SATURDAY, April 14, 2007 - Sherry O. Blackard

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Buenos días. Just got up after traveling all day yesterday, so don't expect much. Flew Cancun to Philadelphia to Syracuse, and after it looked for a bit like we were going to be so delayed in Cancun that we'd miss our connecting flight, miraculously (in a way I've never seen in the States), the stated 1hr+ delay evaporated and we left only a little late and actually got into Philadelphia early. I spent most of the day as I did most of my days in Mexico - nose-deep in Maura Jacobson puzzles (from her New York Magazine puzzle omnibus #1), devouring Sunday-sized puzzle after Sunday-sized puzzle. Jacobson's puzzles are fun, and good vacation fare: reasonably easy (so you can do them while half-drunk and mildly sun-addled), but with lots of little thorny parts that seem to come out of nowhere and bite you, so you won't get bored. I should get to today's puzzle ... I'll provide more details of my trip as they seem relevant. And I will definitely write a mini-essay on in-flight crosswords, sudoku, and other puzzles in the coming week some time.

I like that on my first day back on blogging patrol, I get a puzzle by the author whose name is most pirate-like. Having just returned from the Caribbean, the coincidence seems appropriate. The Caribbean had pirates once, right? It has parrots, that's for sure - and whose shoulders would parrots sit on if not pirates'? Hey, "parrots" and "pirates" ... sound alike ... OK I'm clearly out of practice at this witty observation thing. I'm sure things will improve.

You all seem to have enjoyed yourselves while I was gone. I hope it was fun, because my second reign of tyranny begins ... now.

1A: Dessert preference (à la mode)
4D: Kids' concoctions (mud pies)

Nice intersection here in the NW. I prefer my pie with whipped cream, not ice cream. I ate so much pie in Mexico that I don't even like to think about it. My gigantor family was at one of those all-inclusive resort-type dealies where food is just ... there. As much as you want of an insane variety of foods, three times a day. I am a bit heavier than when I left, and if it hadn't been for pilates classes every morning and yoga classes every afternoon, I'd be another 5-10 pounds heavier, easy. No MUD PIES, though the kids did do a lot of sand piling, and some of the desserts I didn't eat sure looked liked MUD PIES, though in a few cases I would substitute a far grosser word for mud. I didn't eat those.

14A: They're clean (non-users)
17A: Proof provider (acid test)

Another nice NW juxtaposition. Presumably NON-USERS would pass an ACID TEST if what they were Not Using was Acid.

19A: Spa employee, generally speaking (pamperer)

I got to know one spa employee in Cancun very intimately. His name was Fabian. My stepmom booked massages for the whole family the first day we were there, and though my wife, who loves me and knows what I like, was present for the booking, I still somehow ended up getting massaged by a man. Now everyone who reads this blog knows by now that it's very pro-gay and occasionally even flaming. That said, aside from occasionally hugging male relatives, I have zero experience being touched pleasurably by a dude. So there was mild trepidation. But in the end (!), my brother-in-law and I agreed, if Fabian wanted to touch us like that again, we would not be likely to say 'no.' He PAMPERED me good. The worst part was being face down for so long - the pressure on my forehead from the horrid face-hole became quite painful by the time it came time for me to turn over. The best part was lying there on my back at the end with a towel overy my face in utter quiet, and then suddenly hearing, Right By My Ear, in an alarmingly sexy and heavily accented whisper: "we are finished." I left money on the bedside table. Seriously.

20A: So-so series (octave)

A very, very nice misdirective clue. I was thinking "last year's World Series?" but no. "So" = a note on the scale, with "So-so" being G to G on a C Major scale (I think).

49A: Need for a quiet report? (silencer)

Great Clue, Deadly Clue.

21A: Benjamin's love in "The Graduate" (Elaine)

It helps that Dustin Hoffman literally shouts this name, repeatedly, in the movie's climactic scene (pounding on the glass wall looking down on the altar in the church where Elaine is about to marry someone else). A true gimme for anyone who's ever seen the (fantastic) movie, this answer was the very first thing I entered in the grid.

1D: Like some poetic feet (anapestic)

NOW we're talking. It's about time some of the non-iambic feet got some action. An ANAPEST is unstressed-unstressed-stressed, like the beginning of the theme from Rossini's William Tell Overture (or the word "seventeen"). ANAPESTIC is a great word, reminding me for some reason of both snakes and disease (see also SEPSIS - 42A: Toxic condition).

5D: Belgian port (Ostend)

I have to admit, I guess, to never having heard of this place before. It was the one true mystery answer in the whole grid (most of which was filled with common words, terms, and phrases). Belgium is probably the European country I understand least well of all.

7D: It's spoken in Stornoway (Erse)

"Stornoway" sounds Irish. Nope, Scottish. Sorry, Scotland - I know how you hate that Irish-Scottish confusion thing ... Holy Mother of Pearl - Stornoway is way the hell and gone out on the island of Lewis in the far NW of Scotland ("Outer Hebrides"). I've never gotten north of Aberdeen, myself. ERSE = Gaelic, in case you were wondering. Great, old-skool xword fill, like ESNE or ADIT.

