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


Anonymous 10:35 AM  

Just going on the one that made *me* want to vomit, I'll guess the "truth in Sunday clothes."

Who got hopelessly derailed on Durham school thinking N. Carolina was the locale not N. Hampshire?

Lots of boring nominees for the Pantheon today: BILE, ORRIN, EGAD, SLOMO, INGE, ENID (now officially overexposed, though the chamber of commerce must be elated) and possibly OGRE. Although I like OGRE, he pops up altogether too regularly.

But any puzzle with TO WIT, SWAK, SEE OUT and EEYORE in it is not a lost cause. FLAIL and TURKIC are groovy too. GASOHOL seemed fresh (though I had ethanol to start).

I'm waiting for you to come back to nail down some downs that I still don't have!

Anonymous 10:54 AM  

The Neruda quote is by far the most pretentious.

I like e.e.cummings' BEING, NOT DOING, which is also a good mantra for artists, musicians and baseball pitchers. Of course there is skill involved, but once you have the ability, you have to truly be in the moment and Just Do It. (There is good reason for the success of that Nike ad campaign.)

Back home after midwest college visits trip and thinking about how amazing and varied this country is. Every little town between St. Paul and Grinnell seemed to have a claim to fame, announced miles beforehand via billboard - the previously mentioned Museum of Spam and birthplace of Meredith Willson, the Adult Superstore, the Antique Carousel, the Prairie Museum, Diamond Jo's Casino, Frank Lloyd Wright houses, the International Museum of Wrestling, national headquarters for Pella Windows and Barilla Pasta (both of which are permanent fixtures in our home), and Iowa State University in Ames.

Best sights while driving: rows of windmills and the way the sky seemed to have such depth as you looked for miles across cornfields.

Anonymous 11:36 AM  

136A, "Gladly the cross-eye'd bear" isn't really a GARBLE, as the puzzle would have it, because the sounds are all in the right order. Rather, it's what the Brits call a "mondegreen," an erroneous segmenting of the sounds from "Gladly the cross I'd bear." The term comes from some medieval ballad that has the line "laid him on the green [i.e. lawn]," erroneously segmented as "Lady mondegreen."

I don't know whether I was in a bad mood after being slapped around by Byron Walden yesterday or not, but this one was really hard for me. Nothing would drop. Some questions/nits: What's GYRO in deli-land (haven't lived in NYC for 25 years)? I don't know more than a few words of Spanish, but I thought "here" was "aqui," not ACA. I thought being "ticked off" was being slightly peeved; ENRAGING would appear to be too strong for that.

DONALD 12:44 PM  

6D: Beantown, on scoreboards (BOS)-- thanks for the empathy! If the beloved (I'm sincere) Rex Sox were missing Schilling, Beckett, Matsuzaka, Varitek, Crisp, Ramirez, with Papelbon blowing saves (think Mussina, Wong, Pavano, Posada, Damon, Matsui, with Rivera blowing saves), losing two games by a hair wouldn't feel so bad, and like the Yankee fans at IHOP dress proud!

You cleared up every question I had about Sunday's puzzle -- thanks! I found myself singing the "garbled" ("mondegreen") lyrics to a Sunday tune unknown to the faithful!

Anonymous 12:50 PM  

Great, great theme. Especially since it included a quote by Pablo Neruda, my all-time favourite poet. And "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" is a great song.

Linda G 12:55 PM  

Someone can answer this more eloquently, and I'm sure he/she will. Aqui would be used to say something like, "Here is...". Ven aca means "come here." Knowing that, though, I still didn't get it right away. Two years of Spanish = not enough.

Knew Jenny Lind as a style of furniture (i.e., a crib). Didn't know who the style was named after.

Ensure isn't about vegetables and/or fiber (that would be Citrucel or Metamucil). It's a protein drink, often used by very old people who don't eat enough food and would otherwise waste away. And don't call me lazy!

EPINAL was a strange one indeed. You're right. An EpiPen was what I carried to stab myself with in case of anaphylactic shock.

Fun, fun puzzle. And I haven't a clue which one wanted to make you vomit. I guessed wrong yesterday. I'll think on it more.

Rex, you didn't mention 17D: Thongs. I was going to include a picture on my blog, just for you. But it was green flip-flops with a flower ; )

Anonymous 1:03 PM  

Thank you Bluestater for refreshing our memories about mondegreen, as we knew there is a definite reference and were disappointed with "garble" as an answer. I had learned the word mondegreen while in court reporting school in Philadelphia, PA from teacher Pat Asplundh who enlightened us students on many an oddity.

Unknown 1:03 PM  

Just to temper the poetry lovefest that was this puzzle:

"In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite." - Paul Dirac

I've never been a huge fan of poetry, poets, or quote puzzles, so this puzzle wasn't exactly my favorite. The only quote that didn't make me want to vomit is the one about fish. All the others reek of the pretension and undeserved sense of importance that is poetry.

I just did a quick Google search to check the relationship between the two Sitwells (brother-sister) and found the full version of the fish quote: "Poetry is like fish: if it's fresh, it's good; if it's stale, it's bad; and if you're not certain, try it on the cat." I like that one.

Anonymous 1:36 PM  

Growing up in a Phila 'burb in the '50s, a deli sandwich on a long roll: HOAGIE which soon had to be called a SUB (submarine sandwich)if I wanted the deli clerk to know what I was talking about.

One time in the '70s or '90s on South Street, I saw GYRO on a Greek restaurant menu. When I asked "What's a JIE-Ro,GUY-Ro, or GEE-Ro" the waiter said it's pronounced "HEE-Ro"; being culturally challenged, I assumed it was like HOR-HAY the Mexican George with the silent "G."

Anonymous 1:38 PM  

Today, the puzzle was fun, your blog entertaining & informative, and the comments terrific.

BTW, after a lot of musing I think 114D (pulled in=came) might come from "she pulled in to the driveway." That's a stretch, but I can't come up with anything else. Anyone?

Anonymous 2:35 PM  

Ditto on the Sunday clothes quote (gack), but I didn't feel it was quite as pretentious as the "deification" rot! I had to google the garbled, cross-eyed bear phrase, and had fun perusing the Wikipedia "mondegreen" entry.... reminded me of an old AC/DC song that I used to sing along to as a kid, "Dirty jeans, laundered cheap"....

Anonymous 3:33 PM  

I've heard the expression: When did you pull in? With the reply I pulled in about 11:00 or so. I guess it's based on pulling into a driveway.

Anonymous 4:04 PM  

No one here on Long Island would go into a deli and order a gyro. (a hot pastrami on rye, definitely.) There are too many great Greek cafes/diners for that!

Anonymous 4:11 PM  

As there are only 24 letters in the Greek alphabet, omega is the 24th...

Alex S. 4:24 PM  

Is "deli" a food place of a specifically ethnic variety? Maybe it is more of a reserved term on the East Coast but at least where I grew up "Greek deli," "Russian deli," "Italian deli," etc. (Vancouver, Washington) were perfectly fine phrases.

So I wouldn't have complained if the the answer had been piroshky. Better than the recent Polish Hams which I had never heard of.

I'm not a fan of poetry and the only quotee I recognized by name was Sandburg. But the quotes were made up for reasonably discrete deducible words so I have no complaints.

Did not like CAME. Had no idea that IAMS pet foods were named after a person. I was so proud of myself for remembering the Phantom Lady comic book character that I forgot the movie. Was pleased that PRAM was a gimme without crosses. Loved seeing NEWBIE in the puzzle even though I still don't know what the clue means (besides NEWBIE, of course).

Got PEETE through the Holly Robinson Peete connection and only got that because I once worked a red carpet where they were there as a couple.

Considering I did this one is spurts from 10p.m to 3a.m. while pulling a 20 hours work shift I'm very pleased with how well I did.

Anonymous 6:27 PM  

You've never listened to Sgt. Pepper? Now I feel really old.

Anonymous 6:39 PM  

In spanish, "aca" is a more direct version of "aqui." You would say "ven aca" as in "come here" but, more specifically, as in "come right next to me." On the other hand, "aqui" can refer to a whole room or the general direction in which the person saying it is.

Thought "on in years" was colloquial cool, but i guess it's just amusing when you're under 20.

Loved "The USA" being clued via The Boss. Good music clues = good crossword, any day.

"Amount past due?" was a great way to clue tre, and I just love the way these guys clue foreign numbers.

Linda G 7:10 PM  

Spellbreaker, it was also funny if you're over 50.

Sorry, Ellen, but we are old :-[
At least you're a crossword champ.

I think I'll play Sgt. Pepper while I work the Monday puzzle.

It was twenty years ago today...

Anonymous 7:24 PM  

I don't think Rex's age has much to do with not listening to Sgt. Pepper. At least, it seems to me that all children of Boomers normally grow up thoroughly versed in such things -- I'd think you'd have to be about 15 for age to apply as an adequate excuse.

To grow up bereft of such gems as "Jesus wants me for a sunbeam" or "Gladly the cross I'd bear" is a bit sad, to grow up without listening to Sgt. Pepper is sadder, but to grow up without both makes me wonder what the hell you were doing all those years?

Least favorite poetry quote -- surely 81A, Carl Sandburg. What is that supposed to mean? That's the kind of stuff that makes people hate an entire, massive, endlessly diverse mode of communication.

Orange 11:29 PM  

Shaun, I don't know any hymns, but I do like that version of "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam" from the Nirvana Unplugged album. Does that count?

I know Rodney Peete via Holly Robinson Peete, too. They have twins. She was on a cute married-couple-with-nutty-married-neighbors sitcom for a season.

So long as the crossword isn't cluing CAME with [Pulled out], I think we're in the clear.

Vi, hilarious that Barilla Pasta is solidly in the heartland! Their ads when the brand first launched made them seem authentically Italian, not Iowan. (I have friends who went to Grinnell and Macalester—e-mail me if...well, I guess I haven't got anything useful to say other than that they're both excellent colleges, and I do love the smallprivateliberalartscollege shtick.)

Those damn Durham clues always, always trick me. I enter UNC, but it's always UNH. Shouldn't I have learned this by now?

Anonymous 11:36 PM  


I liked the Sandburg one. An echo and a shadow are reflections of an object, one of sound the other of light. Two ethereal phenomena of different media imagined to request a dance which requires the tangible and tactile: face to face, cheek to cheek, hand to hand in order to connect and move as one. Poetry can express the impossible but it can only whisper a hint of it. It can only be imagined, never grasped.

Anonymous 11:49 PM  

Orange - utterly wicked humor!!

Thanks for the college tips; I may speak w/you after the SLC visit tomorrow.

Anonymous 11:54 PM  

I've heard "ven aqui" heard as well as "ven acá", though the latter seems more commonly used to me... at least in the Dominican Republic...

Not only was José Martí a "Cuban patriot", he was a poet as well...which of course fits in nicely w/ the Poetry Month theme... some of his verse was
grafted onto an old folk song and we know it today as "Guantanamera"...

By the way I totally fell into the UNC trap too...

Anonymous 12:55 AM  

My favorite hymn has always been the beloved Anglican hymn "Jerusalem," well covered by David Bowie in "The Man Who Fell To Earth" and by Emerson, Lake and Palmer on their album "Brain Salad Surgery."

I find "... the deification of reality..." to be a mortification on the trashy side of absurd.

Rex Parker 1:16 AM  

Sorry profphil, but Shaun is right: the Sandburg quote blows. There is a reason Shaun is my best friend: we think Very Much Alike. Ditto my wife - actually, she doesn't think just like me, but she sure as hell knows how I think. She surveyed the options, and then said "You didn't like 'an echo asking a shadow to dance'..." I had this huge smile the whole time she was deliberating because I just knew that she was going to be right and somehow that exceedingly minor detail was very touching to me.

The Sandburg quotation should be followed by "..., man" and then the sound of someone inhaling deeply on a very fat joint. Fake and forced and meaningless. Plus, if poetry were that insubstantial, I'd want nothing to do with it - in fact, that's why I want nothing to do with it a lot of the time; 'cause when it's bad, it's Bad, and it's often bad.

But I don't get the poetry-haters. Sounds more like ignorance, or like a 6-yr-old who claims to "hate" broccoli or classical music or whatever. The idea that science is more valuable / practical than poetry is absurd. It's a false opposition.

Orange 4:39 PM  

Wait! I have suddenly discovered that Sandburg's line is true genius. Know why? Because you begin to muse: What does it look like when an echo dances, or when a shadow dances? And then you realize you're dreaming of Andy Gibb and his song, "Shadow Dancing," and you're transported to age 12 again.

I don't love poetry, but I don't hate it. However, I cannot abide broccoli, for I am a bit of a supertaster.

Anonymous 5:44 PM  

UNC should not be a trap, since it is not in Durham. Here's the North Carolina geography: Duke is in Durham, and UNC is in Chapel Hill.

Anonymous 5:31 PM  

Of course, nothing Sandburg wrote is worth a damn. "Hog butcher to the world" indeed! Growing up in Chicago I learned to detest his work. He even made Lincoln boring.

Anonymous 8:12 PM  

Well, Ms. North Carolina geography... if you want to go there, then there are also UNC campuses in Ashville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Pembroke & Wilmington!
So pardon me for thinking that maybe there was one in Durham too when I had "UN_" to go with!

Anonymous 8:28 PM  

I found this puzzle as entertaining as any today; a three or four cupper, about my average for a big weekend puzzle. Once I got over my traditional initial panic and got a few wedges started, I was able to capture the north and advance steadily south, going back occasionally to mop up stubborn pockets of resistance. No help from Google.

I suspect that HERO Is an americanization of GYRO. The ingredients of each sandwich are similar, but the breads are different.

The appearance of EPINAL gives me the excuse to explain my Handle.

I am a combat flight simmer, and the Europe of 1914-1918, and 1939-1945 is where I play war. I have flown over EPINAL many times, in both SPAD and SPITFIRE.

I belong to an organized virtual squadron, the WingWalkers,(hence the WW) which turned 15 this spring, and is the oldest continuously active squad in Cyberspace. We are the Knights-Templar if the Internet.

Anonymous 8:39 PM  

Seems I was wrong in my sandwich speculation. Traditionally GYROs are filled with meat cooked on a skewer, or spit. GYRATED, I suppose. The only ones I have had were essentially HEROs in PITA bread.

Anonymous 9:31 PM  

A week later here if anyone is left. Liked the puzzle. Got hung up in a few places but managed to do it. Peete is notable because he was one of the (if not the)first black quarter backs. I always felt Sandburg was trying to convice people that he really was a poet. Listening to Sgt. Pepper's in a darkened compartment aboard ship in 1967 helped me survive the US Navy. "A day in the Life" can almost get you high.

Anonymous 10:48 PM  

Had no down clues for 79D and 91D. "Stolein" and "Claim" respectively. What am I missing?

Anonymous 7:28 PM  

Anonymous, 79D was clued "Arrived quietly." 91 D was "Kind of check." Why didn't you have the clues?

Gyros are distinctly different than heroes. A gyro (pronounced "YEAR-o") is a Greek sandwich commonly made with lamb or chicken that, yes, wwpierre, cooks rotisserie-style on a spit. They come in a pita with onions, tomatoes and a white yogurt-based sauce whose name escapes me.

A hero is an Italian-American sandwich with salami, provolone and lettuce and such, served on Italian bread.

So the issue is not that GYRO is an odd spelling of HERO. It's that delis (at least the ones in the New York I grew up in) don't serve gyros. Because gyros necessitate one of those vertical spindle doo-dads (around which meat of dubious quality/origin can circulate under the heat of a red lamp for days on end), you usually have to buy gyros from a street vendor, or a specifically Greek deli/café/diner. A deli, on the other hand, is good bet if you're looking for a hero.

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