Central Sicilian city / WED 3-31-10 / Upscale shoe brand / Izmir native / Fleming supervillain / Bolshevik's foe / Anticlimactic putt

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Constructor: Chuck Deodene

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challening

THEME: SPREAD THE WEALTH (38A: Redistributionist's catchphrase ... or a hint to the words formed by the circled letters) — circles spell out words for "money."

Word of the Day: ARNE Duncan (12D: Obama education secretary ___ Duncan) —

Arne Duncan (born November 6, 1964) is an American education administrator and currently United States Secretary of Education. Duncan had previously served as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. [...] From 1987 to 1991, Duncan played professional basketball in Melbourne, Australia with the Eastside Spectres of the National Basketball League, and while there, worked with children who were wards of the state. In the U.S., he also played with the Rhode Island Gulls and tried out for the New Jersey Jammers. While in Tasmania he met his future wife, Karen. A Time magazine article also mentions that he has played pickup games with Michael Jordan [...] In 1992, Duncan became director of the Ariel Education Initiative, a program to enhance educational opportunities for children on Chicago's South Side that was started by John W. Rogers, Jr.. In 1996, along with Rogers, he was part of a network that funded and supported Ariel Community Academy. In 1999, he became Deputy Chief of Staff for former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas. Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Duncan to serve as CEO of Chicago Public Schools on June 26, 2001. (wikipedia)

• • •
As you know, this is my least favorite type of theme. Non-consecutive circled squares that spell out things. Here, at least, the fact that the circles are stupidly SPREAD out is actually integral to the theme, so that's something. Knowing the theme didn't help at all. It might have helped with MANOLO BLAHNIK, except the parts of that answer I didn't know how to spell were not the parts in circles — couldn't remember exact composition of the second name: BLAHGA? BLAHNKA? BLAHGO? Blah. It's a cool theme answer. Not much else about the grid is particularly cool. The difficulty rating is a bit deceptive. I actually found it quite Medium, but it's hard for me to determine difficulty on Wednesdays. This is because, remarkably, all of my Wednesday times this year, with the exception of one hard outlier (6:17), are grouped between 3:40 and 4:39. Today was the 4:39. I'm going to stick with the admittedly idiosyncratic data and say this one will skew slightly tougher-than-usual. Why, I don't know...

Maybe people will stumble over the shoes. I have a feeling that shoe hounds and puzzle solvers would create a not very substantial overlap in a Venn diagram. Then again, it is the *New York* times, so maybe people in the city can spell MANOLO BLAHNIK as easily as they can NIKE. Maybe the trouble came, as it did for me, in the NE, where there was a ton of crosswordese, but it was clued in ways I couldn't understand at first. Didn't know the guy whose *first* name was ARNE. The usual go-to clue there involves a British composer, *last* name ARNE. Haven't seen the "CZ-" CZAR in a while, so I don't know what I was looking for at 10A: Bolshevik's foe, but it wasn't that. Maybe CAPITALIST? JOE MCCARTHY? I wanted something like an I-BEAM or REBAR to be my 13D: Concrete reinforcers today. No. Just RODS. Anyway, that's the only section that actually caused me significant slowage. That and the SE (south of the -NIK in BLAHNIK).

Theme answers:
  • 17A: How a former product may be brought back (BY POPULAR DEMAND) — B-R-E-A-D
  • 23A: Tale of a hellish trip (DANTE'S INFERNO) — D-I-N-E-R-O
  • 49A: Upscale shoe brand (MANOLO BLAHNIK) — M-O-O-L-A-H
  • 59A: Escapes via luxury liner (PLEASURE CRUISES) — L-U-C-R-E

  • 14: Lake of the Ozarks feeder (OSAGE) — Pieced together without looking at clue. A very common crossword river / tribe.
  • 65A: Izmir native (TURK) — Guessed off the -RK. No idea where Izmir Iz. I know a Scott Kazmir, a great southpaw who now plays for the Angels. His name always makes me think of this:

  • 3D: Anticlimactic putt (TAP-IN) — Odd-looking but accurate clue.
  • 24D: Dendrologist's subject (TREE) — also known as XYLOLOGY, a much cooler word. Actually, it seems XYLOLOGY is a branch (ha ha) of dendrology. How many branches does dendrology have? That sounds like the opening to a serious tree nerd joke.
  • 25D: Central Sicilian city (ENNA) — some words reek of crosswordese. This word, for instance. I know it because of crosswords. I've never seen it outside of crosswords. It's a word of convenience.
  • 31D: Cries from the momentarily stupid (DUHS) — I went with DOHS. Luckily, I know what a SOU is (37A: Trifling amount).
  • 34D: Superstar assembly (DREAM TEAM) — Currently reading "When the Game Was Ours," about Magic and Bird (part of the core of the U.S. Olympic basketabll "DREAM TEAM" of 1992).
  • 39D: Fleming supervillain (DR. NO) — Fleming's four-letter gift to crossword constructors. What else are you going to do with -RN- in the middle of your four-letter word. Go with ARNE!? That's absurd.
  • Cross-dressing "Dame" of humor (EDNA) — "of humor" made me laugh. What would people's answer have been without that phrase? JUDI Dench? Never actually seen Dame EDNA? Have a gander:

  • 50D: Teatro La Fenice offering (OPERA) — really, what else could it be? PORNO?
  • 54D: Merry Prankster Ken (KESEY) — I don't know about the "Merry Pranksters" (promoters of psychedelic drug use and takers of famously chronicled bus trips). If I'd read Tom Wolfe's "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," as I'm pretty sure my mom once suggested, I'd have known. Nothing is more boring to me than other people's drug use. Had to piece Kesey's name together from crosses. I know him only as the author of "Cuckoo's Nest."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Cops in slang / TUE 3-30-10 / 1900 Puccini premiere / Bygone cracker brand / Beekeeper of filmdom / Computer setup to facilitate instant messaging

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: FIVE-O (9A: Cops, in slang ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme) — Five theme answers each begin with a homophone of "O"

Word of the Day: STOA (46A: Site of Zeno's teaching) —

Stoa (plural, stoae or stoæ) in Ancient Greek architecture; covered walkways or porticos, commonly for public usage. Early stoae were open at the entrance with columns lining the side of the building, creating a safe, enveloping, protective atmosphere and were usually of Doric order. Later examples consisted of mainly two stories, with a roof supporting the inner colonnades where shops or sometimes offices were located and followed Ionic architecture. These buildings were open to the public; merchants could sell their goods, artists could display their artwork, and religious gatherings could take place. Stoae usually surrounded the marketplaces of large cities. // Zeno began teaching in the colonnade in the Agora of Athens known as the Stoa Poikile in 301 BC. His disciples were initially called Zenonians, but eventually they came to be known as Stoics, a name previously applied to poets who congregated in the Stoa Poikile. (wikipedia)
• • •

I really liked this puzzle, and found it very easy. A very clever theme with interesting theme answers and some non-theme fill that really sparkles — e.g. FAR-FLUNG (9D: Widespread) and BUDDY LIST (70A: Computer setup to facilitate instant messaging). My wife's experience with the puzzle, however, was less joyful, and less successful, and seeing her grid opened my eyes to a host of issues (not failings, necessarily; just issues) that I would never have noticed otherwise. Let's start with FAR-FLUNG. Unlike me, wife hit 32A: Informal British term of address before she ever saw the clue for FAR-FLUNG, and so she spelled her answer GOV. Then, since she, like most people, could not tell you off hand the key of Gershwin's apparently lone concerto (IN F), she made sense of 9D: Widespread the only way she could: by entering FAR ALONG. If I squint and cock my head a little, FAR ALONG makes sense as an answer to the clue. IN A certain makes sense as something a concerto might be. And GOV makes sense — that's how GOVernor is spelled, after all. So she fell into a weird trap I didn't know existed. She also had somehow never heard of either LIEV Schreiber (of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine") or HI-HO crackers (29D: Bygone cracker brand) and couldn't make any sense of AHS (28A: Physical reactions?). Explaining the logic of AHS to her was not terribly successful. I was met with disbelief and mild defensiveness. Wife had also never heard of a BUDDY LIST, though she managed to get it correctly.

My only problems, on the other hand, were writing in IRISH for WELSH (53D: Like the name "Bryn Mawr") and not being able to decide initially between STELE / EROS and STELA / AMOR at 56D: Inscribed pillar / 73A: Lover boy? I've never seen STOA *and* STELE in the same grid before. I hope I never do again. I can only take only so much serious, old school, ancient Greek , "ST"-starting crosswordese in one day. But, as I said, overall, I really liked it.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Up-to-date (AU COURANT)
  • 23A: Brut or Paco Rabannae (EAU DE COLOGNE)
  • 41A: Browning opening line preceding "Now that April's there" ("OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND")
  • 52A: Be indebted to the I.R.S. (OWE BACK TAXES)
  • 65A: Willa Cather novel ("O PIONEERS!")
Wife had also never heard of FIVE-O as slang for the police (she grew up in New Zealand, so maybe that's part of it). I wouldn't know FIVE-O if it weren't for the fact that the phrase comes up in rap sometimes. And then there's "Hawaii Five-O," of course, though I had no idea growing up that the "FIVE-O" parts was code for the cops. I'm not sure what I thought it meant. "Ba-ba-ba-baa-baaaaaaa-baaaaaaa..." I had a (vinyl) album of "TV's Greatest Hits" growing up (back when TV themes were awesome — listen to the theme from "Sanford and Son" some time; pure Quincy Jones gold). Anyway, this was certainly on there:

  • 44A: 1900 Puccini premiere ("TOSCA") — the puzzle's favorite opera, after "AIDA." Never seen it, but no sweat.
  • 6D: Civil rights advocate ___ B. Wells (IDA) — crosswordese. Learned her from crosswords. Thankfully, she came when called today. Sometimes my crosswordese just doesn't show up. E.g. "O yeah, I know this, it's ... that word ... ULAN? ... ANYA? ... ANSA? ..." (my thought process every time the clue calls for OLAN)
  • 24D: Beekeeper of filmdom (ULEE) — my wife was so put off the puzzle that she was taking swiped at just about anything in reach: "Filmdom???" Sigh. Yes, I know, no one says that, but it's standard crossword cluing language.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Dirty Harry's employer / MON 3-29-10 / Shoulder muscle informally / Jon Bon Jovi Tina Turner Betty Boop Superman features

Monday, March 29, 2010

Constructor: John Dunn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: IN THE CROSSHAIRS (38A: Fixed as a target ... or a hint to four pairs of intersecting answers in this puzzle) — grid features four pairs of intersecting hair types, arranged symmetrically

Word of the Day: DINA Merrill (18D: Actress Merrill) —

Dina Merrill (born December 9, 1925) is an American actress and socialite. // Merrill was born Nedenia Marjorie Hutton in New York City, the only child of Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her second husband, Wall Street stockbroker Edward Francis Hutton.[1] She was educated at The George Washington University. // Merrill acted in twenty-two motion pictures [... and ...] appeared regularly on television in the 1960s [...] Merrill is a presidential appointee to the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a trustee of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Foundation, a vice president of the New York City Mission Society. // She served on the board of directors and the compensation committee of Lehman Brothers for 18 years until 2007.
• • •

A very interesting theme idea, with an usual theme answer pattern. Conceptually, I loved it. Theme made the puzzle slightly harder than a normal Monday, though (3:24), as I had no idea what Mamie feature was supposed to be definitive and had no idea what Tina Turner and Jon Bon Jovi could possibly have in common. Also, don't know how a BRAID is different from a PLAIT (would never in a million years have associated PLAIT with Pippi). The cluing seemed a bit off in places — actually, more unnecessarily wordy than flat-out off. 29D: What tagging a runner and catching a fly ball result in is an eternal clue for OUTS (also, sometimes you tag a runner and he is not, in fact, out). Why not [Apartment payment] for RENT? Do we need "dweller's" in there? Isn't [Mosey] enough to clue AMBLE. Why [Mosey along]? Much SODA POP is not, in fact, "sugary." The clue on WREN is undoubtedly accurate (36D: Bird that perches with its tail erect) but did *nothing* to signal WREN to me. My wife knows more about birds than I. I asked, "Is that what you think of when you think of WREN?" She thought about it a bit. "No." Still, all these cluing issues were just annoying static — the core of the puzzle was sound and enjoyable.

A couple more issues, though, having to do with theme consistency. MANES is really generic as it applies to human hair. A POMPADOUR and BANGS and a BRAID are all fairly limited in their meanings, whereas MANES could be any old thick head of hair. Further, LOCKS is just ... hair. Rapunzel had looong LOCKS, but LOCKS is not a hair style. So it's an outlier. So is BEARD, as all the other hairs are on the top of the head; BEARD is the only facial hair of the bunch. Lastly, some answers are plural. Some are not. So it's a bit wonky, but it'll do. The imagination and ambition of the theme makes the wonkiness fade in importance.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Elvis Presley feature (POMPADOUR)
  • 5D: Abraham Lincoln feature (BEARD)
  • 19A: Mamie Eisenhower feature (BANGS)
  • 11D: Jon Bon Jovi and Tina Turner features (MANES)
  • 60A: Willie Nelson feature (BRAID)
  • 51D: Pippi Longstocking feature (PLAIT)
  • 62A: Betty Boop and Superman features (SPITCURLS)
  • 53D: Rapunzel feature (LOCKS)

ATTIRED (30A: Clad) and APPAREL (49A: Clothing) are eerily similar words, and not just because both relate to clothing. Same length, vowels and consonants all in same places, "A" "R" and "E" all in the same places, and double-letter in same places. If your APPAREL is MESHY, it might be SAUCY. It might also be SO BAD that I have to leave the room. If you are ATTIRED in PARSNIPS, well, god help you.

  • 23A: Shoulder muscle, informally (DELT) — just blanked on this. My brain went "LAT" then ... nothing.
  • 1D: Dirty Harry's employer: Abbr. (SFPD) — There is just one fact that all solvers know about the SFPD. This is it. If you have to be known by one fact, it's not a bad one.

  • 13D: They may be sordid (PASTS) — I thought TALES. Another reason why the NE took me much longer than the other quadrants.
  • 28D: Real estate (LAND) — I thought LOTS.
  • 31D: Give a shellacking (TROMP) — this word looks wronger the more I stare at it. Like it can't decide if it's TROUNCE or STOMP.
First day of my spring break, which I will spend, partly, on the phone with an Apple representative. Ugh. Words can't describe how much I despise dealing with computer glitches. Maybe I'll get lucky and the problem will be something small and stupid. That way, I'll just feel humiliated instead of humiliated, incompetent, and frustrated.

Oh, and congratulations to known crossworder Sherman Alexie on winning the Pen/Faulkner Award last week for "War Dances," a fantastic book with at least one story ("Fearful Symmetry") in which crossword-solving figures prominently. You should get a copy. That's A-L-E-X-I-E. Will Shortz, I'm looking at you :)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Eponymous engineer / SUN 3-28-10 / Follower of Christopher or Carolina / Six-time baseball All-Star Rusty / World capital 12,000 feet / Eggy quaff

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "WHAT MAKES IT ITCH?" — a puzzle, which is somehow not about dandruff, athlete's foot, or other, less speakable malady. "-CH" is added to the ends of words in familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style.

Word of the Day: TERNE (46A: Lead and tin alloy) —

Terne is an alloy coating of lead and tin used to cover steel, in the ratio of 20% tin and 80% lead. // Terne is used to coat sheet steel to inhibit corrosion. It is the one of the cheapest alloys suitable for this, and the tin content is kept at a minimum while still adhering to a hot-dipped iron sheet, to minimize the cost. (wikipedia)

• • •

An easyish, non-OGREISH puzzle (84D: Beastly), with hardly any sticking points. Simple idea, nicely executed. Very undemanding grid (just seven theme answers) allows for a generally interesting and mostly smooth overall quality to the grid. I noticed an error when checking over my grid. I had ENURE for 66A: Get used (to), which is *a* correct answer to the clue (that exact clue has been used for ENURE before). Sadly, the stupid [Old Japanese coin] is a RIN, not a REN, and so, today, INURE was the correct way to go. And here I thought someone had found an interesting new clue for that damned animated dog. No. Hey, REN is a dog. And the most common clue for RIN — RIN Tin Tin — is a dog. Interesting. Ish. Also, if you replace the "U" in "ENURE" with a "T" and then anagram it, you get the one word (besides RIN) I had *no* clue about today: TERNE. I know TERN as a shorebird common to North American crossword grids. As an alloy: new to me. Coincidentally, the non-bird TERNE crossed the birdy WREN (41D: Follower of Christopher or Carolina), which I also had some trouble getting. Luckily for me, SARA LEE (51A: Food giant based in Downers Grove, Ill.) and HELOISE (40D: Hint offerer) eventually helped me corral this section. They're surprisingly tough broads.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Problem for a crane operator? (NO-WINCH SITUATION) — one small issue: "operator" in the clue when OPER. is in the grid at 19A: Phone abbr.
  • 38A: Exceptional soldier on his only tour? (ONE-HITCH WONDER)
  • 68A: What kind, decent people wear? (MENSCH FASHION)
  • 98A: Hidden help for one who's trying to quit smoking? (PATCH ON THE BACK)
  • 117A: Instruction #1 for roofers? (GET A LOAD OF THATCH) — this and PATCH... are my favorites
  • 16D: Hit below the belt? (MAKE A BAD PUNCH)
  • 56D: Really angry group? (HOT CROSS BUNCH)
As is true on many days, today was a good day to have some Basic crosswordese under your belt. AGIO was a huge WTF?! to me the first time I saw it — now, a gimme (8D: Currency exchange premium). Same could be said for RIT. (42D: Slowing down, in mus. — short for "RITardando"), MRE (68D: Field ration, for short), ALETA (104D: Prince Valiant's love) and the TAFTS (58D: Ohio political dynasty). Of course I knew who President TAFT was, but it wasn't until after much crosswording that I realized that the family was an Ohio political dynasty.

Some enjoyable fill today. In graduate school, I studied and wrote about anti-MENDICANT (specifically, anti-fraternal) literature of the fourteenth century (it's true), so that word was an oddly nostalgic piece of cake (14D: Beggar). Other medium range fill that seemed original and interesting:
  • CIGAR CASE (47A: Cuban's home?) – thought this might be a theme answer at first. Then figured CASTRO was involved somehow. Wrong and wrong.
  • DESCEND ON (90A: Arrive unexpectedly en masse) — a great clue for fresh idiomatic phrase.
  • NEW HIGH (88A: Wall Street landmark?) — a bit of a stretch, perhaps, but I admire this answer's moxie, so thumbs up.
Lastly, I have no reason to put this in my write-up, but it made me laugh so hard that I'm going to anyway. It's not intentionally funny. It's just ... 1991. Dance Party. Straight out of Binghamton, NY. Thanks to my best friend from college for sending this my way. His quote: "I heard "Binghamton" in the first 30 seconds, so ... onto your [Facebook] Wall it goes." Mullets, gold chains, parachute pants, forgetting the actual names of songs ... this clip has it all.

  • 5A: World capital at 12,000 feet (LA PAZ) — was looking for LHASA, which is at ... 11,812 feet. You can understand my confusion.
  • 10A: Rugby gathering (SCRUM) — "Gathering" is a funny word for SCRUM. It's not a conference or a seminar.
  • 20A: With 21-Across, native Oklahoma group (OSAGE / TRIBE) — TRIBE seemed superfluous here. I mean, OSAGE means the "TRIBE." It's not like I needed the second half of the answer to make sense of it. Why not just clue 21-Across as [20-Across, for one]?
  • 62A: Motorist's no-no, for short (DUI) — first thought was "UEY," but that's only a no-no sometimes.
  • 73A: Grouchy Muppet (OSCAR) — you'd be grouchy too if you were green and lived in a trash can.
  • 80A: "___ Mucho," #1 hit for Jimmy Dorsey ("BESA ME") — why is this song so familiar to me? Did someone do a memorable parody of it? Here's a ska version by Elvis.

  • 107A: Eggy quaff (NOG) — a trifecta of horrible words, each of them at least vaguely nauseating to me.
  • 2D: Expo '74 city (SPOKANE) — I'm headed there in a little over a month — actually, I'm flying into there, and then heading over to St. Maries, ID for my grandma's 90th birthday party. It'll be a hard, fast, and (assuming all goes well) entertaining trip down memory lane. As longtime readers may know, my grandma is the first person I ever saw work a crossword.
  • 5D: Keepsake on a chain (LOCKET) — wanted RABBIT'S FOOT. Then wanted TRINKET.
  • 17D: Six-time baseball All-Star Rusty (STAUB) — I remember him as a thick, blond (red-headed?), power-hitting Tiger (though he played for a lot of teams). Interesting fact: in 1978 (acc. to wikipedia) "Staub became the first player to play in all 162 regular-season games exclusively as a designated hitter."
  • 81D: Home of Elmendorf Air Force Base (ANCHORAGE) — this reminds me of the book I just finished: "Game Change." In that ANCHORAGE reminds me of Alaska reminds me of Palin. Wish the book had been somewhat more substantive and less gossipy, but it was Very entertaining in parts.
And now your crossword Tweets of the Week — puzzle chatter from the Twitterverse:

  • @leathellin My morning plan would be working perfectly if I hadn't woken up hopeless at crosswords.
  • @aobehr Love that my wife will ask for my help doing the Post crosswords, then will belittle me for knowing the answer.
  • @Skinbro Watching morbidly obese, middle aged women doing crossword puzzles in a dainty fashion makes me happy.
  • @timpawlenty Ask me if you need help with 51 across in today’s NY Times crossword puzzle. http://bit.ly/aHpYpJ
  • @megchapin worst crossword puzzle clue ever: "will smith's music." answer: Rap. uhh... hardly
  • @CEDownes it's amazing how many crossword answers I get just from 20 years of watching the Simpsons
  • @jwisser "Burt's ex", as a crossword clue, immediately caused me to think "Ernie?".
  • @marcschaubjr Why is "LONI" still a crossword answer and "Burt's Ex" still the clue? What decade is this?
  • @aimeemann This health care bill thing has almost overshadowed my finishing the New York Times crossword puzzle.

[LOVE her]

  • @ElayneBoosler Ha! I'm 99 Down in this Sunday's L.A. Times Xword puzzle. U know every1's spelling it with an "i" and it aint working out.
  • @MrJoshEarl Justin Bieber starts every morning by ruining his Dads crossword by writing 'Balls' in the 5 down section #BieberFacts
  • @tomwp L-O-L: Sunday NY Times crossword has the clue "Sound while jerking the head" Will Shortz you perv

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Avant-garde saxophonist John / SAT 3-27-10 / Soles of her shoe hamlet / Faddish disk of 1990s / Magic practiced native Guianans

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson

Relative difficulty: Medium


Word of the Day: TAMLA (21D: Motown's original name) —

Motown is a record company founded by Berry Gordy, Jr. and incorporated as Motown Record Corporation in Detroit, Michigan, USA, on April 14, 1960. The name, a portmanteau of motor and town, is also a nickname for Detroit. Now headquartered in New York City, Motown is a subsidiary of Universal Motown Republic Group, itself a subsidiary of Universal Music Group, and now operates as Universal Motown. Motown Records was also the name of Gordy's second record label; the first, Tamla Records, began on January 12, 1959. [...] Berry Gordy got his start as a songwriter for local Detroit acts such as Jackie Wilson and The Matadors. Wilson's single "Lonely Teardrops", written by Gordy, became a huge success; however, Gordy did not feel he made as much money as he deserved from this and other singles he wrote for Wilson. He realized that the more lucrative end of the business was in producing records and owning the publishing. // In 1959, Billy Davis and Berry Gordy's sisters Gwen and Anna started Anna Records. Davis and Gwen Gordy wanted Berry to be the company president, but Berry wanted to strike out on his own. On January 12, 1959, he started Tamla Records, with an $800 loan from his family. Gordy originally wanted to name the label "Tammy" Records, after the popular song by Debbie Reynolds. When he found the name was already in use, he decided on Tamla instead. // Gordy's first signed act was The Matadors, a group he had written and produced songs for, who changed their name to The Miracles when Tamla signed them. Miracles lead singer Smokey Robinson became the vice president of the company (and later named his daughter "Tamla" and his son "Berry" out of gratitude to Gordy and the label) ... (wikipedia)

• • •

This is a solid, if mostly forgettable, puzzle — loaded with gimmes that gave me important footholds. Only real problems I had were all in the vicinity (shocker) of proper nouns: names I just didn't know. The rest of it was very doable (with a little Saturday elbow grease) and, in parts, even easy (see the entire SE, which went down in something under a minute, once I finally changed BACKSLIDE to BACKSPACE at 30D: Move to your previous place). I started with EDNAS, clued today in what is currently its crosswordesiest incarnation: 10A: "Hairspray" mom and others. I've seen that ["Hairspray" mom] clue a million times now. OK, probably 6-10 times, but that's a lot of times. When you put a gimme in a place that gives me the first letters of a bank of long Downs ... well, it's probably going to be a good day. The super common DOONE is also up there (18A: Blackmore heroine), and the obvious ASNER (13D: Actor who won comedy and drama Emmys for the same role), so NE = no sweat. Problems arose when I tried to get out of the NE, however. I got smug and a little cocky when I got ST. MARK off just the "K" (28A: Donatello sculpture subject), but that attitude disappeared when I tried to get into the middle of the grid. Couldn't remember TAMLA, and certainly had no idea what I was dealing with at 34A: Capital on the Buriganga River, old-style. MECCA? No, that's not "old style." The fact that this was crossing TAMLA (which I didn't know yet) was giving me a minor puzzle panic attack. "That cross better be an 'A'..." By the time I was done with that part of the grid, I had everything right (it turns out), but I didn't know why. Honestly, when I was done, I thought DACCA was "old-style" for DAKAR, the capital of Senegal. Most humiliating fact of the day — turns out I don't know the capital of Bangladesh. In fact, have never heard of it. It's DHAKA (which apparently was spelled "DACCA" back in the day — at least I wasn't forced to come up with DHAKA's other former name: JAHANGIR NAGAR).

Other major sore spot was the far SW, which really is the ugliest part of the grid. Any random Roman numeral longer than three letters tends to irritate me. Today's was five (41D: Last full year of St. Julius I's papacy: CCCLI), *and* intersected a name I'd never heard of: CRAIN (50A: "Pinky" Best Actress nominee Jeanne). Jeanne CRAIN was a popular actress of the '40s and '50s, and "Pinky" was directed by Elia Kazan. The only movie CRAIN I know is Marion CRANE of Alfred Hitchcock's (see 54A) "Psycho," which stars Janet Leigh, whom I often confuse with Debbie Reynolds, who sang "Tammy," which is what Berry Gordy wanted to name his record company before settling on TAMLA.

Had some trouble in the west when I figured 29A: Outcast was LONER or LOSER and 25D: Foot part? was PODI-. Answers turned out to be LEPER and PEDI-, respectively. Also tried ICON before IDOL at 2D: Massive star, resulting in temporary befuddlement. Otherwise, not too hard. I'd like to thank OBEAH (7D: Magic practiced by native Guianans) for being a very handy piece of crosswordese. I'm pretty sure that without it, I'd have found the NW a good deal harder to get into. The "B" gave me the suffix -ABLE, which gave me ULAN (8D: ___ Hot (city in Inner Mongolia)), which allowed me to guess GINORMOUS (1A: Massive). And that's that.

  • 20A: Ezio Pinza's "Mr. Imperium" co-star (LANA TURNER) — and another clue takes us back to mid-20c. Hollywood. Never heard of this movie, but had -URNER by the time I looked at this clue, so getting the answer was a cinch. Figured Ezio (xwordese!) and Tina's careers probably didn't overlap much.
  • 35A: Avant-garde saxophonist John (ZORN) — didn't know this, and then somehow did, but didn't know why. Jim ZORN was the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks in the '70s-'80s. He's the ZORN I know best.

  • 40A: Subject of the 1997 biography "Woman in the Mists" (FOSSEY) — another gimme. This once confirmed what I suspected: that NO ONE KNOWS was the answer to 12D: "It's anybody's guess"
  • 54A: Hitchcock trademark (CAMEO ROLE) — another easy one. These banks of long Acrosses traversed by many short Downs are usually relative easy to solve. Even if the Acrosses aren't easy, chances are you'll be able to crack a couple of the Downs and start to open things up.
  • 3D: Launcher launched in 1958 (NASA) — I'm trying to understand why my first thought involved NERF balls and some kind of toy ball-launcher they might have produced...
  • 6D: Youngest Best Actress Oscar winner, 1986 (MATLIN) — wow, that's a surprising stat. O'NEAL and PAQUIN both won Supporting Actress Oscars. My first guess here was FOSTER.
  • 22D: "___ the soles of her shoe?": Hamlet (NOR) — really strange and unfamous quote to use as a clue for "NOR"; from Act II, scene ii:

My excellent good friends! How dost thou,
Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do ye
As the indifferent children of the earth.(235)
Happy, in that we are not over-happy.
On Fortune's cap we are not the very button.
Nor the soles of her shoe?
Neither, my lord.
Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her(240)
Faith, her privates we.
In the secret parts of Fortune? O! most true! she is a
strumpet. . .

  • 37D: 1982 Grammy-winning song by Toto ("ROSANNA") — a gimme handed to me on a silver gimme platter with "gimme" engraved on it. Though, to be honest, my first thought was "Africa."

  • 52D: Faddish disk of the 1990s (POG) — though I was too old for these to be truly in my pop culture sweet spot — still a gimme. This"fad" sticks in my head because of an episode of "The Simpsons" — one of the greatest episodes of all — where Bart sells his soul to Milhouse for $5 and then when Bart wants to buy it back, he can't because Milhouse has traded it in for ... POGs. "Alf" POGs. The line about POGs and "Alf" is the first thing I think of whenever I see a reference to POGs:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Summer wind in Mediterranean / FRI 3-26-10 / Actress Felton 1950s TV / Oldest of literary quartet / Gradually quieting in music / 1932 song 1984 movie

Friday, March 26, 2010

Constructor: Henry Hook

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ETESIAN (12D: Summer wind in the Mediterranean) —

The etesians (Ancient Greek ετησίαι 'annual (winds)', sometimes found in the Latin form etesiae), meltemi μελτέμι (Greek), or meltem (Turkish) are the strong, dry north winds of the Aegean Sea, which blow from about mid-May to mid-September. During hot summer days, this is by far the most preferred weather type and is considered a blessing. They are at their strongest in the afternoon and often die down at night, but sometimes meltemi winds last for days without a break. Similar winds blow in the Adriatic and Ionian regions. Meltemi winds are dangerous to sailors because they come up in clear weather without warning and can blow at 7-8 Beaufort. Some yachts and most inter island ferries cannot sail under such conditions. (wikipedia)

• • •

Henry Hook is a legendary, and legendarily tough, constructor. I can't remember the last time I saw his by-line in the NYT, but it feels like a long time ago. I spied his name before I started in on this one, and was prepared for some entertaining brutality. Somewhat sadly, it ended up being (mostly) simply brutal. There are some amazing aspects of this puzzle: the symmetrical body builders — SCHWARZENEGGER (16A: Famous bodybuilder) and DR. FRANKENTSTEIN (48A: Famous body builder?) — paralleled by the symmetrical "EN" phrases — EN ROUTE and EN MASSE; the hard-to-make-out but totally-worth-the-wait ZERO SUM GAME (17D: Balancing act?); the deftly clued MEG MARCH (35A: Oldest of a literary quartet). All of these brought happiness to my solving experience. But other things about solving the puzzle changed the experience from tough workout to ... what do you call the experience of being gutted with a dull knife? Maybe that's too strong, but this puzzle relied too much on pure oddness and obscurity, on the one hand, and grimace-inducing semi-made-up words on the other.