8D: Classic novel with the heroine Alexandra Bergson ("O Pioneers")

A Willa Cather novel I've never read (making it like every other Willa Cather novel except "Death Comes for the Archbishop"). This one took me too long because I kept misreading the ending as -NERS instead of -NEERS, making me think only of "DubliNERS," which had to be wrong. And was.

9D: Novel price, way back when (ten cents)

Since I'm a big fan of disposable fiction, you'd think I'd like a reference to the dime novel, and yet somehow the phrasing on the clue and the wording of the answer both bother me. "Way back when"??? What the hell kind of vague, folksy cluing idiom is that? WHEN is right. WHEN? The turn of the 20th century is hardly "Way Back" in the scope of time, or even in the history of the novel as a genre. Plus, the phrase was never the "Ten Cent Novel" - it was the "Dime Novel." So I'm oddly disappointed.

15D: Rulers (straight edges)

I was very proud for getting this off of just the STR- and thus breaking the puzzle wide open. But then I immediately had this eerie sense of déjà vu, like I had seen this exact clue / answer pairing, possibly in this very same puzzle position, before. This took some of my elation away. If any of you had the same experience, please let me know.

27D: Gilda's father, in opera (Rigoletto)

There was no way in hell I was getting this based on any info in the clue besides "opera" - RIGOLETTO is one of those names floating around in my head for unknown reasons, so once I had a few crosses, it seemed a good enough guess, so I went with it, and ta da!

32D: Sinatra or Capra (Sicilian)

Whoa. Didn't see that coming. Is this by blood or by birth? Or both? Well, Sinatra was born in Hoboken, so I guess that answers that.

36D: "Fanfare for the Common Man" composer (Copland)

Like ELAINE, this one was a gimme, even though I've never heard (to my knowledge) "Fanfare for the Common Man" - I saw a great performance of "Appalachian Spring" performed by the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra the night Pope John Paul II died (total coincidence - just memorable is all). This puzzle ended up having a lot more musical answers than I'd noticed in my initial perusal of the finished grid. I might have delineated a kind of subtheme if I'd been observant enough. But I'm happy enough with this entry, for a first entry after vacation. Two complaints. The Rex Parker Variant Rule = only one "Var." clue per puzzle. This puzzle has two. So, frowny face. Also, this puzzle has a ridiculous number of ODD JOBS (i.e. nouns ending in -ER):

ANIMATERS (doubly offensive, as it's also a "Var." - 3D: Producers of some shorts: Var.)
REGRETTERS (27A: They'd like to take things back)
SIGHERS (32A: Some relieved people)
RECTIFIER (29D: Device for converting alternating current into direct current)
SENDERS (51A: Things are often returned to them)

Other than that, a nice, relatively easy way to ease my way back into blogging. I want to thank all my guest bloggers - Robert Loy, Colman deKay, Linda G, Howard Barkin, and Dave Sullivan - for their inspired, unpaid labor. I am most grateful, as are many readers, I'm sure.

See you tomorrow.

Signed (once again), Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


xwd_fiend 9:30 AM  

Scots/Irish confusion. The Scots can't complain that much. The original Scots were a tribe, just like the Picts or Jutes. Guess where that tribe came from?

Rex Parker 9:31 AM  

Uh ... Atlantis?

Anonymous 9:45 AM  

Welcome back Rex, but I think that question was rhetorical. Get some sleep.

DONALD 9:57 AM  

Of course we missed you!

Linda G 10:23 AM  

You eased in quite nicely, Rex. Glad to have you back in the blog.

ELAINE was my first answer, and I immediately pictured the scene you described.

It's early here, I've had no coffee, and I'm not sitting at the piano, but I think you're right about the G to G in C Major. Great cluing. If not for WEAVE giving me that nice V, I wouldn't have thought OCTAVE so easily.

Anonymous 10:40 AM  


The guest bloggers were great, but it's good to have you back.

janie 10:40 AM  

hey, rex -- welcome back! you mention not having heard copland's "fanfare..." try this on for size:




Orange 10:45 AM  

The other xwd_fiend is a British cryptic-crossword blogger, so I'm guessing he actually has interesting tidbits of info on the Scots.

You know more about Belgium than you think, I bet. There are Belgian beers, and French Fries are from Belgium. The real dark-horse mystery land in Europe has got to be Bulgaria. Other than that the capital is Sofia and it used to be in the Eastern bloc, who can name three facts about Bulgaria?

janie 11:04 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
ScottK 11:06 AM  

I got a little too "way back when" for 9D and guessed ONEPENNY, harkening back to the Penny Dreadfuls. And this confirmed my guess for 32A, because relieved people are obviously OFFDUTY. The self-confirming errors kept me stumped for quite a while in the center of the puzzle!

Anonymous 11:21 AM  

I also got "Elaine" first, but my tipoff was that Benjamin's mother told him, "Elaine Robinson is home from school!" in that sing-song voice of all matchmaker mothers. Also, history buffs remember the Ostend Manifesto from their dreary days in the lecture hall.

