MONDAY, Mar. 30, 2009 - AC Michaels (1944 thriller with Fred MacMurray / 1928 Oscar winner Jannings / Drug that calms the nerves, slangily)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x - four 15-letter theme answers that begin SINGLE, DOUBLE, TRIPLE, and QUADRUPLE, respectively

Word of the Day: WHIR - v., whirred, whir·ring, whirs. v.intr.

To move so as to produce a vibrating or buzzing sound.

To cause to make a vibratory sound.

  1. A sound of buzzing or vibration: the whir of turning wheels.
  2. Excited, noisy activity; bustle: the whir of busy shoppers.

[Middle English whirren, probably of Scandinavian origin.]

I came close to breaking the three minute mark on this one, which puts it on the easy side for me, but looking back over the puzzle, I honestly think it's got more challenging, or at least more unusual and interesting, fill than most Mondays, so I bumped its difficulty level back up to Average. It's not a terribly original theme, but as usual with Andrea's puzzles, the theme is tight and coherent, the answers are solid and colorful, and nowhere in the puzzle did I ever utter "ugh" or squint in displeasure. This puzzle is like a Double Stuf Oreo with the bleaker, dryer, darker answers on the top and bottom - SINGLE OCCUPANCY (17A: Small hotel room specification) sounds depressing and QUADRUPLE BYPASS (62A: Serious heart surgery) is clearly undesirable (unless the alternative is death - at any rate, unpleasant). Then there are the creamy middle answers, the delicious TRIPLE LAYER CAKE (47A: Baked dessert with lemon filling, maybe) and the sweet noir goodness of "DOUBLE INDEMNITY" (27A: 1944 thriller with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck) - one of the small handful of movies that originally defined "Film Noir." The dialogue toward the end of this clip is rightly legendary:

I made WHIR my Word of the Day (21A: Fan sound) because it looks wrong to me, which means I clearly can't spell it. I want it to be WHIRR, like ... SHIRR, I guess, which is a far less common word, but nonetheless, that's what I want. I feel like WHIR needs two "R"s to signify what it's doing, i.e. buzzing. One "R" just doesn't evoke the sound. The "R" is doubled, or course, in the present participle (WHIRRING) and the past tense (WHIRRED), and STIR seems to do just fine with one "R" - but STIR doesn't have to make noise. WHIRRRRRR.

My problems with WHIR aside, the grid is lovely, with many points of interest, especially the conspiracy theory in the middle, where Diana SPENCER (40A: Princess Diana's family name) has a run-in with a NINJA (31D: Japanese fighter). The latter clue is an instance of strange difficulty (for a Monday). I wanted a fighter plane. There is nothing in the clue to indicate that the answer is a. human or b. stealthy, both of which are quintessential NINJA qualities. I also thought CELIA was tough (58A: Oliver's love in "As You Like It"). I haven't read that play (or seen it) in years and so did Not know the answer. Ben Jonson's "Song to CELIA" is more familiar to me, as is the Simon and Garfunkel song [the song is actually "Cecilia" - I could swear they eat that first syllable at least once]. Other stuff made me pause too, but mainly because of its cool originality, not its inherent toughness. BIG BABY is a fantastic answer - one that on a Saturday could be clued as [Nickname of Celtics forward Glen Davis]. It's true - that's his (great) nickname: Glen "BIG BABY" Davis. I also love (and did Not get at first pass) TRANK (34D: Drug that calms the nerves, slangily). Colloquial, slangy, vaguely scandalous-sounding. Livens up an already lively grid. Good stuff.


  • 5A: 1928 Oscar winner Jannings (Emil) - learned of him from xwords. He joins a host of other 4-letter actors, incl. ESAI, EDIE, and SELA. Then there are the 4-letter non-actors, TONI, KERN, and OMAR. And then the 4-letter fictional character, XENA.
  • 1D: Words said in fun (jest) - I was weirdly slow getting out of the NW because of this answer. I went with JOKE. Stupid, since the "in fun" part should have triggered the phrase "in JEST" ... but no.
  • 38A: Ad _____ per aspera (Kansas' motto) (astra)- yeah, if you haven't already, you should really memorize that motto. That, and Montana's "Oro y Plata"
  • 44D: Start of a daily school recital ("I pledge") - way to improvise! I PLEDGE is not really a self-standing phrase, but it's clued perfectly, it's easy to get, and it (probably) results in a corner more interesting than it would have been otherwise. Actually, it was probably a desperation move to born out of the need to come up with something to connect those two theme answers at the odd letters "P" and "D." Whatever. I love it. Also, it goes great with "I, TINA" (33D: Singer Turner's autobiography).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

My write-up of today's LAT puzzle is here.