Let's start with the proper nouns. Some of the clues felt like jokes. My two "favorite" are:

  • 43A: Racehorse whose 1955 Kentucky Derby win kept Nashua from taking the Triple Crown (SWAPS) — this clue indicates that the constructor hates you and the editor was too indulgent. As a non-horse-racing follower who was born 14 years after this particular Derby ... come on. What's worse, it was part of a stack of proper nouns, the only one of which I finally, dimly recalled, was BEAME (46A: New York City's first Jewish mayor). Cluing "AGONY" via musical theater (40A: Song from Sondheim's "Into the Woods")? Well, yes, "AGONY."
  • 23D: Actress Felton of 1950s TV's "December Bride" (VERNA) — OK, I'm guessing that even octogenarians are going to have a little trouble coming up with SWAPS and VERNA. "1950s TV's" made me laugh out loud. If I've heard of VERNA, I can't remember. Never heard of "December Bride." I see it was a sitcom that ran five season in the late '50s and also featured ... Harry Morgan (Sherman Potter of TV's "M*A*S*H"). VERNA was in yet another trouble spot for me, as I'd never heard of ETESIAN (the "S" was a flat-out, if semi-educated, guess), and couldn't remember what 29A: Apollonian meant (SERENE).
Add to this a baseballer I've never heard of — STAN somebody (47D: Coveleski of Cooperstown), a spitballer who played most of his career for the 1910s-20s Indians ... — and a SADAT clue that did nothing to clue SADAT (47A: "In Search of Identity" autobiographer), and you have a Name morass, know-it-or-you-don't answers that give the solver no sense of revelation when discovered. I want to go "Ohhhhh," not "Whaaaaa?" when I work hard to get an answer. I was "Whaaaa"ing all over the place today.

Another big issue: What the hell is up with RECLASPS and AWAKER. If you're going to be brutal, at least give me a cleanish grid. RECLASPS is up there with RECARVE as the most ridiculous RE-word I've seen in a puzzle. It's made more ridiculous by sharing the stage with its better-looking brothers, REENTER and REOPENED, and its not wholly unpresentable cousins, REVUE (19A: "Closer Than Ever," e.g.), REEVES, and REEDIER. As for AWAKER ... I'd buy AWAKER (barely) as a relative adjective before I buy it as a noun. Good luck trying to find it as anything but a weird name / title, anywhere in the English language. I get 2.5 times more hits for "ZYZZYVA."

Wait, can we go back to the clue on REVUE (19A: "Closer Than Ever," e.g.)? I've never not understood a clue more than I did this one. How am I supposed to recognize that title, whatever it is, as a REVUE? O god, it's more musical theater [shakes fist] — specifically, a musical REVUE in two acts from the late '80s — this time with a wink to well known puzzle constructor Richard Maltby, Jr., who wrote the words to "Closer Than Ever." Ugh. Share your winks somewhere else, please. That's (at least) three Broadway / Off-Broadway clues. The limit should be one. If you're going to rely on obscurity in your puzzles, at least pull it from different fields. "AGONY!"

  • 1A: Nightclub in the Trump Taj (CASBAH) — news to me, but inferrable after a few crosses, at least.
  • 14A: Part of the iris bordering the pupil (AREOLA) — this is an astonishingly prevalent word — if it's ring-shaped, good chance someone somewhere has referred to it as an AREOLA.
  • 16A: "On Golden Pond" wife (ETHEL) — vaguely memorable. Again, inferrable from a few crosses.
  • 24A: TV lawyer Stone (ELI) — a gimme (along with DIAN and DER ALTE (13D: Nickname of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer) and a EDER (18D: Broadway star Linda who won $100,000 on "Star Search")), but this clue should be retired starting today, as that show only lasted about 18 months. Already the clue should read [Old TV lawyer Stone].

  • 25A: Splotchy apparel, familiarly (CAMOS) — look, I'll give you CAMO, but CAMOS, with an "S!?!" I see it's got some traction out there in some quarters, but boo.
  • 1D: Vegetable oil soap (CASTILE) — no idea. More guessing / inferring.
  • 6D: Disapproving comment (HARRUMPH) — LOVE this. One of the best things about the grid. Great "word."
  • 3D: To look, in Leipzig (SEHEN) — too German for my blood. Again, inferrable, after a while.
  • 32D: Some people do it to think (SHUDDER) — fantastic clue.
  • 30A: In days of knights? (ARTHURIAN) — couldn't get this, or much of the center of the puzzle, until the end. Had virtually all the periphery and none of the center. Fun fact: I'm teaching ARTHURIAN Literature in the fall.
  • 34D: 1932 song or 1984 movie ("ALL OF ME") — thank god the clue went past [1932 song] ... I was dying for *anything* contemporary (i.e. of the past quarter century). I should say *anything* that wasn't #$%&ing Broadway.
  • 37D: Gradually quieting, in music (CALANDO) — seriously, is this a love letter to Maltby? It's kind of cloying. Is it his birthday?
  • 46D: Cordage fiber (BAST) — vaguely familiar from puzzles bast, I mean "past."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Electrical pioneer Thomson / THU 3-25-10 / Nile valley region / Carrier to Tokyo / Jimmy Stewart syllables / ABC daytime staple since 1997

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Constructor: Dan Naddor

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Odd signs ... — three 15-letter theme answers that imagine retail signs w/ unintended secondary meanings

Word of the Day: The WYE Accord (65A: ___ Accord (1998 Mideast peace agreement)) —

