Thursday, May 8, 2008

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Title: Themeless Thursday
Author: Karen M. Tracey
Theme: None

Note: I will be travelling today and tomorrow with little or no computer access starting this afternoon, so please don't be insulted if I don't respond to comments until this weekend. (Tomorrow's entry will post automatically.) Thanks.

- Pete M

Whenever I see the name Karen M. Tracey, I know I'm in for a challenge. She writes some of the toughest (for me) puzzles I've ever tackled. Most of the time, they're also good fun; every once in a while, I'll hit one that just runs me over like a Mack truck. But I've come to look forward to them, and I always feel like I've accomplished something when I'm done.

This puzzle I quite enjoyed and, except for a couple of sections, was able to piece together without ripping too much hair out of my skull. So, let's have a look under the hood, shall we?

Sunny Spots:

Lot's of great fill here, especially with the longer answers.
  • 17a: Wax alternative (EYEBROW TWEEZERS). A lot of themeless puzzles have a "marquee" answer -- that really cool fill word/phrase around which you build the rest of the puzzle. Sometimes it's in the 1A position (Byron Walden is known for this); sometimes its one of the long entries. I think this is the marquee answer for this puzzle. Very nice.

  • 54: She lost out to Reese Witherspoon for Best Actress of 2005 (FELICITY HUFFMAN). She was certainly Oscar-worthy in "Transamerica", though I'm partial to the short-lived TV show "Sports Night", which I thought was fantastic. I also have to give a shout-out to Stephen Colbert (of "The Colbert Report") who, in response to common celebrity-portmanteau-couple-names like "Bennifer" and "Brangelina", dubbed Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy: "Filliam H. Muffman".

  • 19a: "99 Luftballons" album. (NENA). I love this clue. I was in college when the single came out (here's the English version, but I like the original better even though I don't speak German), so it takes me back. It's a beautiful, haunting anti-war song about 99 balloons released in West Germany and drifting over the Berlin wall, where a zealous overreaction triggers global nuclear destruction.

  • 36a: George nicknamed "Mr. Basketball" (BURNS). Kidding!! George MIKAN was the first real star of the NBA and paved the way for the great centers to follow: Chamberlain, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar,... You have to admit, though, the idea of George Burns playing center is pretty amusing. :)

  • 4d: ___ Booey (nickname of Howard Stern's producer (BABA). "Baba Booey", AKA (46a: Nickname lead-in) Gary Dell'ABATE (21a: Cool), is also a catch-phrase used by fans of the show when making prank phone calls to unwitting media people like this or this. Of course, I decry such childish and inappropriate behavior.

  • 59a: Is pendulous (DANGLES). Wow, so many options for pictures on this one. Let's go with Lt. Jim Dangle of "Reno 911".

  • 12d: Confines (AREA). I love that this looks like it should end in 'S', but doesn't. Even though it added to the morass in the NE.

  • 18d: Subject of the biopic "The Music Lovers" (TCHAIKOVSKY). Here is a stunning performance of his Piano Concerto #1.

  • 34d: Members of some bands (MARIACHIS). A few days late for Cinqo de Mayo, but a wonderful clue nonetheless.

  • 1a: Thoroughbred ancestor (ARABIAN). Nice timing to have a horse clue leading off in the week immediately following the Kentucky Derby.

  • 8a: Money moneymaker (AD SPACE). "Money", the magazine.

  • 8d: Liv Tyler's "Lord of the Rings" role (ARWEN). Any "Lord of the Rings" clue is fine by me.

  • 16a: Makes some new connections(REWIRES). Good clue.

  • 20a: Promenade des Anglais location (NICE). Didn't know this, but even as a "name a French city" clue, it's pretty gettable.

  • 23a: Emotional peak (HIGH NOTE).

  • 25a: Prophet whose name means "salvation". (HOSEA)

  • 26a: Actor Mulroney (DERMOT). The name is just barely familiar to me. He been in about 50 movies that I've never seen, mostly romantic comedies like "Must Love Dogs" and "My Best Friend's Wedding"; he was also one of the two actors I wouldn't have remembered was in "Young Guns".

