Saturday, March 3, 2007
Solving time: untimed, but quick - something around 15 minutes
THEME: Celebrity names aplenty (or, none)
I always feel good when I am able to have my way with a Saturday puzzle, so maybe that is skewing my feelings about this puzzle - but, that said, I loved it. Loved it! Heavy on the fun pop culture, light on learned obscurities. Even the long clue involving flora, which I was certain I would end up strangling me, came out smelling sweet - 22A: Woodbine or twinberry (honeysuckle). Once I got that "Y," I think I literally said "aha!" and the NNW, which had remained a bit sticky to that point, finally tumbled. Let's take this puzzle in five parts, each part represented by the celebrity who helped me (or in the case of the NW, didn't help me) unravel it.
33A: Manuel de Falla opera "La _____ Breve" ("Vida")
OK, so Manuel de Falla is not exactly a "celebrity," and his name's not actually in the grid, but ... he'll have to do. This was the very first answer I entered on the grid. And then it just sat there, as I tried, with no success, to get crosses. But it's important that it was sitting there, because eventually (three corners later) I built back toward it, and it not only opened up the middle, but gave me entree to the NW. So, an important little answer for having so little initial impact. I knew the phrase implied "Life is Short" - from the ancient aphorism ars longa, vita brevis (Hippocrates, apparently) - but wanted VITA there at first. Then, knowing that de Falla was Spanish I thought "what's the Spanish word for 'life?'" Then I remembered the Ricky Martin song "Living La Vida Loca," and I was set. Thanks, Ricky. I probably would have clued VIDA as [Pitcher Blue] or something slightly more clever, but having recently heard a performance of de Falla's excellent "El Amor Brujo," I'm very happy to see him name-dropped in this way. VIDA intersects DELISH (20D: Finger-lickin' good), which pairs nicely with the other creatively spelled entry in the grid, PAREE (40A: "Since Marie Has Left _____" (Sinatra song)). Not sure how I feel about [Finger-lickin' good] as a clue - technically, it's pretty good, but since it is (or was) KFC's (or Kentucky Fried Chicken's) catchphrase for the longest time, it's giving me bad vibes of creepy old plantation owners and chickens being absolutely tortured under modern poultry-processing conditions.
26D: Her "Don't Know Why" was 2002's Record of the Year (Norah Jones)
An outright gimme - seriously, if you got any answer in this puzzle, you probably got this one, as this chick was @#$#-ing ubiquitous several years back. I'm guessing you not only like NORAH JONES a little, you probably even own one of her albums. Admit it, Times readers. Somebody's propping up her career, and you all are my prime suspects. One of the first controversial stances I ever took on This Here Blog was that NORAH JONES was inferior in every way to Merle Haggard (yes, the comparison may seem arbitrary, but it was related to their both being in the puzzle around the same time). I stand by that comment to this day. However - while normally I'm not happy to encounter NORAH JONES, she really, really helped me get this puzzle started, so maybe I should give her a break. I had the entire SW section done inside of a few minutes thanks to her. Other great features of NORAH JONES-land:
36A: Items in many a still life (oranges)
25D: They offer hot links (IHOPs)
As I was writing in ORANGES, I exclaimed "Dammit, how come she keeps getting her name in the puzzle while I continue to be snubbed!?" ("She" being my fellow crossword blogger whose handle is ORANGE). Then, the very next entry I filled in was IHOPS (Plural! Just like in heaven!) and it was as if the puzzling gods were saying "We have not forgotten thee, Rex." Since IHOP is my oft-declared official religion, I take all IHOP references as a tip of the hat to me, whether so intended or not. Apparently the idea that the ORANGES / IHOPS intersection is a dual crossword blog reference has already been put forth at the NYT Forum - the fact that anyone besides me noticed makes me happier than you'll ever know.
49A: Singer who wrote the poetry collection "The Lords and the New Creatures" (Jim Morrison)
As he is a bigger musical legend than NORAH JONES, perhaps it seems unfair that he should be relegated to secondary status in this SW quadrant. But, first of all, to be fair, NORAH JONES handed me a ton of answers with no effort on my part, where JIM MORRISON came to the party late. And second, as he is clued in relation to his poetry-writing (!?) I can't in good conscience give him priority status. When I first read the clue, I swear to you that my first guess (before looking at the number of spaces involved) was JEWEL. Singers who write (crappy) poetry ... first thought = Jewel. And since the answer did indeed start with "J," I thought maybe JEWEL had a last name ... but no, the answer is not JEWEL. It's the Lizard King.