Officially called the Wye River Memorandum, the accord outlined a limited and interim land-for-peace settlement between Israel and Palestine. It was signed October 23, 1998, by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (1949-) and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) at a summit held at Wye Mills, on the banks of Maryland's Wye River. The meeting was the follow-up to the 1993 Middle East Summit in Oslo, Norway. There, after months of talks, both sides agreed to an interim framework of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Wye meeting was the opportunity for both sides to make good on the promises made in Oslo. // The Wye Accord was brokered after a 21-hour bargaining session mediated by U.S. president Bill Clinton (1946-). The points of the agreement included developing a security plan to crackdown on terrorism; the withdrawal of Israeli troops from an additional 13 percent of the West Bank (along with a commitment for future additional withdrawals); a transfer of roughly 14 percent of the West Bank from joint Israeli-Palestinian control to Palestinian control; Palestinian agreement that anti-Israeli clauses in its national charter would be removed; Israel's guarantee that it would provide two corridors of safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; Israeli release of 750 Palestinian prisoners; and the opening of a Palestinian airport in Gaza. (answers.com)
• • •

Very quick write-up today. Big day of midterms ahead. Plus, I woke up to a message from a friend who is in poor health, and I'm not in much of a mood to gambol through the puzzle (in my usual light-hearted, cheery way ...). Today's puzzle is a posthumous offering from the very prolific and much-admired Dan Naddor. It's an unusual Thursday — no crazy gimmick, just some clever plays on words. Lack of a demanding theme allows the grid to open way up, resulting in low word-count puzzle (for a Thursday). This means relatively wide open spaces, and, for me, a slightly slower-than-usual time despite the fact that the puzzle didn't feel particularly tough at all. I just had a hardish time picking up some of the answers, particularly in the NW, where I both started and finished (last letter, "F" in FETE20A: Roast, e.g.). I got LAL and AGA up there, and then AGLEAM, but the LAB FEE (1D: Physical expense) and LAO-TSE (3D: Who wrote "He who does not trust enough will not be trusted") just wouldn't come off their respective LA-s. This meant the BLOW in BLOW-OUT TIRE SALE was not visible, which meant that I had no idea what the theme was for the longest time — I had most of the grid filled in before I got a *single* theme answer, and even when I got my first (LINGERIE HALF-OFF), I didn't know what I was supposed to see in the others. By the end, I wondered why anyone would advertise "ALL SUITS SLOSHED," then realized that Jimmy Stewart was probably not in as much pain as I'd imagined (59D: Jimmy Stewart syllablesAWS).

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Odd sign at a Michelin dealership? (BLOW-OUT TIRE SALE)
  • 36A: Odd sign at Victoria's Secret? (LINGERIE HALF OFF)
  • 56A: Odd sign at Men's Wearhouse? (ALL SUITS SLASHED)
There's a host of little things I didn't care for. Does the [Physical expense] of LAB FEE mean the price you pay when you get a physical (at the doctor's) and they charge you for lab tests? I think of LAB FEE exclusively as a fee students pay for their (science) labs in college, but that surely has everything to do with my spending well over half my life in and around universities. AAU (5D: Jr. Olympics sponsor) is a terrible abbreviation that I never saw before crosswords, and have probably seen only once before today. It's exceedingly unfamiliar. I had RATER for DATER at first, though the latter makes more sense. RSTU (55A: Alphabet string) speaks for itself. I have never seen ANA clued as a Japanese airline (All Nippon Airways) (40A: Carrier to Tokyo), but to be fair, that's the second hit that comes up when you google [Ana], right after American Nurses Association. I could do with never seeing LAR in any way, shape, or form again (35A: Choreographer Lubovitch). Otherwise ... the mid-length fill in the puzzle strikes me as quite solid, as does the longer stuff in the NE and SW corners. The theme is sufficiently cute. All in all, enjoyable.

  • 14A: Near east honorific (AGA) — also spellable with an "H"
  • 15A: Like boot camp vis-a-vis day camp (HARSHER) — given that those things are completely unrelated, this clue may as well have read [Like torture vis-a-vis a back rub]
  • 61A: ABC daytime staple since 1997 ("THE VIEW") — has it been that long? Yeesh. I once (twice, actually) lost a fingernail when my finger got slammed in a door. . . make your own analogy here.
  • 6D: "The A-Team" muscleman (MR. T) — "The A-Team," like everything from my childhood and adolescence, is being made into a movie now (see also the upcoming "Clash of the Titans")

  • 18D: Symbol of limpness (WET RAG) — "Symbol" seems rather high-falutin' a word.
  • 19D: Car whose name is an acronym (SAAB) — Swedes Are Amazingly Burly
  • 25D: Nile Valley region (NUBIA) — I've heard rappers refer to black people as NUBIANs, but I never really considered NUBIA as a specific place. Until today.

  • 50D: Electrical pioneer Thomson (ELIHU) — O boy, another ELIHU. Had never even seen such a name until I stumbled on it in a puzzle one day, clued via ELIHU Yale (founder of the eponymous University).
Good day,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

APRIL 29, 2010 UPDATE:

P.S. this is my final plug for this weekend's "Crosswords L.A." charity crossword tournament at Loyola-Marymount University (5/1/10). Looks like I'm on the judging/scoring team with constructors Tyler Hinman, Doug Peterson, Todd McClary, and Alex Boisvert. Tyler and Andrea Carla Michaels are doing color commentary for the finals. It's cheap, it's fun, you can solve in teams if you want ... more info here. For those of you who are wondering if you are "good enough" to compete — you are. These tournaments are only stressful for the hyper-competitive. For the rest of us, they're just a chance to geek out about puzzles in a low-key, friendly environment. Hope to see L.A.-area folks there.


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