WEDNESDAY, Dec. 19, 2007 - Victor Fleming

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "THE LAST shall be first" (Matthew 20:16 passim) - familiar phrases that begin with THE LAST are clued without it, thus requiring you to put THE LAST first in order to find the familiar phrase.

I really liked this puzzle, but that is partly because I got the theme early and easily, and after that, the theme answers were all a cinch. One of the benefits of being trained as a medievalist: certain core biblical concepts just stick in your head, and "the last shall be first and the first last" is one of them. This puzzle is Loaded with crosswordese, which is kind of a downer, but there are enough nice moments for me to overlook the often generic fill.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Guy ready to sing the national anthem? (man standing) - this phrase often appears in titles without the definite article, as in the Bruce Willis movie LAST Man Standing, but it's a common enough phrase in general parlance that the "the" version seems fine to me.
  • 23A: Era ended by Vesuvius? (Days of Pompeii) - this one doesn't really have its meaning changed much. Why lop off "THE LAST" and then essentially bring the concept of finality back in the cluing?
  • 36A: What shall be first ... or words that can precede 17-, 23-, 52- and 60-Across (the last) - seems as if, possibly, this clue should have "in the bible" or "according to the Gospels" or something added to it, even if that would make this puzzle (even) easier.
  • 52A: Belonging to a Hudson Valley Tribe? (of the Mohicans)
  • 60A: Museum exhibit? (picture show)

I'm going to try to spend some portion of my day today saying "BY GUM" (10D: "Dang!") and "MATEY" (5D: Brit's buddy) - in the same sentence, if at all possible.

Here are two actresses whose names you Must Remember. Right Now. Pay Attention (I'm mainly speaking to myself here, as every time I see their clues, all my brain can come up with are O's, A's, and random consonants):

  • 14A: Massey of old movies (Ilona)
  • 25D: Negri of silent films (Pola)

I love the symmetrical positioning of DOGGIE (13D: Little canine) and BOGIES (45D: Unidentified planes). I had a tiny bit of trouble with BOGIES because I misread the clue as [Unidentified places] and so when I ended up with BOGIES, after piecing it together from crosses, I thought "... is that supposed to be like 'boondocks?' Or 'the sticks?' [disgruntled murmuring sound]."

Love TOP UP (65A: Convertible driver's option), which nicely crosses SIT-UPS at the "P" (49D: Gym class exercises). Another clever intersection, though surely it's been done before: NAY (39A: Vote against) crossing YEA (41D: Vote for).

Here's your Crosswordese roll call:

ADO, NOG, ITALO, OAF, ATARI, BOSC, ETNA, ETO, TOTIE (69A: Funny Fields), LIMO, ELAN, ETA, EON, OPES, OTT, EROO, IOU, SWEE, ICER, STENOG (47D: Court worker, for short) - the last of which is possibly my least favorite abbreviation of all time. Hey, NOG ... and STENOG. Who knew that NOG was a female saint?

Other things:

  • 1A: "_____ Eat Cake" (1930s musical) ("Let 'Em") - loved this, as it is both colloquial and easily guessable.
  • 29A: March (through) (troop) - I had TROMP. After I finished, I asked my wife what she thought the answer to the clue would be. She said TRAMP. I like both of our answers better than this one, though its validity is not in question.
  • 54D: "For every Bird _____": Emily Dickinson ("a Nest") - a lovely partial. Like "LET 'EM" (above) I didn't know it straight off, but could guess it easily enough.

I am weirdly sad this morning, as last night was my final night teaching in prison. Our final reading, eerily: Dante's Inferno (entirely their choice). As with everything else we've read this term, they ate it up like it was their last meal (coincidentally, we talked about justice, the death penalty, and the popular conception of "the last meal"). Dante's hell is a place without hope. With no light. It's thus a powerful moment when Dante emerges with Virgil out of hell and sees, for the first time in a long time, stars (which is the last word of the poem). Which leads to another weird coincidence - After I'd said goodbye to the students and they had left, I then walked out of the old brick schoolhouse with our prison guard/escort and Charles, the bible reading-group leader who always teaches at the same time I do. We got to the bottom of the stairs, and the first thing Charles did was look up at the night sky and say: "Hey ... I can see stars."