58A: Baja California port (Ensenada)
My family went here on an infamous road trip in, let's say, 1985. I have a picture, which I could scan and post ... maybe some other time. I bought many a comical stuffed frog, and a leather wallet which I used well into the late 90's. Speaking of family trips to Mexico, we'll be doing it all again in April, only this time, Destination: Club Med Cancun. I'm totally serious. Can you blog from there? We'll find out.
45D: Liszt wrote only one (sonata)
Just a neat little factoid, to go with the other musical factoid I learned yesterday, which is that Debussy wrote only one opera: Pelléas et Mélisande. Reader Ultra Vi is surely happy with today's multiple music clues: De Falla, Liszt ... and ... let's see ... ooh, also DALE EVANS (28A: With 8-Down, "Happy Trails" songwriter), Gene KRUPA (24D: He had a 1941 hit with "Drum Boogie"), and one other which I'm holding off on 'til ... well, 'til right now, as he is the celebrity who rules our next puzzle section.
1A: Rapper with an MTV show ... whose name sounds like a word meaning "show" (Xzibit)
Best Crossword Fill Ever. Look at his name! This was a gimme for me, though I couldn't figure out at first how "Pimp My Ride" "sounds like a word meaning show.'" Then I realized that the clue is just badly written, and that "whose" refers back to "Rapper" (not the more proximate "show"). . . [cough] . . . ["Nerd!"] .... yes, anyway. Xzibit is a very charismatic man, and I have watched his show several times - in fact, it might be the only MTV show I have watched more than once since Daria went off the air. The "X" in XZIBIT helped me get 1D: Marvel Comics comic (X-Men), which you'd think would be easy for me - I teach comics, for god's sake - and yet I swear to you that my first thought was not the wildly popular X-MEN, but the wildly silly THOR.
Love the intersecting colloquial fill 15A: Defiant dare ("Make me!") and 5D: "Nothing for me, thanks" ("I'm good"). And it's always good to see the handsome, campy Billy ZANE (2D: "The Phantom" star Billy) in the puzzle. "The Phantom," like X-MEN (in a way) is a comic - see the ridiculous, modern, ongoing version in my sidebar (if you dare).
60A: "Oryx and Crake" novelist, 2003 (Atwood)
Thanks to my sister, who has a massive assortment of ATWOOD novels, including this one, which I feel as if my mother bought for her a couple years back, maybe for Xmas. Or maybe I'm making that up. Anyway, the title "Oryx and Crake" is super-memorable, as both proper nouns look like horrible typos - "'Oryx and Crake' ... that can't be right. She must mean 'Onyx and Cake,' right?" "Yes, because that makes Much more sense."
54A: Pioneer in the development of nuclear power (Fermi)
Crossword solving rule #182: When in doubt, vote FERMI!
Please note the rarely seen phenomenon of the "four-square" here in the SE section of the puzzle. This is the name I am giving to when four squares, all holding the same letter, form a larger square. This one is an "O" four-square, with ATWOOD and RETOOL (62A: Modernize, as a factory) (one of my favorite words, especially when used in relation to sitcoms) intersecting ROOT (55D: Etymologist's concern) and MOOT (56D: Kind of point). Two things about ROOT. My first thought: "What part of an insect is the ROOT?" Second: "A perfectly good opportunity to reference Elihu ROOT, squandered."
12D: "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" author (Ian Fleming)
Like the HONEYSUCKLE clue (with which I opened today's ridiculously long blog entry), I psyched myself out here, figuring it would be some strange British woman I'd never or barely heard of. Little did I suspect that the author of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" was also the creator of James Bond.
10D: Something that has long needed settling (old score)
Such a great great clue / answer pairing. The "needed" part was throwing me - seemed a rather subjective, qualitative judgment for the puzzle to be making. I was halfway hoping the answer would be WEST BANK if only to see the giant controversy that would stir up. But no, OLD SCORE. Perfect. I do love vengeance. If you wanted to settle an OLD SCORE, why not MARAUD (9D: Freeboot) ... you know, DEMOLISH (7A: Total) a few buildings ... it's fun!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld