Sunday, May 4, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "Poplar Music" - musical tree puns
Mmm, puns. OK, here's the thing about me and puns. I don't actually hate them categorically. It's just that for a pun to work, it has to be ON. If it's even a bit off, then it's a groaner, which I do not appreciate or find cute, the way some do. Some people enjoy groaners ("oh, how droll"). Not me. If you're going to pun, then hit the nail on the head. Today's puns were so-so. About half hit, half miss, but even the ones that hit didn't sparkle or make me laugh or even smile much. Sadly, hardly any of the pun phrases made any sense in re-written form. I can see a GREAT BALSA FIRE, but FIR YOUR LOVE makes no sense no matter how you say it or punctuate it. I had never heard of two of the "Poplar Songs" in question, and so working those out only made me wince and/or grimace and/or make a questioning face. The lack of humor in the theme phrases and the frequent jarring slant rhymes in the puns kept this from being truly enjoyable.
Still, there was some fun to be had in the non-theme answers. I got wickedly slapped around in the NE, where two words I'd never heard of crossed one I'd barely heard of, resulting in at least one out-and-out guess (which turned out to be right). CORDILLERA (21A: Mountain chain) has to be the longest never-heard-of-it word I've encountered in a Long time. I'll add it to ARETE under the category "Mountain-related words I learned from xwords." Then there's BREVET (29A: Nominal promotion of a military officer) - that "B" was the biggest guess of the day, as it could very easily (to my ear) have been a "P." Then there's the colorful cascading percussion of Tito Puente: TIMBALES (14D: Tito Puente played them). If I hadn't seen Tito Puente in concert once in the mid-90s (during which concert he repeatedly and not very good-naturedly mocked the Ann Arbor audience for what he believed was musical ignorance and general lack of soul - he may not have been wrong), I don't know that I would have guessed correctly here. Early on, I thought "TIMPANIS ... did he really play the TIMPANIS?" No, he did not. Tito Puente, like all self-respecting famous people, was once featured on "The Simpsons." Enjoy.
- 24A: 1977 Dolly Parton song for tree fanciers? ("Here You Gum Again") - also known as "Song for the Toothless." Had the HERE and thought "where's the tree pun in 'Here You Come Again?' Aha! 'HERE YEW COME...' Hey, that doesn't fit!"
- 50A: 1957 Jerry Lee Lewis song for tree fanciers? ("Great Balsa Fire") - the more I see the phrase "tree fanciers," the more disturbed I get.
- 61A: 1964 Bobby Goldsboro song for tree fanciers? ("Cedar Funny Little Clown") - what? Who? What? That's your marquee answer!? Is there no better title featuring the phrase "see the" in all of songdom? (here's the song in question: oh man, those album covers are Choice!)
- 79A: 1982 Joan Jett and the Blackhearts song for tree fanciers? ("Olive Rock 'n' Roll") - one of the most important songs of my 'tween-hood, so it pains me to see it tricked out in this Horrible pun.
- 90A: 1959 Chuck Berry song for tree fanciers? ("Elmost Grown") - the very worst of the day, by far. Never heard of the song, AND the tree pun creates a Frankenstein's monster of a word: "ELMOST!?!" Just terrible. (the song, however, is hot, it turns out)
- 107A: 1978 Linda Ronstadt song for tree fanciers? ("Pawpaw Pitiful Me") - ["More cowbell!"] - if I hadn't written a very memorable early post where I talked at length about, and featured a picture of, PAWPAWS, I'd have been in a lot of trouble here, despite knowing (and loving) the song in question. My childhood was filled with 70s Linda Ronstadt turned up rather loud. My mom must have owned "Living in the U.S.A.," because that image of L.R. on roller skates is indelible (though to be truthful, before I looked it up just now, I imagined it as far sexier ... and that she was a car hop at a 50s diner).
In the "Stuff I Didn't Know" category, we can add KLAN (101D: Kind of meeting in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"). Is this KLAN as in KU KLUX!?!? I was not aware that they were allowed into the puzzle. Hmmm. Also did not know the nearby LIAM (100D: "The Informer" author O'Flaherty), though instinctively my brain wanted LIAM. No idea why, as I couldn't pick him or his work out of a line-up. I often teach 16th century English drama and still blanked on PEELE (113A: 16th-century English dramatist). He's ... not popular. LIL Jon (67D: Rap star _____ Jon) is probably going to hurt some people today. I love how deep Will is Willing to go into the rap music goody bag. The world of rap music has, in general, been poorly tapped, crossword-wise. This is likely a solver demographic issue. But ... there's a wealth of insanely spelled names just waiting for you ... O well. For now, I'm just happy that ICE-T and Dr. DRE have some company from time to time.