  • 33a: Reason for shrinking (TIMIDNESS). Tricky clue.

  • 35a: Notice-seeking sound. I knew this had to be either AHEM or PSST, so I checked the crossing, 30d: Miniseries, often. Aha! It must be PSST and EPIC, right? Nope. It's AHEM and SAGA.

  • 37a: "Casablanca" role (ILSA).

  • 38a: Electrical backup (GENERATOR).

  • 40a: Slashed words of choice (AND/OR).

  • 42a: XP successor. (VISTA). As in the Windows operating system.

  • 44a: Water, jocularly (ADAM'S ALE). I only know this from crosswords. I have never referred to water in this fashion, jocular or not.

  • 49a: Uniform hue (KHAKI). This and fuchsia are my favorite color names. I've found that most people cannot spell the latter correctly (most common spelling by otherwise good spellers is "fuschia").

  • 52a: Big name in kitchenware (EKCO)

  • 53a: Split pair (PINS).

  • 58a: Cold spelunking site (ICE CAVE). Easy clue, but spelunking is a great word.

  • 60a: One unlikely to do a bar mitzvah? (SHYSTER). Ok, I need help on this one. According to several dictionaries, shyster is an unscrupulous person (often a lawyer), likely deriving from the German Scheisser which is used to mean "son of a bitch", though is more literally "one who defecates". Does the "do" in the clue mean "officiate at"? Is there more to this than the seemingly obvious fact that you wouldn't want some sleazeball S.O.B. overseeing your rite of passage into manhood? I feel like there's more than that going on here, so please enlighten me.

  • 2d: Mets shortstop José (REYES). I live in an American League area. Specifically, a Boston Red Sox area. But I've heard of Reyes. He's been an All-Star the last couple of years, is a base-stealing machine, and is on the cover of Major League Baseball 2K8

  • 7d: "Ah, so" (NOW I GET IT)

  • 9d: End to end? (DEE). A nice "it's-the-letter-itself" clue.

  • 10d: Showed fear, maybe (SWEATED)

  • 14d: Ab ___ (absent) (ESSE). I've seen ESSE enough in puzzles to know that it means "to be" in latin, so it makes sense. ("Esse or ab esse, that is the question..."). In fact, this clue and ARWEN were the gimmes in this sector for me.

  • 6d: Dreamboat (ADONIS). A nice Greek mythology figure to go along with the Norse ODIN (24d: Frigg's husband).

  • 25d: Domestic pursuit (HOMEMAKING)

  • 28d: Bone, to Bandinelli (OSSO). This is just one of those italian words you need to know; it shows up a lot.

  • 39d: Out there (RADICAL). I like the phrase "out there". Very in-the-language.

  • 40d: Bore, as a cost (ATE)

  • 43d: Laggard (SLOUCH). Another evocative term.

  • 48d: Santa voicer in "Olive, the Other Reindeer" (ASNER). Not familiar with this twist on the Christmas story, but I can imagine Ed Asner as Santa. It also features the voices of Drew Barrymore, Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson), Joe Pantoliano, comedian Jay Mohr, and REM singer Michael Stipe.

  • 51d: Proprietor of Hooper's Store on "Sesame Street" (ALAN). Back in my day, Hooper's Store was run by Mr. Hooper. It apparently was then passed on to David, who eventually sold it to Mr. Handford, who was then bought out by Alan.

  • 53d: Some boot camp graduates: Abbr. (PFCS). Privates first class. Not to be confused with perfluorocarbons.

  • 56d: "30 Rock" creator (Tina FEY). Also, a former SNL head writer.

