MONDAY, Dec. 1, 2008 - Eric J. Platt (Connected on only one side, as a town house / Chemistry Nobelist Otto / Order at the Pig and Whistle)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: TURN ON A DIME (57A: Change abruptly, or what the insides of 17-, 27- and 43-Across do?) - letter string "DIME" appears backward ("EMID") in each of the three theme answers

Cute idea, but turning a DIME is not the same as turning ON a DIME, so the concept feels a bit forced. The buried and backward word is kind of mid-to-late week trick, but it's welcome here, as the answers were odd enough to slow me down considerably (For A Monday). IDEATES is up there among my least favorite words (41D: Has thoughts), but most of the rest of the fill seems just fine. Nothing scintillating, but entirely adequate.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: The Divine Miss M (Bett EMID ler)
  • 27A: Birth mother's helper (nurs EMID wife)
  • 43A: Connected on only one side, as a town house (s EMID etached)

DIME breaks across two words in every case. All the theme answers are unusual and lively and interesting. All in all, not bad work. You RARELY (22A: Hardly ever) see HAHN (46D: Chemistry Nobelist Otto) this early in the week. As wife said, "I know he's crossworde(a)se, but isn't it a little early in the week for HAHN?" Yes, but that's OK.

Do people use CLERGIES in the plural very often? (9D: Religious groups)

The NW is teeming with actresses, with AGNES Moorehead and MELANIE Griffith (both horribly boringly clued) joining Ms. Midler for a rather odd triad. Wait, I guess we can add ADELE Astaire to the mix too (15A: One of the dancing Astaires), as she appears to have developed her vaudeville act with her brother into a successful Broadway career. Speaking of Broadway, KERN (39A: Jerome who composed "The Last Time I Saw Paris") is one of a gaggle of Broadway composer whose names I've had to learn (though I remain largely to completely ignorant of their work).


  • 20A: John Cougar Mellencamp's "R.O.C.K. in the _____" ("U.S.A.") - long, semi-cheesy way to go for that answer.

  • 55A: Order at the Pig and Whistle (ale) - is this place famous? Um ... it seems that yes, if you are Canadian, it is:

The Pig and Whistle was a Canadian musical television series aired on the CTV television network from 1967 to 1977. Filmed in Toronto, Ontario but set in a fictional English pub, the show featured an assortment of Canadian, British and Irish performers

  • 1D: The Beatles' "Revolver" or "Help!" (album) - I very stupidly and rashly wrote in A SIDE (neglecting the fact that "Revolver" is no such thing)

  • 11D: Not reduced, as some illustrations (life-sized) - I like this answer.

  • 28D: "Maria _____," 1941 #1 hit ("Elena") - the only song I know with this title is by The Smithereens. Can't find a youtube version, so here's "A Girl Like You" (from the same album, "11"):

  • 31D: _____ Club (discount store) (Sam's) - Normally I don't share the anti-corporate sentiments of many solvers, but on this one, SAM'S could have so easily been changed that I kind of resent having to look at it.
  • 58D: Mouse's big cousin (rat) - Watched "Venus" last night (recent movie starring Peter O'Toole) and one of the previews playing in the background while I solved this puzzle was "RATatouille." Great movie.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Nov. 30, 2008 - Richard Silvestri ("Also Sprach Zarathustra" hitmaker, 1973 / Herringlike fish / Darius the Scamp? / Endor inhabitants)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Uh-Oh" - "UH" sound is changed to "OH" sound in several common (or at least vaguely familiar) phrases, resulting in wacky phrases, which are clued with "?" clues

Rough. That is my word for this puzzle. The theme was humdrum. Basic. Bland. Unmemorable. As much bad stuff (LOAM AND ABNER, really? - 52A: Dirty radio sitcom?) as good stuff (PEACH FOES - 47A: Fruit flies?). It's got what feels like a remarkably low theme density. Only seven theme answers, and two of those are remarkably short. "ARE WE HAVING PHONE YET?" is godawful, especially for a central answer - the longest in the puzzle. The other wacky phrases are at least phrases that make a kind of literal sense. OK, maybe not the krappy LOAM AND ABNER, but the others at least seem imaginable, envisionable. "ARE WE HAVING PHONE YET?" has the unfortunate effect of both sounding like something uttered comically by a non-native speaker and evoking the torturous Verizon catchphrase, "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?" Ugh.

But the real story of this puzzle is the Bizarro fill, esp. in the N by NW section of the puzzle. The hardest section for me, by far, was the NW, where I had to endure a phrase no one has used since 1975 ("NO JIVE" - 19A: "Honestly, man" - which I was Sure was "NO JOKE," a much more current and in-the-language phrase) and a word no one has ever used (GNAR - 1D: Sound like an angry dog) . Then there's the seemingly invented ATONIC (23A: Not accented) and the never- before- seen- by- me DECEM (6D: X). If I hadn't known RAMIS (32A: "Stripes" actor, 1981) - and even that one took a second to come to me - I'd still be working on the NW. Never mind that everything else up there besides "Get A JOB" (3D: "Get _____" (doo-wop classic)) is clued in some weird, slightly off way. Not a pleasant experience.

A very close second on the lunacy scale is the MENHADEN (9D: Herringlike fish) / DEODATO (39A: "Also Sprach Zarathustra" hitmaker, 1973) crossing. I've never heard of either. If I hadn't known some Latin, I'd still be staring at a blank space where these words collide. I believe I might have seen DEODATO in a puzzle or clue, maybe once before. I have Never seen MENHADEN Anywhere ever. I'm still shocked that these two obscurities were allowed to collide. OK, not ASEC/PSEC shocked, but shocked nonetheless. The SHAVUOT (62D: Spring Jewish holiday) / LANARK (63D: Historical Scottish county) pairing gave me some grief in the Colorado region of the puzzle. I think I'd heard of the Jewish holiday before, but probably never seen it spelled. LANARK is a book I know, but I don't know what "historical" is supposed to mean in relation to a county. It existed in "history," yes. Lastly, in the gripe department, there's IANA (120A: Suffix for a collection) and CYTE (124A: Cell suffix) involved in some ugly suffix mating ritual down there in Louisiana.

Theme answers:

  • 29A: Helpful comment to a judge? ("There's the ROBE")
  • 47A: Fruit flies? (peach FOES)
  • 52A: Dirty radio sitcom? ("LOAM and Abner")
  • 67A: Jokey question to a Verizon technician? ("Are we having PHONE yet?")
  • 82A: Darius the scamp? (Persian ROGUE)
  • 88A: Pot-smoking cleric? (Friar TOKE) - two pot references this weekend! I had PRIEST ---- here for a bit. That damn "-RI-" suckered me in.
  • 105A: Result of excessive rowing (pain in the BOAT) - I really don't want "butt" in my puzzle, however disguised.

