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

Friday, September 29, 2006

Solving time: 21:10

Not only did today's puzzle take me forever, but I am completely unsure about the answers I have in the upper right and lower left segments of the puzzle. Again, foreign words or spellings, mystery people, and the oeuvre of Red Skelton continue to give me fits. Fridays are hard in general, but this one had no theme (did it?), which meant there was no tipping point, no "aha" moment where momentum picked up. My puzzle looks like hell because, cleverly, Mr. Quarfoot / Shortzy wrote clues in a way where multiple answers seemed to fit. Let's get to it.

1A: 78th Academy Awards host (Jon Stewart)

Great Friday clue. Monday clue would have been something like "'Daily Show' host" - Plus I know that somewhere, right about now, puzzler Stewart is very happy. His full name! Pretty rare. And in the coveted 1A spot. Well, he deserves it.

11A: Slugger known as the Big Cat (Mize)

Now I consider myself a big baseball fan, so it bugged me to the point of distraction that I didn't get this right off. I had "Mays" written there for a while, out of sheer desperation. Turns out the answer, which I pulled from god-knows-where, is "Mize" - Johnny Mize had a remarkable career, which I should know. He was a handsome devil too. Cardinal, actually. (To see why it took me so long to actually write "Mize" down, see 13D, below)

15A: Honolulu Harbor landmark (Aloha Tower)

Is this the place the Bradys visited? I don't remember it as a tower. I do remember Greg going under, and the tarantula, and the taboo tiki!PS the Bradys visited the Pearl Harbor memorial. Aloha Tower is a long-standing landmark in (as the clue states) Honolulu Harbor.

16A: "May It Be" singer, 2002 (Enya)

This clue allows me to point out that my best friend Andrew (whom eventually I will just refer to as 'Andrew') loves Enya for inexplicable reasons. All that ethereal Lord of the Rings mystical druidic music gives me the hives. Second, Enya reminds me of studying in Scotland in 1989 (the time of Enya's one true hit, "Orinoco Flow," which I can barely bring myself to write), when my sister would write me postcards asking me "have you seen Enya yet?" She would repeat this question, and variations on this question, later in my life, when the whole family visited Scotland in 1994. The eternal quest for Enya. In Scotland. (Maybe this whole Enya bit would be funnier if, a. you knew my sister, b. you knew Enya was Irish. Or not.)

29A: Byzantine emperor called "the Wise" (Leo ...?)

OK, is this "Leo VI"? (the "V" is the problem. See 13D, below) YES, I just Googled it and I guessed right. Unh! Take that, Leo! Who's "Wise" now, you Latinate bastard!?

51A: Pacer and Rambler (AMCs)

My first guess was "Nash" - it's about the first thing I wrote into the grid. If I'd read the clue properly (the "and" part of it), I would have known that the answer had to be plural! And so it took me forever to finally get "AMCs" and so that part of the puzzle is an inky mess (that's right, ladies, I do it in ink.)

67A: Mae West, for one (sex goddess)

I'm gonna quibble with this clue a bit. It's not a *fact* that she's a "sex goddess" - maybe "Mae West, to some" would have been better. I think the word "goddess" is throwing me. Was she referred to as a "sex goddess" in her own time? Seems so ... 70s, somehow, that phrase, like "lover" and "est" and "leisure suit."

8D: "Bird on _____" (a wire)

Well, thank god for Leonard Cohen and Mel Gibson, because I got this right away and it was about the only answer I had definitively for the first several minutes.

13D: Destructive tropical American weevil (???)

Well, let me just draw on my vast weevil knowledge and fill in the blanks. Come on! Here is what I have written as the answer:

ZYZZIVA [NOTE: I was wrong: it's ZYZZYVA, which is worse, somehow]

And guess what? I just this minute looked it up, and it's right! Is this some word famous for having 3 z's? This is about as arcane as it gets, which I will allow in a Friday puzzle, I guess.

40D: Red Skelton musical comedy (I Dood It)

If you are 80+, then you got this one right away. Congratulations. This answer sounds like a toddler's reply to a question about feces.

59D: Evil "Star Trek" group, with "the" (Borg)

Nerd says what?