Suns of Bitches:

Lot's of things I didn't know here, but only two trouble spots. Well, one trouble spot and one trouble section. The spot was the crossing of:
  • 30a: Walter Cronkite's Missouri birthplace, informally (ST JOE), and

  • 32d: Stand-up comedian Richard (JENI). I've definitely seen the face, but I don't know the name. I correctly guessed the "J" at the crossing, but was not confident. Are we really expected to know where Walter Cronkite was born? According to Wikipedia, St. Joseph is the 7th largest city in Missouri. The 6th largest is Lee's Summit.

The tough section for me was in the NE, anchored by the following albatross:
  • 11d: Highest mountain in the Rhaetian Alps (PIZ BERNINA). Knowing that the Rhaetian Alps were in Switzerland wouldn't have helped me in the least. In fact, there's no clue that could have helped me here; this was 100% crossings. Right nearby, we get:

  • 13d: Sure thing, in British slang (CERT). At least this one I could make some sense of (i.e., short for "certainty") once I got it completely from the crossings.

Other toughies for me:
  • 15a: "Rico Suave" rapper (GERARDO). I readily admit that rap is a weak spot for me. This is not a name I know. "Rico Suave" is listed as #11 on VH1's "Top 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs, Ever" list. Here's a funny video (starring Lando Calrissian... no, really) based on Weird Al Yankovic's parody, "Taco Grande".

  • 22a: Screener's Org. (TSA). That's the Transportation Security Administration, which is now part of the Department of Homeland Security. It also stands for the Tourette Syndrome Association. How would you like to chair that meeting.

  • 29d: Ukase issuer (TSAR). I thought we were looking for a river here. Turns out an ukase is an edict.

  • 36d: ___ fide (insincere) (MALA). Opposite of bona fide, but a new one on me.

  • 49d: "PopoZão" rapper, familiarly (K-FED). Kevin Federline is better known for marrying Britney Spears than for anything he's done musically.

I guess that about wraps it up.

Thanks for listening.

- Pete M.


mellocat said...

Hey, great to see a new NY Sun blog! Somehow I missed the memo about it until my mother mentioned you had some nice things to say about my puzzle today, but now I will have to add it to my daily reading (which I apparently haven't been keeping up with). Glad to hear this one didn't beat you up too badly!

avgotts said...

I think the shyster clue uses bar as in the exam/lawyering in general, and mitzvah in the traditional sense. It didn't make sense to me either, until I saw your definition of shyster there.

Pete M said...

@avram: Hmm, perhaps you're right. It never crossed my mind to split the phrase. That's a pretty nasty clue, even with the '?', if that's the case. (And 25 bonus points, whether you're right or not!)

@mellocat: Welcome, Karen! Glad you found the blog. Perhaps you'd like to weight in on the "shyster" clue? :)

Joon said...

lots of fun things today. i agree with avram's interpretation of bar/mitzvah, although i was not at all certain myself after filling it in.

on general blogging principles, shouldn't themeless thursdays and weekend warriors have their own tag? they are certainly a qualitatively different experience from other sun puzzles.

"rico suave" is indeed one of the bestest awful songs ever. then again, i haven't heard "popozao."

Dan said...

Sad to say that my first entry was GERARDO... and that KFED was also a gimme. I only know that song from its mocking on "Best Week Ever", though. Truly terrible.

Avram definitely deserves the bonus points - I didn't get it while solving but figured it out while reading this post. That clue straddles the line between tortured and brilliant...

I love it when pantheonic fill is used in a clue - double-dip today from "Ah, so" and "ukase"!

janie said...

parts of the upper quarter beat me up and sent me, sigh, to google... but *loved* this puzzle all the same. had to chip away at it, and had many "aha" moments along the way (the kfed/felicityhuffman for one) -- which accounts for my enjoying the solve.

and yes -- sports night. one great show!



ehicks77 said...

Still waiting to hear on shyster; and nobody ever called water Adams Ale in any bar I've been in ...where does this come from? KFed and Felicity were stars, but "sweated" and "khaki" were the best sounding fills.

Pete M said...

@joon: I agree with you about the separate tags; I'll get right on that.