MONDAY, Jan. 1, 2007 - Randy Sowell

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Solving time: 5:32

THEME: BOWLS (39A) - four theme entries are all two-word phrases, the first word of which is also the title of a College Football Bowl Game: ROSE GARDEN (3D), ORANGE CRUSH (53A), COTTON CANDY (21A), and SUGAR SHACK (30D)

I just spent an hour tearing up my house trying to find a stupid little piece of paper - I was unsuccessful. So I feel like I am losing my mind, which is always a good way to start the New Year. In order to mellow out, I decided I'd do the puzzle (somehow it always surprises me when Monday's puzzle appears so early on Sunday evening - you'd think I'd be used to it by now). And I can't say doing the puzzle relaxed me (I'm never happy if I'm over 5 minutes), but it sure took my mind off my early-onset dementia. The piece of paper itself is totally replaceable - it's just the idea that I would lose something that drives me Crazy. There are few things I hate more than losing things. I thought Crosswords were supposed to Sharpen your mental faculties. Where is the payoff!?

1A: Mrs. Dithers of the comics (Cora)

Man, not knowing 1A on a Monday is just a horrible feeling. And I'm supposed to Know Something about comics. Ugh. Um, this woman is Dagwood Bumstead's boss's wife, which I deem obscure, thereby eliminating my state of self-loathing for blanking on this answer. For future reference, [Red Sox infielder] will do the job for CORA. Or did they trade him? Nope, he's signed through 2008, despite his crappy batting statistics.

9A: County, in Britain (shire)

Why didn't I know this right off the bat? Probably because I try to put all Hobbit / LOTR-related things far, far out of my mind whenever possible. Again, a better clue (for my sensibilities) would be [Actress Talia].

25A: "It's not easy _____ green" (bein')

No "g," eh? OK. I nearly went past this one, thinking "BEING is five letters," but then the thought of clipping the word, hick-style, occurred to me, and I decided, rightly, to risk it. The greenness here is synesthetically echoed in the SW by 59A: Cape _____ Islands (Verde). I like that VERDE is sitting just under the ORANGE in ORANGE CRUSH, as ORANGE is my favorite color, while VERDE is my wife's.

33D: President before Taylor (Polk)

Everything I know about James K. Polk can be found right here.

53D: "Metamorphoses" poet (Ovid)

I don't have anything particular to say about Ovid (whom I love, as you know), but since he's here, I thought, why not add a little light to your lives, and this new year, by giving you a little taste of his genius. One of the great things about "Metamorphoses" is the opening Creation story, which has many many Biblical parallels, including God (Jove) going all Wrath and Vengeance on the stupid, wicked human beings. Like Lycaon (whom Jove has just turned into a wolf, the poem's first metamorphosis), humankind is greedy and self-worshiping and needs to be taken down. Or out. So like the Hebrew God, Jove, after toying with the idea of fire, brings down a world-destroying flood. "So now Jove set his mind to the deletion / Of these living generations" The translation is from Ted Hughes, and I love Hughes's modern phrasing, as well as his wickedly effective capacity for understatement. "Deletion," like Jove is going to wipe out humanity with his keyboard. His rendering of the final lives of Ovid's flood story are (like all good poetry) truly horrifying:

Birds grow tired of the air.
The ocean, with nowhere else to go,
Makes its bed in the hills,
Pulling its coverlet over bare summits.

While starvation picks off the survivors.

Drowned mankind, imploring limbs outspread,
Floats like a plague of dead frogs.

5D: Like many evangelicals (reborn)

Hmmm, I guess this is right. "Born again" is the more common phrase, but the gist of the meaning is the same. According to Wikipedia, there are Lots of different meanings for REBORN. Here is my favorite.

14A: Breakfast chain (IHOP)
2D: "Gone With the Wind" surname (O'Hara)

IHOP wants into the Pantheon. What a coincidence - I want into IHOP, nearly every day of my life. I'm not sure why I didn't kick off the New Year this morning by eating my way under the table at IHOP. Maybe this weekend. I like that my favorite restaurant chain intersects with one of my very favorite authors - two of my favorite authors, actually. I know it's clued to GWTW, but O'HARA to me means John (novelist) and Frank (poet), unrelated except in their greatness. John wrote novel after novel about the habits, mores, and rituals of Eastern Pennsylvanians - I know that doesn't sound hot, but the guy has the sharpest eye for detail and the sharpest ear for dialogue and I could open nearly any one of his novels at random and start reading, with pleasure. Frank O'HARA was a major mid-century poet who was very very involved in the modern art scene in Manhattan (friends with De Kooning, among others). He died in a freak dune buggy accident on Fire Island. It's true. Like you'd want that on your obit. Anyway, his poems are gorgeous, if often hard to make sense of. Best of all, he was obsessed with and wrote many poems about the color ORANGE:

Frank O'Hara, "Having A Coke With You" (1960)

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluoresent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I'm with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o'clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it's in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven't gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn't pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvellous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it

Happy 2007, everyone.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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SUNDAY, Dec. 31, 2006 - Elizabeth C. Gorski

Solving time: 28:45

THEME: "Film Parade" - Ten theme answers are movie titles with numbers TEN through ONE in them; two more theme answers explain the theme - 13D: COUNTDOWN IN / 81D: TIMES SQUARE - and then a final theme answer puts an exclamation point on the whole thing: 131A: 1987 Peter Falk Crime Caper (Happy New Year)

Before I begin - a question. Why is there almost always a disparity between the solving time shown over my puzzle and the solving time shown on the leaderboard? The board usually has me one second slower than the reading the applet gives me directly over my solved grid. This is not a serious issue - unless I am within one second of my imaginary nemesis - but I expect consistency and accuracy from my computers, and when they don't deliver, I feel compelled to investigate.

My time today was good for me, but about 4-5 minutes slower than it would have been if I hadn't had a very very very elusive typo! I scanned every single Across answer, to no avail, changed some iffy squares around, to no avail, and then checked the Downs and finally saw the glaring REVPNUES where 1D (ONE DOWN!!! - why didn't I check the Downs first!?): Incomes (revenues) should have been. Oh, and then I had to change TZAR to TSAR at 14D: Bygone despot, because I had never ever heard of the cross, 21A: Red fluorescent dye: Var. (eosine) - ugh, just typing that clue / answer makes my head hurt. And now, the puzzle...

I declare this to be my favorite Sunday puzzle in recent memory. The only down side is that there are 13 theme answers, and who wants to start the New Year on such an unlucky number. That said, I'm astonished at how much cleverness went into this puzzle's construction. My favorite feature is 76A: 1983 Charles Bronson Thriller (Ten to Midnight), for a number of reasons. First, I love Charles Bronson, as he is the king of all Revenge Movies, and you know I love Revenge. More salient to the puzzle, however, is the fact that this movie title not only has TEN in it, but could itself function as the title of the puzzle, as the numbers in the movie titles do in fact count down from 10 through 1 to Midnight - HAPPY NEW YEAR! OK, it would have been better if the movie had been titled Ten Seconds to Midnight, but nonetheless, this answer, sitting in the puzzle's Dead Center, is amazingly creative - and apt. Apt!

