WAWA / ABOO. Too many nonsense phrases too close together. I kind of like WAWA as an answer, though when I was a child, I (or was it my sister) used to ask for WADEER (accent on the second syllable). I think I have that right. My mom will let me know.

29A: Relief measure of Elizabethan times (Poor Law)

I do not like, and I don't know why. Maybe I wanted it to have a more spectacular, interesting, and possibly Olde Tyme name. POOR LAW just lies there. Dead behind the eyes. It's not even very descriptive.

38A: Cramped space (cubby)

CUBBIES are where first-graders keep their hats and mittens and assorted detritus from the school day. I know this because I witness said first-graders and their CUBBIES every week. "Cramped" is an awfully weird adjective to describe a CUBBY. I know that CUBBY means a small room, technically, but something about "cramped" just seems wrong. What are you trying to fit in there, for god's sake?

48A: Andy of TV's "Andy's Gang" (Devine)

Means absolutely nothing to me. The only DIVINE I know spelled his name with the "I" and was a major cult movie figure for his standout roles in many John Waters' films. Whoa, "Andy's Gang" was a kids' show that ran throughout the late 50's, and featured ... well, I'll let imdb tell you:

"A TV Show where Andy, with a studio audience full of loud screaming kids, would show movies. At the opening of the show he had a puppet friend called "Froggy". To get the frog to appear Andy and the audience would have to scream "Plunk your Magic Twanger, Froggy". There would then be a big puff of smoke and the frog would appear."

That has got to be the best / worst / most insane and potentially innuendo-laden catchphrase ever featured in a children's show. Another phrase I must learn to work into conversation. I believe I will ritualistically utter the phrase just before I start each of the tournament puzzles this weekend.

34A: Bill killer (vetoer)
43A: Slow-pot (cooker)

The first falls under the much reviled category of Odd Jobs, where -ER ending is added to a word, resulting in a noun that is technically legal but nowhere in the language. See also "I'm the Decider" and "I'm a Uniter, not a Divider." Sadly, the person who uttered those phrases is also, in fact, a VETOER. I'm surprised he has not publicly declared himself such. These weak -ER words are made worse by their close, symmetrical relationship to one another, hugging the heart of the puzzle, the aforementioned THE. VETOER THE COOKER! Yeah, that's a hell of a creamy middle, that is.

67A: Cries of regret (ays)

Am I supposed to take that seriously? This makes me think of Bumblebee Man wailing "Ay ay ay, la policia!" The definition I came across says that AY is "Used before me to express distress or regret." So ... it's really HALF a cry of regret.

4D: Nunavut native (eskimo)
19D: Pianist José (Iturbi)

Well, if nothing else, today I learned where Nunavut is.

As for pianist ITURBI, that's a great name. I half knew it, in that I had written in ITURRO and then ITURBA before FINAL (41A: Event before vacation, maybe) put that final "I" in there. That was actually where I finished the puzzle: at the FINAL / FRET (41D: Feature of some necks) intersection. It was hard because not knowing José's name, I had --NAL for FINAL (and despite giving FINALS every year, I couldn't see it), and not knowing DEVINE's name (above), I had -R-T for FRET, and the only "necks" I could picture were human. Sadly, WATTLE was too long to fit.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


DONALD 9:21 AM  

Doubly disappointed with this puzzle (not the puzzle itself) due to (1) the feeling of deja vu -- this seems to be a modified re-run of some past Times puzzle, I distinctly remember the quote, along with WALESA, AOKI, CUBBY, DEVINE, ACTTWO, ad infinitum -- perhaps being that there are also so many "Pantheon" rejects.

(2) I kept thinking the VERNALEQUINOX theme puzzle was not ready, perhaps the equinox came too EARLY! Call Ed.

Oh, I liked the puzzle (agreeing with your exceptions), but I really feel I've been there, done that, and sometime in the past couple years, and would rather have seen an EGG in the middle than a THE.

Anonymous 10:48 AM  

Where I come from the retort to "Is so" is "'Tain't neither".

Did you know there is a real Hicksville in your state of NY? Of course you did! ;>)

most mentally-challenged southerner

Howard B 11:34 AM  

It's a word reversal of sorts, switching 'drink' and 'work'. I like the quote better than the puzzle itself, actually - gave me a chuckle, but only after finishing it - I solved it as if it were a themeless, since the quote wasn't dawning on me.

Catch you all in Stamford - (my resolution this year is to sleep at some point) :).

Alex S. 12:39 PM  

Since I know you'll appreciate it, did you know that there was a character on the marvelous TV show Ally McBeal, named Richard Fish, that had a fetish for throat wattles.

(I just had to look up the character name, I didn't watch the show and just remember some press at the time about this story line and it involving Janet Reno at some point.)

Anyway, I know you like Ally McBeal trivia.

Norrin2 1:08 PM  

Not a great puzzle, but a great blog entry. You cracked me up today. Keep plunking your magic twanger, Froggy!

Anonymous 2:31 PM  

Now that you mention it, Donald...

Eric Selje 3:24 PM  

Bush is not the vetoer, as he's nary vetoed a thing. Though I suppose that wouldn't prevent him from calling himself that anyway.

Rex Parker 3:47 PM  

Give it a few weeks. The vetoes are coming... and the self-inflicted appellation will surely follow.


Anonymous 4:50 PM  

At the risk of getting too political for a crossword blog...

Check out:

Steve Jobs introduces the iRack!

(Well, it's sort of crossword related - after all, his name was in the final 3 face-off part of the ACPT featured in Wordplay...)

Orange 4:55 PM  

Bush hasn't been using the veto, but he's been fond of signing statements in which he declares that Congress's laws don't apply to the executive branch, thereby elevating one branch of government above another that should be its equal.

Anonymous 5:30 PM  


Hilarious blog today which had me laughing out loud at my computer. Man, I needed that!

"Plunking the magic twanger," whether addressed to Froggy or otherwise, is the funniest, most outrageous euphemism I have ever heard. The image of an entire audience chanting it in unison could easily be a scene in a John Waters movie.

I had a terrible time with this puzzle - didn't even get the quote completely right, a result of desperately wanting BADMEN to end with an "s" and thence trying to somehow turn DRINKING into FRISKING (thinking of O. Wilde in jail, I guess) or some other _RISKING. And EDNA was no help in securing that initial D because I was sure that 67A: Cries of regret had to be OYS, short for "oy(s) gevalt!" I was saying that a lot after this puzzle. I still have EDNO in for 53D, refusing to remove my OY.

And like Donald, I had an unpleasant sense of deja vu; I think I've been fooled by BADMEN in a previous puzzle.


C zar 7:52 PM  

Best wishes to all headed for the ACPT. Have FUN! Sorry I won't be able to join you all.

Anonymous 11:37 PM  

Ugh, not the best puzzle. ESKIMO is considered a pejorative; Inuit is the preferred term. Made me cringe. Nunavut was created when it broke off from Canada's Northwest Territories, btw.

Like Rex, I hate quotes and maxims and other run-on things in the puzzles. Oscar Wilde seems to be a usual suspect in these, for some reason.

CUBBY, where I'm from, was always followed by "hole" to describe a small space.

I did like ALAIN and LANAI next to one another. Assume that was intentional. Some nice words were CURATOR, STUCCO, and ROADMAP.

Orange 8:49 AM  

The pejorativeness of ESKIMO is mainly a Canadian thing, I think (though the NYT puzzles do get syndicated there, AFAIK). The American Heritage Dictionary has the following usage note:

Eskimo has come under strong attack in recent years for its supposed offensiveness, and many Americans today either avoid this term or feel uneasy using it. It is widely known that Inuit, a term of ethnic pride, offers an acceptable alternative, but it is less well understood that Inuit cannot substitute for Eskimo in all cases, being restricted in usage to the Inuit-speaking peoples of Arctic Canada and parts of Greenland. In Alaska and Arctic Siberia, where Inuit is not spoken, the comparable terms are Inupiaq and Yupik, neither of which has gained as wide a currency in English as Inuit. While use of these terms is often preferable when speaking of the appropriate linguistic group, none of them can be used of the Eskimoan peoples as a whole; the only inclusive term remains Eskimo. • The claim that Eskimo is offensive is based primarily on a popular but disputed etymology tracing its origin to an Abenaki word meaning “eaters of raw meat.” Though modern linguists speculate that the term actually derives from a Montagnais word referring to the manner of lacing a snowshoe, the matter remains undecided, and meanwhile many English speakers have learned to perceive Eskimo as a derogatory term invented by unfriendly outsiders in scornful reference to their neighbors' unsophisticated eating habits.

Note that Inuit does not apply to Alaskan and Siberian natives.

Anonymous 10:00 AM  

What bothers me is that I think the Wilde quote is wrong. I'm fairly certain it should read, "Work is the curse of the drinking classes," which has a smidge more wit to it than "ruin."

Rex Parker 10:22 AM  

It appears almost certain that whatever the exact Wilde quote is, it was playing off of the quotation: "Drink is the curse of the working classes." So "curse" is in the original phrase, but I have no idea about Wilde's phrasing. "Curse" version of Wilde's quotation does bring back WAY more hits than the "ruin" version.


Anonymous 1:29 AM  

I've always heard "cubby" to refer to one's cubicle at work -- in fact, that's how I always use the word. I haven't heard it used to refer to a first-grader cubicle since, oh, first grade. :-) And yes, they can be extraordinarily cramped and decidedly unprivate. I didn't have any problem with this clue, and I even grunted in respectful acknowledgment that the constructor might even share my intense loathing of office cubbies....

That said, I did not think this was a very good puzzle, though I admit I laughed out loud over the Wilde quote (and I usually despise quotation crosswords).

Anonymous 9:47 PM  

When I was in kindergarten (ca. 1964), we stowed our stuff in a "cubby hole." By the time my first son was attending daycare ca. 1986), this had be shortened to "cubby." Moved to France in 1991 and missed the shift to describing an office cubicle (though I did experience the cubicle before I left).

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