Teaching in prison was the best teaching experience of my life, by a long shot. I don't know if I'll see any of those guys again. I hope they take care of themselves and stay out of trouble. If nothing else, they've got Strunk & White - the best weapon I had to offer.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Here's Emily Cureton's Tuesday, 12/18 drawing:

[drawing by Emily Cureton]


Anonymous 9:29 AM  

I think a good clue for 23A could have included the Latin word for "days" (which I don't remember right now). I am sure someone can come up with a second part that also clues Pompeii . . . I don't have time to think about it now, gotta run

Anonymous 9:30 AM  

Rex, my sympathies on the ending of your prison gig. May you have many more such experiences throughout the rest of your teaching career.
Jim in NYC

Anonymous 9:41 AM  

Dang Matey, this was easy!

Wednesdays are often themed, but this was a breeze...thinking when I filled in "man standing" that the clue should have been "The last __________."

Off to Michigan for the holidays and good luck finding the NYT in East Lansing. May miss you, but not BOSC, ETO, IOU, TUE, ROSSI, GLEEM, LVI (and all the variations) POLA and ATARI.

Happy Solving.

Anonymous 9:45 AM  

So ILONA and POLA are regulars... Hmmm, I need to file those away. I was just glad that ITALO came to me (although it took a couple crossings), as that's been a relatively recent addition to my lexicon.

Rex, I was quite moved reading your account of your last night at the prison. It sounds like that may be a night you will long remember. I can well understand your sadness as you walked away.

janie 9:47 AM  

ditto jim in nyc. any chance you could get another gig there? sounds like *everyone* was rewarded.

best --


Orange 9:49 AM  

You should write an essay about your experiences with the prison class.

ITALO Calvino's not crosswordese in my book because we had to read him in a high-school English class. Or maybe it was college. Although I don't actually remember anything he wrote. The first chapter of his most famous book is amusingly meta, but doesn't ring any bells. Maybe he is crosswordese after all.

Virna Lisi and Nita Naldi occasionally pop up in the Pola Negri/Ilona Massey spot.

janie 9:50 AM  

p.s. and paul in mn -- and probably all your posters!

jls in nyc

Orange 9:50 AM  

P.S. And I'm glad the clue for THE LAST didn't bring the Bible into it, because (a) it would have muddled things for me, (b) the clue was long enough as is, and (c) it was easy enough to get that answer without additional hints tossed in.

Anonymous 9:53 AM  

What almost drove me to Google was the square where "unidentified planes" crossed with "Janis___with the 1975 hit..." How and why are planes and bogies (with or without an upper-case B) related? And is anyone other than a pop-culture trivia expert supposed to know Ms. Ian's ouevre? I did like the ambiguity of "unable to hit a pitch".

janie 10:03 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
janie 10:05 AM  

i know italo calvino mostly for his great collection, italian folktales. if you don't know it, it's a treasure.

ditto orange on *not* including the bible. just woulda been superfluous. imoo.



Anonymous 10:08 AM  

Every one of the theme cues was also a movie title. Rex mentioned the Bruce Willis "Last Man Standing"; The Last Days of Pompeii was made in 1935; Last of the Mohicans has been made into a movie three times, most recently in 1992, and The Last Picture Show was 1971.
Bogies are enemy aircraft in USAF lingo; "Bogey 12 o'clock high" means you have some enemy in front of you and above; "Bogey on your six" would signal that the enemy is directly behind you (analog clock faces).

Anonymous 10:23 AM  

Thanks for the bogey explanation. I had "reg" for "seg" (Div.) and no idea what "bogier" could mean.

wendy 10:45 AM  

My heathen upbringing rears its ugly head again - although I got the theme, I didn't understand the first-last reference in the Biblical or any other context.

Rex, I've spent some time in prison myself, not to teach, but for other professional reasons, and I think I can imagine why you've been so affected by your experience. It's hard to put into words but it certainly could be done, and you should do it. When you've got the time ;)

Anonymous 10:47 AM  

A friend of mine is teaching math in a prison right now and LOVES it. She says it's been her most rewarding gig ever.

There was recently a nice NPR piece (This American Life?) about putting on Shakespeare plays in prison. It was quite eye opening and moving. Look for it on the web and download it for sure.

Unknown 10:51 AM  

That was a lovely story about the stars, Rex. Thank you.

Anonymous 10:59 AM  

Ste. Nog probably was canonized because she invented the wonderful christmas quaff...
Anyway, I thought the term Bogies refers to enemy aircraft during air combat, hence the aircraft is identified in a way. And Rex, when you look at the picture you kindly provided you will see that the movie title reads "Bruce Willis is THE Last Man standing".

Anonymous 10:59 AM  

All those war movies, being a chid of the sixties, and a NY native helped me whip through the lower half. Over analyzed the little canine, though Dad was ... and left the clock running so it seems it took me 79 minutes. And, my horoscope sez today is a good day. Gee whiz.

Rex, About 10 years ago the New Yorker did a series on Prison life and Andersonville (civil war prison) is also a good read. Both let you see how little has changed in prison life. I am happy for you that you had that teaching experience. May you sometime know the profound influence you had on those lives.

PuzzleGirl 11:13 AM  

I figured the theme was something Biblical (the "shall" tipped me off), though, not being a religious person, I didn't know the whole quote.

I don't consider myself a pop-culture trivia expert, but I was a teenager in the 70's and distinctly remember Janis Ian's hauntingly beautiful (and somewhat depressing) "At Seventeen."

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball ...

Check it out if you're interested.

Anonymous 11:18 AM  

Dyslexia + trying to solve fast = misread. Read Martin for 48a and put in ROWEN and revel for 26d and was looking for a poetic form of orgy. Other than that an easy enjoyable puzzle. I had POLA reinforced on my recent visit to Hearst Castle as she was a visitor there according to the guide.

Touching prison story Rex, I'm glad to see some of the drug sentencing laws are getting more equitable.

Anonymous 11:27 AM  

As a person of a non-Christian faith who was not exposed to the New Testament until way after college, I was able to get "the last" without any problems. I therefore don't think it needed to be clued with "The Bible" nor do I think one needs to be Christian to get the clue as it is part of general culture even for this non-Christian.

Rex Parker 11:33 AM  

Wow, Orange, for someone so sensitive to sexism, I'm surprised you don't care when the puzzle passes off the Bible as fact/truth. "What shall be first ..."??? It's not a fact, it's an idea, and it comes from somewhere. I see what you mean, from a solver's standpoint, and I thought the clue was easy/gettable as is, but the Christian-centrism of it (cluing it as if it were universal truth and not a quotation) just strikes me as odd.


Orange 11:52 AM  

But Rex, the clue is also a completely literal in a non-biblical sense. THE LAST shall be first in each theme entry, strictly from the standpoint of where the phrase falls in the complete title. The whole bible thing didn't occur to me at all since it's scarcely in my frame of reference, and the clue (wisely) didn't announce itself as biblical. No, sir, I don't care for it at all when crossword clues present EDEN, ADAM, and EVE as facts. But this clue didn't beat me over the head with anything other than how the theme entries are to be assembled.

So what does it mean, anyway? A secular reference book says that bible teaching "implies that those who have prospered through wickedness will fail, whereas the good who have suffered for the sake of God will win salvation." (And yet [name omitted] still has money and power!)

Anonymous 11:56 AM  

Didn't know ITALO and thought ITAEO was equally plausible, leaving ENSNARE for ENSNARL. Took me forever to find that one. I guess I was the only one?

Anonymous 12:25 PM  

italo calvino's work should be must-read material for any word-lover (which i assume we all are). add "baron in the trees" or "if on a winter's night a traveler" (the afore-mentioned meta-novel) to your holiday reading list and treat yourself.

as for the puzzle itself, when i got NAY, ATARI, BOSC, ROSSI, and ETNA all in a row (i go straight through the clues, but missed STONE on my first pass) i almost thought it was some kind of crosswordese in-joke. i wouldn't hesitate to put a single one of these in the Pantheon.

Anonymous 12:26 PM  

Best advice in Strunk and White, "If you don't know how to pronouince something, say it loud. Why compound ignorance with inaudibility?"

Rex Parker 12:37 PM  

Orange - the "or" says otherwise. The literal is the second part.

Anonymous 12:45 PM  

'Otherwise ange'? Hmmm.

I'm surprised to see TOTIE listed as crosswordese. I don't recall it happening before; I got it all from crosses.

Thank you Rex for tending to those in prison.

Anonymous 12:55 PM  

Why not (male) ST. ENOG (var. of ENOCH)???
Stenographer is usually clued "steno". Any comparative frequencies here?

Anonymous 1:05 PM  

First of all, Rex, your account of your last day teach was moving. I agree - you should write this down while the experiences are fresh in your mind!

Now to the puzzle:

By gum, this was easy but fun! (Of course I'd say that about any puzzle that mentioned Elton John.)

Janis Ian also had a song called "Society's Child" that preceded "At Seventeen."

I liked the juxtaposition of NAY and YEA in the east. TONEDEAF was inspired. For some reason, I also got a kick out of TOPUP.

Lance CPL was a gimme for me since I was part of a production of A FEW GOOD MEN earlier this year.

Side music mentions:

The ENVOY was the name of the late Warren Zevon's 1982 album. In concert, Zevon used to dedicate the title track to Phillip Habib, the Lebanese businessman whom Ronald Reagan appointed as Mideast Envoy in the early 1980s.

"Swee' Pea" was a mindless but catchy song by Tommy Roe. "Oh, Swee Pea/Won't you dance with me?" Rats, now I'll have that running in my head the rest of the day...

Anonymous 1:07 PM  

An enjoyable puzzle today. The biblical reference wasn't even apparent to me until I came here (not that I would have known it, anyway).

IMHO, I wouldn't get so uptight about whether the bible cluing is being passed off as fact or not. It's popular culture and most solvers will be led in the direction of the answer by cluing things in certain ways. "First man" = ADAM, for example. Of course he wasn't really the first man (everyone knows it was STEVE) but when you see "First man", you write in ADAM, right?

P.S. Thanks to Ms. IAN for clearing up my BOGEYS/BOGIES mistake.

Anonymous 1:19 PM  

Another easy puzzle today.

Do Brits really refer to their pals as MATEY? I always think of that as a nautical expression as in "ahoy matey", and I've always heard the word for pal as MATE as in "Cheers, Mate".

Anonymous 1:52 PM  

When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other,
you will never know Oneness.

I achieved oneness with this puzzle at ROSSI,of course that was with a beer and an egg nog chaser.

Unknown 2:00 PM  

Can anybody tell me where I can get a copy of Simon and Schuster Puzzle book 259? Ive tried Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Anonymous 2:11 PM  

For Brit's buddy, I immediately wrote Paris and thought, how annoying that even the NYT is sinking to such trash-pop references. Oops. Is my face red! I bet no one else made this mistake. Or will admit to it.

Orange 2:16 PM  

Rex, when the whole puzzle takes less than three and a half minutes, I tend to skip right over parts of a lot of clues. A busy comments thread on a Pandagon blog post on atheism, though—that I'll spend more time reading.

PriscillaHowe 2:30 PM  

Delurking here to say how much I appreciate both this blog and the comments. This was a fun and easy puzzle for me today.

And I'll add my voice to say how much I enjoyed your comments about prison. I've told stories in juvenile detention centers and at a women's prison and have been similarly affected. Maybe as a Medievalist, you'll appreciate that the kids at JDC sat rapt for the whole 95 minutes of "Tristan and Iseult."

storytelling notes

Anonymous 2:38 PM  

Jim in Chi... my son, home from school in London, says yes the Brits refer to friends as Matey, but usually just Mate.

Thanks to Puzzlegirl for "Seventeen." I always loved Janis Ian. And thanks to Billnut for the reminder of Tommy Roe, who wrote such innocuously pop songs as Hooray for Hazel, Dizzy, and Crimson & Clover in addition to "Swee' Pea." A veritable feast of ditties.

I wonder if bogies, or the alternate spelling bogeys, for enemy planes derived from the evil bogeyman, coming to get you.

Last of the Mohicans brought to mind the stunning performance of Daniel Day-Lewis in that film.

My duh of the day: I read mediation for meditation and wondered at the oneness. And I meditate every day!

Finally, thanks, Rex, for sharing your experience teaching at the prison. Very moving.

fergus 2:39 PM  

For some variety in the mental jukebox, another classic from the Tommy Roe oeuvre was "Jam Up and Jelly Tight." And Puzzlegirl, there were certainly a whole bunch of painful lines in "At Seventeen." Among the worst was, "And those of us with ravaged faces, lacking in the social graces ..., ".

I was wondering if the prisoners at Rex's Penitentiary (or Correctional Institute, or whatever it's called) would have to choose between the Bible study and the Literature course, since these seem to be offered at the same time? Possibly a tough choice for some of the miscreants.

Concurrence on the MATEY misstep. I can't imagine that's been used with any sincerity on dry land for a long, long time, if ever. Other children of the 1960s may recall MATEY as a bubble bath powder in a flaming pink box. I don't recall how MATEY was meant to distinguish itself from other similar products.

ITALO Calvino, PRIMO LEVI; I can never remember which is who. Tend to get the major South American authors mixed up, too. Wouldn't hurt to actually read some more of them, I suppose.

Can see the connection between Churl and OAF, but they're quite distinct sorts of boors, I would say.

And still don't get why the Guy ready to sing the anthem is the LAST MAN STANDING? In most cases I would think he's the first -- as in Ladies and gentlemen, please rise to sing our national anthem. The singer guy's not just sitting around, is he?

PuzzleGirl 3:15 PM  

Hey, fergus. He's not the last man standing, he's just a "man standing." Then when you add "the last" in front of "man standing" you've got a familiar phrase. Just like "Belonging to a Hudson Valley trible" is "of the Mohicans." And when you add "the last" at the front, you've got a familiar phrase.

Anonymous 3:20 PM  


There is no Simon & Schuster Series 259. The Series has morphed into the Mega Crosswords Series of 300 original crosswords...three books per year..Mega 1 will be out January 8, 2008.

Happy Holidays!

Eric Selje 3:26 PM  

Fergus wrote: I was wondering if the prisoners at Rex's Penitentiary would have to choose between the Bible study and the Literature course, since these seem to be offered at the same time? .

As a follow up, I wonder who was more spiritually affected. Thanks for doing that Rex, it's inspiring.

Anonymous 3:48 PM  

rikki -- I need to add mediation to my list of misreads, and I wondered why ONEMIND didn't work!

fergus 5:28 PM  

Thanks Puzzlegirl for sorting that out. Even though it was implicit elsewhere, I'm surprised how often I get confused by this sort of clue. Especially with the Sunday style of puns, I do think there is a convention on cluing most accurately the literal ANSWER, and not so much the root of the pun or allusion. That bears remembering, even though I'll probably fall into the same trap soon enough.

Anonymous 6:00 PM  

first thing i thought when I read our comments today was how I'd love to read a more detailed account of your prison teaching experience. What are you waiting for? Blog it, BY GUM!

Anonymous 6:25 PM  


After 'the man' sings the anthem, everyone sits down ... usually. Poor guy ends up as the TLMS.

Arthur Radley

Chip Ahoy 6:27 PM  

For every bird, a bloke.

Unknown 6:57 PM  

Thanks JMS.Have a good holiday and a happy new year.

Michael Chibnik 7:29 PM  

perhaps my fastest Wednesday ever. But lots of fun...

I'll bet the NYT is quite findable in East Lansing...

Transmetropolitan 7:39 PM  

My apologies if anyone else has mentioned this already, but all the theme answers today are films.

Anonymous 7:48 PM  

Correction, rikki! Tommy JAMES gave us "Crimson and Clover." Tommy ROE did, however, give us "Hooray for Hazel" and "Dizzy" (and, as Fergus astutely noted, the sublime "Jam Up Jelly Tight.")

Roe also recorded "Sheila," one of the best Buddy Holly songs that Buddy Holly never recorded. ("Sweet little Sheila, man you've got to see here.")

fergus 8:29 PM  

"Blue eyes and pony tail ... man, that little girl is fine."

I guess this Tommy has been overwhelmed by fish OVA, OF LATE. Maybe even jeopardizing his enshrinement in the Pantheon.

Anonymous 8:37 PM  

I learned the truth at seventeen,
a girl must keep her privates clean..

Anonymous 10:04 PM  

This is breakfast fare? We are wandering here..... I'm sure Rex wouldn't like it.
Easy one, I haven't needed reference books, dictionaries or Google for days! Too easy.

Anonymous 10:08 PM  

On Mate and Matey - I think Matey is more nautical and Aussie than urban Brit. Matey is used in Pirates Of Penzance and Peter Pan, though.

Anonymous 11:10 PM  

Billnutt... sorry, I think I called you Billnut before... anyway, Tommy James did in fact write it, but Tommy Roe covered it. I think he covered Sugar Sugar, too. Didn't we have Stagger Lee recently? He covered that one, too.

Jae... we are of oneminded oneness. Om. Much better than mediation.

Anonymous 11:53 PM  


First of all, don't sweat leaving off the extra "t". My name is Bill Nutt, and I'm used to having it mangled, mocked and misspelled. With a name like Nutt, you have to have a hard shell. (Sorry...)

But I want to thank you for correcting me! I hadn't known about Tommy Roe's version of "Crimson and Clover," and come to find it's on his Greatest Hits collection! I may to have to hear this. I appreciate your setting me straight.

Orange 12:05 AM  

One thing I have learned from the other Times crossword—the cryptic in the Times of London—is that Cockney rhyming slang pairs mate with china plate, which is then shortened to just china. Does anyone actually say that? I have no idea. But I've seen it more than once in the crossword. It's insane, is what it is.

Anonymous 12:11 AM  

rikki/billnutt -- are you still discussing "Sweet Pea" here? rikki said "Tommy James did in fact write it, but Tommy Roe covered it." The sheet music is scanned and on the net, showing "Words and Music by TOMMY ROE", published by Low-Twi Music...

Anonymous 12:35 AM  

No Karmasatre, we were talking about Crimson and Clover. But I've been singing, Oh Sweet Pea, c'mon & dance with me, c'mon c'mon, c'mon and dance with me-e-e-e.

fergus 1:28 AM  

Orange, only a few old guys seemed to be making any conscious effort -- otherwise the wider usage was confined to just a few phrases like 'telling porkies' meaning telling lies from the rhyme with pork pies. A few other examples must persist, but I would guess that most of the rhyming slang is now archaic. But then again, my familiarity with English English is a bit archaic as well.

Anonymous 12:24 AM  

Trust British cop shows to perpetuate some of the better Britslang. Inspector Frost often tells his suspects that he believes they've been telling "porkies" (lies) while Morse's superior in at least one episode addresses him somewhat condescendingly as "matey".

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