Last of the leftovers:

  • 7A: Web programmer's medium (HTML) - OK, so now it's a "medium." I can live with that. I remember there was some controversy over labeling a while back.
  • 21A: Economist Janeway (Eliot) - ELIOT reminds me of T.S.... or "Phone Home." Haven't heard of this economist.
  • 44D: Turkish inns (imarets) - thankfully, I'd seen in before. Otherwise - ouch.
  • 58A: Polonius's hiding place (arras) - aw yeah. Turns out they are not sword-proof.
  • 61A: Do some grapplin' (rassle) - turns out there's one thing I really like about this puzzle: this answer! I try to get my dogs to "RASSLE" every morning. They usually oblige.
  • 66A: Weapon in the Charge of the Light Brigade (lance) - ah, the Crimean War. Never goes out of style, somehow.
  • 75A: Cowgirl Dale (Evans) - a flat-out gimme. Huzzah! She is in good company. One of my other flat-out gimmes was ... COATI! (91A: Raccoon relative). $100 to anyone who can produce a picture of Dale EVANS with a COATI. No photoshopping!
  • 80A: Output of une legislature (loi) - for our Canadian solvers.
  • 93A: The story of the aftermath of Oceanic Flight 815 ("Lost") - I just spend several minutes looking for this "story" ... only to realize that the "LOST" in question is the TV show. Until just a few minutes ago, I was thinking that "LOST" was that movie about plane wreck survivors who eat each other. That's "Alive."
  • 92A: Endor inhabitants (Ewoks) - Endor is a forest moon. Like Oceanic Flight 815, it is also fictional (part of the "Star Wars" universe)
  • 113A: Hairy TV cousin (Itt) - easy enough. Most "cousins" are ITT in the puzzle.
  • 115A: _____ Torrence, American sprinter who won three gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics (Gwen) - came to me instantly, for reasons I don't understand. I don't follow track and field at all.
  • 121A: Henry Fielding novel and heroine (Amelia) - never read (or heard of) it, but I have friends who undoubtedly have. They make you do crazy !@#@# in grad school.
  • 5D: 1979 Broadway hit with the song "On This Night of a Thousand Stars" ("Evita") - luckily the answer is familiar, because the clue means nothing. In other musical news, I watched "Guys and Dolls" yesterday. Yes, I voluntarily watched a musical. And loved it (but I love hard-boiled fiction, and so the style and lingo and dames and what not were right up my alley). About halfway through, daughter came in the room: "What are you watching?" So she watched the rest with me. Is it wrong that I went back and specifically made her watch "Pet Me, Papa"? I thought she would love the cat suits (and she did).

  • I'm just hoping the whole ... metaphor of that song was utterly lost on her. We watched "Arsenic and Old Lace" on Friday. She Loved that. "I think those ladies are going to kill him (Cary Grant)" - "Uh, no honey, that's their nephew. He's going to be O.K."
  • 8D: Home-run run (trot) - love this. My littlest dog TROTs everywhere she goes. Sometimes we even call her "TROT-TROT."
  • 12D: Celebs as a group (A List) - Interesting counterpart to LINE A (123A: Form beginning). You know what word I don't like: "Celebs."
  • 18D: Plant circulatory tissue (xylem) - interesting X-cross with SAX (16A: Adolphe _____, musical instrument inventor)
  • 36D: "True blue" and gold team (U.C.L.A.) - That's "light blue" to you and me.
  • 66D: Poe poem that ends "From grief and groan to a golden throne beside the King of Heaven" ("Lenore") - Also contains the line "Peccavimus; but rave not thus!"
  • 89D: Mathematician Turing (Alan) - hey, I remembered his name! Now if I could just remember why he's famous ...
  • 90D: Miss Havisham's ward in "Great Expectations" (Estella) - just read this (well, part of this) this past summer. Forgot this was her name.
  • 100D: Fossil-yielding rock (shale) - Washington Post TV critic Tom SHALEs had been around a while, but is not yet a fossil.
  • 107D: 1982 Disney film ("Tron") - this should be automatic. If it says "Disney" or "1982" and it's in four letters - TRON.
  • 111D: War of 1812 battle site (Erie) - ah, my least-understood American war. And yet another way to clue ERIE.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

I'm in my local paper today. Man, my head is huge.


SATURDAY, Nov. 29, 2008 - Barry C. Silk (Defier of Stalin / "Oedipe" opera composer, 1936 / The sculptures "Cloud Shepherd" and "Coquille Crystals")

Friday, November 28, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Whew. Solid Saturday. Right over the plate. Reasonably smooth, reasonably tough, a flashy answer or two, and even a snazzy construction feat - right in the heart of the puzzle, a SELDOM SEEN (63A: Rare) Z-square formed by the intersections of DIZZY (37A: Swimming) and RAZZ (40A: Heckle) with PIZZA (29D: Kind of oven) and OZZY (34D: "The Osbournes" dad). OZZY was one of a big handful of gimmes in today's puzzles: two more proper nouns in EDY (43D: Last name in ice cream) and NIC (49A: Actor Cage, informally), the oddly easy ROO (21A: Bush jumper, informally), the gut-level guess, DECO (18A: Like the Empire State Building), and the came-to-me-instantly AM I TO BLAME? (25D: Question that may be answered "No, you're not responsible"). I suppose that last one could have been DID I DO THAT? Thankfully, that didn't occur to me.

This puzzle had the typical handful of people I'd never (or barely) heard of. I know I've seen GRISSOM in my puzzle before, but that didn't help today - needed most of the crosses to get it (41D: Second American to fly in space). This AYER guy is totally unknown to me (44A: Philosopher who promoted logical positivism). AYERS, everyone's heard of now. AYER, not so much. And GREER (41A: 20-Across in the Hall of Fame) - 20A: Net rival (Sixer)??? I know Rosey GRIER, but Hal GREER was before my time. His Wikipedia entry contains this curious claim: "Hal Greer is recognized as the only African-American athlete enshrined in a major sports hall of fame from West Virginia." I had heard of TITO (35A: Defier of Stalin), of course, but that doesn't mean his name came to me instantly. A cross or two was enough to do the trick. And I know ARP pretty well, but I am not familiar with the names of either of the sculptures (or ARPS) in question today (11A: The sculptures "Cloud Shepherd" and "Coquille Crystals").

The toughest part of the puzzle for me was the SE, perhaps because that triad of parallel proper nouns (ENESCO, GRISSOM, CHIOS) were all initially unknown to me, which left the whole middle of that section barren. I think that after I guessed the -ER in AYER, I guessed ENESCO from the EN- (45D: "Oedipe" opera composer), but that still left things very sparse down there. It wasn't until I entertained the very sad ICEL (53D: Place to find fjord explorers: Abbr.) that the section finally broke. Seriously, I was saved by ICEL, which is funny for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that I once rewrote an entire section of a puzzle in order to get rid of ICEL. Got ICEL after ruling out SWED and NORW and NZLD as possible abbreviations. CHIOS has an evil ring to it (50D: Greek island in the Aegean).

SW was no piece of cake either. Knowing the Elvis song would have helped - 31A: Elvis's "_____ of Blues" ("A Mess"). As it was, I had to work my way into that section from the east, which was Not easy, especially considering I had DROP for DREG (37D: Small remnant), which meant that neither GOATEE (42A: The devil is often depicted with one) nor ABRIDGE (47A: Cut down) came very quickly. Realizing that no word was likely to end -DPE, I took out the -OP in DROP, got AM I TO BLAME from no crosses, then got ABRIDGE and started to hammer away at things from there. I love the clue on MADAGASCAR (24D: "The eighth continent," to ecologists). Insular cultures evolve in Crazy ways, so I'm sure MADAGASCAR is a biologist's delight. It is also my daughter's delight, when translated into animated film form.