Anonymous 12:37 PM  

Ditto on Elaine first. Welcome back, MEX!!! Re: the Fabian interlude ... clearly you ended up more a SIGHER than a REGRETTER on that deal. There are at least one or two more answers I could inject here, but it would be horribly tasteless so I won't. ;)

I've now been doing the puzzle daily since December or January, whenever I discovered the blog. After yesterday and today, I can say I'm noticing marked progress in my solving. Still need lots of help, but this is the first week where I didn't throw up my hands in utter despair either day. It helps to be part of this community, I can tell you!

Btw, Frank Capra was born in Sicily; Sinatra's father was.

Off to contemplate the possibility of ALOAD of new snow. I may need a SILENCER for when I go postal over Spring's late arrival. Didn't the groundhog see his shadow (or not, whichever one is the harbinger of an early spring)? Rex, we got so snowed out the Indians' first four home games were cancelled and they moved the next series to (the covered) Miller Park in Milwaukee. Bummer!

Anonymous 1:24 PM  

Me too, Wendy (pleased with my progress on Fri/Sat puzzles) especially since finding Rex last month. Vive le roi!!!!

ps I kept trying to make MASSEUSE fit into 19A, but my extreme disappointment in the lame answer PAMPERER is assuaged by the photo of Fabien, oh la la!

GEO President 2:09 PM  

Anapests and iambs get along marvelously in Poe's "Annabel Lee."

Anonymous 3:29 PM  

"So" to "So" is an octave in any key because "So" represents the fifth degree of any scale or key.
Also know as the "Dominant" as in REX is the "Dominant" blogger in Crossworld!

Howard B 4:39 PM  

Great job, Dave, on the guest blogging, and welcome back, Rex!

That's all the time I have today, gotta run.

Anonymous 5:03 PM  

'panderer' was the first thing to come to mind with "p---erer" remaining, then i realized that would probably not be 'generally speaking'.

sonofdad 5:21 PM  

Whenever I picture that scene in The Graduate, I hear, "Mrs. Bouvier!"

Anonymous 5:32 PM  

I think that "so-so" is technically "sol-sol," but that would have really wrecked the clue.

G is Sol in what is called "fixed Do," where C is Do. In "movable Do," where the first note of the scale changes, any pitch could be sol. Or so-so, depending.

There was an awful lot of sighing and regretting and castigating in this puzzle. I think there was a lot of that in Rigoletto, too...

Rex is back! Hooray! Loved the tale of your encounter with Fabian.

Norrin2 6:48 PM  

Welcome back, Rex.
I thought that "so-so series" was iffy too. Is it so-so or sol-sol? We can't let musicians have it both ways. Maybe they were afraid of the wrath of Rex using another variant.
For a long time I had No-Nukers instead of Nonusers. Well, they're clean, aren't they?

Orange 7:24 PM  

You know, I always thought it was "so" rather than "sol" until not too many years ago. Like the dictionaries, I accept both spellings. After all, "so, a needle pulling thread" is what's in the song, not "sol, what Faust sold to the devil."

Rex, I know you abhor all things "Seinfeld," but there was a memorably episode in which George gets a massage from a man and feels awkward about it, no less so because "it moved."

joecab 8:02 PM  

"Elaine" first for me as well, even though that NW corner was the last to fall for me. Also did "one penny" which became "two cents" before turning into "ten cents" so that area looks a little messy in pen. I liked "sepsis" but winced at "animaters" -- guess that was the price to pay for the rest of the fill. Sherry always makes for good Saturdays.

Anonymous 9:04 PM  

I cannot (hat tipping to HRH Donald) find "animatErs" in any dictionary on the web.

DONALD 11:23 PM  


Right. Animators, animaters... Looks like we can have it both ways!

Anonymous 1:11 AM  

Ditto on the Mrs. Bouvier comment.
That scene has been copied by so many films and TV shows that for the life of me I couldn't come up with Elaine until I had a couple of crossing letters.

Welcome back Rex.

Linda G 9:30 AM  

Regarding so-so and all of the related comments:

I guess I should leave all musical explanations to the pros. I know just enough to think I might know something ; )

Anonymous 11:39 AM  

I'm always a little late, with my pencil-and-paper puzzling late in the day, but I can't resist sharing with Orange the very best thing about Bulgaria: During World War II, the country protected its Jewish population despite being on the side of Germany. Not one Jew was deported or harmed.

Orange 2:50 PM  

Okay, then: I love Bulgaria...even if it's awfully short on people famous outside its borders.

Anonymous 11:28 PM  

A bit of movie trivia. The church scene at the end of the Graduate was borrowed from the award winning British comedy Morgan (1966). The primary differnce is that Hoffman wasn't wearing an ape suit.

Anonymous 7:07 PM  

Can someone please tell me what "SIDEA" is? The clue is "Single component". For the April 14, 2007 puzzle, 40D. And this puzzle was in my local paper on May 26, 2007. Hmmm...

Anonymous 5:19 PM  

SIDE A, as in one side of a single (think music).

I can finish a Saturday puzzle about half the time, but this one took me two days of on and off solving to get. It's very satisfying to look at a filled grid with few black squares and no scribbled out or written over letters...

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