Cool Baseball / Shakespeare puzzle over at BEQ.


Hungry Mother 7:48 AM  

"Trank" was my only pauser on this one.

chefbea 7:55 AM  

Easy monday puzzle. Thank you Andrea. And speaking of triple layer cake... when is your staring performance on the food channel's Dinner Impossible?

dk 7:58 AM  

Set aside for a brief moment the torch I carry for Andrea (if you look to the east you will see it in the morning sky).

This is a perfect puzzle. As Rex notes it is one that you can sail right through as it is so well constructed and "cool" with its originality.

As a former therapist TRANK is well a bit TRANK. I called them mothers little helpers or baby blues... but I am a professional ;).

I only wish she had worked in Acme.


Parshutr 8:02 AM  

Hardly medium, more like ridiculously easy...and I am not at all fond of the unimaginative cluing styles "opposite of..." and "not..."

ileen 8:18 AM  

I had TRANQ instead of TRANK, but that was the only letter I had to type over. My time was just over 7 minutes, which is quite fast for me. A good start to the week.

Greene 8:25 AM  

Shame on me. I forgot to look at the constructor's name when I flew through this last night. I do remember thinking midstream that it felt just like a yummy ACME puzzle; guess I was too rushed at the time to pause and smell the roses.

This is a delightful creation: easy, breezy, fun, tight, and clean. Everything I like in a Monday puzzle. It did not hurt that I got this one in a record time for me.

Thanks, Andrea. I wasn't expecting to see a puzzle from you today. I'm guessing all is well?

John 8:25 AM  

Had tonic for trank at first, but quickly saw the error of my ways.

joho 8:26 AM  

@dk: Andrea did work in ACME, sort of, with APEX!

All I can say about this puzzle is not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 times more fun than most Mondays!

TRANK was definitely my word of the day.

Thanks, Andrea!

Jeffrey 8:27 AM  

Another fun Monday from Andrea. Some J's and X's thrown in for your solving pleasure. Good start to the week.

JannieB 8:30 AM  

Of course I promptly wrote in ACME at 55D, but nooo. Admirable restraint, my friend. I too put the "Q" in trank, but otherwise and very smooth solve.

Welcome back, Andrea. You've been missed!

DanaJ 8:38 AM  

Fun puzzle, only 2 snags for me. Also wanted TRANQ for TRANK. And no matter how many times I see it in the crossword, I am always certain that AERIE must have a Y in it. But that left me with OTTYR...

Steve in Boston 9:00 AM  

This was my best time ever. Once I got SINGLE and DOUBLE, I raced through it in 2:48! My first time under three minutes!!

And at the same time, it was a delightful puzzle with great 15-letter theme answers and fun fill. Awesome all around.

And, Rex, I hope you got Jerome KERN this time.

Orange 9:05 AM  

Chefbea riffed on Rex's one R/two R bit by asking when Andrea's "staring performance" on Dinner: Impossible would air. I thought, "Oh, no! Did Andrea get stage fright and stare vacantly at the camera? I hadn't heard. The poor dear! And on national television, too." Then I put the two together. Andrea is a star (and the last I heard, the episode was scheduled for early May, but I don't see it listed as an upcoming show on the show website).

mac 9:25 AM  

Great, solid, typically Andrea Monday puzzle! Trank was new to me, too. When writing down apex I also thought: ACME in another form!

@chefbea: I thought you were joking with your "staring", but I figured you were talking about the solving technique some people seem to find so effective.

Good start of the week, thanks Andrea!

foodie 9:34 AM  

Once in a while a puzzle will remind of great modern design-- spare, deceivingly simple, yet esthetically pleasing. Andrea's puzzle fits the bill.

Also some powerful women in the East-- LEONA, TINA and TONI!

Being in an Andrea-esque mode, I will share the fact that I met Toni Morrison and interacted with her over the course of several days. I was at a small conference in Cambridge, England, centered around the concept of Time... It included a certain Nobel Prize winning physicist who spoke of Atomic Clocks, a cultural anthropologist discussing the concept of time in various cultures, a couple of neuroscientists describing mechanisms of brain rhythms and social time, a composer who played an original piece and discussed musical time, the late Steven J. Gould talking about evolutionary time AND TONI Morrison who was our featured speaker discussing time in literature. It was one of those very British affairs where you stay in an old and stately building, eat together (so-so food, but I'm not complaining : ), and go to the lectures together. An almost perfect setting for an Agatha Christie novel. But the main feature was TONI. She was AMAZING! You felt like you were sitting with a lioness with that great MANE and strong presence. She emanated intelligence and warmth and held us all spellbound as she gave her lecture.

