THURSDAY, Nov. 8, 2007 - Paula Gamache

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Heart of STONE" (53A: Unfeeling nature ... or a literal hint to 19-, 31- and 38-Across) - each theme answer has the letter string "STONE" in it, stretched across two words

I think of "Heart" as meaning "Dead Center," and none of these "STONE"s is centered in its theme answer. That's about the only criticism I have of this very inventive, enjoyable (if overly easy) Wednesday puzzle. Paula Gamache is a total pro, and she never sacrifices the quality of the overall fill for the sake of the theme. There's lots of colorful fill all over the puzzle, including an Irish subtheme that had me wondering how many "Mc" names I was going to be seeing in the puzzle (see the NE section of the puzzle in particular). I started out badly - ran through the first nine Across clues and got exactly two correct: SPAR (1A: Quarrel (with)) and POEM (14A: "Jabberwocky," for one). Had DIRT for INFO (5A: Contents of a scoop) and BEAU for AMIE (17A: Billet-doux writer). Also had ZILCH for ONION (18A: "Skunk egg"), which shows me conflating the noun phrase "goose egg" and the verb "skunk," v.t. "To defeat overwhelmingly, especially by keeping from scoring." Had the ridiculously grammatical MAY I for the far more plausible CAN I (13A: Child's plea). But I recovered from this northerly disaster to torch the rest of the puzzle and end up with a time in the mid-6s, which is pretty good for me.

Theme answers:

  • 19A: Internal-combustion device (piSTON Engine)
  • 31A: "American Psycho" author (Bret EaSTON Ellis) - this came out when I was in college and was a source of Major Controversy, with many feminist critics dismissing it as the literary equivalent of a snuff film, rather than seeing it as the satire of American consumerism that it is (or at least tries to be). It is, in fact, a horrifically sexually violent book. The recent movie version (starring the phenomenal Christian Bale) was directed by a woman.
  • 38A: Loser in a staring contest (firST ONE to blink) - one of my most favorite theme answers of all time. Inventive and original.
Before I got my first theme answer, I began working out the NE corner, and noticed the intersection of McNames: MCCOY (15A: Real _____) and MCNEILL (9D: Historian William H. _____, author of "The Rise of the West"). This caused me to think that the whole puzzle had gone Irish and would be riddled with Mc and possibly O' names. In fact, I thought 15D: Secretary of state during the War of 1812, which begins with the "M" from MCCOY, was going to be yet another McName. But it was just James MONROE, and the Irish theme never panned out, though we do get 7D: Sinn _____ (Fein).

This is one of the Frenchier puzzles in recent memory. Check out the panoply of Frenchness:

AMIE (17A)
OO LA LA (30A: "Très sexy!")
PARIS (2D: Setting for "La Traviata")
ICI (10D: Here, abroad)
REINE (32D: Marie Antoinette, par exemple)

My favorite non-theme answers in the puzzle included RIOT ACT (4D: It's read to the unruly) and OLD FOGY (42D: One who's late to adopt the latest), though I would have spelled FOGY differently, I think. FOGIE? Rhymes with STOGIE, so shouldn't it be spelled that way? Or did I misspell that too? I also like PETE because of how it's clued: 64A: Best of the early Beatles, and ANNEAL (45A: Temper, as metal) because ... well, just because it's vaguely sciencey and yet I knew it - dragged it from some SAT part of my brain. RAVEN (56A: Lustrous black) also pleases me - they are fascinating birds. See Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich - a book that reminds me of my wife before she was my wife: perhaps the first book of mine she took and read. Ended up giving it as a gift to her bird-watching mother. Best clue of the day goes to 57D: Sturdy feller? (axe). Lord knows I generally hate puns as much as the next sane person, but this one made me laugh.

Puzzled by the clue at 44D: Beach maximizer (low tide) - implies some kind of will on the part of the tide to make the beach big. TOFU is eaten by far more people than just vegans, and vegans have other protein sources (54D: Vegan's protein source). Does anyone not living in Early Modern England say that something is 62A: Not worth _____ (a fig)?

8D: The end (omega)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Le Master 9:15 AM  

Tuesday's New York Sun had a very similar clue and answer to 38A except it was swapped. The clue was: They end in a blink of an eye. The answer being STARING CONTESTS.

Anonymous 9:20 AM  

foxy lady, foxy mama, out-fox, sly fox, cunning as a fox...fine

...but, what dark recess does 42D - One who's late to adopt the latest = "old foxy" come from?!?!

Rex Parker 9:23 AM  

OLD FOXY will be my nickname, I hope, 40 years from now.

The answer here, however, is OLD FOGY.


Le Master 9:25 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous 9:56 AM  

what's the deal w/ "what a fig" then???

is that something you say to your buddy when a foxy lady walks in the room???

Le Master 10:11 AM  


"Not worth a fig" is like saying something has little to no value. Just replace "fig" with a curse word and you might recognize the phrase better.

mruedas 10:31 AM  

I wanted to spell OLD OGY differently, too: I wanted OLD FART. So much that I actually wrote it in and started slowly demolishing it on the crosses. Oh, well..

Anonymous 10:52 AM  

Yeah, kind of easy for a Thursday, but the applet spotted itself 52 seconds before letting me start the puzzle, so I guess there's a new handicapping function built into the puzzle to account for the level of difficulty. ANYBODY ELSE HAVING THAT ANNOYING PROBLEM? I click on the "Play" button, and sooner or later the grid shows up, with the timer running from the moment I thought of doing the puzzle that morning.

I'd have spelled FOGY with an E--"FOGEY."

Anonymous 11:05 AM  

I didn't enjoy this puzzle as much as Rex did. As for the theme...."long run for a short slide." Lori

Anonymous 11:15 AM  

you wrote above: That's about the only criticism I have of this very inventive, enjoyable (if overly easy) Wednesday puzzle. It's Thursday though.

Anonymous 11:16 AM  

ooh, i'm a bonehead!

i cross contaminated 59A - "What ____?" with 62A - Not worth _____. in my mind.

...apologies for all the old foxy / foxy lady nunsense.

Anonymous 11:19 AM  

Mike S: It's Thursdays puzzle, not Wednesday's!(See second sentence after the THEME paragraph.)

There were two interesting misdirections. After getting "la" one might enter laser instead of lasik (eye surgery) and after getting tide one might enter ebb tide instead of low tide. Alas, I did both which slowed me down.

Anonymous 11:40 AM  

Can't forget "Hearts of Stone" (the Fontanes?) from the '50s.

Perhaps a bit easy for Thursday, but throughly enjoyable. I like the LOWTIDE, OLDFOGY (though the spelling seems dubious), ONION, RIOTACT, and ANNEAL cluing/answers. RAVEN without Poe was a good switch. The Northern California region took a bit of reworking.....seems odd looking at the finished product....perhaps it was all the Weed growing there.

I love a good pun, and don't care for the bad all other forms of humor, for me there's a continuum of fresh/clever to trite/obvious.

Unknown 11:54 AM  

I thought I had the whole puzzle done in record time but stupidly slipped up on Valli and lei.I should have known better,but was too excited at getting "American Psycho" author without googling.

Anonymous 12:02 PM  

"The first to blink" was one of my first answers -- a long cross entry with just the L in the downs. I also put liaises instead of resells, smiling gently at the same answer as yesterday. Or was it the day before.

Shame both were wrong.

kumar 12:06 PM  

Enjoyable and somewhat easy for a Thursday. Got hung up because I put in Vol for Vet in the Southwest. Ah well.

Got "By Far" from the acrosses, but I think it means most probably. I am sure it does not mean without question; I would certainly never use it in that sense.

Anonymous 12:18 PM  

Rex, thanks for including the Stones' "Heart of Stone." I'd also point out the song "Ooh La La" by the Faces, from about the same era. (Rod Stewart re-recorded the song a few years ago, but I prefer the original.)

I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger.

Elvis Costello ended the album GET HAPPY with a song called "Riot Act."

I don't think of "heart" as DEAD center, so I wasn't as bothered as Rex was.

Guess I'm too polite; I originally had MAY I instead of the more realistic CAN I for child's plea.

I'm NOT a sane person, so I loved the pun in AXE for "sturdy feller."

Anonymous 12:26 PM  

Fun puzzle, although the E stumped me for a long time. Was very reluctant to write OOLALA. It just looks wrong. I didn't want to give up OOHLALA, wrong as it was. Also didn't know Frankie VALLI and guessed Richie VALEN, which, together with LASER for LASIK messed up the eye staring contest. Oh well. Lots of other goodies, with RIOT ACT on top of SEE HERE! as my favorite.

Anonymous 12:27 PM  

I always thought McNeil was a Scot and not from Erin.

Anonymous 12:27 PM  

I have heard/used the phrase "don't give a fig", I think (wherein a different word starting with f might come to mind). Thought this was WAAAAY easy for a Thursday, but liked First One to Blink a lot.

Anonymous 12:51 PM  

This was easy but fun. It was easy enough to get all the long answers with almost no crosses. I also had MAYI at first and needed to stare at Sturdy feller/AXE for a minute or two before the pun DAWNED. BYFAR = without question in the phrase "that was the best puzzle clue by far."

Valli was a gimme as I was/am a major Four Seasons fan. We've got tickets to see Jersey Boys this weekend.

Orange 1:05 PM  

Let's get a ruling from Google: old fogy gets 37,000 hits, old fogey gets 129,000 and its own Wikipedia entry, and old fogie trails in with 25,300. American Heritage Dictionary says "fogy, also fogey," so it gives preference to Google's distant second-place finisher.

Anonymous 1:44 PM  

I don't hate any of the clues but don't love many either. A tepid Thursday puzzle(it is Thursday no?).
billnutt - I noticed a Costello/Easton Ellis conection as well - Elvis's first single and Easton Ellis's first book both named 'Less Than Zero'. "Let's talk about the future now that we've put the past away - Hey oo he ayyye"

Anonymous 1:57 PM  

So when the tall and tan and young and lovely girl from Ipanema goes walking, she walks past the Copacabana? Who knew?

I liked this puzzle very much. Lots of great fill and clever clues. Particularly liked onion, the comes and arrival pair, riot act, my guru in my youth Ayn Rand, Pete Best. The south fell first and not knowing the author of American Psycho forced a lot of cross-filling in the middle, but it was totally enjoyable.

I have to agree with 'by far' as being not quite the same as 'without question.' It seems to imply the comparative rather than the definitive or absolute to me. But it works in sentences and I'm just nitpicking (sorry, Nitpicker).

Oolala, le freak, c'est chic.

Anonymous 2:28 PM  

"He's the winner, BY FAR or WITHOUT QUESTION." Seems equivalent to me in this usage. Nitpicking on questions of common usage seems like a huge waste of time and effort.

fergus 3:05 PM  

I reckon Rex knows what day it is. He could have said Tuesday and I would have known what he meant. On auto-pilot until the SE corner, where I wasn't familiar with chuck-a-luck, and have never felt comfortable with DELE conjugated. Yes, it's fine as a imperative verb form for proofreading instruction, but just doesn't seem acceptable as a full-fledged verb. How's that for a petty objection?

Pistons are found in all sorts of other places, of course, besides the internal combustion engine, so that seemed like a mediocre clue. I don't understand why the 16A southern constellation is listed as Former? What happened -- a supernova? A billet-doux writer as an AMIE is missing something, and I don't quite get MICA as a glass substitute. Maybe as a primitive window for a peat bog hut in the fens of the Erin Isle?

I was under close surveillance and then threatened by a RAVEN recently; evidently they're very territorial and don't take kindly to humans making cawing sounds around their cliff haunts. Guess I was looking for something equally pesky in this Thursday puzzle that wasn't.

Anonymous 3:47 PM  

Fergus, Good thing you didn't say "Nevermore" to that raven. There's no telling what might have happened.

I was disappointed the 53 across clue didn't use The Rolling Stones. I couldn't break, couldn't break the SE corner.

PS I'm all for "nitpicking on questions of common usage"--or at least groaning audibly.

fergus 3:53 PM  

... or ran off with Lenore, who I think probably did have a HEART OF STONE.

Anonymous 4:17 PM  

fergus -- here is the obscure INFO on ARGO

Argo is the only one of Ptolemy's list of 48 constellations that is no longer officially recognised as a constellation, having been broken up by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1752 into Carina (the keel of the ship), Puppis (the poop), Vela (the sails), and Pyxis (the compass). Were it still considered a single constellation, it would be the largest of all, being larger than Hydra.

Anonymous 4:21 PM  

"With isinglass windows you can roll right down, in case there's a change in the weather..."

"Surrey with the Fringe on Top" from "OOOOOOOOOOklahoma" (where the wind comes right behind the rain)

Isinglass is mica.

Anonymous 4:24 PM  


A bit more recently we find mica in the "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" (Oklahoma).

The dashboard's genuine leather
With isinglass curtains y' can roll right down In case there's a change in the weather.

The constellation Argo (Navis) was subdivided into Carina, Puppis and Vela, or the Keel, the Poop and the Sails. The rezoning took place in the 18th century.

Unknown 5:02 PM  

I didn't enjoy this one that much, I tend to feel like just having phrases that all share a common spanning word has been over-done. Beyond that I was fine with it, though. I was really close to not scratching anything out (I try to work in pen), but then I had A FIN instead of A FIG. Boo.

Anonymous 5:13 PM  

rick --

(NITPICK Warning / NITPICK Warning)

Pretty sure it's "WHEN (not WHERE) the wind comes right behind the rain" (it's "WHERE the wind comes sweepin' down the plain."

Anonymous 5:13 PM  

rick --

(NITPICK Warning / NITPICK Warning)

Pretty sure it's "WHEN (not WHERE) the wind comes right behind the rain" (it's "WHERE the wind comes sweepin' down the plain."

Anonymous 5:14 PM  


Anonymous 6:14 PM  

You're right, but don't ya just feel like bursting into a show tune after reading that?

the whole show

Anonymous 6:58 PM  

Jae, let us know how you like JERSEY BOYS. Everyone I know who's seen it has loved it.

rafaelthatmf, my hat's off to you! I should have picked up on that connection between Ellis and Costello by way of "Less Than Zero." (Trivia: The first time Costello played SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, he started to play "Less Than Zero," got two lines into it, stopped the Attractions, then launched into "Radio Radio," which he had been told NOT to sing. It was a while before he was invited back on the show....)

Anonymous 7:50 PM  

How to remember Frankie Valli(and how to spell it)-the following scene from Jersey Boys(saw it last year in NYC Saturday after Thanksgivng-it was GREAT!Enjoy Jae!)
Girl: So that's your real name, Valli?
Frankie Valli: Nah, Casteluccio, Francis Casteluccio.
Girl: Kinda long for a marquis.
Frankie Valli: That's why I changed it. Vally. V-a-l-l-y.
Girl: No, V-a-l-l-i.
Frankie Valli: How come?
Girl: Because Y is a bullshit letter. It doesn't know if it's a consonant or a vowel...and you're Italian. Ya gotta end in a vowel. Delgado. Casteluccio. Pizza. It says "This is who I am." If you don't like it, you can go fuck yourself.

Anonymous 8:51 PM  

Had "May I" of course, as well, tried to bring up my boy right.
I think Paula Gamache must be a Brit, "See here" is never used in America, and there are some other sigs:" Not worth a fig", Pete Best.
BTW: Oolala is not French, I think, it is American......

PuzzleGirl 10:05 PM  

The primary reason I read these comments is for the "nitpicking on questions of common usage."

And for the daily reminder to stop singing whatever song is in my head and get back to "Copa Cabana."

Anonymous 10:13 PM  

for puzzlegirl (Music Man music / non Copa variety)

Pick a nit, talk a nit, pick a nit, talk a nit
Cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little nit
{Three times}
Pick a nit, talk a nit, pick a nit, talk a nit
Cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep

fergus 10:20 PM  

Thanks y'all for details on MICA and ARGO, the former more colorful and the latter more drab than I expected. Isinglass is one of those words you've heard in a slur or as something quite different than the lyric and never thought to investigate. Not even sure what I thought it meant when heard it sung. If you're not familiar with the term 'mondegreen' it designates a misguided selection of words one thinks one has heard in a song: like as in Tina Turner replying to "What's love got to do with it? / It's just a second hand in motion." (Jon Carroll at the SF Chronicle may have coined mondegreen, or at least gave it a wider audience.)

I was hoping for something more cosmically cataclysmic for ARGO, or even perhaps a mythical reinterpretation, but the Former hint appears more bureaucratic than anything else.

fergus 10:54 PM  

Puzzlegirl hit the nail on the head: there's a desire to tease out the subtleties in this language of ours, if not necessarily to find Flaubert's "mot juste," but to seek a bit more refinement in expression. And perhaps take a stand against a slew of mundane expressions all meaning the same sort of thing.

Anonymous 1:46 AM  

fergus -- Nice to know there's a name for why I thought Credence was singing "there is a bathroom on the right."

Anonymous 8:21 AM  

One final nit to pick - a nit is a louse, so when one goes nitpicking, one is removing lice from a head of hair.

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