More left-overs:

  • 1A: Sole deciding issue (litmus test) - great answer. Unusual, and very in-the-language (comes up most often, in my experience, around Supreme Court appointees).
  • 15A: The United States, for one (ocean liner) - don't like this clue. Especially didn't like it when I thought the answer was OCEAN LINED.
  • 22A: It might drip from a crack (sarcasm) - clever, but the words "drip" and "crack" are grossing me out, so I can't get too excited.
  • 30A: Was vagarious (roamed) - put this answer in right away, but then worried that I might have misremembered my word roots. VAGabond. VAGrant. I was hoping that was the kind of VAG in question (!).
  • 36A: Shooter's equipment (dice) - much cooler than the answer I wanted: LENS.

  • 46A: Many members of prestigious faculties: Abbr. (Drs.) - uh ... and not-so-prestigious ones too, believe me. Most faculties these days are loaded with Drs. It's hard to get on a faculty without one.
  • 52A: What takes a pit crew down? (mine shaft) - doesn't the elevator technically take them down the shaft? Or one of those tram dealies? You enter the MINE SHAFT through the adit, which is a word I want desperately to make a comeback.
  • 5D: Remove from the lotus position (uncross) - just a great (perfect, in fact) clue.
  • 55D: Au fait (able) - er, uh, um, what? This is English?
  • 57D: Arctic _____ (tern) - surprise bird! Always a great way to end a puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, Nov. 28, 2008 - Joe Krozel (Judah's house, in a Lew Wallace title / Commandant's outfit: Abbr. / It makes pot potent: Abbr.)

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Today's puzzle provides an illustrative contrast to yesterday's puzzle. Yesterday's puzzle was astonishingly smooth from stem to stern. Only a couple of abbreviations, almost no forced fill at all. Magical. The theme, while imaginative, wasn't an excessive burden on the grid, so the constructor could fill it gracefully. But because today's puzzle has a very high degree of architectural difficulty - ten 15-letter answers in one grid! - the non-15-letter fill is severely constrained, often painfully so. When you are locked into an ambitious concept like the one on display today, short answers suffer. I've rarely seen such a large and unappealing group of abbreviations in one place at one time. It's one thing to need a few abbreviations to fill out your grid, quite another to rely on TMI (55D: 1979 nuclear accident site: Abbr.) and IGN (56D: Engine starter: Abbr.) (ugh, side by side) and MEM (19A: Part of a grp.) and VISC (37D: Baron's superior: Abbr.), not to mention the seriously wince-inducing suffixes -IER (46D: Occupational suffix) and, especially, -ATIVE (40A: Talk ender). But perhaps the worst construction offense in the whole puzzle was the inexplicable decision to cross ASEC (23D: "Be there in _____") and PSEC (28A: Tiny fraction of a min.). I don't want those two answers in the same grid together at all, let alone crossing. Just ... no. No. No. In both cases, SEC is an abbrev. of second ("picosecond," "a second"). Therefore ... come on! This obscenity alone practically negates the magnificent achievement of the five up / five down 15-letter answers. Don't even get me started on the proximity of SECY (29A: Dept. head) to this whole mess. Weirdly enough, just last night, right before I solved this puzzle, I threw aside (in disgust) a puzzle that contained both ERA (clued [Elizabethan or Victorian]) and AN ERA (clued [End of _____]). And those answers didn't even intersect. Bah! This is a marquee puzzle - if last year is any indication, more people solve the puzzle today than any day of the year (Black Friday refugees). The puzzle should really put on a better face (though its relative easiness will probably make it appealing to many)

Your 15-letter answers:

  • 16A: Cry on a corsair ("Shiver me timbers!") - a fine answer, but one sadly upstaged by the appearance of its identical twin very recently (in the "Talk Like a Pirate" Day puzzle)
  • 22A: Something exercised by artists (creative license)
  • 34A: It's high in Manhattan (the cost of living)
  • 44A: Music theory subject (pentatonic scale) - my favorite long answer
  • 52A: Plans to nail suspects (sting operations) - cool that it intersects ...
  • 2D: Goal of a neighborhood watch (crime prevention)
  • 5D: Island locales (service stations) - not the kind of island you were thinking of ...
  • 6D: Coaching cliché ("There's no 'I' in 'team'")
  • 8D: Great all-around reviews (critical acclaim)
  • 10D: Is totally apathetic (doesn't give a hoot)
Once again, exotic clothing helps me get some of my initial traction in a puzzle. TAM is clued as a "topper" an awful lot, perhaps because of the alliteration (30A: Topper around a loch). I haven't (or haven't much) seen today's clue for SARI (42A: Bollywood cover-up). Gives SARI a nice, modern, pop cultural feel. I was helped along today by two short answers that I first learned as a result of screwing them up early in my blogging career. I was unaware of the existence of GOA (33A: State whose capital is Panaji) until it appeared in a puzzle and I went "?" and some people told me that it's well known as a vacation destination (for whom, I forget). Anyway, I got GOA today pretty easily (three-letter Indian state ... I don't know any but GOA, although I can't say that I knew GOA was a "state" until today). I also got TONI easily (49A: _____ Twins (pair in old ads for home perm kits)), mainly because when it first appeared in a puzzle a while back, I looked it up and ended up posting a picture of the "Twins" in question. Nice to see that some things stick.


  • 6A: It makes pot potent: Abbr. (THC) - an abbrev. I actually liked. Fresh, rarely seen, slightly risqué for the NYT.
  • 14A: Judah's house, in a Lew Wallace title (Hur) - I would like to thank Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons" for making a vanity biopic of his life, "A Burns for All Seasons" (directed by Señor Spielbergo), and then entering it in the Springfield Film Festival. A quote from that "movie" is the only reason this answer was a gimme for me. Here is the movie plot (synopsis taken from here):

The first scene opens with Mr. Burns atop a horse wearing a sombrero, rounds of machine gun ammunition draped across his chest. "Simple villagers," he says to a group of people, "I promise you I will close plants in America and bring work here!" Chespirito cries, "Viva Senor Burns!" and the assembled villagers cry, "Viva! Viva!" Burns' horse gallops off, but Burns doesn't manage to stay in the saddle, instead getting dragged back and forth along the ground.

The next scene features Mr. Burns saying, "Remember, Elliot, I'll be right here," on one knee to a child. The tip of his finger lights up briefly; he then enters a spaceship, its door spiraling closed, which takes off into the crimson sky.

The next scene shows a Roman centurion on a horse leading a group of shackled prisoners across the desert. The last prisoner, who bears a striking resemblance to Charlton Heston, collapses from exhaustion. A shadow appears over him: a man kneels in front of him, strokes his hair, and hands him a bottle of spring water. "Drink up, Judah Ben Hur," exhorts Mr. Burns. Ben Hur does so, then looks up gratefully and says, "You truly are the king of kings." A heavenly light shines down upon Burns, and he says "Excellent."

  • 21A: St. Anthony's crosses (taus) - it's like the top part of the cross broke off
  • 38A: Yom _____ (Tov) - I know Yom Kippur, and I know Mazel Tov. I do not know Yom TOV.
  • 39A: Laotian language group (Tai) - one of those Friday/Saturday-level three-letter answers I can never quite remember.
  • 57A: Potential lockdown preceder (riot) - there is a hateful show on MSNBC, I think, called "Lockdown" (actually, now that I think about it, it's "Lockup") where you get to gawk at "real life" inside a prison. Maybe I'm in the minority on this, but ... I just don't think suffering shouldn't be a spectator sport. OK, so we don't sell our prisoners' organs on the black market like ... some countries ... but I'm not sure it's a good idea to exploit human misery ... ever.
  • 60A: 365 giorni (anno) - a good guess
  • 61A: Friend of Frodo (Sam) - is that anything like a "Friend of Dorothy"?
  • 1D: Part of O.M.H.S. (On her ...) - Bond. James Bond.
  • 13D: Commandant's outfit: Abbr. (USMC) - United States Marine Corps. "Comandant" sounds awfully foreign.
  • 25D: First name in New World exploration (Leif) - wife liked this. Not sure why. Here's some LEIF for you:

  • 26D: River through Mâcon (Saone) - one of the ugliest river names there is. I swear to god that I just typo'd "names" as THAMES. HA ha.
  • 27D: Hi-tech read (e-mag) - the internets are no longer "hi-tech"
  • 35D: Hawaiian staple (nene)*
  • 45D: Fictional faithful friend (Tonto) - unlike SAM, who is, of course, real.
  • 47D: Montana who played Luca Brasi in "The Godfather" (Lenny) - news to me. Wife had LINNY, as she could not, for the life of her, figure out 51A: Gents (hes). I told her I understood. Nobody likes / uses / wants to see HES.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*just kidding, it's TARO


THURSDAY, Nov. 27, 2008 - Patrick Berry (Dr. _____, 1990s TV therapist / Naively optimistic muppet / Spicy biscuit served at English teas)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Recycling" - theme clues end with phrase "with recycling?," which indicates that second half of said answer is simply the first half of said answer "recycled" (i.e. anagrammed)

This theme was very easy to pick up, and must have been inspired by the discovery that the marquee Down answer - STUCK ONE'S NECK OUT - had the same letters in its second half as it did in its first. Notice that the puzzle had to be lengthened by one row in order to accommodate that answer's 16 letters. Very cool little adjustment. Notice also the really elegant symmetry. Since all the theme answers are Downs, and the "recycled" parts all come at the end, the circled squares (they are circled online - perhaps they are shaded in the paper version) do not have rotational symmetry - BUT they occur in rotationally symmetrical answers, and symmetrical pairs of answer each possess the same number of circled (shaded?) squares, e.g. five in 3D and five in 33D, four in 10D and four in 41D, etc. TEAMMATE and BEST BETS were not that inspired, but the others were very interesting revelations. The non-theme fill is virtually wince-free. Patrick Berry remains (in my mind) one of the 5 best constructors walking the planet. Highly imaginative, but also meticulous. Love to see his name on puzzles.

Theme answers:

  • 3D: Digestive system parts with recycling? (intes/tines)
  • 5D: Most promising options with recycling? (best / bets)
  • 7D: Took a risk with recycling? (stuck one / s neck out)
  • 10D: Come back with recycling? (reap / PEAR)
  • 33D: Livery blacksmith with recycling? (horse / SHOER)
  • 41D: Imposition on drinking with recycling? (lega / LAGE)
  • 43D: Sporting colleague with recycling? (team / MATE)
Look at the grid. Notice what there isn't much of - abbreviations; partials; tired old fill. You have to care about that @#$# to make it happen, and when it happens, many people aren't likely to notice, but I'm telling you, it's a feat - a feat Way more important to me than any feat of construction. Holy guacamole, does this puzzle have even *one* abbreviation??? I just ... don't see one. Some other answers come close - REV (44A: Accelerate) could have been clued as an abbrev., TWIXT (29A: Between) is a shortened form - but no. I don't see one. [Oh wait, NYSE is one - still, just one, that's impressive] And there's only one partial (IN ON - 31A: Zero _____), and the phrase involved is so colorful that I don't mind it at all. I even like it. It's sure to provide at least a little difficulty for some (right, honey?). And while the fill isn't always scintillating (AXEL, NYSE, ERE, SPAS, ASEA), compared to most other puzzles it relies very little on the available stock of overused fill. Again, I ask would-be constructors to study this grid. You don't always need shock and awe to make your puzzle amazing.

Love the placement of OPALS (22A: Export of 18-Across) directly under AUSTRALIA (18A: Country that has won the most Cricket World Cups). Usually here/there clues are set apart from one another and rarely, very rarely, are they parallel and contiguous. I also love the colorful pairing of ASIA MINOR (61A: Location of two of the classical Seven Wonders) and GINGER NUT (65A: Spicy biscuit served at English teas). I like that the clue sets ASIA MINOR in the past (since I think of it as a dated term). I also like that my eyes kept scanning the clue as "Location of two classics by Stevie Wonder." I told my wife "I've never heard of GINGER NUT." She said "you had GINGER NUT ice cream in New Zealand." She's probably right.


  • 23A: Day trader's wish (fast buck) - great, lively phrase. Love that it intersects another great, lively phrase (STICK ONE'S NECK OUT) at the "K"!
  • 36A: Dynasty in which Confucianism became dominant (Han) - much more highbrow than the clue I would have used (HAN Solo)
  • 45A: Org. with a National Historic Landmark building in lower Manhattan (NYSE) - It's a landmark, alright. It's not marking anything very good at the moment.
  • 51A: Danger for small craft (wake) - I call "WAVE" on many of you. Some of you. Admit it! Some of you had WAVE here, at first, if not to the bitter end. The cross, 48D: Kind of run (ski), was so plain and ambiguous that it wasn't necessarily much help. WAVE will seem so right to some people that they'll just be left wondering what the hell SVI can be.
  • 52A: Contemporary of Kepler (Brahe) - why his name has stuck in my head, I don't know.
  • 54A: Formula formulators (chemists) - I like this answer, in that it is both rare (in the grid) and ordinary (in real life, esp. in Britain). There's something sort of quaint and charming about it.
  • 59A: Prince _____, Eddie Murphy's role in "Coming to America" (Akeem) - this May have been the first word I put in the grid...
  • 68A: Dr. _____, 1990s TV therapist (Katz) - HA ha. Animated! And likely Obscure to many of you. Late 90s Comedy Central. Squigglevision:

  • 1D: Symbol seen on viola music (C clef) - Didn't know this, but like the "CC" opening.
  • 2D: 1944 film noir by Preminger ("Laura") - One of the reasons the term "film noir" was invented.
  • 9D: Upscale office decor (art) - how about [Any office's decor]? I mean, my dentist has ERTE on the wall, my doctor, some ugly photography and water colors. No Degas or RODIN (28D: "The Age of Bronze" artist), but still, ART.
  • 12D: Craft union of old (guild) - craft GUILDs were a big deal in Medieval England. I will spare you the lecture.
  • 25D: Victorian gents' accessories (canes) - wife had CAPES, which is a great wrong answer. Unfortunately, "Zero IN OP" is not a known phrase.
  • 38D: Naively optimistic Muppet (Ernie) - neither wife nor I think of ERNIE as "naive." "Today, on Sesame Street, Bert has to stop ERNIE from sending money to a 'Nigerian prince.'"
  • 52D: So-called "king of herbs" (basil) - "So-called?" By whom, the herb itself? I was imagining some guy named Herb going "Hey, you know what they call me down at the plant? The King of Herbs, that's what they call me? Oh I'm a real big shot down there." Real King of Herbs = Herb Tarlek. He had good sports jackets:

  • 64D: Sports _____ (bra) - well that was unexpected. It's an anagram of the answer I wanted.

  • Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    Oh, yeah: Happy Thanksgiving


    WEDNESDAY, Nov. 26, 2008 - Harvey Estes (Gershwin heroine / Beatnik's "Understood" / Meaning of "one on the city" diner lingo / Prophetess of legend)

    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: "THE LAST HURRAH" (49A: 1958 Spencer Tracy film ... and a hint to 20-, 30- and 39-Across) - all the theme answers end in the letter string "OLE," which can also be found at 57D: 49-Across, in this puzzle

    Technically, for this theme to work well, "THE LAST HURRAH" should be a bull-fighting picture. Let's see ... nope, it's about a corrupt, outmoded, yet semi-beloved politician who loses an election then has a heart attack and dies. Maybe he shouts "OLE!" just before he dies, imagining he's reliving his glory days as a bullfighter in pre-civil war Spain. This theme barely coheres (three answers that have nothing in common but their last three letters); "THE LAST HURRAH" should bring it together, but the unifying effect of the title is offset, if not nullified, by the fact that the movie has nothing to do with the particular HURRAH in question. Also, OLE gets a really awkward clue. And yet, HOLY GUACAMOLE, the puzzle was still reasonably enjoyable. Lots of good mid-range (5 to 7-letter) fill. If Sarah Palin can pardon a turkey, then I can pardon this puzzle's mild incoherence. Such is the privilege I claim on this day, my 39th birthday (actual 39, not the "39" you might call yourself when you are 40, 41, 42, 55, etc.)

    Theme answers:

    20A: "Zounds!" ("Holy Guacamole!") - 'Zounds = contraction of "By God's wounds," a mild oath. HOLY GUACAMOLE is even milder.
    30A: Eight-time Best Actor nominee (Peter O'Toole) - we have his latest movie from Netflix just sitting near our DVD player ... just sitting ... honey, are we ever going to watch that? It's from your queue.
    39A: Boneless entree (filet of sole)

    The best part of the puzzle, from where I sit, is the BLOOD RED (4D: Vivid valentine color) MASH NOTE (3D: Billet-doux) in the NW corner. Prior uses of "billet-doux" in clues have driven Googlers to my site in droves - apparently this word, meaning "love letter," is not in everyone's vocabulary. With good reason. It's really to be read, not said. Unless you're being ironic. A BLOOD RED MASH NOTE sounds so awesomely gothic, like the premise for a horror/romance novel I might actually want to read. The combination of the two answers, of romance and bloodiness, makes me think of one of the greatest "Simpsons" episodes of all time, "I Love Lisa," a Valentine's Day episode in which Ralph Wiggum interprets a simple valentine from Lisa as a MASH NOTE, and pursues her (like some kind of child Quixote) through the rest of the episode. Oh, and that episode begins and ends with Bill and Marty (radio personalities) trying to play "Valentine's Day"-themed music, and in both cases, mistakenly playing ... "The Monster MASH." Specific "Simpsons" video is Very hard to come by, so you get this:

    Wrap it up:

    • 23A: "Long Walk to Freedom" writer (Mandela) - just read a semi-scathing piece about him (addressed to him, actually) in Harper's. Worth reading if you can handle hearing about atrocity after atrocity after atrocity.
    • 5A: Under, in Umbria (sotto) - news to me. We just had this answer, in a musical context.
    • 10A: Gershwin heroine (Bess) - as in "Porgy &"
    • 15A: Beatnik's "Understood" ("I'm hip") - wanted only "I DIG," which would not fit no matter how hard I tried.
    • 18A: City on the Aar (Berne) - feel as if I haven't seen this city's name since 8th grade geography. Took a few crosses to get it.
    • 41A: Meaning of "one on the city," in diner lingo (tap water) - yay, old-timey diner lingo. This one was at least inferrable. Some of the terms get a little loopy.
    • 54A: Jetliner name until 1997 (US Air) - someday I'll learn the difference between USAIR and US Airways (which still exists), but the prospect of looking that !@#$ up sounds so dreadfully boring that I can't be bothered at the moment (not how I want to be spending even one second of my birthday)

    • 61A: Bristlelike part (seta) - so much better as a plant part than a partial, like [_____ good example].
    • 62A: Image crafters (PR men) - love the consonant pile-up answers like this (initials + full word combos) provide
    • 5D: Prophetess of legend (Sibyl) - she has a big part in Book VI of the Aeneid.
    • 6D: Alphabet ender (omega) - thought this was VWXYZ, and was prepared to be both horrified and exceedingly impressed
    • 8D: Funny Fey (Tina) - just read a funny interview with the actor who plays Kenneth on "30 Rock" (the great, Emmy-winning, but pitifully underwatched NBC sitcom). Worth reading if you like the show. Lots of stuff in there about T.F.
    • 10D: Mob's money collector (bag man) - great phrase. I imagine a BAG MAN waiting patiently at a diner, too nervous to eat or drink anything but TAP WATER ("One on the city!"), when the attractive woman next to him passes him what he thinks might be a MASH NOTE, but it's blank. Confused, the man looks down and notices his bag is NOT THERE (36D: Missing). He turns to the woman who smiles just before she shoots him three times in the gut, turning his white shirt BLOOD RED. The man's OBIT (31D: Passing notice) mentions none of this.
    • 37D: Swiss abstractionist (Klee) - one of the many artists referenced in the fabulous Charles Willeford 1950s noir classic "Pick-Up"
    • 44D: Non-head of state who addressed a 1989 joint session of Congress (Walesa) - did not know this, but got it with something like one or two crosses. WALESA went on the following year to become ... a head of state; specifically, head of Poland.
    Signed, Rex Parker, about to descend the staircase and see what kind of crazy birthday surprise daughter has planned ...

    [me, age 1 - thanks for digging this up, honey]


    Myrmecologist's box -TUESDAY, Nov. 25, 2008 - Caleb Madison (Sanders, Klink or Mustard: Abbr. / Hoopsters Archibald and Thurmond / "Amerika" novelist)

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: vowel switch - theme answers are two-word phrases where consonants in the second word are in the same sequence and position as in the first word, but the vowels swap places

    Well, this isn't much of a theme, concept-wise, but the resulting phrases are kinda catchy and quirky and the non-theme fill is pretty decent too. Happy to see the return of "The Simpsons" to the puzzle today in the form of NED Flanders (46A: _____ Flanders, neighbor of Homer Simpson) - see yesterday's write-up for a picture of this left-handed, mustachioed, Super-Churchy nice-guy. Coincidentally, I have had a NED Flanders mustache now for about 24 hours. I'll be shaving it off tomorrow morning before I get my photo taken by the local paper. It's disturbing to have this mustache, because I don't notice it at all, but every time my wife looks at me, she can barely control her amusement.

    Theme answers:

    • 17A: Trial jury? (penal panel)
    • 23A: Wine telemarketer? (cellar caller)
    • 30A: Lone Star State duties? (Texas taxes)
    • 40A: Late-night talk show host's principles? (Conan canon)
    • 49A: Slyly popping a breath mint, e.g.? (Tic Tac tactic) - the best of them all, although TIC and TAC appear to be separate words, which kind of ruins the consistency of the theme, but I don't care
    • 61A: Sammy's backup singers? (Davis divas)
    There are several very lovable answers in this puzzle. Love XBOX (34D: GameCube competitor) and QANDA (7D: Session after a lecture, informally) for their improbable letter combinations. Love TRIPLEA (10D: Not quite in the majors) because the stand-alone "A" can make it hard to parse if you don't know baseball - plus it breaks neatly into TRIP and LEA, which is essentially meaningless, yet pleases me nonetheless. Love love Love MRSC (25D: Richie's mom, to the Fonz), because not only does it have the interesting and unusual letter sequence going for it (as all the aforementioned lovable answers do), but ... well, it's all consonants, And it's about MRS. C, whom (as longtime readers of this blog probably know) I have always adored. I have a thing for sitcom moms - Mrs. Brady, Mrs. C., Joanna Kearns from "Growing Pains," etc. Perhaps I've said too much.

    Oh, and I love ALL WET (5D: Totally mistaken) - super-dated, but in a cool way.

    The hard-boiled fan in me wishes SPADE (22A: Heart beater in bridge bidding) had been clued in relation to Sam, NEAT (42D: "Very cool!") had been clued via whiskey, and CORA (60A: Mrs. Dithers of "Blondie") had been clued via the main female character in "The Postman Always Rings Twice." Very happy to see MR. MOTO (25A: Detective played by Peter Lorre) in the grid, now apparently married to MRS. C (fabulous crossing).

    [image from "Modern Drunkard" magazine]

    For some reason, with this puzzle, I marked the first and last squares I filled in. Alpha square = "K" in KAFKA (1A: "Amerika" novelist). Omega square = "R" in IGOR (19A: "Young Frankenstein" hunchback).


    • 66A: Line from the ankle to the waist, say (seam) - had to think about this one, then realized it must be a clothing-related (and not an anatomical) term
    • 1D: Hat for a French soldier (kepi) - really a horrid name. How am I supposed to take a soldier seriously when he's wearing a hat that's only a couple letters off from KEWPIE?
    • 31D: Stowe heroine (Eva) - very, very handy name to remember
    • 4D: Sedona maker (Kia) - just had this answer clued as [Sportage maker]. I'd like to advocate that constructors start using KEA in their puzzles - there must be demand for it, what with "E" being more common, generally, than "I," and it's a perfectly good, reasonably common bird. OK, it's common only in NZ, but at least it still exists. Stupid DODO gets into the puzzle and it only ever existed on a tiny island and hasn't been around for centuries.
    • 47A: Some charge cards, informally (Amexes) - this feels ... iffy.
    • 18D: Test for a sitcom (pilot) - I think it's a test for any new (scripted) show.
    • 23D: Sanders, Klink or Mustard: Abbr. (Col.) - fantastic clue. I laughed just reading it."Klink," HA ha. "Schultz!"

    • 13D: Tool for someone on KP duty (parer) - when I think of someone on KP duty, I think of someone peeling potatoes, not ... paring? Or did the potato peeler pare with a PARER back in the day (i.e. early "Beetle Bailey" era)?
    • 8D: Old maker of baseball cards and bubble gum (Fleer) - so this is how I learn that FLEER has gone out of business. I think there was a single year (in my six or so years of baseball card collecting) that I collected FLEER. 1982. Good times.
    • 41D: Myrmecologist's box (ant farm) - great clue, great answer. I actually found "box" stranger than "Myrmecologist" before I'd solved the clue.
    • 63A: Radioer's word ("over") - "Radioer" is hard to look at
    • 43D: Atlanta-based federal health org. (CDC) - Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention)
    • 44D: Hoopsters Archibald and Thurmond (Nates) - Archibald was nicknamed "Tiny"
    • 51D: Grammy-winning pianist Chick (Corea) - familiar name, but his music is unknown to me. I'll let Chick play us out:

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Today's LA Times Puzzle (Nov. 24, 2008)

    Hey, everybody, PuzzleGirl here. Ya know how I can't stand having other puzzles spoiled in the comments section here? Well, I convinced Rex we needed a separate thread for discussing today's LA Times puzzle, which was co-constructed by our very own acme! She says the puzzle was inspired by the comments on this blog and I think she better pipe up and give us more details on that. If you haven't solved it yet, don't read the comments! There will be spoilers in there!


    MONDAY, Nov. 24, 2008 - Billie Truitt (Measure of national economic health / Mr. _____ (Lucy's TV boss) / Rhyming word game)

    Sunday, November 23, 2008

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: Digits - five theme answers end with THUMB and the names of the four fingers, respectively

    Meh. It was OK. I feel like I've seen this exact theme before, which is no real knock against this puzzle - themes are replicated all the time without the constructor's knowing that it's happening. HINKY PINKY felt awful to me, but that's just because I've never heard of it. Rare for me not to have heard of a theme answer on a Monday. All in all, a very average Monday puzzle.

    Theme answers:

    • 17A: Gardener's gift (green THUMB)
    • 24A: Measure of national economic health (misery INDEX) - that's a nice, timely answer (I think I'm going to be saying that any answer dealing with economic downturn is a "timely" answer for a long, long time)
    • 39A: Come to a compromise (meet in the MIDDLE)
    • 51A: "Call sometime" ("Give me a RING")
    • 64A: Rhyming word game (hinky-PINKY)

    I think HINKY PINKY was made more grating by the proximity of EENY (70A: Start of a counting-out rhyme). The whole bottom of the puzzle is threatening to devolve into baby talk. Some random website I found tells me that "A hinky-pinky is a clue, definition, or riddle, the answer to which is a pair of rhyming words." Example given - a Norseman on wheels is a "biking viking." Wow, what ... fun. Speaking of Norway, a double dose today - OSLO (32A: Norway's capital) and V-flavored OLAV (69A: Norway's patron saint). One other thematic pair: AJAR (9A: Not completely shut, as a door) and AGAPE (50D: Yawning or visibly astonished).

    Not a big fan of UNPEG, INRE, CLEO, ASEC, or NEEDN'T. Like RAN IN (54D: Arrested), JAWED (10D: Chatted) and ROUE (31A: Don Juan type), though, honestly, I never saw that last one until just this second. That's what happens when you speed. Oh, and I just noticed that a garden decoration (GNOME - 14D: Garden statuette) intersects a gardening answer (GREEN THUMB), so that's nice.