Signed, Rex Parker, King of Crossworld

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Solving time: 10:55

THEME: Great Danes (both dogs and people)

Solving this puzzle was not a pleasant experience (for which I can't really blame its constructor, Mr. Chisholm). The puzzle itself is actually pretty clever, yet somehow solving it felt like slogging through mud. Lots of foreign words or names and odd spellings - I never have any idea what vowels are involved in the spelling of "Isak Dinesen" (45A: "Babette's Feast" writer) nor how many "s"s or "n"s are supposed to be in there. And then throw "Niels Bohr" and "Victor Borge" in there for good measure ... this puzzle left me on shaky footing, bouncing all over the place trying to get intersecting words. Maybe if I stopped timing myself I'd enjoy the puzzle more.

5A: Some term life insurance offers (spam)

See, I had "scam" written there for much of the puzzle. I think I was thinking "whole life"...

9A: Monroe's co-star in "The Seven Year Itch" (Ewell)

I wanted to write "Gable" here until I realized that I was thinking of a completely different movie. I have no idea who this "Ewell" guy is. I did know a Ewell once. A Troy Ewell. I went to high school with him. He was wealthy. I don't remember much else about him.

23A: Real mess (mare's nest)

My first thought: mares don't make nests. Indeed. Here are the definitions for "mare's nest" from my spiritual leader, the OED:

1. Originally in to have found (also spied) a mare's nest: to imagine that one has discovered something wonderful, which in fact does not exist. Hence: an illusory discovery, esp. one that is much vaunted and betrays foolish credulity.

2. An untidy or confused mess; a muddle; a misconception.

39A: "The Pilgrim's Progress" author (Bunyan)

Back-to-back canonical English Literature clues! Somebody knows what I like...

61A: _____ Hunter a k a Ed McBain (Evan)

I love any opportunity to talk about great crime fiction writers, especially those who got their starts in the Golden Age of the American Paperback. I have a massive paperback collection, nearly all of which dates from 1945-1965. Here is a beautiful 1957 Paperback Original (PBO) of McBain's Killer's Choice, with cover art by the legendary Robert Schulz:
12D: Bloody Mary's daughter in "South Pacific" (Liat) (I'm sure; like that's a name. Come on!)
22D: Actor FrÃ¶be of "Goldfinger" (Gert) (seriously, you're killing me)
25D: Small African antelope (oribi)

These are all good examples of how you don't actually have to know all the answers to complete the puzzle. Here, for your enjoyment is a (so-called) oribi:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

WEDNESDAY, Sep. 27, 2006 - Elizabeth C. Gorski

Solving time: 9:09

I muddled around in this one for a while - couldn't quite get a rhythm. Maybe I was distracted by thoughts of my lovely wife, as today is our THIRD ANNIVERSARY!!! But enough celebration; on to the puzzle!

1A: Appropriate-sounding papal name (Pius)

Normally, I'm not fond of 1A clues. Too showy, too cocky, too vain. I mean "1A" - could you imagine a more presumptuous name? They hog the spotlight. They're like the really high-achieving student - not necessarily the smartest, but the most self-promoting. Not the kind of folks I like to hang out with. In this case, however, I'll make an exception, as a. I am a sucker for all things papacy, and b. I am at this very moment teaching the Aeneid in my British Literature course (don't ask) and "pius" is the adjective (in the original Latin) that most often attaches itself to our hero, Aeneas. It means "pious" but "dutiful" is perhaps a better translation. He is all about the Common Good - preserving his household gods and his father and son (wife conveniently burned up in Troy and then even more conveniently returned as a ghost to cheer him on to his Destiny as founder of a new homeland for the exiled Trojans; this Destiny involves his marrying a new wife, a certain doorpost named Lavinia, but I digress). In short, Aeneas is like the first-born son in a fucked-up family who's doing everything he can to keep everything from coming apart, and though he is not nearly as flash as other epic heroes (say, Achilles, or, uh, Milton's Satan), I want to recognize the virtue of decency and civic-mindedness. Aeneas is boring, but he will not let you down. We have things in common.

15A: "East of Eden" director Kazan (Elia)

Kazan is a master director who ratted out friends and colleagues to HUAC. I saw a great documentary on PBS recently about his career and his relationship with Arthur Miller - it was fascinating, and pretty even-handed toward Kazan. Apparently he nailed Marilyn Monroe a lot. That's what I took away from it. The documentary was called Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Blacklist: None Without Sin. Check it out.

O the other thing I wanted to say about this (common) answer is that there is another way that constructors often clue it: "Lamb alias" - Charles Lamb wrote essays for London Magazine under the pseudonym "Elia" in the 1820s. Who was Charles Lamb? Damned if I know. Go here to find out: "Charles Lamb, Elia"

41A: "One Tree Hill" target viewer (teen)

How do I love this clue? Let me count the ways. First, it will be so dated so fast! Imagine a neophyte puzzler in 2020 pulling this puzzle out of the archive and trying to solve it: "I know those words, but that title makes no sense." I love when constructors go so hyper-contemporary because the future obsolescence of the clue somehow soothes my soul. (See also 39A: Excellent, slangily (phat)) I also love the answer to this clue, because the word "teen" just makes me laugh. I think it's because every time I see or hear it, I think of Krusty the Clown worrying aloud during one of his broadcasts, after reading his up-to-that-second ratings: "We're losing male teens!" Like many Simpsons phrases, it has, for me, broken free of the show and fucntions as a great stand-alone exclamation. I just like saying it.

[Reader "Andrew" points out that Krusty did not, in fact, say the line about losing male teens. That line belongs to the sunny, versatile, and utterly conscience-free advertising executive - sales consultant Lindsay Naegle.]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Thanks to "Steve" @ the NYT Crossword Puzzle Forum for helping me realize that the reason I couldn't figure out what the answer to 31A: Gun meant was because the Real Answer is not "ren" (as I had it) but "rev." Can you blame me for having 10D: Congressional Record info down as "House Notes?" The word "Record" in "Congressional Record" just sounded so ... documentish, that I figured the answer must be "Notes." But no. "Votes," of course. "House Votes."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Solving Time: 6:41

THEME: Boston accent

Playing on the way "-ard" and "-od" are indistinguishable in the mouths of some New Englanders. (see 17A, below)

10A: Smoky European peak (Etna)

Another word for the Pantheon. Is this thing still an active volcano? Does it really smoke? I'm dubious. OK, it turns out I'm also ignorant, as this damned thing apparently erupts a lot, and did so as recently as 2002.

17A The art of masonry, in Boston? (hod science)

Get it? "Hard science" is a reasonably common phrase, here perverted by stupid crab fisherman and moose-lovers.

40A: La Scala highlight (aria)

Pantheon inductee and crossword constructor's crutch. When in doubt: aria! Notice how Pantheon words tend to be those (reasonably uncommon) words that contain more vowels than consonants, especially ones with consecutive vowels ("aria," "epee," "Pei," and "Rae" have all occurred in just the past two days).

53A: Director Craven (Wes)
61A: Calculus calculation (limit)

Shout out to my best friend Andrew, who loves (almost) all things Nightmare on Elm Street and who is, as I understand it, a mathematician.

• Andrew Nestler's SMC Homepage
• simpsonsmath.com

• 63D: Assistant with a hunch? (Igor)

A nice clue to arrive at a very common answer (one for the Pantheon). "Igor" can be clued by way of reference either to Frankenstein or to the composer Stravinsky. I'm a big fan of both. In fact, I'm going to see the BBC National Orchestra of Wales perform Stravinsky's Petrouchka at The Anderson Center in Binghamton later this year. Kulture!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

MONDAY, September 25, 2006 - Lynn Lempel

Solving Time: 5:20

16A: Kitt who played Catwoman on "Batman" (Eartha)

This is a great clue (much better than "Actress Kitt" or something similarly terse) because it conjures up a vivid image - in this case, the image of a sleek woman in a tight-fitting outfit who had the honest-to-god ability to purrrrr.

59A: Gary Cooper film of 1928 (Lilac Time)

Before I read this clue, the only "Lilac Time" I had ever heard of was the band. I have two of their albums. I like this one a lot:

64A: Architect I.M. _____ (Pei)

I.M. Pei always makes me think of my mom. I'm not sure why. I think she was the one who first pointed out to me, back in the mid-late 80s, that Pei had designed the newfangled pyramid contraption that graces / profanes the grounds of the Louvre in Paris. Anyway, in my mind, Pei is the pyramid guy. I'm sure he's done other stuff. He's a very handy (and not uncommon) 3-letter word in crossword puzzles (See also 9D, below).

If it were not for crosswords, I don't know that I would know this word. This will be the first word in my Pantheon of Crossword Answers. I will add more as they come to me.

Another one for the Pantheon. And it too has an accent (I mean, originally ... accents, umlauts, and other letter-enhancers do not, of course, carry over to the Crossword world -- or CrossWorld, as I will now call it).

9D: Norma _____, Sally Field role (Rae)

First, this answer is super-common. Any word that can get frequently-occurring letters together like this must make crossword constructors very happy. Second, this is a good example of a clue's being overwritten for a Monday audience. The "Sally Field role" part is fairly redundant. The only word that will ever follow "Norma" is "Rae" or "Jean" ... maybe "Desmond." Three- letter answer can mean only one thing: Rae. Monday puzzles are the easiest of the week (they get progressively harder, with Saturday's being the hardest ... Sunday's can be hard, but it's mainly the bigness of Sunday that's the problem). Third, has anyone actually seen Norma Rae? Could you make a movie today about a female labor activist? I mean, one that people would pay to see? On a sidenote, my personal favorite movie about female labor activists: Night Shift.

19D: President's foreign policy grp. (NSC)

I did not know this one, and as of this second ... OK, I can guess that it means "National Security Council," but who can tell all the damned governmental abbreviations and acronyms apart? The only one I could come up with was "NSA" (because it's in the news a lot these days, what with all the governmental spying, wiretapping, and whatnot), which is what I had written until "24A: Emergency PC key" turned out to be "Esc," thus changning the "A" in in "NSA" to a "C" --> "NSC" - Ta da!

28D: Robust (hardy)

This threw me for a bit, because I was thinking "hearty" (which doesn't fit!). What the hell is the difference between "hardy" and "hearty"? Help me OED, you're my only hope:

1. Bold, courageous, daring. a. Of persons, their manner, etc.

1. a. Full of courage; courageous, bold (obs.). In later use coloured by senses 4 and 5: Zealous; energetic or thorough in one's support or action.

So their primary definitions mean nearly identical things! In fact, if you go down the list to other definitions of these words, you will find that both could have been the answer to this clue (er, that is, if there weren't the annoying fact that only one of them actually FITS)

4. a. Capable of enduring fatigue, hardship, rigour of the weather, etc.; physically robust, vigorous.

7. In sound health, having good appetite and spirits; vigorous, hale. Also euphem. tipsy (Sc.). [you gotta love the Scots and their enhanced drinking vocabulary]

OK, it's a close bout, but "hardy" wins in a unanimous decision. The clue, "robust," actually appears in the fourth of "hardy"'s definitions, whereas, with "hearty," you've got to wait til the eighth definition, and even then you only get near "robust," not right on top of it. Still, these words are pretty close in meaning and clearly their definitions have wound themselves around each other over time. To me, "Hardy" is a name, as in "The Hardy Boys" or "Thomas Hardy" (my hero), and "hearty" is an adjective, one particularly apt for describing soups:

• Hearty Soups for Winter

• 29D: E pluribus _____ (unum)

When I began timing myself at crossword solving, I took a tip from someone (I forget who) that your eye should look quickly for the clues w/ blanks in them (like this one, or 9D, above), first because they are easy to see with your quickly scanning eye, and second because you can often get them quickly. They tend to be (at least early in the week), the "you know it or you don't" type of clue -- not the type you have to ponder over. This clue is a good example of how Monday's puzzles sucker you in with implicit ego flattery: "oooh, you know some Latin. Good for you, buddy!" You know you don't know Latin (most of you), and yet you get a little frisson of intellectuality from filling this baby in. When you get to Friday's puzzle, some clue will help you to realize exactly how much Latin you know (answer: you know "e pluribus unum." This phrase. That's it. OK, maybe you know "ad infinitum," and "veni, vidi, vici" - but unless you've taken Latin, your knowledge pretty much ends there).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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