Thank you Andrea!

Anonymous 9:35 AM  

Rex, I love your site, and hate to make my first post a quibble. But... the Simon and Garfunkel is Cecilia, not Celia.

Rex Parker 9:57 AM  

@Anon 9:34,

That's not a quibble - that's a correction of an outright error on my part. Thanks - I fixed it. Any future corrections can be sent to my private email (see sidebar). ~RP

davidb 9:59 AM  

Working down the puzzle, I was hoping that the 4th theme answer would have HOMERUN or HOMER in it, this being less than a week before opening day.

A fine Monday puzzle, nonetheless.

Anne 10:03 AM  

@Rex, comments is back where it should be at the end of your write-up.

And this was a good straight-forward Monday. When I saw "I pledge" I thought about something else I saw in the book I just finished "The Devil in the White City." (Very little is not mentioned.)

"Francis J. Bellamy, an editor of Youth's Companion, thought it would be a fine thing if on that day (Dedication Day at the 1983 World Fair) all of the schoolchildren of American, in unison, offered something to the nation. He composed a pledge that the Bureau of Education mailed to virtually every school. As originally worded, it began, "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands ..."

AV 10:03 AM  

Very breezy puzzle, nice non-theme fill as well! Loved the BIGBABY.

Zipped through this for one of my fastest Mondays, @ 3:50! I remain amazed at those of you who break the 3 minute (or the 2-minute) mark.

Classic Monday, ACME!

addie loggins 10:07 AM  

Knew I was going to love the puzzle as soon as I saw ACM's name. Beat my best Monday time ever (still too slow to brag among this crowd, but PuzzleFutureBrotherInLaw was impressed).

Loved the theme; got QUADRUPLEBYPASS with only the P filled.

The R in TRANK was my last square filled, and a complete guess, but ASTRA looked right. Didn't understand until I got here that it is short for tranqualizer.

Both RENO and INCH were in both the NYT and LAT puzzles this morning, with INCH clued the same in both. I just started doing a second puzzle, so maybe this happens all the time, but it gave me a brief deja vu.

addie (aka PuzzleSister)

xyz 10:25 AM  

"Fan sound" I of course labored on game fans, when I asked wife she said "WHIRL" close enough (I already had it by then). For a Monday, it was a good puzzle, with the theme making so many crosses a snap. Easy with theme, notably harder without,I thought.

Hated TRANK, "TRANQ" so much more logical; TRANK seems like a nickname for Tom Hanks if he were a fullback. Until I had CAKE was confused, but as I have said before, knowing medicine does not help on medical clues for me. Checked several online urban dictionaries, neither is preferred but online med dict has tranq, of course. has trank not tranq

Newbie 10:31 AM  

Thought the puzzle was a perfect Monday, until I ran into my very own Natick: trank crossed with two Latin words. And also w/a book title which I was sure was Ike's book! Never heard of trank, so that's my word of the day. I enjoyed the puzzle despite my failings.

fikink 10:43 AM  

Andrea, this was a lovely puzzle which dovetailed nicely with the sunshine pouring in the window this morning. Never heard of tranquilizers referred to as TRANKs. As dk says, more often something like "doggie-downers" (and their opposite, "puppy-uppers)"
@Foodie, your conference sounds like heaven.
@Rex, the analogy of a double-stuffed Oreo was genius, IMO.

william e emba 10:44 AM  

Not my fastest Monday, but close.

The CELIA I was thinking of is Murphy's girlfriend, in the Beckett novel. In fact, that's what I thought the clue was at first, since I was racing through without reading half the clues, and I double-checked in disbelief as I filled in CELIA.

"Ad ASTRA per aspera", the Kansas state motto, is standard crosswordese. Memorize it, along with "Oro y plata", the Montana state motto.

My only quibble was that I've heard of "three LAYER CAKE", not "TRIPLE LAYER CAKE", but as a strict non-foodie, what do I know? Google confirms that I'm ignorant.

Rex Parker 10:46 AM  

Google often confirms that I'm ignorant. Cursed / Beloved Overlord!

slypett 10:50 AM  

"Double Indemnity" seems to have universal appeal--as it should.

This puzzle was breezy fun (though I'm not a speed solver by any means).

Early on I had cryBABY, but soon changed it.

