Saturday, September 30, 2006

Solving time: 16:40

THEME: None

After a couple of subpar days, I tore this puzzle up ... possibly because I slowed down and approached it pretty methodically. My answers washed over the puzzle from upper right (somehow got 8A: 2005's "Walk the Line" and others (biopics) immediately), and I travelled mostly counter-clockwise, til I finished up in the middle right of the puzzle (the last letter I wrote in was the "e" in 29A: Snap _____ (pea). This puzzle seemed easier than yesterday's. I've been experimenting with different background music while I solve, so maybe that made a difference. If so, then, Memo to self and others: when solving difficult, late-in-the-week puzzles, Put On BartÃ³k! Today's musical accompaniment: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (Sz. 106). Or maybe my success was due to being loaded up on IHOP omelette, pancakes, hashbrowns, and coffee. I think I'll just let the mystery be. And now the puzzle.

15A: Derived by logic (a priori)

I knew this ended in "i," and that's all I needed to know. My quick solution to this clue is one of the few things for which I can credit my mostly dreary, jargon-ridden, moderately pretentious, semi-prestigious graduate school education. Thanks, University of Michigan! I guess the 90s weren't a total waste.

19A: Actress with the memoir "Call Me Crazy" (Anne Heche)

Possibly my favorite clue / answer of the bunch. Again, the future obsolescence factor. She was famous for like 3 weeks in 1997, and only for dabbling in lipstick lesbianism. And she gets in the Times! Actually, to her immense credit, she was in one of my very favorite movies of all time: Walking and Talking, though the real star of that movie is the fantastic Ms. Catherine Keener.

22A: Film about a blind man for which the lead won Best Actor (Scent of a Woman)

Apparently this puzzle does have a theme, and that theme is: Reasons I would not willingly relive the 1990s.
Hoo-ah!

33A: Kiosk item (daily)

This little clue, whose answer sits at the dead center of the puzzle, is supremely elegant and constitutes a near-perfect Saturday clue: completely unexpected answer arrived at with flawless, impeccable, unassailable logic. Sweet.

38A: Savvy film/TV characer whose name, paradoxically, is Spanish for "idiot" (Tonto)

Easily the longest clue of the week. Also, possibly the most educational. It's like a mini lecture in film / television history, Spanish, colonialism, racism, etc. By the way, Dynamite Entertainment just began publishing a new Lone Ranger comic book series, which, so far, is pretty good. Their Tonto is something of a muscly badass. Check it out!

39A: Bygone weapon (poleax)

And my nerdy childhood spent playing D & D in dank bedrooms comes in handy yet again.

50A: 1983 song that begins "Hate New York City" (I Love L.A.)

Now I should have got this right away, both because the clue points you toward the right city (LA being of course the opposite of NY), and because 1983 is basically the dead center of my database of pop musical knowledge, that being the first year of what we'll call my adolescence, the year when MTV was more important to me than food or sleep. But when you're staring at "_ _ _ v _ l a" you don't see two words and an abbreviation. You see something that sort of looks like "Travolta" (he was in Staying Alive that year, all sweated-up and muscly, if I remember correctly, which sadly I do), but isn't "Travolta." Or "parabola." It could be "Bob Vila," but why would anyone in 1983 sing a song about Bob Vila? My point in all this: my brain tends to assume a one-word answer until I force it out of that assumption somehow. It also does Not assume abbreviations, until I make it do so (see also answers like "dandd," "randr," "randd" - all of which look absurd until you realize that they represent common abbreviations). Late-in-the-week puzzles tend to have LOTS of multiple-word and abbreviation-containing answers, for this very reason.

I think I also unconsciously blocked the answer to this clue because that song Sucks So Bad. To see how I feel about most Randy Newman songs, please see the relevant episode of Family Guy.

4D: Brandy cocktails (sidecars)

My favorite drink name by far. I don't think I've ever had one. I'm going to order one the next chance I get and see what happens.

10D: Council of Three Fires members (Ottawas)

Of course my first reaction on completing this answer was: how many damn Ottawas does Canada have? Then I realized that the reference is probably to a Native American tribe. And then I moved on.

39D: Wordy (prolix)

I love this answer because it sounds so much cooler than "verbose." Despite my affection for this word, I stared at the puzzle for a while thinking, ridiculously, "what's that word that means "verbose" that I like that other people don't usually know so I don't use it that often...?"

Top three things "prolix" would be if it weren't already a word:

a. programming language
b. breakfast cereal
c. Felix the Cat's wordy cousin

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld