MONDAY, Apr. 30, 2007 - Allan E. Parrish

Monday, April 30, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: B-ND vowel shift - five theme answers are phrases that end with BAND, BEND, BIND, BOND, and BUND, respectively

This puzzle was more Tuesday than Monday. Several answers I did not know and had to get from crosses, which rarely happens on Monday. I solved reasonably quickly, but had to flail around a lot. The theme is listless, but the non-theme fill is actually pretty interesting. I especially like the K-riddled NE corner.

First, the theme phrases:

  • 17A: Elastic holder (rubber band) - took me forever to understand that the RUBBER BAND doesn't "hold" "elastic," but is a "holder" made out of "elastic"
  • 25A: Home of Notre Dame (South Bend)
  • 36A: Entrance, as through oratory (spellbind) - the adjectival "spellbinding" (1.4+ million hits) and "spellbound" (3.2+ million hits) are much more common than the verb "spellbind" (59,100 hits), though "spellbound" is helped in its total by being the name of at least two reasonably well known movies.
  • 51A: Ian Fleming creation (James Bond) - my favorite answer of the bunch; he's been flexing his puzzle muscle (or shaking his puzzle martini or whatever) a lot in recent months
  • 60A: 1930s political group (German Bund) - my least favorite answer, not least because I have never heard of it (I don't think...). My searches show it more commonly referred to as "German American Bund," and this should add nicely to recent discussions about the the propriety of putting Hitler in the puzzle, as the GERMAN BUND was decidedly pro-Hitler and openly anti-semitic. This, from Wikipedia (sorry, it's nasty, but someone's gotta point this stuff out):
Arguably, the zenith of the Bund's history occurred on President's Day, February 19, 1939 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Some 20,000 people attended and heard [American citizen Fritz] Kuhn criticize President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by repeatedly referring to the president as “Frank D. Rosenfeld”, calling his New Deal the "Jew Deal", and espousing his belief in the existence of a Bolshevik-Jewish conspiracy in America. Most shocking to American sensibilities (and arguably creating more animosity toward the Bund), were outbreaks of violence at the gathering, between protesters and Bund storm troopers.
Somehow [1930s political group] doesn't quite get at the heart of the matter. If there is some other GERMAN BUND of which I'm unaware, whose sole purpose was to spread sunshine and joy and give candy to children, I apologize sincerely for any confusion or mischaracterization.

Pretty fancy for a Monday...

42A: Landon who ran for president in 1936 (Alf) - what is it with this puzzle and '30s politics?! Had to get this from crosses. The only thing I like about it is its proximity to ALIEN (47A: Non-earthling), which prompts me to think of a completely different ALF.

4D: Polio vaccine developer (Sabin) - dammit, where is Salk!? Salk is the Monday guy. SABIN's usually on from Wednesdays-Sundays. I always forget SABIN's name. Poor SABIN. He is the John Oates of polio vaccine developing. Actually, that analogy makes little sense, but I just like remembering John Oates.

8D: Certain diplomat (consul) - man, I don't even know what a CONSUL does. We have a CONSUL's Family Restaurant around here somewhere ... whoops, sorry, that's Consol's. Nevermind.

25D: Synagogue (Shul) - derived from a German word meaning "school" - is this supposed to make up for GERMAN BUND?

26D: Chicago suburb (Oak Lawn) - sounds vaguely familiar, but ... is it really that well known outside the Chicago area?

40D: Oakland county (Alameda) - and I thought OAK LAWN was overly regional. Yeesh. I was born in S.F. and grew up in California and I had to guess at this.

45D: Royal headgear (coronet) - again, this is just a little fancy for a Monday. Wanted CROWNS - actually entered CORONAS (!?) at one point...

11D: Greg of "You've Got Mail" (Kinnear) - first of all, no one wants to be reminded of that movie. Try something more pleasant (and timely), like "Little Miss Sunshine." Second, I can name three people from "You've Got Mail" (sadly for me) and KINNEAR is not one of them. Strangely, Dave Chapelle is.

53A: "Filthy" money (lucre) - such an ugly, ugly word, which is perhaps why no one uses it much, and when it does get used, it's usually preceded by "filthy."

61D: Letter between pi and sigma (rho) - jeez, even the Greek letters in this puzzle are running toward the obscure end. In fact, I can't remember the last time I saw RHO in a puzzle.

44D: Doug of "The Virginian" (McClure) - Who of what? Try [You may know him from such films as "The Erotic Adventures of Hercules" and "Dial 'M' for Murderousness"] - wait a minute! Here's a site that claims that Doug MCCLURE was, in fact, the model for (the above-referenced) Troy MCCLURE. Ah, internet, is there anything you don't know?

And finally, speaking of "The Simpsons" (and I was) ...

Two "Simpsons" Clues!

21A: Lisa, to Bart (sis)
41D: Bart or Lisa (Simpson)

Not scintillating, or very original, but I'm (probably) never going to complain about a "Simpsons" clue ... unless you get facts wrong. Then maybe.

Happy Monday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Apr. 29, 2007 - Henry Hook

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "Circle of Friends" - each theme answer is the beginning of its own clue, which relates to itself AND to the next theme clue, creating a theme answer "circle," of sorts

[updated 4:15 pm]

My brain sputtered at the beginning of this puzzle, with my first pass through the top of the grid yielding virtually nothing until I got to the far NE and 22A: Something that might be tucked under the chin, where I tentatively entered VIOLA (which was correct, thank god). From there, I meandered in a southwesterly direction, and I got well into the "Colorado" part of the grid before I even began to process what the hell the theme was all about. My main problem was that I was not reading the clues correctly - took me a while to figure out the ellipsis that begins each theme clue means that the ANSWER to the clue is supposed to precede (or stand in for) the ellipsis. So in a way, every answer has two clues, its own and the theme clue that succeeds it. Having two clues sounds like it would make things easier, and once I cottoned on to the theme, it did.

The "Circle of Friends" looks like this:

  • 23A: ... and 25-Across have "canine" surnames (Mark Spitz) - I had only ever heard of a "Finnish Spitz," but apparently SPITZ refers to a whole class of awfully cute dogs.
  • 25A: ... and 41-Across sang with their siblings (June Pointer) - highly aware of the POINTER Sisters - they wanted a man with a slow hand, as well as one who would jump for their love - but I don't think I knew any of their given names before today.
  • 41A: ... and 52-Across are Mormons (Donny Osmond) - this one could have been MARIE - curse their matching 5-letteredness.
  • 52A: ... and 69-Across have affiliations with "Jeopardy!" (Ken Jennings) - OK, this was the first theme answer I had in the grid, one I put in more based on the crosses than on my fully comprehending the gist of the clue. It was only when theme clues I'd looked at early began to seem to fit other answers that the whole "Circle" theme opened up. I was like "wait ... KEN JENNINGS is Mormon too ... wait ... what?" I'm telling you, something just wasn't clicking at first.
  • 69A: ... and 80-Across have mythological creatures as surnames (Merv Griffin)
  • 80A: ... and 99-Across starred in musicals and share their first names with a classic sitcom couple (Ethel Merman)
  • 99A: ... and 101-Across are known for their fancy footwork (Fred Astaire)
  • 101A: ... and 23-Across and Olympic gold medalists (Carl Lewis)

And with "gold medalists" we're back to MARK SPITZ.

Today's puzzle was above-average in terms of difficulty, but also well above-average in terms of entertainment value and cleverness. One of my favorite Sundays of the year (which is saying a lot, considering how much trouble it gave me early on). Lots of lively, fresh clues from lots of differently realms of knowledge, including pop culture clues that spanned much of the past century. Also, lots and lots of K's and J's. I'll tell you what I didn't know, then what I liked, and then I'll be done.

What I Didn't Know (or didn't know well, anyway)

19A: 1998 Andrea Bocelli operatic album (aria) - ooh this was frustrating - the most basic crossword fill hidden under this over-hyped Barnes & Noble Pavarotti. Yeah, I know he's blind, I don't care. Not a fan. He was on "American Idol" once though, to his ... credit?

32A: Poet with a seemingly self-contradictory name (Noyes) - superior clue. This is a "poet" I know only from crosswords, which is to say, this is a poet I don't "know" at all.

33A: Bundle of nerves (rete) - see 32A, only substitute "anatomical term" for "poet"

37A: Healing aid patented in 1872 (Vaseline) - news to me!

64A: News exec Roger (Ailes) - "News" to me!
11D: Cheryl of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (Hines) - don't watch it, so ???

52D: Singer/actress Akers (Karen) - again, who?

65A: Glockenspiels' kin (celestas) - Bartok wrote "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta," and that is all I know about CELESTAS. I never even thought to inquire what the hell kind of instrument a CELESTA was.

36D: Elizabeth Taylor's pet charity, for short (AMFAR) - an acronym the significance of which I have completely forgotten - ah, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. "Pet" is a bit belittling here...

89A: France's Oscar (César) - OK, I knew this, but if I hadn't had any crosses I never would have remembered it.

90A: "The Most Happy Fella" song ("Big D") - for "Dallas." I've been burned by BIGD before, because as you can see, it looks nuts in the grid (what ends in "-GD?"). I considered BIGD but didn't like it because I was certain that that "B" was a "T" - what else could 90D: Baffin Bay sights be but TERNS? (turns out, it could be, and is, BERGS). This meant I also had Xena's horse's name wrong (imagine that!?) - 105A: Xena's horse = ARGO (not ARNO, which is a river in Italy). BIG D had three fairly challenging crosses:

  • 81D: Close-fitting garment (maillot) - I know this only from the French phrase "MAILLOT de bain" - a swimsuit.
  • 82D: Georgia of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (Engel) - remember her face well, but not her name.
  • 83D: Erythrocyte (red cell)

Stuff I Liked

57A: The King of Pop, in headlines (Jacko)
57D: Half of Brangelina (Jolie)

Contemporary tabloid answers that intersect at the "J"! Brilliant.

37D: Mission _____, Calif. (Viejo) - yes, if you are going to have a partial, make it a good one. This answer looks Awesome in the grid. Five letters with a J and a V? Sign me up.

58A: 1980s-'90s N.B.A. star Danny (Ainge) - annoying little jerk, but played on the Celtics when they won it all in '86, so I will always have fondness for him.

91A: Bailiwick of TV's Matlock (Atlanta) - God I love this clue in so many ways, from the word "bailiwick" to the hilarity of "Matlock" (most beloved show of everyone at the Springfield Retirement Community on "The Simpsons") to the banality of the answer, ATLANTA, which could have been clued a billion different ways less interesting than this one.

89D: Cicada sound (chirr) - that "sound" sounds so made-up (I wanted WHIRR), but I like it.

71D: Round all around (spherical) - SPHERICAL HAM! (only about three people are going to get that, but whatever ... SPHERICAL is a beautiful-looking word)

10D: Rogaine alternative (toupée) - I was looking for another medicine or topical ointment or something, but no - good old-fashioned rug. Nice.
66D: Leader of the Mel-Tones (Tormé) - Slightly better than cluing him as "The Velvet Fog," which is itself a very good clue.

96D: Bob of the P.G.A. (Tway) - with that crazy name, he should be in the grid a Lot more.

61A: He reached his peak in 1806 (Pike) - just a great clue. "The Most Accessible Mountain in Colorado."

45A: Compass point suffix (-ern). An ERN is an ERN is an ERN, and by any other name would still be this site's official mascot and still say "CAW!"

I'll clean this up later. Off to breakfast with friends.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Just a couple late thoughts...

92D: Think way back? (trow) - This one is rough, in a good way. Sometimes I like it rough. You really gotta know your Early Modern English to pick up on this one.

51D: "The Female Eunuch" author (Greer) - a gimme for me, but only because I saw the title probably every day of my life on the spine of the book on my mom's bookshelf. Never read it.

Alright, that's it. I'm spent from watching the Yankees / Sox game. I get more and more nervous as the game comes to a close, even when we are in very good shape. ESPECIALLY, when we are in very good shape. Thankfully, this one ended well. Still, I'm tired. Good day.


SATURDAY, Apr. 28, 2007 - Sherry O. Blackard

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy to Medium

THEME: nope

There are many surprising aspects to this puzzle.

Returning Obscurities

15A: Cosmetics dye: Var. (eosine)
41D: Russia's Rostov, e.g. (oblast)

OBLAST was in the puzzle just last week - I know because I blogged it after it came from outer space to wreak havoc on my world. O-BLAST will be the first superpower I give my as yet uncreated superhero avatar. EOSINE ... I know I've seen it recently. It was in the NE of some puzzle, and I had to guess at the "S." I was prepared for both of these jerks. It's always nice not to get bitten twice.

Pantheonic Words Aplenty

Since when is this much crosswordese allowed admission to the Saturday puzzle? I'd expect maybe one little word - something that couldn't quite be avoided, clued in an insane way so as to hide its commonness, like a zit under concealing powder. But here, we're not talking one zit - we're talking a full-on breakout, and all the genius cluing in the world couldn't hide it if it tried. First there are successive Pantheon members of the Highest Order:
  • 23A: Louvre Pyramid designer (Pei) - the very first entry I ever wrote, way back on September 25, included a write-up of this guy and his Louvriciousness. He is A-List Pantheon material (though I currently have him as C-List ... that will have to change).
  • 24A: First name in courtroom drama (Erle) - little harder to see than PEI, but one of the few proper nouns that is actually more Pantheonic than Pei. Possibly the most Pantheonic proper noun (and yet ... he is not in the Pantheon! Massive oversight. That will have to change).
In addition to these two chums, there is the near-Pantheon TYPE-A (37A: Far from laid-back), the surprisingly widespread ESTERS (44D: Lactates, e.g.) and then, with ESTERS, two more lackluster entries in the SE that you could have filled in in their entireties with only the gimme letters from "Wheel of Fortune" (R, L, S, T, N and E): 56A: Secondary (lesser) and 58A: Joins (enters). Ugh, I just noticed that TYPE-A intersects STEREOTYPE (8D: Cast in a certain role) at the "P" - ugly.

General Lack of Scrabbliness

Just look at how many sizeable answers are overwhelmingly "WOF" (new word for a word that can be completely deciphered from the aforementioned "Wheel of Fortune" letters):
  • 7A: Gauged (assessed)
  • 14D: Something a loser may skip (dessert) - that "loser" bit is a bush-league attempt at a fake-out
  • 6D: Catfish Row in "Porgy and Bess," e.g. (tenement) - really like the clue, though
  • 35D: Feeler (tentacle) - also a virtual gimme
  • 28D: Victorious soldier in May 1775 (Ethan Allen) - super-easy to guess with just the first couple letters in place, but goes nicely with the other Revolutionary-era clue in the puzzle (and also one of the randomest partials ever), 7D: "What _____ of the face is here!": Thomas Paine, "Common Sense" ("a slap")
Now I realize that RLSTNE are perfectly good letters, and I'm not suggesting in any way that they are to be especially avoided. But, when they take over the grid like kudzu ... especially on a Saturday ... well, I think you have a problem.

A 13-Letter Gimme

Today's IDENTITY THEFT (32A: Wallet loser's concern) is possibly the longest straight-up gimme I've ever encountered. It must surely be the very first phrase that pops into most folk's minds upon reading the clue, and it fits, and it's the most crucial answer in terms of giving you access to all parts of the puzzle. I love the phrase here, but it needed to be clued at a higher level of difficulty.

The Rest

I enjoyed the intersection of 34D: Sommer of "The Prize" (Elke) and 45A: Three-time speed skating gold medalist Karin (Enke) because, together, their names sound like the title of a comic strip about a couple of precocious and possibly super-powered children who fight evil-doers somewhere in Germany. TRIVET (1A: Table saver) is a nice, semi-unusual word I haven't seen in the grid lately, if ever. Sadistic constructors who want to use TRIVET in the future might think of cluing it via Nicholas TRIVET, a prolific and important (though now barely known) scholar and chronicle-writer of early 14th-century England. DPS (21A: Twin killings, in baseball: Abbr.) was a gimme (short for "double plays"), and the first thing I entered in the grid. Don't know if the Red Sox turned any DPS in their demolition of the Yankees last night. I'll have to check. INUIT (29A: Language from which "kayak" comes) was yet another gimme in this puzzle, bringing the total now up to something like half a dozen! 54A: Lévi-Strauss of France (Claude) - yet another gimme, especially for those who have gone to graduate school in the humanities or social sciences since 1980.

For all my grousing about the puzzle, it does have some admirable features. First, I learned a new word in ISOGON (3D: Rectangle or square) - so much prettier than yesterday's math-related ADDENDS. I may have seen TABLAS (48A: They may accompany sitars) before, but if so, I forgot it, and had to make an educated guess as to that second "A" - where TABLAS crossed the unknown (to me) Harry LAUDER (43D: Knighted Scottish singer Harry). I figured LAUDER was more likely than LEUDER or LOUDER, etc. Thanks to ESTEE LAUDER for establishing name precedent. Don't even know who Little Nell is, let alone that her last name is TRENT (31A: Last name of Dickens's Little Nell), but this clue is better than [Council of _____]. I would also have accepted [QB Green].

Two great female figures of pop culture make appearances today in ROWENA Ravenclaw (2D: Miss Ravenclaw, who co-founded Hogwarts School) and EVE ARDEN (55A: Player of Principal McGee in "Grease"). We have just begun reading the Harry Potter books to our 6-year-old at bedtime and she is intrigued, if somewhat worried that things will get excessively scary at any second. And long-time readers of the blog will know my affection for all things "Grease" (the 1978 movie, that is), mostly having to do with my life-long crush on Good Sandy (not the leathered tart at the end of the movie). 50D: Early copter (giro) looks odd - that "I" really wants to be a "Y." My favorite word in the puzzle just may be DICKERED (33D: Did some horse trading) - there's something pleasingly old-fashioned about it. Lastly, there are two very cute "?" clues: 42D: Top of a closet? (blouse) and 32D: Cry after falling hard? ("I'm in love!"). I'll leave you on that ecstatic note. Enjoy this spring Saturday, even if it's gloomy and rainy like it is here.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, Apr. 27, 2007 - Randolph Ross

Friday, April 27, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy to medium

THEME: no way, man

I had the great, great privilege of teaching Raymond Carver short stories to my wife's very precocious and amusing high-schoolers this morning. It was, no lie, the best teaching experience I've had in recent memory. Not sure what that says about me, my regular students, or these kids I taught today, but I don't really care, either. Magical. Reminded me why I got into this profession in the first place. ANYway, the puzzle had to take a back seat. Sorry, puzzle. I hope this commentary is not too late to be useful or at least interesting.

This was an adequate Friday puzzle - a bit on the easy side, with only a couple of stumpers (easily overcome via crosses). I like how the RAMONEs (16A: Rock's Dee Dee, Joey, Johnny or Marky) keep getting invited back to the grid again and again and again. I think they've been an answer in at least three late-week puzzles since I began blogging. Hang on, I'm going to put them on iTunes now for inspiration. Why don't I have anything by them except their cover of the TV "Spider-Man" theme song??? Well, it'll do, as one RAMONEs song has this way of sounding, at its core, like all the others. Driving three-chord awesomeness. The 15-letter answers here aren't that interesting, and I'm nearly certain I've seen one of them - SARASOTA SPRINGS (45A: Resort town northwest of Naples) - in a puzzle recently. The other, DRAWBRIDGE AHEAD (19A: Sign before a crossing) is OK ... it just sort of lies there, but it's not bad. In general, there was a lack of scintillating fill in today's grid. Very little that seemed particularly original, and the Scrabble quotient was decidedly Low.

9A: Rain forest denizens (okapis) - my favorite x-word animal! This was the first clue I answered ... only I answered LEMURS. Of all the answers one might go with ... I picked LEMURS. Not sure why? Discovered LEMURS was wrong when RAMONE (a gimme) went in underneath it. RAMONE gave me INCA (13D: Temple of the Sun worshiper) and old school x-word stalwart AMAH (11D: Mother's helper in Madras), and the rest of the NE pretty much crumbled from there.

9D: Monteverdi opera ("Orfeo") - coincidentally, after I had the "R" this was a total gimme for me. I say "coincidentally" because ... coincidentally ... I taught the English romance "Sir Orfeo" and a later Scottish version of the same story called "Orpheus & Eurydice" this past week, and we talked about the connection between Orpheus and song, and how there are many operas based on his story (a bunch of which are being performed at Cooperstown this summer, or so I'm told). Anyway, opera's not really my bag, but today's clue came at just the right moment for me.

10D: Block splitter (karate chop) - I love this phrase. My daughter and wife both take karate. Neither of them can split blocks yet. As far as I know.

21A: 2000 film "Billy _____" ("Elliot") - saw this sappy movie about the dancing kid (who conned me into that?), and still totally blocked the name. The one-T'd ELLIOT appears to be reasonably unusual - I mean, compared to two-T'd ELLIOTT (Gould, Chris, Missy, Yamin, etc. - all two-T'd, I think).

22A: Author of "Oedipus at Colonus" (Sophocles) - Sophocles was a Red Sox fan. Or so I hear.

17A: Got going after a crash (rebooted) - this long word was the first thing I was able to get in the NW, and, as usual, the letter with the highest Scrabble value provided the most information - the "B" helped me get REBA (3D: Hart family sitcom) despite the fact that I've never seen even a second of that alleged sitcom. Both WORKSHOP (1A: Training session) and OPEN LINE (15A: Opportunity for a radio talk show caller) took me far longer to get than they should have. I had GIVE AWAY (??) then OPEN MIKE before I ever had OPEN LINE.

2D: Abbr. to the right of a star (Oper.) - this is clever. Phone keypad cluing is always fun. I did not figure out what the hell this meant until well after I'd completed the puzzle.

7D: Hollywood's Ed and Jennifer (O'Neills) - can't picture either one in my head right now, but this was easily inferrable from crosses. Was Jennier O'NEILL in "Summer of '42?" Oh yes, yes she was. I take it back: I can certainly picture her in my head. Right now. Memorable.

34D: Trying person (attempter) - I want to make a noise here of a buzzer going off, a horrible noice REJECTING this answer as in any way acceptable. This falls solidly under the Odd Jobs category of entry, which I can't stand. You can add -ER to any verb to get a noun. This does not mean that you should.

28D: Highest point on the Ohio & Erie Canal (Akron) - yet another claim to fame for this ridiculously over-represented American city. In the NYT puzzle, AKRON is by far the most frequently recurring Ohio place name (if you discount the name of the Great Lake it borders). Reader Wendy is no doubt proud of her little town. Again, the most Scrabbly letter (here, the "K") allowed me to get this otherwise potentially elusive answer.

38D: U.S.A.F. rank (SSGT.) - that's "staff sergant." I got beat up by that abbreviation once in my life. No more.

22D: Surprise visitor to Israel in 1977 (Sadat) - remember when peace in the Middle East seemed almost possible? No, of course you don't. Puzzle-wise, I prefer SADAT's more Scrabbly first name, ANWAR.

35A: Reagan adviser Michael (Deaver) - yowza. Good one. Had to get a few crosses before my memory was sufficiently jogged. You really have to have lived through that era to have any hope in hell of getting that one.

Three words I just don't like the looks of ...

  • 37A: Figures above a line (addends) - when NUMERATORS wouldn't fit, I stabbed at this one and guessed right ... but I still don't like the word. So many great, lyrical words from the world of mathematics (e.g. quadratic, parabola, etc.) - this one is just clunky and dull.
  • 43A: Memory imprint (engram) - I have no idea what the clue means, let alone the answer. Isn't an ENGRAM one of those personality tests? Or is that an ENNEOGRAM? IDIOGRAM? JAMES INGRAM?
  • 52D: Growl (gnar) - yuck. A hundred times yuck. You would never say this. No, you wouldn't. GNAR is missing at least one letter, possibly two.
I was super-proud of myself for getting SEA SALT (39D: Condiment in gourmet cooking) off of just "SE-" and ELEVEN A.M. (57A: When many Veterans Day ceremonies are scheduled - Veterans Day = 11/11) off of just the -LE- - though it should have been very easy for most people to get once you got the gimme of a "V" cross, RAVI (49D: Sitarist Shankar). Never heard of a CATALINA salad dressing (55A: Type of salad dressing), never read a word of "The Devil Wore PRADA" (24D: Label in a Lauren Weisberger title) and never ever shop at SAM'S Club (53D: ____ Club), but managed to get them all anyway.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld



Commentary forthcoming. Had special teaching assignment early this morning, so no chance to blog puzzle. ETA on today's commentary .... let's say, 1:30pm



THURSDAY, Apr. 26, 2007 - Mike Nothnagel

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium Rare

[Updated, 10:20 a.m.]

THEME: an ARM and a LEG ... and an ARM and a LEG - rebus puzzle with two "ARM"s, two "LEG"s, and a grid-traversing, theme-indicating central answer, 37A: Bargaining phrase ... and a hint to this puzzle's theme ("It's gonna cost you!")

I am very sorry that I have little time to write up this puzzle today, because it's a good one. My favorite part is actually IT'S GONNA COST YOU - nicely colloquial, and indicates the theme clearly but somewhat indirectly. Points to "an ARM and a LEG" but stands on its own as a perfectly in-the-language phrase. Nice nice nice.

When did you realize you were dealing with a rebus? My first indication that something was screwy came when I couldn't get DEAR! to work for 2D: "My stars!" ... but it had to be DEAR! It wanted to be DEAR ME! but of course that wouldn't fit ... Abandoned the NW in favor of the NE where I had NOBLE GAS for 9D: One column in the periodic table ... but that felt wrong. Shouldn't it be NOBLE GASES? Plus, NOBLE GAS gave me the indecipherable --LEDLY for 21A: Frequently used adverb on Court TV. Not sure what finally tipped me off to a rebus, but I think it might have something to do with a totally unrelated clue: 25A: Dog-_____, which I really wanted to be LEG (ended up being EAR). Coincidentally, that answer sits just beneath what I eventually discovered to be the first rebus square, containing the word ... LEG: NOB[leg]ASES intersects AL[leg]EDLY, and aha aha aha! Well, maybe just one aha, because I wasn't quite sure what the significance of the rebus was yet (although to my credit my first thought was, in fact, something to do with ARMS and LEGS). Maybe just LEGs ... maybe appendage names ...

Eventually saw that 17A: Events for some teens had to be BARMITZVAHS - even thought it didn't fit - and so the ARM snuggled into its rebus position, giving me the DE[arm]E! I hadn't wanted for 2D way back when I started the puzzle. From there, the puzzle was fairly smooth - though not at all boring.

Our other ARM and LEG involved the following clues:

  • 38D: Food company whose name is spelled out in its advertising jingle (Osc[ARM]eyer)
  • 48A: Starts to like, with "to" (w[ARM]s)
  • 60A: Something never shown in bars (circ[LEG]raph)
  • 47D: Feature of many a pirate (peg [LEG])
This last intersection is by far my least favorite, for two reasons. First, that clue at 60A is wicked hard, and the answer is not a phrase I hear, ever. Do you mean PIE CHART? Because if so, the phrase is ... PIE CHART. Good for PI rebus, not so much for ARM / LEG rebus. Second, PEG [LEG] is horribly out of place among all the other rebus-affected answers, as LEG is used literally, where in all other instances, ARM and LEG are used as letter sequences in non-ARM, non-LEG contexts. That's the rebus gold standard - rebus should not be used literally in any of its crosses. Or so SEZ REX, anyway.

Anyway, the puzzle was still a blast. I'll add a handful more observations a little later in the morning. Wanted to get this up quickly, before I take Sahra to school - very busy day today. Aside from a full day of teaching / meetings / what not, we've got Sahra's Spring Concert tonight - and I have to prepare to teach my wife's high-schoolers tomorrow! Currently, as if to mock me, the song "Too Much Pressure" by the ska band The Selecter is playing on my iTunes (set on "random play"). They just keep repeating "Too Much Pressure!" At least they are singing it in a fun, bouncy, danceable way and not in an ominous, gloomy, soul-crushing way.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS - back for a few more observations. I'm giving myself 15 minutes. Go!

9A: Fancy button material (nacre) - for how common these letters are, you don't see this word very often in puzzles. I had IVORY here to start with. Other confusion in the puzzle included my having STAG for CO-ED (11D: Not same-sex), which is not only wrong, but so wrong that I literally could not have been wronger if I'd tried.

55A: Places of prayer and reflection (pagodas) - I would never, in a million years, have come up with this answer for this clue. To me, pagodas are like ... vendor stalls at a fair or mall or something. This was one of many clues that made the SE the roughest part of the puzzle for me.

56D: Brave (dare) - hmmm. I think this is a rather iffy verb-for-adjective switcheroo. "Brave" can take a direct object. Can DARE? I mean, it can, but ... One can "brave" a storm, but you would not DARE a storm (unless you were insane or Noah or something, and even then you'd be daring it TO DO something).

The SE corner was chock full o' these one-word clues. In addition to [Brave] you have:

57D: Mimic (aper) (noun or verb?)
58D: Drop (shed) (noun or verb?)
67A: Gather (herd) (pretty much only a verb)

I am not a poker fan, and despise the cultural / ESPN obsession therewith, and yet I love the doubling-down on poker over in "Maryland" portion of the puzzle:

31D: Start of a poker game (buy-in)
32D: Poker player's declaration ("I fold!")

I have to go to the STACKS (46D: Library area) sometime soon to do research for a book I may or may not be writing. I like the word APRON for 50D: Stage part, though I forget which part of the stage the APRON is. Normally like echoes in a puzzle, but wasn't that fond of DE[arm]E bouncing off the bottom of the puzzle and returning as AH, ME! (52D: "Alas!"). In my experience (with 30's gangster movies), finks do not engage in TATTLING (4D: Fink's activity). Kindergarteners do that. "Finks" rat people out, hence the expression RAT FINK. I'll close with my favorite pair of answers in this puzzle, which happen to intersect:
  • 63A: "All right already!" (OK, OK) - perfect, everyday expression that I haven't seen recently, if ever, in a puzzle.
  • 61D: "South Park" brother (Ike) - I've seen IKE clued this way before, I think, but it always makes me smile when tertiary characters on animated shows somehow make their ways into the grid.
Signed again, RP, K of CW


WEDNESDAY, Apr. 25, 2007 - John Farmer

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Relative Difficulty: Medium high

THEME: QWERTY KEYBOARDS (7D: Places to find the letters circled in the grid) - 26 circles contain every letter of the alphabet, in approximately the same place on the grid as you would find those letters on a QWERTY KEYBOARD

At least the second keyboard-themed puzzle of the year. The last one had the three rows of letters as discrete entries (qwertyuiop, etc.), where here, letters are not in a row but in looser relationship to each other (I'm reminded of the Sunday puzzle several months back where state codes were placed on the grid roughly in relationship to where they'd be if the grid were an actual map of the U.S.). Anyway, I got caught off-guard by this puzzle, and for the first couple of minutes I was lost, wandering around the grid, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. My main problem was that the theme-revealing clue (7D: Places to find the letters circled in the grid) was phrased in a way that did not at all indicate letter placement. All I could think, even after I got QWERTY KEYBOARDS, was "so ... all 26 letters will be in here ... that's it?" You can find ANY letter in ANY grid on a QWERTY KEYBOARD, so ... no help. Truth be told, it wasn't til I was totally done that I noticed the significance of the circle placement.

Lots of trouble at the top of the grid, but for the second day in a row I feasted on the "Maryland" portion of the grid, which gave me traction, finally, and I was able to appreciate some of the niceness of the grid without the initial feeling of frustration at flailing around.

Two trouble spots


My studies tell me that 1A: King who united England (Edward) should have been ALFRED, which not only fits, but as you can see, shares several letters with the actual answers. So ALFRED went in and I went straight to work on the crosses ... and got zilch (even off of the correct letters). Moved over to 7A: Game period (qtr.) and wanted QTR but thought "no, that's stupid, that wouldn't be the answer." So I left it. Eventually got back into NW, but ONLY because I finally deciphered the first word in the answer to 17A: Teleologist's concern (ultimate purpose). I knew TELOS meant roughly "end point," but staring at ______TE PURPOSE was getting me nowhere. Finally got the (for some reason) elusive 6D: Bureau part (drawer), which gave me the "A" in ULTIMATE, and that was enough. Annoyed that I hadn't gotten WATTS (3D: Actress Naomi of "Mulholland Dr." - fantastic movie, btw), but would never in a million years have gotten AKIO (4D: Sony co-founder Morita) without the crosses. Always love the tricky cluing of QUAKER as 14A: Friend - but as with WATTS, was annoyed I hadn't thought of it more quickly. The most embarrassing moment for me, however, was being baffled by 1D: Like two dimes and four nickels (equal). I wanted TWENTY (wouldn't fit), then FORTY (seemed too lame), etc. etc.


The problems here begin with 10A: Hinged closer (hasp), where I fell right into the DOOR trap. When the obvious SASE (12D: MS. enclosure) made DOOR impossible, I didn't bother erasing DOOR completely, which ended up confusing me visually. Then when I saw 11D: On I immediately thought of the correct answer (ATOP), but somehow, in the chaos and dust and noise, I actually entered ON TOP ("ON" is not only in the clue, it is the clue, you moron!). So things were mangled up there in the NE. You can see why I moved to "Maryland." The NW and NE ended up being the last parts of the puzzle I solved (very much the opposite of normal).

Other Noteworthy Moments

26A: Part of the verb "to be," to Popeye ("yam") - sweeeeet answer. Comics and colloquialisms, two of my favorite puzzle categories, brought together in some kind of perfect, peanut butter-and-chocolate candy concoction. I have a gigantic book of early "Popeye" comics by my bedside - the first of many (gorgeous) volumes that will reprint the comic's entire run. "Dick Tracy" is getting similar treatment. Both are very, very highly recommended. Not only are the comics fantastic, but the books themselves are really beautiful - an important issue for me, as I am constantly lamenting how @#$#-ing ugly most books are these days.

44A: August 15, 1945 (VJ-Day) - damn that looks good in the grid. Nice, concise clue too.

48A: Carrier with the in-flight magazine Scanorama (SAS) - The "Scan-" part of the clue should've tipped me off, but it didn't. I am very bad at airline abbreviations (see my recent JAL problem). Had to get this all by crosses.

49A: Actress Gardner (Ava) - Hot hot hot. At least one of my readers (now a fellow blogger) is likely very happy today.

65A: Lamebrain, in slang (Nimrod)

Had NITWIT, but this is so much better. Wasn't NIMROD the "Mighty hunter before the Lord" in the Bible ... somewhere? How did NIMROD come to mean "lamebrain?" Well, after a little "research," this is the answer I found. If this is true (and even if it's not), this is officially the best bit of information I've ever learned from Wikipedia:

A nimrod may refer to a silly or foolish person. This usage most likely originated with the classic cartoon character Bugs Bunny, who referred to Elmer Fudd as a "poor little Nimrod." While this was most likely meant to refer to the biblical character of Nimrod, described as "a mighty hunter," the word came to connote one who was easily confounded.

68A: Oliver Twist an others (gamins) - Good, but I prefer to think of Twist and his ilk as URCHINS, which is one of the English language's finest words.

9D: Worker who makes rounds (route man) - what the hell is a ROUTE MAN? This is not a phrase I've ever heard (sounds like something you might call a wide receiver in football - or your postman, if you wanted to give him a nobler-sounding title).

34D: One-named singer with the 2001 hit "Thank You" - every bone in my body wanted this answer to be ENYA, before I'd even seen that the answer was in fact four letters long. I'd completely forgotten about DIDO, who has a pleasant if somewhat boring voice. Why would you call yourself DIDO!? Unless you are going to stab yourself atop a funeral pyre you've constructed yourself out of artifacts left behind by your faithless, epic-hero lover, you have no business using this name.

Finally, since they're standing right next to each other in the SE of the puzzle, I'd like to introduce two crossword staples to one another. Ahem: NIA, MIA. MIA, NIA.

60D: Soccer star Mia (HAMM)
62D: Actress Long (Nia) - Sorry, Nia. My loyalties still lie with Shelley.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Apr. 24, 2007 - Brendan Emmett Quigley

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: -ZZY - four theme answers all feature "celebrities" with first names ending in -ZZY

Not the most imaginative theme in the world, but it gets you a lot of Z's, which makes for some inventive crosses. Didn't we have a double-double-Z theme not too long ago, with answers like FUZZY WUZZY and (gag) HUZZAH HUZZAH? This seems to be of a lower order of difficulty, but there are still a lot of answers that make it a pleasing puzzle overall.

The theme answers:

17A: Pitcher of baseball's Gas House Gang (Dizzy Dean)
30A: Golf's 1984 U.S. Open winner (Fuzzy Zoeller)
44A: Patriarch on an MTV reality show (Ozzy Osbourne)
60A: The Fresh Prince's partner DJ (Jazzy Jeff)

Strangely, DIZZY DEAN - the first of these that I got - did not give me the theme, and if memory serves, I ended up in the far SE, with JAZZY JEFF, before I got another theme answer and figured out what the theme was. Not sure how I traversed the grid without picking up either FUZZY or OZZY, but there it is. I think I didn't know the former and didn't see the clue for the latter until very late. My favorite answer is JAZZY JEFF, both because it's the most out-of-left-field (all the other answers are famous in their own right, while JAZZY is famous primarily as a sidekick), and because you get not only two "Z"s but two "J"s. FUZZY ZOELLER gets an honorable mention for its triple-Z factor. Speaking of "honorable mention," a former student of mine just won "honorable mention" in the Atlantic Monthly's student writing contest, and I'm exceedingly proud of her. She doesn't attend college here anymore, sadly (for me). She now attends a University whose initials are seen not infrequently in crosswords. Hint: this school is not in Durham.

Today's puzzle had me very frustrated at one point because - well, normally I solve all early-week puzzles in an unbroken chain of answers, working off crosses rather than jumping around to empty parts of the grid. But yesterday I hit a point where I couldn't continue in that fashion. Three different Down clues, unknown to me, kept me from being able to work my way out of the top of the puzzle and into the middle. I had to reboot over in the "Maryland" portion of the puzzle somewhere (thank you, WENDY - 28D: "Peter Pan" heroine). It's a rare Tuesday puzzle that can freeze me like that. The three Downs that kept me stuck:

  • 8D: Exotic dancer Lola (Montez) - Mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria who somehow ends up performing exotic (i.e. underwear-free) dances for Australian miners... "Whatever Lola wants / Lola gets" ... yeah, that's her.
  • 18D: Syrian/Lebanese religious group (Druze) - this sounds familiar, but I can't tell you what it means without looking it up... OK, I just read the first part of this "article" and I still don't fully understand. The opening paragraph under "History" reads: "Analogous with Jews, Druze are an ancient people who preexist modern constructs of identity. In some ways, Druze are a nation, an ethnicity, a tribal kinship, a religion, and so on, and in some ways not really any of these." Thanks for the help, Wikipedia!
  • 22D: _____ y plata (oro) - my Spidey-sense tells me that this is an old crossword standard. I'm well aware that ORO is Spanish for "gold," but this expression slipped my mind.
Other than those answers, this puzzle was pretty tractable. Of note:

57A: With "cum" and 32-Down, a diploma phrase (magna / laude) - You had me at "cum"

63A: How the confident solve (in pen) - little shout-out to all the hard-core solvers. Nice touch. I always think of the phrase as IN INK, but this'll do. I solve in pencil. I'm pretty damned confident.

2D: Theater awards since 1956 (Obies) - this is just to remind me that the Pantheon needs updating. I don't believe this word has ever been considered, but I don't see how you can expect to solve crosswords efficiently without it.

25D: Russian autocrat: Var. (tzar) - good to see the variant spelling of this word get some play. TSAR and CZAR are the other spellings I know. There seems to have been a marked uptick in "Var."-containing clues this year compared to last. That's just an impression - I haven't counted.

39D: Pouty look (moue) - makes a return to the grid. Appeared recently. It's a weird word I wouldn't use. Looks like a typo for MOUSE. MOUE gets you a nice, unusual three-vowel combo.

43D: Baseball's David, nicknamed "Big Papi" (Ortiz) - "I love it when you call me 'Big Papi!'" After Saint Manny, Ortiz is my second favorite player on the Red Sox. I call him "Grimace," as he looks eerily like the amorphous, purple, shake-loving McDonald's muppet of the same name. See also yesterday's discussion of his future, genetically engineered, and as-yet fictional baseball-playing son, A-ORTA.

The other day, in Barnes & Noble, I saw a special deck of UNO dedicated entirely to David Ortiz. All I can say is that better be in my stocking come ("cum" ... "cwm") Christmas time.

Off to teach.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Apr. 23, 2007 - David Pringle

Monday, April 23, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Fingers - five theme answers, four of which contain words that name various fingers on the human hand, and a fifth to clue the theme: 37A: Identify exactly ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme (put one's finger on)

This puzzle needs a THUMB. Other than that, it's just fine.

Did the puzzle on the NYT applet and felt like I never hesitated - I knew nearly every answer at a glance - and yet still I only tied my fastest time ever, which is still well over a minute slower than the fastest people. My grid navigation skillz need toning. They are good, but they are not yet, as the kids say, mad.

I should have blogged this puzzle yesterday evening. I barely remember it now, primarily because of the intervening major excitement of last night's Yankees / Red Sox game, which was almost too much for my still-fairly-young heart. I had two beers, which for me is binge-drinking. I had about a pound of guacamole - I stress-eat like crazy when watching sporting events. I threw my cap around the room, I jumped out of my seat shouting at the TV and slumped down in my seat cringing and high-fived people like an extra in a Miller Lite commercial. Let's see, how can I connect this to the puzzle? Oh, I know: this puzzle has four fingers in it:

17A: 3" x 5" aids for speakers (INDEX cards)
23A: Corporate office staffers (MIDDLE managers)
47A: Fonzie's girl on "Happy Days" (PINKY Tuscadero)
58A: Head of a cabal (RING leader)

And I needed all four of those fingers to count the back-to-back-to-back-to-back home-runs the Red Sox hit in the third inning of last night's game (including one from AGING - 22D: Getting on in years - third baseman Mike Lowell, whom I routinely call "Old Man" despite the fact that he is younger than I am). Let me recount the number of "backs" I wrote in there ... yep, that's right, FOUR. In a row. That hasn't happened in the A.L. in forty years (Dodgers did it in the N.L. very recently) and has only happened five times in the history of Major League Baseball. Sadly, this resulted in only a total of four runs (a single grand SLAM - 29A: Shut loudly - could have done that), which was only enough to take a one-run lead, which we promptly lost ... but then we got it back but then the Yankees threatened but then the Sox brought in the best closer in all of baseball, creating a NO-WIN (25D: Hopeless, as a situation) situation for the Yanks (though, truth be told, the Yanks could have gone ahead with one swing of the bat).

I'm fairly certain that if I'd tried hard, I could have worked MESS, SPIKE, SIGNS, FOE, EKED, and AMOK into the above write-up as well.

Before I forget, allow me to say that PINKY TUSCADERO makes me happier than any theme answer has made me in a good, long while.

5D: Deep gap (chasm)
15A: Worm's place, on a fishing line (hook)

Last night's starting Yankee pitcher was CHASE Wright, and no, CHASE is not the same as CHASM, but it's close, and the kid certainly got the HOOK after the third inning, making CHASM / HOOK a favorite intersection of mine this morning. I also like the nearby POD (7D: Pea holder) because the "P" abuts an "A," giving you an L-shaped "A-Pod" which is like A-ROD, but missing something (like, say, the chance to get a hit when it mattered last night ... burn!). The last baseball-related thing I will say today is that I long for the day when a player named "Alexander Orta" enters the league so that I can revel in the experience of calling him A-ORTA (6D: Main artery) every chance I get.

I don't think there's a lot more to comment on in this grid. PINKY creates some interesting crosses, including a rarely seen Monday "Var." in NARKS (38D: Drug agents: Var.) and the somewhat oddly spelled (and deliciously pop cultural) ELLY (39D: _____ May of "The Beverly Hillbillies"). DEISM is slightly high-end for a Monday. Why is it "Basic?" The clue makes it sound like the answer should be a generic term (TENET, say) rather than a specific -ISM. The term LUX is familiar to me from crosswords, but I couldn't define it for you, I don't think. I mean, it's Latin for light. That would be my definition. I appreciate the "Z" in the NW (where GRAZES - 9D: Barely injures in passing - meets AZURE - 22A: Sky-blue); unthemed Scrabbliness is always appreciated. Nice pairing of ODORS and REEKS (both clued as [Stinks]), especially as REEKS sits next to both OGRES (who REEK, or so I'm told) and an OGRE-related movie answer - 51D: Murphy who's heard in "Shrek" (Eddie).

I'm done.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Apr. 22, 2007 - Vic Fleming

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy to Medium
THEME: "For April - National Poetry Month" - six different long theme answers are all quotations that begin "Poetry is..."

[updated 11:45 a.m.]

An astonishingly elegant Sunday puzzle from Vic Fleming today. I solved it in very leisurely fashion (such that my handwriting is actually legible) - a bit just before dinner, and then the rest while sitting on the couch watching the latest episode of "The Riches" (our newest TV addiction). What I'm most impressed by in this puzzle ... well, there are two things. One is that the non-theme fill is Great, with Scrabbly letters in odd places and some highly original pop culture clues and about half a dozen answers I just didn't know. The other, more impressive feature of the puzzle is that only one of the quotations about poetry made me want to vomit. The rest were FRESH and striking and didn't sound like they came out of the mouth of some poser beatnik or touchy-feely earth mother type. See if you can guess which one I did NOT like. The answer may surprise you:

  • 25A: With 36-Across, "Poetry is..." (Osbert Sitwell) [uh ... who?] ("... like fish. If it's / fresh it's good")
  • 59A: "Poetry is ..." (Joseph Roux) [uh ... who?] ("... truth in its Sunday clothes")
  • 81A: With 89-Across, "Poetry is..." (Carl Sandburg) [uh ... who? ... just kidding] ("... an echo asking a / shadow to dance")
  • 111A: "Poetry is..." (Edith Sitwell) ("... the deification of reality")
  • 128A: "Poetry is..." (Pablo Neruda) ("... an act of peace")
  • 148A: "Poetry is..." (E. E. Cummings) ("... being not doing")
Apparently the "e. e. cummings" spelling of that poet's name is more publisher decision than anything else - lower-case spelling highlighted Cummings' disregard for conventions of capitalization in his poetry, but it did not reflect his own preference for how his name should be spelled.

The following is one of the more memorable exchanges of all time between Bart and Lisa Simpson - from episode 3F02 of "The Simpsons" ("Bart Sells His Soul"). After Bart sells his soul to Milhouse for $5, he begins to lose many of his more positive human traits, including his ability to laugh (also, his ability to be detected by automatic sliding-glass door sensors, but that's another story). After watching a particularly gruesome "Itchy & Scratchy" cartoon, which would normally make him howl with laughter, Bart has no reaction. This sets up the following conversation with Lisa, who has been haranguing her disbelieving brother about the perils of selling his soul.
Bart: I know that's funny, but I'm just not laughing.  [taps head]
Lisa: Hmm. Pablo Neruda said, "Laughter is the language of the soul."
Bart (haughtily): I am familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda.
One of my favorite "Simpsons" lines of all times. Use it next time anyone condescends to you about anything.

17A: 1947 crime drama ("T-Men") - I'll take 1940's crime fiction for $1000, Alex. See also 52A: Ella of "Phantom Lady" (Raines) - I didn't know her name, but the 1944 movie (based on a Cornell Woolrich novel of the same name) is pretty famous - the first film noir from one of the greatest noir directors of all time, Robert Siodmak (a crosswordy name if I ever saw one).

21A: Block in the Southwest (adobe) - I love this clue for some reason, perhaps because I couldn't quite see what meaning of "block" the clue was going for.

93A: QB Rodney (Peete) - whoa, that's a sports obscurity for people who don't follow football, I'm guessing. He's not exactly a Hall-of-Famer. From Wikipedia - this is the LEAD info on his professional career:
Peete did not achieve stardom in his professional career in the National Football League (NFL), but he did play well enough to sustain his place in the league for 16 seasons, primarily as a back-up. His career was also riddled with injuries. He was drafted with the 141st pick of the 1989 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions
Not exactly the stuff of legend. He's better known for his work on "The Best Damn Sports Show Period" and for being married to actress Holly Robinson. And even with that, he's pretty damned obscure for a crossword.

95A: Russian city or oblast (Orel) - well not only do I not know what OREL is, I don't know what "oblast" is (an old Soviet administrative division).

119A: Title character in a "Sgt. Pepper" song (Mr. Kite) - Awesome answer, and yet ... I must confess that I did not know it. I currently own just two Beatles albums: "Abbey Road" and The White Album. I've never listened to "Sgt. Pepper" In My Life. The song in question is entitled "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"

136A: Sing "Gladly the cross-eyed bear," say (garble) - I only just now, just this second, got this. I was like "Who the hell is this bear? What's the bear's name supposed to be?" - but no, the clue is a GARBLEd version of "Gladly the Cross I'd Bear," which must be the name of a hymn or something ... right? Damned atheistic upbringing!

154A: #24 of 24 (omega) - or the last of any set, really. The wolf on the bottom of the pack hierarchy is called the "Omega Wolf" (as opposed to the "Alpha" at the top). We call our dog "Omega Wolf" because even the cats can beat her up.

[I'm gonna go to IHOP now (70D: Denny's alternative) and do the Down clues afterward. Enjoy a beautiful Sunday.]

All right, I'm back, and very proud that I managed to eat only enough to satisfy my hunger (my normal m.o.: wolf). Now where was I? Ah yes, the Downs. Wait - one more Across:

118A: French city in W.W. II fighting (Epinal) - Never heard of it. Sounds like a prescription drug or something you stab yourself with to prevent anaphylactic shock following an allergic reaction.

Now the Downs:

4D: West Indian sorcery (Obeah) - if I ever knew this I have since forgotten it. It looks vaguely familiar, but I had to piece it together entirely from crosses. I was thinking VOODOO, of course, but it didn't fit.

6D: Beantown, on scoreboards (BOS) - well you knew I was going to blog this one. Yesterday's "scoreboard": BOS 7, NYY 5. (P.S. half of IHOP this morning was decked out in Yankees gear - easy to wear the gear when you win, harder when you lose; as someone whose team has lost often, and painfully, I admire the loyalty)

7D: Durham sch. (UNH) - Like everyone else, was certain this was UNC until I realized that that would make Sitwell's comment about poetry begin "Poetry is LIKE FISC ..." and I know enough about poets to know that they are unlikely to see their art in FISCAL terms, and knowing no other FISC- words, I crossed my fingers and put the "H" where the "C" had been.

10D: Singer India._____ (Arie) - I think she had one "hit" about five years ago. Has not been heard from since. Or at least, I haven't heard from her. Call me, India!

12D: Nutrition drink brand (Ensure) - Hey, America, eat your @#$#-ing vegetables. I hate when laboratory products try to pose as actual food. (PS if you actually cannot digest solid foods, for whatever reason, then this comment Does Not Apply To You - drink up!)

15D: Cuban patriot José (Marti) - I am ignorant. Did not know this. A major figure in Cuba's fight for independence from Spanish rule (late 19c.). The airport in Havana is named after him.

26D: "This is where _____" ("I'm at") - ick, who says this? Would have liked this answer better if it had been clued [Autobiography of a postgraduate degree?]

42D: Month after Ab (Elul) - The lesser known cousin of EL AL

46D: Poetic break: Var. (cesura)

"Var." is right! The conventional spelling is CAESURA. Nice to have a poetic answer in a poetry-theme puzzle. The C(a)ESURA is an important feature of Anglo-Saxon poetry, every line of which has a strong one right in the middle. C(a)ESURA and alliteration are probably Anglo-Saxon poetry's most defining characteristics. Anglo-Saxon = pre-Norman Invasion. Why am I lecturing you?

56D: Here, in Juárez (aca) - somebody please tell me why this is not AQUI.

72D: Oklahoma city (Enid) - learn her, know her, love her. This is the second time we've seen her this week. ENID is also a song on the Barenaked Ladies album "Gordon" - a great album from 1992, before BNL started making horrid, shallow, banal, cutesy music that made you want to smash your radio just to make it stop.

73D: Steinbeck's "To _____ Unknown" ("a God") - Went through a Steinbeck phase as a kid. I grew up in California, so this is not that surprising. My dad, who currently lives in the heart of Steinbeck country, near the Salinas Valley, was reading "Cannery Row" on our recent vacation, and Sandy (wife) is reading it now (I think ... it's by the door, so I assume someone is reading it). I recognized "To A GOD Unknown" as a title that was lying around my house growing up but that I never read.

105D: Two, in Lisbon (dois) - had to guess the "I" - which was the cross for MR. KITE (above). Good guess.

108D: Operatic Jenny (Lind) - didn't know her ... until I just this second realized that I said that very same thing before, in an earlier blog, and my friend Andrew wrote in at that time to tell me that Jenny LIND was his mom's maiden name. Why won't this name stick in my head?

110D: Deli order (gyro) - this answer wanted, and still wants, to be HERO.

114D: Pulled in (came) - I'm trying hard to find this acceptable, but it's not working.

122D: Reply to "No way!" ("I can so!") - just because you don't call it a "playground retort" doesn't mean it's not. I would advocate the following partial, if all the words were not already in the clue: ["I wear my sunglasses at night / so _____ I can..."]

Finally, a trifecta of foreign, four-letter, "G"- and "N"-containing names:
  • 139D: TV's Swenson (Inga) - I know her from such roles as the cook on "Benson"
  • 140D: Fashion's _____ von Furstenberg (Egon) - there's a DIANNE von Furstenberg, isn't there? EGON sounds so made up. We used to call former Red Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez "AGON."
  • 143D: "Bus Stop" playwright (Inge) - this is what I call current Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon INGE. Because it's his name. He's currently hitting .115. Not on a hitting bINGE.
Finally, the answer to yesterday's quiz (which crossing did I miss?) was HYMAN / FINES - my brilliant solution: HYMAL and FILES.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Apr. 21, 2007 - Byron Walden

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Relative difficulty: For me, Brutal

THEME: 29A: With 37-Across, mid 20th-century avant-garde movement (Theater of / the Absurd) (or, none)

ABSURD is right. Many things about this puzzle, and my initial answers, were ABSURD. Head cold persists, and so maybe that was the problem, but I could not get a hold of this puzzle for the Longest time. Coincidentally, last night I was reading through some old posts (from last year) and came across a Byron Waldon puzzle that it took me 1 hr and 18 min. to finish! Today's didn't take me that long (I've improved some as a solver since that earlier Walden effort) but it still took me Well Longer than even your average Saturday puzzle, with much time spent staring at a pathetically partially-filled grid. I actually had that "I'm never going to solve this" feeling at one point, and that rarely happens anymore.

After a lot of time and only a few sporadic entries, I finally took a look at the SE and was able to put it together in reasonable time ... only, the way the grid's constructed (NW and SE quadrants accessible only by the tiniest of apertures), my success down there gave me no additional help with the rest of the puzzle. I had already guessed the -THERAPY part of 27D: Psychiatric discipline pioneered by Margaret Naumburg - that's what got me into the SE - though I had blindly guessed EST THERAPY (before my time, but I'm sure "est" is something).

At this point, I can't even remember how I managed to finish. To give you an idea of what kind of haze I was in by the end, I'll tell you that I had one square wrong, and you will probably never guess which. I don't mean "wrong by sloppiness," I mean "wrong, though I for some reason believed it to be right." I will leave you to guess what that square was. No, I'll give you three options, and you tell me which intersection I blew.

Option A:

51A: Adm. Rickover of the 40-Across [USN] (Hyman)
41D: Mulcts (fines)

Option B:

3D: Old Indianapolis-based automaker (Stutz)
22A: Shah _____ Pahlavi (Reza)

Option C:

42A: Parliamentary doings, e.g. (acta)
45D: It's not original work (apery)

Where to begin with this puzzle?

29D: Subject of 2004's best seller "American Dynasty" (the Bushes) - nailed it! Gimme. Know how much it helped me? Almost none. Nice long answer, and it just sat over there for a while, with only the meager ELISE (54A: "John Q" actress Kimberly) sticking out of it (how do I know Kimberly ELISE?).

57A: Forsooth (yea, verily) - another gimme. The first thing that sprang to mind. I believe Daffy Duck has uttered "forsooth" and "yea verily" in quick succession somewhere in his cartoon history.

14D: Mall rats, typically (teen crowd) - pardon me while I GROAAAAAANNNN. Like the rest of the solving world, I wanted TEENAGERS, but that gave me INA instead of INC at 24, and I was pretty positive about INC - 18A: With 24-Across, Fortune 500 company founded by two college dropouts (APPLE / INC.). A lot of time was spent trying to get TEENC- to be anything. for a while I thought 28A: Recourse? was SEED (think about it ... there's logic there somewhere), which put a "D" after the "C" in 14D, making me think the answer had something to do with TEENS and their CDs. Head cold!

2D: Down _____ knee (on one) - I swear to you that for the majority of solving time, I had AT THE written in here. This kept the (mostly) tractable NW utterly mysterious to me for a long while.

6D: English poet laureate of 1692-1715 (Tate) - OK, I declare that 99% of you did NOT know this, even if you ended up getting it right. Oh really? You knew it? OK, what's the dude's first name? ... I'm waiting ... it's NAHUM! I taught this guy's @#$#-ing libretto for Purcell's "Dido & Aeneas" last term and I still had POPE written in here. Man alive, that's some obscurity right there. I preferred yesterday's TATE, by a long shot.

12D: Chronic fatigue syndrome, informally (yuppie flu) - beautiful, highly original answer, and one of the first longish answers I put down. Seems a little cruel and derisive, though, for the Times. The very name kind of demeans the sufferer a bit. Derision for the diseased is not the Times' normal M.O. Not that I'm complaining, exactly. Just noting.

36A: Trevanian's peak (Eiger) - Huh. Really? Whatever you say. I know (of) one EIGER, and it is a Sanction.

23A: A lot of Tijuana (bars)
21D: Settings for some special deliveries: Abbr. (ORs) - didn't like either of these intersecting answers. Took me a long while to allow myself to write in BARS. I'm sure there are a "lot" of BARS in Tijuana, but the phrasing here makes it sound as if the geographic space they take up is considerable relative to the size of the town. Maybe it is...

34A: Showstopper (hard act to follow)
33A: Like a showstopper (boffo) - when's the last time you even saw the word BOFFO, let alone heard someone use it in a sentence? Dated colloquialism! Love it.

52A: 1969 Frank Sinatra album featuring Rod McKuen songs ("A Man Alone") - I know this will cause gasps from the audience, but ... Who's Rod McKuen? In my head right now, he is a cross between Rod Steiger and Rod Serling. This answer was easy to get from crosses, but I've never heard of it. Seems like Sinatra shows up a lot in Friday / Saturday puzzles. He's Sicilian, he sang a song about "Old New York," etc.

23D: Toulouse-Lautrec hangout (brothel) - I had no idea. His paintings and prints are Fabulous. I was looking for MOULIN ROUGE or FOLIE-BERGERES or LOUVRE or any French place whose name I actually know.

42D: "How to Read a Book" author Mortimer (Adler) - damn, I've held this book in my hand and I still couldn't come up with this guy's name. I think this book was famous (academically speaking) back in the day (i.e. before my time).

47D: Santa's drawer (Nast)
19A: Began drawing (enticed)

Different uses of "draw," both of which confused me for a while. I was sure that the Santa clue had to do with one of the reindeer "drawing" his sleigh (not sled or sledge). No reindeer have four-letter names, so I thought of Rudolph and his NOSE - two letters right, but ultimately wrong. ENTICED seems poorly clued here. Why "began?" I wanted something like SKETCHED here. Oh, NAST is an illustrator who, like much of this puzzle, is before my time. He drew creepy bulbous Santas in tight-fitting pjs.

39A: What cuirasses cover (chests) - this was a gimme for me. Had the "H" and absolutely knew that the answer ... was THIGHS. I played D&D as a kid and was trained as a medievalist and still tanked "cuirasses" (imagining that they were either chaps or jodhpurs, apparently)

An admirably difficult puzzle, all in all. Sometimes, it's good to be reminded of my mortality. Speaking of mortality, MORTAL FOES (9D: They fight to the finish) reminds me of last night's amazing Yankees / Red Sox game. Nothing in sports can compare to the awesome spectacle of these two teams going at each other. This is no hyperbole. I won't bother giving you game details, because the game has already been written up beautifully by my friend Mr. Murphy over at "Sophocles Was a Red Sox Fan" - a great blog deserving of wide readership, even if you're a Yankees fan. The guy loves baseball, loves his team, and he can write. Thumbs up.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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