    • 1A: Event involving burning and looting (riot) - these often happen on summer days, or HOT ONEs (30D: Definitely a day for air-conditioning), which was reclued (thankfully) from [Real sidesplitter]. RIOTs are always easier to take when there are no MACHETEs (27A: Cane cutter) involved.
    • 1D: Toupees, slangily (rugs) - Did Mr. MOONEY wear a toupee? (42D: Mr. _____ (Lucy's TV boss)). I have never seen more than an episode or two of "Here's Lucy" or "The Lucy Show" or whatever incarnation of Lucy sitcom MOONEY was on. No, it looks like Mr. MOONEY just had a somewhat receding hairline, unremarkable on a man his age.

    • 22D: First of 12 popes with a religious-sounding name (Pius I) - I wonder if anyone will parse this as one word, PIUSI, and wonder what the hell kind of name that is.
    • 18D: Spiral seashell (triton) - again, what are these words I've Never heard of doing in my Monday puzzle. Very weird. This one was easy enough to infer

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    SUNDAY, Nov. 23, 2008 - David J. Kahn (What Ramona wore in a 1966 Chuck Berry song / Onetime political columnist Joseph / Revolutionary 1930s bomber)

    Saturday, November 22, 2008

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: "Picture This" - all about Matisse's "Le Bateau" and the fact that it once hung upside-down at a MOMA exhibition for forty-seven days before anyone noticed; circled squares kinda sorta form the outlines of the fluke-like "bateau + reflection" featured in the painting; further, and most impressively, the circled squares spell out SAILBOAT and REFLECTION (so you know which side is up!)

    I really liked this puzzle despite the fact that the visual effect is hard to appreciate. Also, partial. There are other elements to the painting (though not many)

    I am a big fan of art in general from about the Impressionists to the middle 20th century, but this painting managed to get by me completely. Thought it might be familiar when I looked it up, but no. Another thing that managed to get by me: the term WATER MEDIA (46D: Styles of 25-Across and the like). Will assures me it's a real term, and I believe him, but yikes. Not exactly in common parlance. The rest of the puzzle was a welcome challenge, and a real good time. Impressed by the number and length of the theme answers, and despite some clunker fill here and there, the puzzle is remarkably tight, smooth, and legit overall.

    Theme answers:

    • 23A: Leader of the Fauvist movement (Henri Matisse)
    • 25A: Title of a work by 23-Across ("Le Bateau")
    • 120A: 25-Across, e.g. (painting)
    • 122A: 23-Across, e.g. (French artist)
    • 6D: N.Y.C. cultural event (MOMA exhibition)
    • 46D: Styles of 25-Across and the like (water media)
    • 41D: How 25-Across appeared at a 6-Down in 1961 (upside-down)
    • 55D: How long 25-Across was 41-Down before being noticed and fixed (forty-seven days)

    47 is also the atomic number for Ag (silver). Saw a silver ring in "Wired" yesterday that was like a class ring, sort of, only it had the "Ag" periodic table square carved into it. It was cool in a very nerdy way. Nerd bling. SCIENCES bling (47A: Academic area). OK, that "47" was a total coincidence. I'm starting to freak myself out now.

    There were two particularly rough patches of this puzzle for me. The first was due North. Here's what I wrote in my initial feedback on the puzzle:
    Criminy, this was HARD in places. The North in particular, where I stared at four blanks until guessing on ALSOP (10D: Onetime political columnist Joseph) and NEALE (21A: Football Hall-of-Fame coach Greasy _____) (a brutal crossing) and ANTARES (7D: Brightest star in Scorpius) and EARLAP (33A: Winter protection). Those are all Highly unusual, and their intersecting, I'm telling you, is going to make people cry. I somehow pulled ALSOP out of my brain, probably because he'd been in the puzzle. EARLAP still looks like it's missing a letter (namely, "F")
    I also wrote:

    You have "user" in 94A: Cushion user? (bank shot) which I really didn't like and then realized I might persuade you to change by pointing out that "USER" is already an answer (in the plural, 60D: Web browsers => USERS).

    That is what we call a "dupe," and sadly, my comments got to him too late (or vice versa) for anything to be done about it. Sometimes, all the king's horses and all the king's men still miss stuff. It happens. Which is why most of the "I can't believe Shortz blah blah blah" indignation sounds so self-righteous and hollow to me. People err. Smart people err. ERR, I say! (it's a perfectly cromulent word)

    OK, the other rough patch, and my Last Stand, was the NE (sadly, the place where the name of the damned painting resides). Something about the cluing on WEARABLE just puzzled me (12A: Not useless, as clothing), and I think my brain would not allow me to accept the fact of WALLOPER's existence (12D: Cleanup hitter, e.g.) - the puzzle had already used up its one free Odd Job with THRIVERS (90D: Prospering ones). Actually, there is a short story called "Dock WALLOPER" by Benjamin Appel in an excellent hard-boiled fiction anthology I own (called, I believe, "Hard-Boiled"). Late 90s, Oxford UP. Good stuff. I remember liking the story a lot. Wow ... turns out, it's also the name of a newish comic. How'd I miss that? Must've blinked.

    But back to the puzzle. EDUC is short for "education," that I know. But WTF is "H.E.W." (19D: Part of H.E.W.: Abbr.)? O crap, this has been in the puzzle before - Health, Education and Welfare was a Cabinet post, a post now called Health & Human Services. Hasn't been H.E.W. since I was 10. BTEN (17D: Revolutionary 1930s bomber) eluded me even after I got all the letters - "man, that dude's got a really really weird name. How do you even pronounce that?" D'oh! LEAR (18D: Duke of Cornwall's father-in-law, in Shakespeare) was a gimme (thank god), everything else up there felt like it took some effort.


    • 1A: Dr. Seuss character with a red hat (Sam I Am) - me: "Cat in the ... no, that's got 'hat' in it ..."
    • 27A: Fictional spread (Tara) - wanted (kinda) OLEO
    • 36A: Vegetable with yellow pods (wax bean) - looks pretty cool in the grid. Does someone name these things so they will sound as untasty as possible? We had Adzuki bean soup tonight (delicious). Different kind of "bean," I realize.
    • 44A: Somewhat reduced (lowish) - well I don't like that.
    • 54A: Flying grp. since 1918 (RAF) - British fliers
    • 58A: On&On singer Erykah _____ (Badu) - she has such a cool, crossword-sexy name.

    • 67A: First name in spydom (Mata) - "spydom" is a great word
    • 70A: Suppliers of greetings (card stores) - I should hate this, but do not. Not at all. It's creative.
    • 73A: What Ramona wore in a 1966 Chuck Berry song (tight dress) - don't know the song, but I sure want to now. Dang, can't find a single youtube performance. Here's "Maybelline" instead:

    • 86A: Stone in a 2008 Olympic medal (jade) - interesting. My Tai Chi instructor (sifu) spent a chunk of the lesson today talking about the opening ceremonies and how her teacher was one of the masters who planned and designed the Tai Chi portion (I missed the ceremonies completely, so have no idea what she was talking about, but maybe some of you saw it).
    • 107A: Musical for which Ben Vereen won a Tony ("Pippin") - I know squat about musicals, and yet I knew this. Why? Never saw it. It's just ... in my mind. A bit of trivia. Strange.
    • 116A: Big D player (Mav) - nice clue for this common abbreviation of the Dallas basketball team's name
    • 117A: Visiting the U.S. capital (in D.C.) - again, creative. I may be IN D.C. in January. Or I may be scared off by the masses.
    • 119A: Sportage maker (Kia) - one of my least favorite car names ("Sportage," I mean)
    • 129A: Fiber-yielding plant (sisal) - I think I've seen SISAL rugs in various catalogs that white people like.
    • 1D: Old term of respect (sahib) - Something about this term just sounds racist. Not sure why.
    • 8D: Tiki bar offering (lei) - I had POI
    • 13D: Like the earliest Olympic festivals (Elean) - whoa, whoa, whoa ... what? Come on, ELEAN? Sounds like some kind of virtual meat product. Or that Cuban kid. It seems ELIS is a place ... and ELEAN is its adjective. News to me.
    • 42D: Kipling short story, with "The" ("Maltese Cat") - Hey, did you hear the one about the Maltese Cat? No, you didn't. The Maltese Falcon ate the Maltese Cat. Avian revenge. This is a roundabout way of saying, "...?"
    • 78D: Brad and 86-Down, e.g. (exes) - 86D: See 78-Down (Jen) - this look-here-look-there pair bugged me. Mainly because I could give a @#$#! about tabloid couples (though I do think the "Jen" in question is cute, Way cuter than that other one). I did not, however, have a problem with the here-there pair of VANCE (106D: With 112-Across, Okla. military area) and AFB. Thought that was pretty cool.
    • 110D: Bridal path (aisle) - goes nicely with ALTAR (7A: Train stop?)

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    SATURDAY, Nov. 22,2008 - Frank Longo (Italian port with ruins of an imposing Aragonese castle / Anne Nichols title protagonist / Bog youngster)

    Relative difficulty: Challenging

    THEME: none

    I have a 9:00am appt. this morning (on a Saturday!?) so this will be brief.

    Love the grid shape. Honestly, I thought it was an Obama puzzle when I first saw it. That, or an Oprah puzzle. I rated the puzzle "Challenging" even though it's actually been made slightly easier since I test-solved it a couple weeks ago. Still, I think it's tough. Tough but good. I really enjoyed the struggle, despite running into several words I'd never heard of. Started off so happy and strong when I laid AMERICAN TABLOID in the grid right away. First thing. No crosses. That is one of my favorite books of the last century, which is weird, because the first time I picked it up, I thought "this is annoying as hell - I'm not reading this." Then I persisted. The brain-pounding tabloid style of writing never relents - for 500+ pages - and yet I think the book is Beautiful. Oh, I should add that it is essentially historical fiction (with actual historical figures imagined as characters throughout), which is a genre I typically avoid like beets.

    After my AMERICAN TABLOID epiphany, it was slow from there on. Well, the bottom of the puzzle ended up being very tractable, but I was not able to move into the middle easily - you think 35A: A firefighter at work may be in it (immediate danger) is tough, try the original clue: [Peril that's upon one]. Ugh. Eventually I rebooted in the top section, starting with the gimme PTL (27A: Old TV ministry), guessing CATSUPS off of that (1D: Fast-food restaurant packets), and then working W to E from there. But the Center was where I made my Last Stand. Huge open space in the middle was tough to get ahold of, even with STAEL being a gimme for me (though I spelled her name STAHL to begin with - 46A: Author Madame de _____). The real toughies were SPRITES and BOTNETS. Despite currently teaching Shakespeare, I completely repressed the identity of Robin Goodfellow (Puck), as I (unlike many) can't stand that play and don't teach it if I don't have to (42A: Robin Goodfellow and others). And BOTNETS - just unknown to me. I know what BOTS are, I know what NETS are ... but this hybrid, no. I'm pretty sure cracking STRUDEL (25D: Cobbler alternative) was the primary key to finishing this puzzle off.

    The 15s:

    • 1A: Vis-à-vis (compared against)
    • 16A: Age-old retaliation (a tooth for a tooth)
    • 17A: Having no inaccuracy whatsoever (true to the letter)

    Of those three, only A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH feels very solid. The others feel like phrase where someone meant to say a better known phrase but got confused.

    • 31A: Fix things (solve the problem) - straightforward
    • 35A: A firefighter at work may be in it (immediate danger) - we covered this; it's good

    • 51A: James Ellroy novel that Time magazine named best fiction book of 1995 ("American Tabloid")
    • 57A: Suitable for all (General Audience) - Like the movie-oriented adjectival use of this phrase here
    • 58A: Idolizes (sets on a pedestal) - well, I had PUTS, initially, of course, but that's OK
    The real krusher in this puzzle, as far as I was concerned, came with the THREE CONSECUTIVE OPERA-RELATED DOWNS. All 7 letters, all completely new to me. OK, so MORDENT isn't specifically opera-related - still, it's in the ballpark. Obscurity is one thing, but tightly packed obscurity all from the same field of knowledge. That's a kind of violation I haven't invented a name for. Caused me to have to guess at CEO (41A: First suit?), because that "E" and "O" could have been anything from my perspective, and I didn't have the benefit of [First suit?]. I had [Suit of an outfit]. I was like "well ... it's CIA or SUIT, but either way, I don't get it." Oh, the opera crap in question:

    • 36D: Writer whose novella "Carmen" is the basis of Bizet's opera (Merimee)
    • 37D: Musical ornament using tow quickly alternating tones (mordent)
    • 38D: "La Traviata" lover Alfredo _____ (Germont)

    And the rest:

    • 43A: "Blood hath been shed _____ now": Macbeth ("ere") - coincidence - this is the play I'm currently teaching in Shakespeare. Not that you need to know the play to get this. This answer should have been a gimme for most of you.
    • 2D: Italian port with ruins of an imposing Aragonese castle (Otranto) - Know this place because friends of mine had to read the Gothic "Castle of Otranto" when I was in grad school. And I knew TORONTO wasn't Italian.
    • 3D: Longtime Arizona congressman who ran for president in 1976 (Mo Udall) - I think two more UDALLs were just elected to the Senate. Yes, in New Mexico and Colorado.
    • 4D: People who deal with stress successfully? (poets) - clever
    • 5D: Quintillionth: Prefix (atto-) - mystery to me; don't use quintillionths very often.
    • 6D: Pythagorean character (rho) - it's a Greek letter, and it fit
    • 7D: Bog youngster (eft) - little newt
    • 11D: Amenhotep IV's god (Aten) - having seen this in a recent puzzle Really helped
    • 15D: Time for an emergency phone call? (three a.m.) - LOVE this answer.
    • 33D: TV bear (Ben) - love this answer too. This goes out to Serena. Rest in peace, kitty:

    • 50D: Anne Nichols title protagonist (Abie) - hard to recognize this piece of crosswordese without "Rose" or "Broadway" nearby.
    • 55D: Shrovetide concluder: Abbr. (Tue.) - Ah, "concluder." That's the stuff.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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