Today, I'll take the puzzle in three parts. I. The Movies, II. Awesome Fill, III. Crap I Didn't Know

I. The Movies

  1. 62D: 1932 Romance with Maurice Chevalier (One Hour With You) - Never heard of it - Didn't help matters that I had ONE__HRWITHYOU for a while because I reasonably but mistakenly believed that 90A: Roman man (uomo) was HOMO.
  2. 97A: 1990 sequel to "Chinatown," with "The" (Two Jakes) - Never saw it, but knew of it. I think Chinatown is fabulous. Mathematician Andrew disagrees.
  3. 86D: 1999 film set in the Persian Gulf (Three Kings) - saw it, liked it. Clooney. Ice Cube. Dig it.
  4. 37A: 1981 Alan Alda comedy, with "The" (Four Seasons) - Vivaldi! This movie was an HBO staple of my young adulthood. I've seen it many, many times. It is one of the many messed up ways that I came to understand what adult relationships were like. "So ... they get to have sex ... but they're not happy ... I don't get it."
  5. 15D: 1970 Jack Nicholson picture (Five Easy Pieces) - this is the first theme entry I got. I don't think I've seen this movie, though it's superfamous, part of that 70's movie renaissance that Ebert likes to go on about from time to time (see also Chinatown). Jack gets two movies in the countdown. Good for him.
  6. 51A: 1982 Dudley Moore tearjerker (Six Weeks) - really? Dudley did a "tearjerker?" I know him only from 10 and Arthur. Yikes, it's about a 12-year-old girl dying of leukemia. No WAY I'm going near that movie ... though I have some vague memory of her getting to dance with the NY Ballet or something ... like a proto-Make-a-Wish thing ... Not a Happy New Year movie! Happy Thoughts!
  7. 22A: 1954 film set in 16th-century Japan (Seven Samurai) - that's more like it. Kurosawa makes me happy. Incredibly influential movie - as I've said, Clint Eastwood does not have a career if not for the model that Kurosawa's films (and Toshiro Mifune's performances) provided. Badass.
  8. 112A: 1988 baseball flick (Eight Men Out) - Black Sox + Cusack + Sayles = awesome.

  9. 10D: 1995 Hugh Grant farce (Nine Months) - I assure you that "farce" is the very nicest thing this movie has ever been called. In the mid-90s I saw virtually every movie that came out (the deep pit of mid-gradschool depression) - unfortunately, that meant that not only did I get to see awesome movies like To Die For (mmm, Kidman), but I also had to sit through crap like this. "Oh, I'm going to be a father, but I'm so stammering and boyish and I don't know how to be a responsible blah blah blah." My respect for Julianne Moore (Grant's far more appealing co-star here) started to ebb right about here - not because of her lack of talent, but because of her horrible choices. See also the stupid make-up and/or hair ads she does. I still love her, though. See the awesome Far From Heaven (2002) and her very, very, very memorable performance in Short Cuts (1992).
  10. 76A: 1983 Charles Bronson Thriller (Ten to Midnight) - my love for all things Bronson is a matter of public record.
II. Awesome Fill
  1. 2D: Pause in verse (caesura) - Right up my alley. Did you know that every single line of Anglo-Saxon verse features a caesura? It's true. Virtually all lines also alliterate - no end-rhyme to speak of.
  2. 32A: Most broad? (hammiest) - aah ... this took me a few beats to figure out. If you play a role broadly, then you HAM it up, I guess. A HAMMY performance is a broad one. OK. I think HAMMY was the name of the ... ferret? Squirrel? Whatever - Steve Carell's character in Over the Hedge (one of the few 2006 movies I have actually seen - Sahra loved it, and got it on DVD for Xmas).
  3. 71A: "Yeah, that'll happen!" (Dream on!) - I would say the clue, not the answer, because I prefer sarcasm to outright derision, but different strokes etc. I think "Dream On" was a horrible sitcom on HBO or something .... at some time ... OMG, It Ran for SIX YEARS (not Six Weeks or Nine Months). You know, I would have dropped dead from ecstasy if Ms. Gorski had somehow managed to fit 9 1/2 Weeks into the puzzle, in a non-theme position. Oh, and why not "Two and a Half Men"? Aside from the ick factor (which we've already had to endure with Nine Months).
  4. 27A: Elite groups (oligarchies) - just a wicked cool long word, and a nice highbrow complement to its low(er)brow symmetrical twin -
  5. 122A: Subscription card option (Bill me later)
  6. 67A: More manly-chested (hairier) - a nice complement to HAMMIER. Super dueling comparative H-adjectives! If you are HAIRIER than you'd like, why not see a 19A: Worker with a chair (barber)?
  7. 26A: Low digits (toes) - hot. I had ONES here for a while.
  8. 116A: In an odd way (quirkily) - way to pick up the "Q"!
III. Crap I Didn't Know
  1. 43A: Diplomat Silas (Deane) - who?
  2. 50A: Stockholm flier (SAS) - this crosses at the "A" with 18D: Original title of Beethoven's "Fidelio" (Leonora) - which, embarrassingly, I did not know. And so I changed that "A" to an "E" and god knows what else a few times before settling on the correct "A." SST, yes. SAS, no. It is the abbr. of Scandinavian Airlines. Aha. I see ... now.
  3. 73A: "All the Things You Are" composer (Kern) - he has become a safe bet for me when I get a four-letter composer of something standard- or popular-sounding, but I still know little to nothing about him.
  4. 94A: Pang (throe) - OK, so I know this one, but man does this word look weird in the singular. Is it ever used in the singular? You're supposed to be in the THROEs of something (e.g. passion). 151K hits on Google, but many of those are definitions or more about THROES plural than singular. THROE looks like a typo.
  5. 9D: Last month (ultimo) - uh, I don't get it.
  6. 103D: Horse handler (ostler) - rustler, maybe. Whisperer, possibly? But ostler ... seems a word I should know, especially considering my fondness for westerns and my current subscription to the new comics version of The Lone Ranger. And yet, no. Reminds me of "osprey," somehow, or "otter," neither of which is a horse.
  7. 118D: Jewish orgs. (YMHA's) - this sounds terribly made-up. What does the "H" stand for? Hillel? Oh, it's "Hebrew," duh. Question: Is it fun to stay at the YMHA?
  8. 128D: Junk bond rating (ccc) - No idea. This was a guess. This means 300 to me. It also reminds me of 70's pop sensation 10cc, whose hits "I'm Not In Love" and "The Things We Do For Love," like The Four Seasons (see above), formed the basis of my childhood understanding of adult relationships: "... like walking in the rain and the snow and there's nowhere to go and you feel like a part of you is dying" - Why would you willingly pursue such an arrangement? Where's the upside? My eight-year-old brain Needs to Know.
Happy New Year!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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SATURDAY, Dec. 30, 2006 - Rich Norris

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Solving time: untimed (fastish)

THEME: none

Still jetlagged. Watched two full hours of TLC's "What Not To Wear" last night, and I'm still not sure why. Inertia? Got up at ridiculously late hour, and am just now getting around to blogging today's puzzle, which I did in bed last night. Puzzle was slightly easy for a Saturday, with no real killer areas. In fact, nothing stalled my forward progress until I hit the NE, where a couple of the longish down clues eluded me and I had to wait patiently for answers to reveal themselves. All in all, a very enjoyable experience, with some fantastic fill that I've never seen before. We'll start in the southeast, which I finished first, and in as fast a time as I've Ever completed a quadrant of a Saturday puzzle. For posterity's sake, I need to mention the weird death trinity that's all over the news in these final hours of 2006: Gerald Ford, James Brown, and (newly added) Saddam Hussein. I have nothing to say, except that, as far as these particular contestants are concerned, in the categories of "Ways I'd like to die" and "People I wish I'd known," Hussein places Dead Last.

42A: "_____ Bayou" (1997 Samuel L. Jackson film) [Eve's]

Just the sight of the year "1997" freaks me out, both because it was a horrible year in my life for reasons too horribly personal to get into, and because in 36 hours it will be 2007, making 1997 seem like ancient history. I remember when decades seemed like huge swatches of time, but I submit that there has been hardly any substantial change in taste / fashion in the past decade. Everyone has a cell phone now, and iPods are insanely popular, but other than that ... styles are only slightly different. It's like we're asymptotically approaching the End of History. I demand more historical change. Where's my jetpack!?

Where was I? Oh, right, Samuel Jackson. I - like most of the world - never saw this movie, but I remembered the title, which made this answer a gimme and provided a massive gateway into the SE - as big a gateway as a four-letter answer can open. The "V" helped. I believe that I filled in the entirety of the SE quadrant, including all three 9-letter Acrosses, in about 30 seconds. Many nice things about this quadrant, including the stacked business-speak of 49A: Business letter abbr. (enc.) and 53A: Subject preceder (in re:), and the double-z goodness of 56A: Last N.L. pitcher to win 30 games in a season (1934) [Dizzy Dean], the clue to which functions as a nice mini-lecture. I doubted the rightness of DIZZY DEAN a few times, when I couldn't make the Down cross at the first "Z" (37D: Financially struggling) form any kind of reasonable answer. With just -EZED at the end of an 8-letter entry, I started thinking that the answer must be IN THE RED (which would have fit and been an awesome answer, frankly), but that conflicted with the "Z," which sent me searching for DIZZY's brother's name, which my brain couldn't turn up (Paul, nicknamed "Daffy"). Eventually worked my way through -EEZED words to get SQUEEZED, which is a wicked long one-syllable word.

Lastly, re: the SE quadrant, I like that 59A: Didn't stir at the right time? (overslept) is counter-echoed (yes, that's a word ... now) in the NW by 17A: Revelation (eye-opener), a phrase I hear every week on one of my yoga DVDs, at the point when I "sit back on your heels, coming into a toe stretch ... if this is an EYE-OPENER for you," you can wuss out and point your toes straight back behind you and Then sit down on your heels. I do not wuss out. OK, seriously, where was I?

34D: Cry while shaking (It's a deal)
28D: Childish retort (Does too!)
13D: Surfing mecca (Internet)

I want to call attention to a few trends in cluing and filling, trends that are starting to become a bit well-worn and tired. I love the cluing on IT'S A DEAL, but that phrase has shown up, either exactly in this form or slightly modified (or partial), at least a couple of times since I began this blog. Long answer, lots of common letters, so I see the appeal. And the misdirective cluing helps, but still, I'm putting that phrase on notice. It seems that every week brings some new variation on the "childish retort" clue / answer (ME TOO, AM SO, DO NOT, DOES SO, etc.). I don't dislike this convention, but it's becoming a bit ... common. Speaking of common, I want to suggest a moratorium (which I just learned how to spell properly) on allegedly cute or wannabe tricky "surfing" clues for INTERNET or other web-based answers. No one is fooled anymore. "Surfing mecca" : "INTERNET" :: "Pig's digs" : "STY" - that is all.

54A: Seat of County Clare (Ennis)
58A: Nonplus (addle)
60A: One who doesn't go past a semi? (loser)

These three answers, neatly stacked at the bottom of the SW quadrant, were squirmy and elusive ... eely, even. I had crossword stalwart YSER (51D: North Sea feeder) anchoring them all in their final positions, and I was pretty sure about 55D: Québec's _____ d'Anticosti (Ile), which gave me their penultimate letters, and still I couldn't polish them off. The LOSER answer dawned on me, but seemed awfully lame. "One who doesn't go past a semi" is someone who has WON a good deal more than she has lost. But the "O" in LOSER gave me a terminal "O" for 35D: Console maker, and NINTENDO presented itself almost immediately. ADDLE was difficult for me, as "Nonplus" is so often used to mean "not affect at all," when it really means to perplex of befuddle such that one is at a loss for words (non-plus = Nothing More to say). ADDLE suggests mental fog, not just a lack of things to say. But whatever ... the biggest problem for me down here in the SW was ENNIS, which I simply inferred; it's the name of one of the best known and prolific comics writers at the moment, Garth ENNIS. He wrote a recent Ghost Rider mini-series, which I thought was OK.

1A: Gross measure? (ick factor)

This answer makes up for the rather banal answer right underneath it (15A: Modern conversation starter (cell phone)). Of course I Googled "ick factor" immediately, wondering how in-the-language it was. Seven of the ten hits on the first page of the search involved sitcoms: specifically, either "Friends" or "Sex and the City" (ugh). Here is an interesting write-up about the phrase from ABC NewsRadio (NOT the sitcom "NewsRadio," strangely, but rather a division of ABC - Australia):

Ick factor

Presented by Kel Richards ["Kel," HA ha - please see fabulous Australian sitcom "Kath & Kim" to find out why I am laughing]

William Safire, in The New York Times, recently reported on the rise of the expression “the ick factor”.
He quotes a film reviewer as saying that ordinary movie-goers are put off by the ick factor in some Hollywood products. While the The Wall Street Journal says that for home-screening colon cancer testing packs to become widely used, customers have to overcome the ick factor. The word ick is first recorded in 1935 – although the variation icky seems to go back to at least 1920. It seems to be related to mean words such as “sick” and “sticky”. At first the ick and icky group of words seemed to that which is overly sweet and sentimental. But over time this meaning broadened until these words came to mean, simply, “in bad taste” or possibly “gross” or even stomach wrenching. And now it seems that the ick factor has become the new way of naming that which we don’t like.

The crazy first four letters of ICK FACTOR spawn a bunch of interest crosses, with the former Sri Lanka (2D: Orange pekoe source, formerly (Ceylon)) and slang for a thief (3D: One to watch for in a pinch? (klepto)) bookended by a pair of Icy Answers: 1D: Cold spell (Ice Age) and 4D: Weddell Sea phenomenon (floe).

22A: "_____ Ramsey" (1970's western) [Hec]
14D: Refuses to deal with (boycotts)

These two cross at the "C," which was, I believe, the very last square I filled in. "HEC Ramsey" is about as obscure a movie title as I have ever seen in the puzzle. Perhaps that's because it's NOT a movie, but a TV ... let's call it a "series," though it ran irregularly, in episodes ranging in length from 90 minutes to 2 hours, for a total of only 10 "episodes." HEC is short for HECtor. Apparently the show was a mystery / western hybrid, with a special focus on early forensics (fingerprinting and the like). The show starred Richard Boone as HEC, with Harry Morgan as "Doc" Amos Coogan - just before he got the role of a lifetime as a different kind of "Doc" on "M*A*S*H."

As for BOYCOTTS - I was kicking myself at the end of it all, because I thought the idea of a word starting "BOY" - that was not a compound word or phrase like "BOY Scout" or "BOY band" - was absurd. Can't think of Any word that starts BOY... oh right, that. BOY disturbed me so much that I started thinking 18A: Ridiculous (nutty) was wrong - I've had trouble with variations on this word before, most notably in the great NUTSY debacle of Nov. 3, 2006. Maybe NUTSO was right. Or NUTTO. Criminy, you could make up any random suffix and attach it to NUT and it might be in the language ... somewhere. But no, NUTTY was right. And in the end, with the exception of the tricky and somewhat dated TABSET (33A: It makes stops along a line), the NE was in the end little more than a sheep in wolf's clothing. Speaking of wolves, our Frontier flight from Denver back to Philadelphia had "Lobo," the grey wolf, on the tail fin (and on the .... ailons? What do you call the little fins on the ends of the wings?). Sahra got me a wolves calendar for Xmas. She knows how much I love wolves, especially those of the were- variety. "Lobo" helped us escape Denver Just ahead of the second snow storm in less than a week. I better call my snowbound family and make sure they're OK.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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FRIDAY, Dec. 29, 2006 - Seth A. Abel

Friday, December 29, 2006

Solving time: 14:25

THEME: none

Rex Parker is officially back from vacation, though I won't be blogging at full strength until tomorrow. You know how it is when you return to your house after a substantial time away: you're jetlagged and groceries need buying, plants watering, dog exercising, bills paying, etc. So I'm going to get my House in Order today and return full of vim and whimsy tomorrow.

