WEDNESDAY, Mar. 7, 2007 - Richard Silvestri

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Solving time: untimed

THEME: Evil Twins! - phrases containing the names of famous twins have one twin's name switched out for the other's, creating weird phrases which are then clued, e.g. 27A: Spitting image of a children's storybook character? (Uncle Romulus)

The first Richard Silvestri puzzle I've ever blogged? That seems impossible, as his is a very familiar name to me. Perhaps I solved many of his puzzles in pre-blog days - that, or I've been solving his puzzles in the many puzzle books I have lying around the house. Anyway, he should construct more, because I really liked this strange, challenging puzzle.

The first theme answer I came across was 17A: Look-alike of a source of oil? and I had to get nearly all of the crosses before I realized both the answer (POLLUX BEAN) and the nature of the theme (one twin's name changed to the other's). Would have helped if I'd known that CASTOR oil came from a CASTOR "BEAN" - to me, CASTOR oil is just some old-fashioned snake-oil that people used to make sick kids drink. I couldn't pick a CASTOR BEAN out of a line-up. I didn't even know CASTOR was a type of bean. I think I thought CASTOR oil was just named for some guy named CASTOR. How many times can I write the word CASTOR in this paragraph? Many. The BEAN part was mildly iffy to me, as I only just learned the term "arbitrager," so the "B" from ARBS (6D: Wall St. figures) made me a little nervous. It's very weird, taking a new word out for a spin. I put in ARBS and felt very advanced in my crosswordiness, but then the -XBEAN part ... well, I know of no BEANs ending in -X, so I began doubting my maiden ARBS voyage. Luckily for me, ARBS held up. The other newish-to-me answer up there in the North was IRENE (15A: One of the Horae). Had the -ENE, guessed the IR-, which was confirmed at the "I" by the great cross of SIXPACK (5D: Beer buy), and so I had IRENE crossing ARBS at the "R" - which, many months ago, would have annoyed me no end: crossing obscurities! But practice makes fewer terms "obscure," or at least lets you fake your way through a grid in a semi-educated-guess kind of way. My main point here: the IRENE / ARBS was one of those little moments where I could feel that my crossword muscles had gotten stronger. Progress!

14A: Old Greek theaters (odea) - if it's not in the Pantheon, it should be. A must-know for aspiring solvers (plural of "odeon"). Nope, I checked, not in the Pantheon. Putting it on the short list for next year's induction now. I may have to have an induction ceremony more than once a year. The list of deserving nominees is getting quite long. Perhaps every season (so . . . March 22 or so, for Spring, I'll usher some new terms into the Pantheon)

63A (THEME): Carbon copy of a Cleveland ballpark? (Esau's field) - Took me longer than it should have because I worked this answer backward, from -FIELD, and despite many years of A.L. baseball fandom, couldn't remember the Indians' longtime ballpark. Another word inexplicably not in the Pantheon: ESAU. I'm going to have to put ESAU in, because he's very deserving, and ... well, STET (32D: Mark in the margin) and ARIA (10D: Met highlight) are teasing him mercilessly for still being a non-inductee.

Great Clues

33A: Grills or pumps (asks) - Astonishingly good cluing. Totally baffled me. The old noun-for-verb switcheroo - I struck out looking at this one.
24A: Place to play? (Peoria) - Another nice, if not equally vexing, clue. I had a little trouble getting it, as the second "I" was wrongly crossed for a while - at 18D: _____ arms, I had OPEN instead of the correct UP IN, such is my love for Steve Perry and Journey.
45A: Easter preceder (Nor') - Another great clue, but one that I cracked instantly (once I saw that LENT didn't fit).
39D: Beyond the pale? (ashen) - Degrees of paleness are my specialty. I have some experience with being pale.
65D: Give-go go-between (it a) - Clever, multi-hyphenated, pseudo-pallindromic phrasing on that clue! Also very misdirecty, as sports fans will want AND instead of IT A.
54D: Sniggled (eeled) - OK, this is not a "good" clue, it's just a fabulously silly-sounding clue. EEL terminology is very important to aspiring crossword solvers, as every facet of an EEL's life and death is covered in CrossWorld, all out of proportion to EELS' influence on the daily lives of most people. Except EELERS.

What the!?

38A: Devilfish (manta) - Wanted SKATE, for some (bad) reason.
43A: Self-interest doctrine (egoism) - It's a "doctrine" now?! Pretty high-falutin' way to refer to the problem of being an @$$hole.
9D: One serving a long term (senator) - Don't like this. "Long" is too arbitrary here. "Long" by comparison to US Representatives, yes, but not "long" by comparison to Supreme Court justices. I'm just sayin'.
46D: One of 11 kings of Egypt (Rameses) - So that's how you spell RAMESES! See, I would not have / did not want to put that first "E" in there. Initially I spelled this answer thusly: RHAMSES. One-E RAMSES is the brand name of a popular condom. My favorite sentence from Consumer Reports' Condom Reliability report:
Five tested condoms claim to be strong (or stronger than some other brand), but only Ramses Extra Ribbed Spermicidally Lubricated earned a top score on our Burst Index.
First of all: "Extra Ribbed"!? Are there more ribs, or are the ribs just ... ribbier?
Second of all: "Spermicidally" = best adverb ever
Third of all: "Burst Index"! I must start trying to work this phrase into conversation somehow.

Fun Fill

55D: Helen who sang "Angie Baby" (Reddy) - The entire Helen REDDY catalogue makes me think of my mom, and only my mom, circa 1975. I know, verbatim, the lyrics to far, far too many Helen REDDY songs. Buy me enough martinis and you might be able to coax me into a full-throated chorus of "Delta Dawn."
48A (THEME): Exact replica of six Northeastern states (New Changland) - gets my vote for best theme answer of the year so far. CHANG and Eng! A totally unexpected direction for the twins theme to take - plus I like how, in this answer, only part of a word has been replaced, creating the great hybrid word CHANGLAND. My prediction: 100 years from now, when China officially owns this country and all its subsidiaries, those "six Northeastern states" will indeed be called NEW CHANGLAND.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 9:43 AM  

Ooh thanks for the clarification on NEWCHANGLAND; I had no idea what was going down there! And if it's any consolation, I work down the street from JACOBS FIELD and still couldn't figure out what was needed in the first part of that answer.

I didn't realize EGOISM was a doctrine, but my dictionary says so. I had wanted OBJECTIVISM, which was Ayn Rand's self interest oriented world view, but the dictionary doesn't even mention the concept in the definition so now I'm truly confused.

Rex, just because it seems like something you'd want to know, tonight begins sort of a harmonic convergence of two forces of interest to you - a very poorly reviewed show called The Wedding Bells, created by Ally McBeal's creator David E. Kelley and starring (drum roll) TERI POLO! You can run, but you can't hide.

Why did someone write all of today's across answers in yesterday's comments?

Rex Parker 9:56 AM  

The less said about yesterday's comments the better. I'm laughing because I hadn't realized that those were today's Across answers at all. Came across as gibberish to me.

I am only too aware of the damn "Wedding Bells" show. Hateful. Sadly, most of the shows I watch are on FOX and so I see ads All The Time. It appears doomed to failure. Let's keep our fingers crossed.


sonofdad 10:16 AM  

I'd never heard of Chang and Eng, so I Googled them after finishing, saw a link to a Wikipedia article called "Chang and Eng Bunker," and for one reason or another decided not to read the actual article. I went to bed thinking that Chang and Eng Bunker was a Chinese military base. Whoops.

ESwoop 10:30 AM  

This puzzle and your post have made a day that started with the discovery of a brick (!) in the baby's car seat seem strangely and pleasantly promising. The middle of the west coast took a little longer than it should have, but I loved that Uncle Romulus popped out at me from NC and LUS. And thanks for filling me in on Chang and Eng...

Campesite 12:48 PM  

Great post today and I too loved the puzzle. We must be about the same age as my mom used to walk about the house belting out "I Am Woman."

C zar 1:58 PM  

"If terror were the object of its creation, nothing could be imagined more perfect than the devil-fish."
- Victor Hugo, Toilers of the Sea

Anonymous 3:27 PM  

Leader Rex-

Thanks for clarifying CHANG and Eng; I knew it had to be right, but it sounded so awfully wrong. And what a joy to finally know the POLLUX BEAN. Hmm.

Two music notes: it took me until this afternoon to get to today's puzzle because of having to play in a noontime concert - music of Ravel (French), Turina (Spanish), and Tom Oboe Lee (Chinese/Brazilian). I just wanted to point out that Ravel wrote only one string quartet, in case that information ever becomes useful in a puzzle (or elsewhere!).

And sadly, 3D: String quartet member, which I was absolutely certain had to be VIOLA, turned out to be CELLO. Another bad viola joke on me, as I had it penned in with the most indelible ink I could find.

Anonymous 4:11 PM  

If it's any solace, even Ayn Rand herself made the egoism/egotism mistake. As she writes in the introduction to my copy of The Fountainhead: "The error is semantic: the use of the word "egotist" in Roark's courtroom speech, while actually the word should have been "egoist." The error was caused by my reliance on a dictionary which gave such misleading definitions of these two words that "egotist" seemed closer to the meaning I intended (Webster's Daily Use Dictionary, 1933). (Modern philosophers, however, are guiltier than lexicographers in regard to these two terms.)"

Jeff 4:19 PM  

i came away from the blog today contemplating the word spermicidally. for some reason i originally read it as spermicidically. i immediately decided that would be the better way to compose that word, but later dropped the whole internal argument when i realized that would mean changing suicidal to suicidic...which just plain sounds dumb.

Anonymous 5:37 PM  

Cunning linguists!

Howard B 5:39 PM  

Short recap - found the wavelength today, had fun, guessed correctly a bit. I'm now due for a rude awakening on one of the next puzzles, in return. NEW CHANGLAND was my favorite theme answer there, without a doubt.

By the way, exactly who at Consumer Reports took on the responsibility of that reporting and testing, anyway?
"It's a stress test, Bob. Just run it 9,999 more times and fill out the forms."
I'll leave it at that.

Rex Parker 5:44 PM  


At least you gave the matter a good deal of considered, sincere thought, which is surely more than "spermicidally" deserves.

I forgot to link to the Consumer Reports condom test site. It's out there. Just Google [ramses condom] - I'm sure that's how I stumbled on it. It was not clear that the condoms were being tested under ... in-the-field conditions, if you know what I'm sayin', which of course you do.


Unknown 9:32 PM  

This was a great challenging puzzle. Can someone please explain why PEORIA is a "place to play?" I still don't get it.

Unknown 9:35 PM  

Nevermind. Got it. Thanks to wikipedia. Never heard that expression before.

Unknown 9:35 PM  

Nevermind. Got it. Thanks to wikipedia. Never heard that expression before.

Anonymous 9:01 AM  

I live in Canada and do the puzzles every day, kinda disappointed in the "Evil Twins" puzzle as our paper does not give us a theme for it...I could have solved it had I known the theme, but I had to come to you for some of the answers.... and... pray tell.... place to play??? PEORIA? I don't get it.

Rex Parker 9:10 AM  

I think the PEORIA thing is some olde-time joke - playing in PEORIA either means playing as far OFF Broadway as possible or playing to the Masses or both. Someone older than I can shed light on this matter, perhaps.


Anonymous 9:24 AM  

OK, it's six weeks later and nobody cares now, but "playing in Peoria" refers to how something will go over in the hinterlands, as in "but how will it play in Peoria". OK, I know that's not a real good explanation, but it's just a common saying that I'm surprised everyone hasn't heard.

Anonymous 2:10 PM  

The first cup of tea wasn't quite finished today when I wrapped it up. It was pretty cold, though. When UNCLE ROMULUS emerged from the grid, I had the theme. Is there always a named theme? The Vancouver Sun only gives themes for Sunday's puzzle. (Which comes in Saturday's paper)

The first "E" in RAMESES screwed me up too, Rex. I entered RAMELES. (There is a "Rameles Channel" in Howe Sound, which I live at the head of)

{sorry, but I couldn't think of a way to end that sentence sans preposition}

Of course, this made for ESAUL FIELD. The SAUL seemed to fit, but I couldn't think of a twin for him, so I googled "cleveland ballpark" and got straightened out.

Rhonda From Kansas: I care!

Thanks for the explanation of the PEORIA clue. Your explanation was, in fact, real good, and deep in the cobwebby reaches of my dimming memory that expression resides.

Anonymous 2:18 PM  

Hanne grew a CASTOR plant last year. She is trying to sprout the 3 beans she got for this years crop, but she's not optimistic. Never eat any part of a CASTOR plant......deadly poison.

Rex Parker 4:48 PM  

With the NYT, only Sunday puzzles get titles. The rest ... you just figure out on your own. With the NY Sun, all puzzles have titles (I think).

Unknown 9:56 PM  

Ultra Vi (being 6 weeks early) will probably never know that I too was rooting for her when I entered VIOLA for 3D. Alas, it didn't hold its ROSIN for long, once my ancient physics 101 kicked in on 1A. Never heard the PEORIA reference, so appreciate Rhonda (from PEORIA)'s usage.

Great blog, Rex. I never heard of CHANG and Eng, but they look like Siamese twins in the pic you posted. Say it ain't so...

Anonymous 11:17 PM  

Also, six weeks out. This was a delightful puzzle. I figured out the twin theme after I had solved most of the puzzle. The romulus answer finally gave it to me. Then I just had to make sure I spelled pollux correctly. Chang and Eng indeed were siamese twins and quite famous in their day. The toured all over and actually married. Also, rameses can be spelled both with or without the middle "e" (mostly without).

Unknown 9:32 PM  

Jae, no kidding! Yikes!

Rex, I have to say: I am dearly missing The Lost Posts of March 6th. I may have to give up the newsprint and work the current NYT online.

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