WEEKLY WRAP-UP: April 28 - May 4, 2008

Monday, May 5, 2008

Rarely does Tuesday provide most of the week's fireworks, but this past Monday featured one of the most absurd SE corners in Tuesday puzzle history. SYZYGY, which, SethG tells me, is the name of the Carleton women's ultimate frisbee team, sat next to the ultra-odd FERULE, and both were crossed by the rare SFC. My biggest problem, though, was not being able to spell SOYUZ. Haven't been so soundly defeated by a Tuesday puzzle since last year's infamous PFUI puzzle. Crosscan, after having cleverly suggested on Monday that I should change my name to ReChrist (so as not to offend the Lord), summed up my feelings about FERULE quite succinctly: "FERULE goes into my NABES file." Jim in Chicago had trouble in another part of the puzzle. His comment about 1A: No stranger to the slopes (ski bum): "All I can say is that I wrote in SHERPA for 1A and it was all downhill from there." That made me laugh, until I realized that the "downhill" part was supposed to be a cutesy play on words - referring to "ski bum," and then my laughter turned to wincing. SHERPA as a dreadfully wrong answer is funny in itself - doesn't need the cutesy additive of a play on words.

Friday's puzzle brought out some great comments, including Howard B's off-the-cuff performance of Skee-Lo's "I Wish" (such as his brain could remember it):

"I wish I was a little bit taller.
I wish I was a baller.*
I wish...something something rabbit in a hat..
..something something Impala."**

Why is even that much still swimming around in my head?!? Any idea, Rex? I'm stumped.
It was catchy, though.

* (basket, not melon)
** (paw-la?)

Here's the actual song, in case you want it to get stuck in your head too.

Wade offered an apt description of the awkward pseudo-clever cluing of both PAVER (2D: One of a lot of workers?) and UNBURNT (36D: Still "well," but not beyond): "It was kind of like watching a drunk guy play charades." And Byron was very quick to answer my plea for a Chris Rock riff on the Jeremiah Wright controversy:

Chris Rock on Jeremiah Wright: "[He's a] 75-year-old black man who doesn't like white people. Is there any other kind of 75-year-old black man?" When asked to respond to the quote at his National Press Club speech, Wright retorted "I think it's just like the media. I'm not 75."

On Saturday karmasartre shared a helpful mnemonic for spelling Lee IACOCCA's name:

Corporation (of)

While meandering around the internets I came across an old (pre-Shortz) article about the NYT crossword, which contained a piece of a letter from former NYT Sunday Times Magazine editor Lester Markel to the woman who would become the NYT Crossword's first editor, Margaret Farrar. With the looming recession, I thought it was eerily relevant:

I don’t think I have to sell you on the increased demand for this kind of pastime in an increasingly worried world. You can’t think of your troubles while solving a crossword …

So whatever else happens to the world, at least crosswords will thrive. Friday also taught us that another word for "gunman" (of the criminal / hitman variety) could be TORPEDO. Here is a fabulous glossary of hard-boiled terminology. Well worth reading, and maintained by a very knowledgeable guy: "Twists, Slugs and Roscoes"

With YENTL's appearance in today's puzzle (yet again), I thought it worth directing your attention to a link I added late to Saturday's write-up: Nelson Muntz (the main bully on "The Simpsons") singing (in painful earnestness, just as the composer surely intended) "Papa, Can You Hear Me?"

And your word of the week...

Well, this week was a toughie. FERULE (47D: Punishing rod - from Tues.) looked to be a shoo-in, as it is probably the rarest word we've seen all week, and it @#$#'d me up good - and on a Tuesday, no less. But then, just as the puzzle week neared its end, a dark horse came riding up from out of the mist ... a word so silly that it could not be denied. A word so silly that my brain neglected to register it when I did my write-up. That's right, I speak of none other than:

BLAT! (95D: Be noisy - from Sun.)

At first glance, it looks like little more than an overly creative Batman sound effect. But look more closely:

vi 1: to cry esp. like a calf or sheep: BELLOW, BLEAT {the calf blatted in fear as it was borne to the ground - F.D. Davison} 2a: to make a senseless or raucous noise {like an oboe blatting ... inside a barrel of feathers - R.P. Warren} b: to talk loudly and often foolishly {someone has to be constantly blatting around the house - Wilder Hobson} ~ vt: to utter (as an opinion) loudly and often foolishly or unthinkingly: BLURT {you don't want to go blatting this all over town - Mary S. Watts}

What I learned from the above definition is that BLAT came into existence because groups of people repeatedly failed to find the word they were actually looking for and ended up saying "BLAT." It is some kind of unholy hybrid of BLEAT and BLAB, but much, much funnier (and more fun to say) than either of those. I love the oboe quote too. Whoa, added bonus: just now, I found out (via the OED) that my favorite author once used the word - from Raymond Chandler's The High Window:

I went up the stairs. The radio I had heard over the telephone was still blatting the baseball game. I read numbers and went up front. Apartment 204 was on the right side and the baseball game was right across the hall from it. I knocked, got no answer and knocked louder. Behind my back three Dodgers struck out against a welter of synthetic crowd noise. I knocked a third time and looked out of the front hall window while I felt in my pocket for the key George Anson Phillips had given me.

Of course, if you want to combine FERULE and BLAT into one sentence, you really can't beat Orange's suggestion:

"If you don't quit that infernal blatting, so help me, I'll thwack you with my trusty ferule!"



Anonymous 4:36 PM  

Rex, did you intentionally misspell IACOCCA when referring to the mnemonic of how to remember his name, or was that just a REALLY funny typo?

Rex Parker 4:38 PM  

Sadly, the latter. HA ha. Ugh.


Anonymous 5:25 PM  

The one comment from this past week that I have spent the most time with was Puzzlegirl inquiring as to whom Frank Longo looks like, and suggesting Heath Ledger. I get the jaw/cheek part, but not the rest...I think there's another face in play.

Anonymous 6:04 PM  

Nowhere was it mentioned that FERULE is supposed to be pronounced in the same way as "feral", though one might be tempted to accent the last syllable, thinking of the object as a sort of ferocious RULER. Maybe that's why the word has fallen by the wayside, by lacking punch in the pronunciation!


Anonymous 7:05 PM  

RP, on Blat: "I love the oboe quote too". What oboe quote? I was looking forward to a new gibe at the expense of the "ill wind no one blows good", but I can't find it in either your blog or Sunday's Comments log, and Google can find nothing better than a transparent typo (some piece in "B blat").


Rex Parker 7:26 PM  

Sorry Noam,

blogger completely deleted the first part of every phrase that began with a "<" symbol, so I changed those to curved brackets. Quotations in the definition of BLAT are complete now.


Doc John 11:26 PM  

(I didn't do Sunday's puzzle so is it legit for me to comment?)

In my family and group of friends, the word BLAT is also taken to imply expression of certain bodily noxious substances in gaseous form.

In addition, being a tuba player, I'm always accused of BLATting! (A similar sound, perhaps?)

Which, of course, brings me to the magnificent stage show, Blast!, and its cast of practically every brass instrument known to mankind. There's no blatting going on here, though, just great musicianship.

Michael Chibnik 11:30 PM  

In the former Soviet Union, blat referred to ways of getting things done via the unofficial (informal) economy -- not usually bribery, more like connections of one sort or another.

I know this has nothing to do with noise, but when I got the answer "blat" (which made no sense), I kept trying to make it fit with what went on in the former Soviet Union. But then I realized that hardly any crossword solvers would know this sense of "blat" even if it were somehow related to noise.

Barbara Bolsen 11:59 PM  

@doc john: Every December in Chicago there is an exceedingly large gathering (convention?) of tuba players, always in an elegant downtown hotel. The hotel has two grand staircases that descend from a mezzanine to one of its lobbies. The tuba players (with horns of all shapes & sizes) assemble on the mezzanine and staircases and give a jolly free concert called a Merry Tuba Christmas. It involves one heckuva lot of tuneful BLATting!

Rex: I enjoyed the blog from the moment I laid eyes on it a couple of weeks ago, but the weekly wrapup is just extra cool extra value. Therefore, a contribution is on the way, as soon as I get my pay pal account straightened out. Thanks!

Bill D 9:09 AM  

If you ever heard my oboe playing, you would instantly understand BLAT. With the double-reed long retired, I can now BLAT on the kazoo with the best of them. (While I once deemed myself the World's Worst Oboe Player, my old garage bandmates dubbed me the World's Best Kazoo Player - I guess it has something to do with/without the fingering!)

Anonymous 10:00 AM  

Being mentionned second in your weekly wrapup has created a new competition - coming up with a comment so stunningly brilliant that it will make it to the number one spot on the charts. At least here I can finish ahead of Orange.

This week hasn't provided much yet; perhaps Weird Word Wednesday will.

Orange 2:17 PM  

Crosscan, don't you know I'm too competitive to let such a challenge go unanswered? Now I'm going to be sure to don my Hat of Cleverness every time I comment at this blog.

I'm just kidding.

Or am I?


Joon 12:25 PM  

orange, i've noticed that you don your Hat of Cleverness much more frequently as a commenter (here or elsewhere) than as a poster on your own blog. is that intentional?

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