Today, however, I will say a few things about the Friday puzzle, just to whet your appetite. O and by the way, apologies to the Thursday puzzle, which becomes the first puzzle since I started this blog (Sep. 25, 2006) for which I failed to produce a commentary. You're probably lucky, Thursday, because I was none too happy with your Far North. Not blogging means not having to carp at you.

Friday was gloriously easy for a Friday. I SAILed (45A: Move easily) through it, though I probably could have / should have charged ahead faster. I always slow down a bit on late-week puzzles, approaching them more deliberately for fear of entering multiple wrong answers and then never being able to find my way out of the mess I've created. But there weren't any tricky patches in this puzzle, just a few odd words and names. The long entries, perpendicular pairs of familiar 15-letter phrases, were all beautifully colloquial and totally familiar - though I'd always heard YOU AND WHAT ARMY?, not 3D: Retort to an improbable threat (You and whose army?). I also hesitated at 20A: Insult from a fashionista (That's so last year), first because the word "fashionista" is so horrifically ugly, and second because I thought the phrase might be THAT'S SO LAST WEEK (funnier, somehow).

6A: Slate, e.g., informally (e-mag)

Of all the E-prefixed neologisms, this is perhaps my least favorite. Do people really call Slate this? Have heard of E-ZINE, but perhaps the more underground, DIY-sounding "ZINE" is too lowbrow a term to be applied to high-minded Slate. I like how the Down cross here, 7D: Send off (mail), creates a little upside-down-L-shaped E-MAIL.

6D: Bygone Cadillacs (El Dorados)

I had no idea these were "bygone." This is the first long answer I got in this puzzle (off of E-MAG). These Spanish-sounding cars descend from the top to the middle of the puzzle, where they just kiss the verifiably Spanish 47A: 16th-century Spanish mystic (St. Teresa), of which there is a famous statue ... somewhere ... ah, yes, "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa," by Bernini, from the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome (ah, the return of graphix to my blog; aren't you happy?):

THINGS I DIDN'T KNOW

  • 23A: KNO3 (niter) - my first thought: "Vanity license plate?"
  • 28A: Runner in "The Sun Also Rises" (toro) - The second "O" was the last square I filled in, once I realized the clue was asking for an ANIMAL, not a person - TORA seemed an odd name for a literary character, and I was pretty certain that the phrase was not LOVE CANQUERS [CANKERS?] ALL (11D: Starry-eyed sentiment (Love conquers all))
  • 52A: Pioneer in the math of Sudoku (Euler) - ick, I object, mainly because this clue is so inbred that only the puzzliest puzzle nerds are going to get it. HINMAN ("ACPT Champion") is a more familiar name to me than EULER, and you wouldn't put HINMAN in a puzzle ... would you? You should, actually. He's not Ken Jennings-famous (and Jennings was in a Sun puzzle earlier this year), but surely among puzzlers he's practically a gimme. Beats hell out of EULER ("Euler ... Euler ... anyone ... ?") [late addendum: OK, so EULER is a totally famous mathematician and I'm an idiot. Happy?]
  • 58A: 1814 Byron poem (Lara) - Oh 1814! Ugh. I had MAUD, which I think is also a Byron poem. The only Byron poem I know (well) is "Don Juan"
  • 63A: "The Phil Harris-Alice _____ Show" of 1940's-50's radio (Faye) - because "Tammy _____ Bakker" would be too easy
  • 50D: Home of the Ashanti (Ghana) - the only Ashanti I know is an Awful pseudo-R&B pop star

  • 25D: Some lobsters (hens) - yes, sometimes, in a clever ploy to get the fishermen to throw them back, lobsters start clucking and flapping their wings

48D: Hunt's sitcom co-star (Reiser)

How about "'Mad About You' also-ran"? Hunt, who was a huge star for about 4 years in the mid-late 90s (see, uh, Twister (1996), I guess), won a ton of Emmys, while Reiser ... didn't. He probably made a ton of money, though, so that's something. His great claim to fame, at least from where I sit, is that he is perhaps the most famous graduate of the university where I teach. When that's the best you've got for your promotional literature ... well, you can understand why we decided to invest so much energy in becoming a Division I athletics program. Sports give donors a reason to give, and "Mad About You" re-runs ... not so much.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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WEDNESDAY, Dec. 27, 2006 - Manny Nosowsky

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Solving time: 13:44

THEME: Introductory clauses - Four 15-letter theme answers are phrases one might use to open a sentence, all of them clued cleverly as some kind of "intro," e.g. 26A: Hot dog vendor's intro (Frankly speaking...)

Had the Horrible experience today of finishing the puzzle, submitting it ... and getting rejected by the applet. This has happened before, so I quickly scanned the puzzle for errors. Finding none, I resubmitted the puzzle, thinking the applet must be in error (yes, I actually thought this). When that yielded the same rejecting results, I went through the puzzle Across by Across and then Down by Down. Nothing. I mean ... everything worked. So then I Really Really went through each answer (minutes have gone by now).

Now when I tell you the square that did me in, you are going to wonder how in the world I ever Realistically thought it was right. All I can say is, it definitely passed the "good enough" test during the initial solving experience. Then the first search team couldn't find the problem because it was good and buried under a layer of snow. It wasn't til I got out the rescue dogs and sniffed the ground that the killer square emerged.

10A: Wild _____ (oats)
10D: Dropped movie scene (outtake)

My bad entry was at this crossing (the "O"). I had ... a "C." Now let me explain. I started the puzzle by rushing through all the Across answers at the top of the grid. When I got to 10A, I entered WEST and moved on. By the time I noticed it was wrong, I had several of the early letters in 10D. Looking at word that opens "_UT..." and seeing that the first word of the clue is "Dropped," I though that the answer must open CUT. Since a "scene" can also be called a TAKE ... CUTTAKE. I'd never heard the expression before, but it made sense, so I left it. It didn't help that "C" gave me a perfectly plausible, if weak, crossing at 10A: CATS. Wild CATS. Sure, why not?

"Dropped" implies it was in the (finished) movie and then was taken out, while OUTTAKEs are scenes that never made it IN to the movie in the first place. I'm apt to quibble because I'm so frustrated, where if I'd had OUTTAKE initially, I'm sure I would have found it a perfectly apt clue.

26D: More and more of news shows nowadays (fluff)

This is an oddly judgmental, opinion-y clue for the Times crossword. I don't disagree, but FLUFF is pretty imprecise, and the idea that "nowadays" (!?) more "news" (!?) shows are like this seems more like a curmudgeonly eructation than a proper clue / answer pairing.

44D: "That just shouldn't happen" (it's a sin)

These are not synonymous. They aren't even very close. I would say the clue, where I would never say the answer in anything but a super-ironic fashion. Locking my keys in the car ... that just shouldn't happen, but it's not a sin. Speaking of "It's a Sin," my sister tanked a very easy question last night during 80s Trivial Pursuit. I forget the exact question, but it involved "dance poppers" who gave themselves a name that they thought sounded like a rap group. The answer was Pet Shop Boys. They had a minor hit in the late 80s with a song called ... "It's a Sin."

Must go eat breakfast. Leave for home tomorrow. Normal commentary will resume on Friday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I just noticed one of the awesomest crosses I've seen in a puzzle in a while, and it warrants official recognition by me:

25A: "Waterloo" quartet (Abba)
19D: Napoleon's place, once (Elba)

Man, that's sweet. See, I thought the Napoleon clue was cute when it was just a doubling of another Napoleon clue on the grid (6D: Napoleon's place [bakery]). But to add yet another dimension - to get to the THIRD layer of Napoleon goodness - and to get there by way of ABBA (which kinda rhymes with ELBA) - that's genius.

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TUESDAY, Dec. 26, 2006 - C.W. Stewart

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Solving time: 6:47

THEME: Cartoon homonyms, e.g. 19A: Bullwinkle's salon application? (moose mousse)

Today's puzzle was so easy I hardly know what to say about it. There were only a couple of slow parts, and those were the result of technical problems or general methodological idiocy on my part. I often find myself in a rut, where I'm getting the answers easily enough, but not eating up the grid in big chunks. One longish cross will be elusive and so I will solve a lot of its Down crosses, but that might result in just one letter at a time being added to the grid. So I'm blowing past clues, but my solved letter total just creeps along. I hope this makes sense somehow.

I am about to promote REA (40A: _____ Irvin, classic cartoonist) to A-level Pantheon status since every new puzzle lately seems to bring with it yet Another way to clue Rea. The fact that it's both a first and a last name makes it all the more appealing to the Pantheon Promotion Committee. Meanwhile, a search committee has been sent in search of ASPS, who haven't been seen for weeks.

Nice touch including a non-themed cartoon answer in a cartoon-themed puzzle, even though REA Irvin's cartoon's have zero to do with the worlds of Disney or Hanna-Barbera. According to one website I just looked at, "Between 1925 and 1958, Irvin's work appeared on 169 covers of The New Yorker." If I were at my home computer, where all is set up for optimal blogging efficiency, I would of course have a link to that website, along with a picture of one of REA Irvin's New Yorker covers. Alas.

65A: Indigent one (needer)

Ick and yuck and no. Please show me a NEEDER, anywhere, and I will retract my disgust. It's nowhere in the language. Hang on ... yep, when I Google NEEDER, Google thinks I've made a mistake: "Did you mean NEEDED?" No, you stupid engine, NEEDER, not NEEDED. NEEDED gets me 580 MILLION hits. NEEDER gets me only 52,900 hits, and the third one that comes up is an obscure 1938 movie called "The Mind NEEDER." Needless to say, I had BEGGAR here, much to my chagrin, dismay, and slightly hindered solving time.

Happy December 26. I'm off to gain more weight.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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MONDAY, Dec. 25, 2006 - Adam G. Perl

Monday, December 25, 2006

Solving time: 7:09 (HA ha)

THEME: "Alphabet quartet" - ("55A: There's one in ..." all the theme answers)

Amy's computer is in her kitchen (well, one of her computers, anyway) and so I have to solve standing semi-hunched over her kitchen counter. I have already told you of the temperamental keyboard. So take the 7:09 time as you will. It's Xmas. I'm too full of Pillsbury Orange Rolls and coffee to care.

28D: Danish birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson (Odense)

I did not know this. Not only that, I don't think I knew that ODENSE was the name of any city anywhere. My Danish ignorance is coupled by my business ignorance (BIZIGNORANCE), so I could never have gotten 35A: Wall St. Deal (LBO) without the crosses, though I am guessing that it refers to Leverage(d?) Buy-Out, something I've heard of while flipping past CNBC or other newzish station with too many graphix and tickers and useleses data floating across the screen.

29D: Sacred choral work (motet)

This answer sits in the middle of the grid. Or stands, rather, like a cross ... without the cross bar. Although ... you could argue that the cross (37A: "See? ... huh, huh?" [Get it?]) is in fact a part of this puzzle's subliminal message, asking you to SEE the "Sacred" message at the heart of the puzzle - three puzzles in a row with biblical significance at their cores. Many more of those answers in the middle of the puzzle can be read with Christian / Christmas significance. Christ gave his life for you, so you, technically, are the DONEE. Santa DOLES out gifts, creating a festive holiday MILIEU for all to share. Not sure how GORE fits in ... although he would likely make a good Santa, as his weight has lately become an Inconvenient Truth.

18D: Japanese cartoon style (Anime)
41D: Nintendo's The Legend of _____ (Zelda)

Little something for the teens, tweens, and other shut-ins who prefer the world of fantasy to that of reality - and in symmetrical answers, no less. Nice.

1A: Up to the task (able)
64A: Comic Sandler (Adam)

For those who doubt that the puzzle has Gone Biblical lately, behold! In the ALPHA and Omega ("See? ... huh, huh?") Across answers of today's puzzle, we have ADAM and his good (if misspelled) son ABLE. Not only that - where is Cain? Why no Cain? Well, if you look to the far EAST of your puzzle, you will find out why:

And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of NOD, on the east of Eden. (Genesis 4: 16)

Thank you and good night! Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and warm holiday greetings for the rest of you pagan suckers! (seriously, Happy Holidays)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. R.I.P. to the King of Soul, Mr. James Brown

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SUNDAY, Dec. 24, 2006 - Brendan Emmett Quigley

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Solving time: 39:31 (while puttering around sister's kitchen)

THEME: "Yule Laughs" - uh ... funny Xmas puns?

Great, easy puzzle. Can't write much because Amy's computer is crazy slow and temperamental and the cursor randomly disappears and reappears at arbirtrary places in the document. My time is totally inflated because I just poked at the puzzle, early in morning, half-heartedly hoping someone would come in and do it with me, or help me - which would give me the new solving experience that I could really use to spice up the blog. But no luck. Wife came out at about the 1/2 way mark and I asked if she wanted to do some of the puzzle and she said "no thanks." :(

I was proud of this puzzle, mostly because there were several guesses that were right (applet accepted the first version I submitted!). I had never heard of 74A: Dispatch boats (avisos) or 68D: Melodic pieces (ariosi) or 16D: Spiny cactus (cholla) or 48D: Italian tragic poet Vittorio (Al Fieri) or 96D: Kansas City suburb (Lenexa) ,but I got 'em all right. RESEAM, RETIES, REMARKET ... this would be the opposite of ODD JOBS. In fact, the mirror opposite - instead of adding -ER to the end of verbs to make improbable nouns, you add RE- to the beginning of words to create verbs of doing random things again. Me no like.

JESUS and the SON are here - as I suggested in yesterday's comments, the puzzle is getting pretty Churchy these past two days, what with all the THREE's in yesterday's puzzle (subliminal Trinity) and today's 1-2 Christ punch. See also REDCROSS in the middle of the puzzle! RED with the blood of Christ!? RED like REDCROSSE KNIGHT in Spenser's Faerie Queene, a Christian allegory?! I'm just askin'...

Must go eat eggs, drink coffee, what not. If I can figure out how to grab the puzzle image, load it to Flickr, and post it here, all without my sister's hamster-wheel-powered computer freezing or losing key information along the way, then I'll put the puzzle up like normal later in the day. Otherwise, enjoy this picture-free version of RPDTNYTCP. It's puritanical . . . for the Holidays!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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SATURDAY, Dec. 23, 2006 - Myles Callum

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Solving time: untimed (reasonbly fast)

THEME: Donuts (or, none)

After choking, almost literally, on the malicious chicken bone that was the NW corner of David Quarfoot's Friday Sun puzzle last night, it was nice to regain my puzzle footing (somewhat) with this Saturday offering. There are two squares of which I am unsure, and which you are about to watch me Google in real time ...

Here is what I actually have entered right now for the answers in question:

22A: Farm sound (haw)
38A: Rock formation, to geologists (terrane)

The initial "H" and "T" in those answers are guesses because I do not know This Guy:

22D: "Woman With a Pearl" painter (Horot)

And now to see if these answers are right (my wife gave "H" and "T" for the most likely letters in these positions too, so I feel my odds are good)...

OK, so it's COROT, a name I considered, having vaguely heard of it, but discarded because of infallible logic, i.e. CAW is NOT a "Farm sound"!!!!!! ... any more than it's a sound of any other part of the world where crows might appear. I guess because crows will eat seeds out of fields, necessitating Scare Crows, etc. you have a very attenuated case. But I hate this answer. I hate being wrong. Shocker.

Still, this puzzle was Great.

[just want to point out that Blondie's "Atomic" - one of my very very favorite songs, esp the live version - is playing on my stereo right this second in honor of 46A: Couple in the news in 1945 (atomic bombs)]

I am mildly embarrassed to admit that the way I opened this puzzle up was by starting with 11A: Cow: Sp. (vaca) - a gimme - and then building immediately on the first "A" with the long, long Down crossing - 12D: Mr. Deeds player (Adam Sandler). I love when lowbrow (I wrote "lowbrown"...?) knowledge cracks the coconut for me.

Normally I hate question-marked clues, or at least find them irritating, but today I was loving almost all of them, esp

17A: Locks up? (spiked hair)
20A: Ones with well-defined careers? (oilmen)
3D: Crowd in Old Rome? (III)
24D: Dispenser of gossip? (water cooler) (wife didn't care for this one so much)

Who knew that my legendary cross-country late-80s teenage driving escapade - which I took with my sister to visit my Aunt Nancy (hi Nancy!) in the summer of 1988 - would help me solve a puzzle one day? Well, it did. Hey Amy, let's see if you remember: 4D: Nevada county or its seat...

I'll give you a hint. It rhymes with Lawrence WELK-O.

15A: Set of routine duties (daily dozen)
35D: Word in several Dunkin' Donuts doughnut names (Kreme)
57D: Quote from Homer (D'oh!)

And now you know why I suggested today's theme was Donuts.

Did not know that burlesque legend Lili St. CYR (who appeared in a puzzle a couple months back) was named after "France's West Point" (42D). Surprised to see that there is Yet Another way to clue REA (50A: Blakey of CNN). As Rusty Griswold asks in National Lampoon's Vacation, after his parents start singing a song he can't believe is real : "Is that made up? That sounds made up."

54A: 1968 album with the song "John Looked Down" (Arlo)

Monday fill with Saturday cluing. Nice.

51A: Fly (by) [whoosh!] is super-fun fill. I'm not sure about accuracy, but I don't care. Nice also that WHOOSH sits directly underneath the ATOMIC in ATOMIC BOMBS (46A).


Is it a puzzle rule violation that THREE is the answer to TWO of today's clues? Granted one looks like this (III) and the other like this (47D: Lithium, on the periodic table (three), but still, that's a violation of the spirit, if not the letter of the law. I'll let it slide, though, as the III answer is so sweet (donut-sweet).

I'm off to Philadelphia now, then Colorado, where I will be the next time I write this damned commentary.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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FRIDAY, Dec. 22, 2006 - Mike Nothnagel

Friday, December 22, 2006

Solving time: untimed, but fast

THEME: none

I am very sorry that of all the puzzles I've done in the past three months, this is the first one that gets the abbreviated commentary treatment, because it truly deserves my full attention. This is one of the best Friday puzzles I've done since I began the blog - it's got that sizzling, surprising, Quarfootian quality that I Luhhhhve in a puzzle. There is Nothing dull or old-fashioned or painful about the puzzle at all. It's super-clever in its cluing and fresh and inventive in its fill. Really first rate.

The whole NE is some kind of miracle quadrant. 8D: Lecture follow-up (Q and A) has been done before, sure, but its "Q" and (first) "A" crosses are phenomenal: 8A: Special delivery? (quints) made me very happy, and 16A: When some hands join (at noon) really blew me away - but I'm a sucker for longer entries that include short words normally left out of answers - indefinite articles, definite articles, and (in this case) prepositions. 11D: Rarely (not often) is fairly unremarkable, but it sparkles here because, as a negative, it contrasts beautifully with its much more positive (and deliciously dated) neighbor to the east, 12D: 100% (to the max).


I had FOUR gimmes in this puzzle, which is a ton for me, for a Friday. The first thing I filled in was 53A: Met who won the 1985 Cy Young Award (Gooden) - that's right at the tail end of my dorky-teen / baseball-card-collecting phase (I'm being told the "dorky-teen" part was not a phase, just a state of being). Gooden was a force of nature. Then he won a World Series. THE World Series. Then he coked out, right? Or was that Strawberry? Anyhoo, speaking of THE World Series, another baseball gimme lies just across the grid: 41D: Winner of the first World Series (as the "Americans") [Red Sox]. RED SOX were of course the infamous losers of THE World Series (1986). I wasn't sure if the answer was BOSTON or REDSOX, but I knew it. BOSTON seems more accurate - how can a team that doesn't exist yet win anything? That's like saying Ali beat Liston. Clay beat Liston. Still, I don't care, 'cause I knew this one cold.

I like the two other gimmes because they are so colorful, and from opposite ends of the pop culture spectrum (high and low brow). 30A: Wonderland directive made me think EAT ME before I'd even looked to see how many letters it was. EAT ME is just a great phrase, and I'm glad someone found a way to get around its apparent profanity to work it into a puzzle. I grew up listening to INXS (Aussies), and I really liked them, so it's mildly depressing to see them clued here at the nadir of their career as 10D: Band featured on the reality show "Rock Star". Should have been called "Who Wants To Replace Our Singer, Who Died From Auto-Erotic Asphyxiation?"

My proudest correct guess of the puzzle: with only the final "T," I got 57A: Stumblebum (galoot). The very long crossing fill in this puzzle - 15D: Clinical trial phenomenon (placebo effect) and 34A: Superstition that a rookie's second season will fail (sophomore season) were remarkably easy to get. That latter clue needs to be re-written, though. The rookie must have had a good first season ("rookie phenom"?) - and a rookie can't have a second season ... "a player's second season"? Superstition usually comes into play, or up for discussion, when rookie is no longer one.

Loved how this puzzle forced me to stick with answers that just seemed Wrong when partially filled in, e.g. 32A: Relaxed (Type B) - "What ends in "-EB???" - and that mysterious "X" floating out in the middle of 55A: Doesn't let differences cause conflict, what could that be? Answer: COEXISTS. Loved also the clever cluing in 29D: It can help you carry a tune (iPod) - mine will be helping me carry thousands of tunes tomorrow on a flight to Denver (fingers crossed). Thought that 28D: Rescuee's cry (My hero!) should have had "in cartoons" or "in melodrama" appended to the clue. Again, as I did recently with "TGIF," I take issue with the idea that anyone, anywhere, actually "cried" this phrase.

NW was the last to fall, mainly because of perhaps the most insidious clue of the bunch - never has a three-letter answer stymied me for so long. I wanted 7D: It helps in passing to be DEE or CEE. Then, when I totally nailed 17A: "Sold!" (It's a deal!), I knew that the final letter was A, so I thought "wow, how cute: AN A. That sure does help in passing. But that meant that a word would have to end in -NP, which I was willing to believe for a while, given other odd letter combos in the puzzle. But then 14A: Shop steward, briefly (union rep) became undeniable, giving me _EA, and then the full weight of the clue's sinisterness hit me. "Passing" as in "passing a (@#$#-ing) law." YEA (as opposed to NAY). Genius. Seriously. If only I had known my non-baseball-related 80s questions - 1A: Seminal computer game of 1989 (Sim City) and 19A: 1982 Richard Pryor flick (The Toy), the whole NW might have been much easier, and the YEA issue might never have come up.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Damn, this commentary wasn't "abbreviated" at all. I gotta work on this "writing less" thing.

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HOLIDAY POWER SAVE MODE

Greetings,

Starting today, and for the next week (through Friday, Dec. 29), my commentaries will be very, very abbreviated. Minis, we'll call them. I am going to Col0rado to visit my family. I will still have puzzle and commentary, every day, but entries will be shorter, and they may appear at odd, somewhat later hours of the day. For instance, I have no idea when I'll do today's commentary. Probably this afternoon. I have to cart Sahra around all morning, doing last minute preparations for leaving. She's getting a haircut and (possibly) seeing Santa at the mall. She's not sure if she really wants to sit on some guy's lap, but she Knows she wants presents, so...

That's all

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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THURSDAY, Dec. 21, 2006 - Lynn Lempel

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Solving time: untimed

THEME: "BRING 'EM ON!" (57A) - letters "EM" are added to familiar names and phrases to create new, strange phrases, which are then clued, e.g. 48A: Idaho symbol? (tater totEM)

I really enjoyed this puzzle, which I solved at a leisurely pace in bed last night, while my wife worked on a puzzle beside me. We solve cryptics and British-style crosswords every week in The Listener (NZ), but my wife has never been inclined to try the NYT puzzle ... until now. I am so happy about this, and yet a year from now I am sure I will regret encouraging her, as she will surely be able to solve me under the table by then. I bought her a book of Shortz "easy" puzzles so she could practice. Unlike Many, Many of the Shortz collections, the one I got her actually tells you on what day of the week the puzzle originally appeared. That's critical information! Why isn't that info in all the collections? Saving on ink!? It is a lot of fun to see a very bright but untested solver run into common trick clues for the first time. Wife: "'Big name in chips'...?" Me, from across the room, not even knowing how many letters we're dealing with: "Intel." Wife: [groan]. Or this - Wife: "K.C. Royal, e.g." Me: "letters?" Her: "Four. A, blank..." Me: "AL'ER. Royals play in the American League, so they're AL'ERs. You see NL'ER a lot, too." Etc. Weird (and, at this point, according to my wife, stupid) conventions of cluing / solving that have zero to do with intelligence and everything to do with practice, practice, practice. To her enormous credit, my wife knew SKUA (in a Wednesday puzzle), which I had Never Heard Of. Wife does not know sports, but she damn sure knows her birds. We're complementary that way.

Today's puzzle was fairly easy for a Thursday, I think, but that may be because I wasn't trying to go fast, so things felt like they flowed along rather smoothly. Puzzle had very quadranty feel to it, with the NW being by far the easiest part of the puzzle, and the SE the hardest (which sucks, a bit, as that is where the Primary Theme Answer was). BRING 'EM ON is not really a phrase I've heard before, frankly - BRING IT ON, yes. LET ME AT 'EM, yes ... not sure where BRING 'EM ON comes from, though there are nearly half a million Google hits for ["bring em on"]. Wait. I take it back. Turns out I have heard this phrase, made infamous three years ago by this guy:But the puzzle author couldn't have had this guy in mind, as the clue reads "Fighter's dare...," and everyone knows this guy never fought a day in his life (bomber jacket notwithstanding).

The middle section of the puzzle was largely uneventful, though the central theme answer, 34A (THEME): Spruce up some fabric (EM-Boss Tweed) does mark the return of the corrupt 19th-century politico BOSS TWEED to the puzzle - learned about him a few weeks back and did not figure on seeing him again so soon. Anyway, let's just go around the horn, starting with the easy Pacific Northwest.

1A: Nobodies (zeros)
1D: Letter from London (zed)

Bam, bam. ZED confirmed rightness of ZEROS guess (wasn't sure .. thought maybe ZEROS was spelled thusly: ZEROES). After these two, I had the whole NW pacified in about 30 seconds time, including the theme cross 17A (THEME): Satan? (Demon king), though at that point I had no idea what could be theme-y about that answer. The NW is notable for a colorful cast of characters this morning, from CHE Guevara (6A: 1969 biopic starring Omar Sharif) to 26A: Luke's father in "Star Wars" (Anakin) to Jerome KERN (18D: "Ol' Man River" composer) - very proud to get this last one as I am Terrible at American Songbook stuff; see also 59D: Lyricist Washington who won two Oscars for songwriting (Ned). Cleverest clue up here in "Seattle": 4D: It's in the dumps (odor).

40D: Main idea (keynote)

Aaargh. The only time I ever ever ever heard the word KEYNOTE is when it is followed immediately by "speech" or "address," so I did not not not see this one for a while. Is KEYNOTE two words or one? THEME? PRINCIPLE? Unh! KEYNOTE. It's a solid, legitimate answer, but grrrr nonetheless. This whole SE was mildly prickly for me. I got 55D: "Buona _____" (sera) and its "R" cross 62A: Teed off (irate) and then ground to a halt. Had my only Wrong Fill of the day just a little further W of here when I entered PUB for 61A: The George and Dragon, e.g. (inn). Why? BECAUSE IT'S A PUB. Google [the george and dragon], first hit: pub. OK, it's a Seattle pub, but pub nonetheless. Here's a picture of the British pub, which may also, it's true, be an INN:
Took me forever to get 54D: Cry of joy (T.G.I.F.), mainly because nobody has cried that phrase joyfully since 1982, if ever. "Cry," really, "Cry?" More like "beleaguered mutterance of relief." "Mutterance" should be a word.

43D: One-dish meal (paella)

I'm super-proud of knowing this one instantly, with no crosses. Total gimme - hadn't even looked to see how many letters I was dealing with and I knew it. OK, so it's not that hard, but 6-letter gimmes are nice. I need this one bad, too, as it helped confirm my initial suspicion about 44D: Ultimately (At last), which gave me the "T" at 63A, which left me with _AT__, which helped me realize that the clue, 63A: Caesar's father, was not asking for a specific man but for the Latin Word For Father, Damn It! Oh, it's PATER, in case you didn't know. Other surprising clues down here: 56A: Taruotragus oryx (eland) - you really gotta know your African antelopes if you want to want to be a dominant puzzler, but do you have to know their formal Latin scientific classifications!? And who the heck is ELSIE Janis ... I mean, besides what the clue tells us: 60A: _____ Janis, old comic actress? Damn, I don't know who she is, but this photo is awesome:

16A: Old NBC courtroom drama (The D.A.)
10D: It has its ups and downs (The Dow)


My favorite part of the puzzle. I am a sucker for definite articles in the grid, and here we get two of 'em, and intersecting at the "H", no less. BRING EM ON! This NE quadrant also has the lively REV UP (19A: Race) and, even hotter, BODICE (21A: Tight-fitting woman's garment). EDUCED (12D: Brought out) is a bit clunky, and I never like to be reminded of my Least Favorite Thing about teaching - PAPERS (13D: Professor's workload). But my spirits were strangely REVIVEd (11D) by 9D: 1948 campaign name - after determining that HARRY and TRUMAN and DEWEY and whatever-Dewey's-first-name-was would not fit, I was happy to be reminded that there was another major figure in that race - the Ralph Nader of his day (a comparison I'm sure he would have loved): STROM Thurmond. He ran as a States' Rights Democrat, whatever that was. Better yet (or worse, from the standpoint of sanity): HE CARRIED FOUR STATES!!! Nader never did that. Thurmond didn't just win in those states: he CRUSHED his opponents by tens of thousands of votes. So, congratulations South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, on your seriously oddball presidential voting legacy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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WEDNESDAY, Dec. 20, 2006 - Nancy Salomon

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Solving time: 9:44

THEME: SNL sarcasm - theme answers are sarcastic catch phrases from SNL bits gone by, e.g. 17A: Words of admiration - NOT! (Isn't that special?)

Nice to add to the theme-y-ness by including Wayne's World in the theme clues. Andrew, remember when Madonna was on Wayne's World, and said "NOT!"? Which is to say, remember, uh, 1992? Good times ... not.

I am not familiar with 57A: Words of congratulation - NOT! (Nice going, genius), at least not in an SNL context. I'm going to guess that it has something to do with Bill Murray and Gilda Radner. Hang on ... well, no, I'm not getting Any significant hits for ["nice going genius" snl] and only 85 hits period for ["nice going genius"]. What gives?

Also, who decided how many "U"'s would go into 37A: Words of apology - NOT! (Well, excuuuuse me)? Steve Martin pronounced the word as if it had four syllables, so maybe two extra "U"'s would have made sense. Three extras ... that seems pretty arbitrary. But the very idea is cute enough that I'm not going to call a foul. Searching around the "internets," as I am doing right now, it seems that the four-U spelling is pretty standard. I am looking for something like a track listing on a comedy album, but can't find one. And now that I'm saying the phrase to myself, in my head, over and over, I'm thinking maybe it does have five syllables. What a weird thing to have to fact-check.

WRONG FILL

  • DIAL for AMFM (10A: Radio switch)
  • ROAN for RUST (2D: Reddish-brown)
  • NERD for WONK (22A: Bookish sort, slangily) - I don't like WONK here at all
  • FIVE, then NINE, for NOON (35A: Factory whistle time)
  • AVG for EST (43A: Plus-or-minus fig.)
  • GELDS for SPAYS (42A: Neuters)
  • LORDS for GENTS (62A: Ladies' men) - despite having seen this exact clue / answer pairing just one day earlier
8D: Area that may have stained glass (apse)
21A: Architectural molding (ogee)


Two architectural terms I know only from doing the puzzle, both Pantheon or Pantheon-caliber words, and here, finally, they are made to intersect. Would you find an OGEE in or near an APSE? Well, you find them all over churches, so yes, I guess so. Where else can you find an OGEE? Glad you asked:
65A: Popular theater name (Odeon)

Back-to-back days with variations on this answer. Don't wear it out! Other Pantheonic fill includes 40A: Slippery swimmers (eels) - have I mentioned how pleased I am that I haven't seen ASPS for a while - and 26D: They're carried by people in masks (epees). I am pretty happy with recent cluings of EPEE(S), as they have been cleverly deceptive. We had [Arm-waving activity] (or something to that effect) recently, and now mask-wearing. Which brings us to an unwritten Pantheon rule: if you are going to use a word over and over, you should dress it up in different costumes from time to time. See also 26A: Company whose name is pig Latin for an insect (ebay). Keepin' it fresh and spicy! Nobody likes stale EBAY. Last thought: I have seen many bank-robbery movies where robbers wear crazy masks - rubber president-head masks, panty-hose masks, etc. Why not EPEE masks? They're pretty scary. I know it would be hard to knock over a bank using just swords, but still - your look would be original. And isn't that what it's all about? You know you're gonna be on camera...

4D: "O.K., back to work" ("Duty calls")
27D: Pull off a high-risk feat (Bell the cat)
30D: Company publication (House organ)

Of the (amazing) six 9- and 10-letter, unthemed, vertical answers in this grid, these three deserve special mention for their unusualness. The only time hackneyed phrases can make me happy is when they appear as long fill in my crosswords, and such is the case with DUTY CALLS. I would never say this phrase - sounds too much like something you'd say if you had to use the toilet (or is that NATURE CALLS) - and yet the quoted cluing is spot-on. Perfect. In-the-language. Hard to see before it's there, obvious once it gets there. HOUSE ORGAN grosses me out a little, the way that ORGAN MEAT does (now that should be an answer). BELL THE CAT - that is what is called Getting Medieval (well, if you're like me and have read Piers Plowman a number of times - and who hasn't?). In Piers Plowman, William Langland borrows from Aesop, actually, in imagining a group of mice and rats (just wrote "rice and mats," much to my own amusement) who are afraid of the cat (duh) and want a way to protect themselves from him. Everyone agrees that belling the cat is a good idea, but no one wants to do it. I think Langland was using this as an allegory for the necessity of checking royal authority over both the people and the Church, but I'm not sure and I can't be bothered to look it up right now. "Talk amongst yourselves"!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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TUESDAY, Dec. 19, 2006 - Sarah Keller

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Solving time: 7:46

THEME: N=>KN = very punny - familiar phrases starting with "N" have a "K" tacked on to the beginning and are then clued, e.g. 21A: Sweater selection? (knit-picking)

Further, every new "KN" word has a different vowel sound: KNIT, KNIGHT, KNOT, KNEW. Did you know that in medieval England, the "K" had not yet gone silent and was still pronounced in words like "knight?" It's true. Or so my training taught me. Perhaps my teachers were just making @#$ up. Anyway, one of the joys of reading Chaucer aloud (as I'll do in my classes from time to time) is hitting that hard "K" before the "N." Freaks kids out.

This was a pretty innocuous theme. Clever clues, I suppose, in the theme entries. I got totally flustered / floored / flummoxed by 50A: Was familiar with a summertime allergen? (Knew mown hay), in part because I had the middle and later parts of the answer first and the letter combinations looked insane, and in part because I was looking for POLLEN or RAGWEED or something like that (had just done a puzzle in one of my little Shortz books where the theme was "nothing to sneeze at" or something like that and theme answers involved puns on words like POLLEN and PEPPER and SNUFF and other things that make you sneeze - cute). Who mows hay!?!?! People who do these puzzles don't live on farms or in the 19th century. Hay? Really? OK. Now if the answer had been KNEW MOWN LAWN (1D: Homeowner's pride) - well it wouldn't have fit and I still would have struggled to see it, but at least the end result would have applied to my universe.

WRONG FILL

ANGER for WRATH (17A: Rage)
CLUB for ODDS (6A: What a tout may tout)
TBAR for LBAR (61A: Beam with a 90 degree bend)
NOSTICK for NONOILY (41D: Greaseless)

29D: Singer Lenya (Lotte)
38D: Polish-born author Sholem (Asch)

Blogged 'em before, so I'll blog 'em again. These two both return to the puzzle for the second time this month. I'd never heard of either of them before they showed up in my puzzle, though Ms. Lenya is apparently a puzzle stalwart. Can we get some new blood in the puzzle? Yes - there's Heidi KLUM ("As you know, in fashion, one moment you're in, and the next ... you're out!") (40D: Supermodel Heidi), Carrie Chapman CATT (23D: Women's suffrage leader Carrie Chapman _____) - honey, little help with that one... - Jim BACKUS (10D: Jim of "Gilligan's Island" fame), and ERLE Stanley Gardner (34D: Writer _____ Stanley Gardner), among others. Do constructors know that ERLE wrote a ton of books under the pen name A.A. FAIR? If so, why haven't I seen that answer lately (if ever)? Surely the opening double-A must come in handy sometimes, and when you're tired of A.A. MILNE and AARDVARK, why not try [E.S. Gardner pen name]?

25A: Mal de mer symptom (nausea)
62A: Bacteria in an outbreak (e-coli)


Thanks a lot for the morning (or bedtime) imagery, puzzle. Just what I want to be faced with as I'm winding down my day - disorders of the digestive tract. Breakfast table test! Actually, if these answers hadn't appeared on the same day, I'm sure I wouldn't have stopped to notice the pathology.

5D: Wisconsin city on Lake Winnebago (Oshkosh)

Little shout-out to my cheese-head friends Michelle and Jeff up in Oshkosh, even though they (like many of my friends) don't know of this blog's existence. Go ... UW-Oshkosh mascots! My mom used to love to dress me in OSHKOSH B'gosh overalls, but whose didn't? Every two-year-old looks adorable in those things.

55D: Comics dog (Odie)
42D: Old-fashioned music halls (Odea)

Surely there is some crazy theme entry crying out for construction here. Let's see... [Technological bird?] => A.V. AVIAN. ["Cuban kid off the port bow!"?] => ALEE ELIAN! ["Who wants to see my belly button?"?] => INNIE ANYONE? And [Garfield's least favorite theaters?] => ODIE ODEA. I have no idea what you call that theme, but there it is.

And lastly, I don't think I really knew 48D: Prefix with fluoride (tetra). The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS In keeping with yesterday's theme of CHRISTMAS / HANUKKAH / KWANZAA, I'd like to call your attention to this fantastic holiday music video treat (one of the best musical parodies I've ever seen - thanks, Steve). Andrew says I should warn you, though: it's a little ... blue. No nudity, one "swear" bleeped out (repeatedly), but ... adult content is fairly high.

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