Jeffrey 10:56 AM  

It sure sounds like CELIA is the first word of Cecelia although lyrics listings on Lord Google claim differently.

slypett 10:57 AM  

I Googled TRANK and urbandictionary has it as short for tranquilizer.

retired_chemist 11:04 AM  

No problems, fast time, fun. Fast for me, but the times reported in the 3 minute range make me blush. Also never heard of TRANK but 47A's CAQE somehow wasn't going to cut it.

Left 25A as TAR carelessly. Was debating TAR and GOO, decided to wait for crosses, but ended up solving it pretty much all without downs and didn't check carefully. Big mistake. I should be TARred and feathered. We had Chinese carry-out last night but no Moo GOO Gai Pan.

Check out

this link to see our new puppies.

joho 11:05 AM  

@Crosscan: I thought it was Cecilia, too, but when Googling see that BOTH names are in the song. However, Cecilia in the chorus is what I always sing and remember.

George NYC 11:48 AM  

I PLEDGE not to end up eating TRIPLELAYERCAKE and watching RACY flix
surgery instead of happily downing TRANKS in my AERIE, JESTing like a
BIGBABY. It's all been a WHIR since I VERGED on bankruptcy after
investing all my EUROS on SSTS.

Doug 11:57 AM  

Watched Mike RENO, the Loverboy lead singer, last night on the Junos AKA Canadian Grammies. The look back at the 80s videos was like those Simpsons flashbacks to how Homer looked in his high school days. Mike's about 250 lbs and waddles around stage, BUT still wears the headband.

Swell puzzle ACME. Good to see old friends ESAI, XENA, LEONA and OMAR come back to visit.

retired_chemist 12:04 PM  

@ GeorgeNYC - LOL!

mac 12:50 PM  

@retired_chemist: I went to see the puppies, but somehow I expected to see little tiny pugs (thought your avatar was one, now I think it may be a different breed). They are adorable anyway, and what a lovely mother-dog.

archaeoprof 12:54 PM  

@Rex: Thomas Friedman has suggested that Google might be God. It's always there, and it knows everything...

For 46D I wrote "accedes", but had to change it when I got to QUADRUPLE BYPASS."

retired_chemist 1:03 PM  

@ mac - we have both Pugs and Golden Retrievers. Ziggy is the Pug and Ghillie the Golden puppy in my avatar. My avatar is now a published photo (in Top Notch Toys) with the caption: "WHAT do you MEAN we're keeping her?"

Thanks for the kind words. Sorry for the off-topic. I'm proud of these babies.

Anonymous 1:07 PM  

@archaeoprof - If Google is God, then God is myopic. The Internet, hence Google, chronicles the past 10 years exhaustively, prior to that not so much.

michael 1:20 PM  

"GTE" has been in two puzzles in a row. will tomorrow make it three?

fikink 1:27 PM  

@archaeoprof, I'm glad you mentioned ACCEDES, for it was my first response also.

@retired chemist, the puppies are darling and look wonderfully healthy; and I am particularly impressed with the very pertinent and responsible inquiries you make in your questionnaire (on your Web page) to acquire an animal . (Rex, as an animal lover, you would appreciate it, too, even if off topic.)

SethG 1:37 PM  

One of my fastest ever, and that includes trying to fit MERINGUE in for LAYER CAKE. 'Cause of the lemon.

The song is Cecilia, the lyrics also call her Celia. More importantly, they sing "I fall on the floor and I laughing." I do not understand that.

The Minnesota state motto is L'etoile du Nord. Our state muffin is the blueberry muffin.

Anonymous 2:14 PM  

As ignorant cluing and bad editing go, "Japanese fighter" for NINJA is just this side of "Tai chi instructor" for SENSEI, to me.

The ninja primarily functioned as as a spy and assassin -- infiltrate, recon, kill, commit suicide if necessary. Most combat was to be avoided or kept short, so a ninja labeled as a "fighter" surely wasn't earning his/her keep. If anyone should be described as a "Japanese fighter," it's the SAMURAI.

So the clue isn't downright wrong, just inaccurate. It's like cluing STEVE MARTIN as "American banjo player."


Anonymous 2:24 PM  

@Alby ??? A main complaint about the Tai Chi Instructor / SENSEI was the confusion between a Chinese practice and a Japanese honorific.

Ninjas were the prototypical special-ops forces. Try telling a Navy Seal he's not a fighter. Good luck with that.

andrea carla michaels 2:26 PM  

I am overwhelmed and thrilled with the writeup and accolades today. Thank you!!!!
(Or should I say TRANK you? I too would have put in a Q...I fussed over that word for a while)

Love Love love Simon and Garfunkel!!!!!
And I too originally defined it as their song... I've never heard of the CELIA in Shakespeare, that was a good catch by the puzzlemaster!

He also urged be to make it four (I had SINGLE DOUBLE TRIPLE, but as you know, four is the new three) I freaked out, not thinking I could do it, so as much as I push back at Will, I do love him!

(There was one word that wasn't right, I forget now what, where DIGAT is now...and PatrickB solved in about 20 seconds that GTE corner where we had deemed it too hard for a Monday, plus I had tried to get rid of UTERI, my own private hysterectomy)

Anyway, as you know, these puzzles, Rex and this world mean everything to me, so thank you again!

(And yes, the APEX was a sly joke)

PlantieBea 2:36 PM  

Excellent Monday puzzle ACM! It felt perfect. I'm glad you added the fourth answer of quad bypass. The whole puzzle just felt fresh, balanced, and smart.

ArtLvr 3:02 PM  

I had a cousin named Celia, and we used to tease her by singing the K-K-K-Katy song to her, using "Ce-Ce-Ce-Celia" in the first line... I doubt if it works as well with 'Ack-ack-ack-Acme"? Anyway, Accolades to Andrea...


Anonymous 3:08 PM  

I can't tell you how long it took me to give up TRAIN for 34D. Or to give it up in the first place.

Orange 3:45 PM  

@Foodie, I suppose you've read Morrison's Jazz? My memories of it are faint, but Wikipedia confirms that there's time shifting. I should reread it.

Two Ponies 3:58 PM  

This was a nice snappy puzzle and perfect for a Monday.
Big baby was my favorite answer.
Way to go Acme!

joho 4:58 PM  

@Artlvr ... You're too funny. Ack-ack-ack-Acme sounds like a cat fighting a hairball!

@Foodie ... your "timely" conference in Cambridge sounds fascinating.

@retired_chemist ... your puppies are adorable. Mom looks like a saint. And the caption you cited perfectly fits the pug's face in your avatar.

@SethG ... who knew? And not only Minnesota has gone so far as to pick a state muffin --New York has claimed the apple muffin!

Fun puzzle, funny comments today.

Three and out.

chefbea 5:09 PM  

I googled state foods and Connecticut does not have a fruit, vegetable, muffin etc. I will get in touch with Jodi Rell - our governor and have her proclaim a RED muffin as our state muffin.

SethG 7:01 PM  

You've got a state shellfish--isn't that enough? Grits are the official state prepared food of Georgia, and Oklahoma has a whole official state meal (which also includes grits).

I wonder if Utah has an official historic state vegetable?

kevin der 7:16 PM  

thanks acme for a great monday and allowing my fastest monday by far at 2:51.

chefwen 7:18 PM  

@retired_chemist. Awwwwww, too cute.
Fun, breezy puzzle; my only write over was bigbore for BIG BABY. For money ISN'T everything I said out loud "ya wanna bet?"

mac 8:50 PM  

SethG: you are bad, and you have too much time on your hands! You know very well that the sugar beet is a completely different animal from our blog's favorite red root.

foodie 9:31 PM  

@ Andrea, I was hoping that there would be both APEX and ACME in the puzzle, so we'd be prone to committing malapops, instantiating a phenomenon you both observed and named!

@Orange, I have not read Jazz although I've read many Toni Morrison books (I think Sula was my first and I fell in love with her then). I had not made the connection between her discussion of time and the way that novel is said to play with time. You're so smart!

@finkink that conference WAS heaven, or may be it was Iowa?

It's weird, I haven't thought about that whole event in a while, but Andrea's TONI brought it to mind. As I described it earlier, I realized that this blog reminds me of what I liked most about it-- a group of interesting people taking a common theme and reacting to it from very different perspectives.

Bill from NJ 10:23 PM  

Thank you Andrea for the TONI Morrison clue and to foodie for that memory piece about her.

I was introduced to Ms Morrison thru "Song Of Solomon" which, I think, trips trough time in some pretty interesting ways, particularly in the first chapter with the man attempting to fly at roughly the moment of the main characters' birth. I read all of her older works at that point and have been following her ever since.

Stan 10:26 PM  

A lovely puzzle, for reasons already explained...

I have TRANKs for my cat Syd (named after Barrett) used before visits to the vet. Without them he will fight like XENA, AJAX and a NINJA to avoid getting into the carrier.

Ruth 6:27 AM  

Seth G: Grits IS the official state prepared food of Georgia. Grits is singular, like news. Many southerners have pointed that out to me, and it's still hard to get my head around it.

Jessica 2:22 PM  

Great write up again Rex. As a lifelong Celts fan, I was DYING that the Big Baby clue was not referring to Glen Davis...

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