- 1A: Craving, slangily (jones) - Matt Jones write a good weekly puzzle called "Jonesin'." You can get it via Will Johnston's Puzzle Pointers (see sidebar).
- 6A: Creche figures (magi) - what else could it be?
- 10A: Impromptu Halloween costume (sheet) - great clue.
- 15A: Spray withdrawn in 1989 (Alar) - a pesticide. Pantheonic crossword fill.
- 26A: Bridal collection (trousseau) - love this word, and it goes great with the other flashy French word in the grid: ATELIER (51D: Place for an easel).
- 30A: Sugar substitute? (Hon) - another great clue. Reminds me of 'Flo from "Alice".
- 42A: World capital founded in 1538, formerly known as Chuquisaca (Sucre) - South American capitals in five ... QUITO, LA PAZ, SUCRE ...
- 53A: Outer limits (ends) - wanted EDGE.
- 58A: One trillionth: Prefix (pico-) - didn't know, but it seemed right once it was there.
- 68A: It's spotted in the wild (ocelot) - this cat gets an extraordinary amount of action for a six-letter word, which is cool, because OCELOT is easily the best-named cat there is.
- 72A: Tippy transport (canoe) - TIPPYCANOE! (and Tyler too?)
- 82A: Jazzy Nina (Simone) - loooooooooove her. She and Mr. Rogers both died at around the same time, and I've never been so sad for celebrity deaths (except maybe Phil Hartman's).
- 86A: Beaufort scale category (gale) - Some day I will remember that Beaufort = wind.
- 92A: Source for some coffee (Arabia) - is Arabia a real place? It's not a country? Is it just the whole ArabiaN Peninsula?
- 96A: Italian bread (pane) - looking for EURO...
- 32D: _____ Jr., West Coast hamburger chain (Carl's) - in my carnivorous days (college), I used to go here all the time. So good. Eventually I learned that In 'N' Out was better, but I still have a fondness for CARL's Jr. (weirdly, coincidentally, I finished the puzzle and then came across a reference to CARL's Jr. in a book I'm reading: Money Shot by Christa Faust. It's good ... and filled with vengeance. That statement may have been redundant.)
- 98A: Source of creosote (tar) - factoid from Wikipedia: "The prevailing use of creosote in the United States is to preserve wooden utilities/telephone poles, railroad cross ties, switch ties and bridge timbers from decay."
- 111A: Sing "Bye Bye Birdie," e.g. (alliterate) - uh ... I guess. Very slippery clue.
- 2D: "A Jug of Wine..." poet (Omar) - KHAYYAM is way more interesting in the grid.
- 8D: Ashram leader (guru) - well, if you didn't get [Guru residences] yesterday (ASHRAMS), you damned sure should have gotten this clue today.
- 15D: "Sink or Swim" author (Alger) - i.e. Horatio. He of the "Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality.
- 22D: _____ Lad, doughnut shop on "The Simpsons" (Lard) - single best "Simpsons" clue of all-time. Sahra has a Lard Lad baseball cap, and I own this:
- 31D: "A Letter for _____" (Hume Cronyn film) ("Evie") - whoa. Never heard of it. Have heard of this Evie, but only because of the puzzle...
- 43D: Nut holder (U-bolt) - this clue makes me laugh.
- 45D: _____ Systems, networking giant (Cisco) - not to be confused with Sisqo.
- 58D: Purple stuff, perhaps (prose) - good clue.
- 61D: Play-by-play partner (color) - a very hard skill, COLOR commentary. Just ask Tim McCarver.
- 62D: Theodor Escherich's discovery (e-coli) - could he, I don't know, UNdiscover it? That would be great.
- 66D: 1970s-'80s All-Star Manny (Trillo) - this is Ob-sKure, and only my baseball-collecting obsession of 1978-1983 kept me from tanking this.
- 90D: Sufficient, informally (Enuf) - my least favorite expression of all time. All Time: "'nuff said" (or any version thereof).
- 91D: Dance specialty (tap) - weak, boring clue. Come on. Try harder!
- 93D: Soul singer Lou (Rawls) - "You'll never find ..." Deep, distinctive voice.
- 105D: Salmon tail? (-ella) - all-time best cluing of ELLA. Seriously. Genius.
- 109D: John's "Pulp Fiction" co-star (Uma) - Great movie - and here's a great scene. I would have linked to the "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" scene, but it ends in a scary drug overdose, and that doesn't really feel like Sunday morning material.
Enjoy your Sunday
PS Bonus LARD Lad coverage: