Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Title: Empowered
Author: Yaakov Bendavid
Theme: Taking phrases that start with N and changing it to M, as follows:
  • nail clipper => MAIL CLIPPER (17a: Ship used to transport letters?)

  • neat freak => MEAT FREAK (28a: Frequent steakhouse patron?). Went through both MEAT EATER and MEAT LOVER before I figured out the theme.

  • net assets => MET ASSETS (42a: Over two million works of art?)

  • nacho cheese => MACHO CHEESE (56a: Ingredient you shouldn't use to make quiche?)

This is a pretty average theme. Straight letter substitution is a very common mechanism, and frankly these resulting phrases didn't do much for me. Nothing wrong with them, just not particularly exciting or funny.

Sunny Spots:
  • 1a: Member of a film crew (GAFFER). I've always loved the name gaffer, and even when I had no idea what one was we used to watch movie credits to see who the gaffer and key grip were. The gaffer is the head electrician on the set, while the key grip is in charge of all the "grips" -- the people who move things around (the movie set equivalent of stage hands). "The Gaffer" is also the nickname of Sam Gamgee's father, Hamfast, in The Lord of the Rings. Which is cool, because this entry crosses 1d: Looker's leg (GAM). Gaffer, Gam? Gee!

  • 16a: Use your scull (OAR). It was either ROW or OAR. Either way, I like the twist on "Use your skull!" (i.e., "Don't be a dumbass!").

  • 20a: More pleasant, as weather (BALMIER). Okay, I admit that I don't whether this actually happened, is urban legend, or was just a joke, but for 20 some years in Boston there was a husband and wife duo on the local news, Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson. As the story goes, in one of their broadcasts, Natalie asks, "What's the weather in a word, Chet?". To which Chet replies, "Balmy, Natalie". Bonus points for anyone who can validate that this actually occured.

  • 40a: Haydn sobriquet (PAPA). Nice to see Haydn here instead of the more-obvious Hemingway.

  • 11d: Muttonchops alternative (GOATEE). I think muttonchops is one of the greatest words to describe facial hair. Not that I like the style, but I like the word.

  • 13d: Host of the National Geographic Bee (TREBEK). Not as nice as seeing his whole name, but still good fill.

  • 24d: Mr. Potato Head accessory (NOSE). Am I misremembering, or did Mr. Potato Head used to have pipe? Either way, this is a great way to spice up a potentially boring entry.

  • 36d: 1964 #1 hit for the Beatles (LOVE ME DO). I don't really need to link this song, but I will anyway.

  • 39d: Cut the mustard? (REAP). As in literally cutting the plant for harvest. Very nice. Is cutting mustard difficult? I'm wondering how the term "couldn't cut the mustard" came about.

  • 7a: Insurance options: Abbr. (HMOS).

  • 11a: "He ___ Game" (1998 Spike Lee joint) (GOT). I'm not sure I understand the "joint" part. Does joint mean movie?

  • 14a: Like some lab mice (ALBINO)

  • 15a: Cry from a butterfingers (OOPS). Easy, but nice.

  • 19a: Fire truck tool (AXE)

  • 21a: Attempt (STAB). The noun, as is "take a stab at".

  • 25a: Per (APIECE). Yesterday it was A POP, today it's A PIECE.

  • 27a: Con ___ (tenderly,on a score) (AMORE). Makes sense: with love.

  • 31a: Residences for cardinals (NESTS). Cute.

  • 32a: Opposite of sans (AVEC). Basic French I can handle.

  • 33a: Former spouses (EXES). This is easy in four letters. In three, I never know whether it's XES or EXS. I think it's the former.

  • 34a: Three goddesses of destiny, with "the" (FATES)

  • 36a: Creepy look (LEER)

  • 41a: Three-card street scam (MONTE). There are a lot of versions of three-card monte. The really good ones use unadulterated cards and are pure sleight-of-hand, like this one. WARNING: The audio on this is horrendous and loud, so turn your speakers way down before following the link.

  • 47a: Show that won seven Tonys in 1980 (EVITA). I am more familiar with the film version, starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas.

  • 48a: Receptacle under a barbecue (ASH PIT). I had ASHCAN to start, but this actually makes more sense.

  • 49a: Admitted (to) (OWNED UP). Nice phrase.

  • 51a: Rob Roy, e.g. (SCOT). I was thinking the drink and couldn't get anything to fit. Here we reference the actual person for which the drink (scotch and vermouth, with a dash of bitters) was named. Robert Roy MacGregor was a Scottish folk hero. ROB ROY itself shows up in puzzles occasionally, usually as the drink ("Manhattan relative").

  • 52a: Element #3 (LITHIUM). I particularly like Nirvana song.

  • 55a: Sea dog (TAR). Here's a shout out to the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs, who are the Red Sox AA affiliate.

  • 60a: Energy Star program org. (EPA). Our repeat-entry-from-yesterday of the day.

  • 61a: Fit for military service (ONE A). I am thankfully too young to have been eligible for the draft. Somehow, I always think of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" when ONE-A (or ARLO, for that matter) appears in a puzzle.

  • 63a: Movie critic Reed (REX)

  • 64a: Housefly, for example (PEST)

  • 65a: Prominent parts of aardvarks (SNOUTS)

  • 3d: Justice Dept. agency (FBI)

  • 4d: Thick-shelled nuts (FILBERTS). Also called a hazelnut.

  • 5d: Packs up (ENCASES)

  • 7d: Arizona tribe (HOPI). This one we actually learned back in elementary school, but I'm so trained to think OTOE and UTES that I didn't get it until I had a couple of crossings.

  • 8d: Brood (MOPE)

  • 12d: State that borders Guerrero (OAXACA). I'm not sure why I know this. I don't really, I guess, but I at least recognize the name. Probably from puzzles.

  • 18d: Mosque leader (IMAM). This is a word I only know from crosswords.

  • 21d: Round Table honorific (SIR). One of the shows I have seen (in Boston) is "Spamalot". What a great show!

  • 22d: Barn roof spinner (VANE)

  • 23d: Green card, for short (AMEX). Nice twist of a clue, referring not to immigration but American Express.

  • 26d: Future specialist, perhaps: Abbr. (PFC). That's private first class, in the Army.

  • 29d: Bother greatly (EAT AT)

  • 30d: NYC's Madison, e.g. (AVE)

  • 34d: Type A person's way of life (FAST LANE). I really like this fill, but the clue seems awkward to me. Is fast lane a way of life? I know we're referring to the expression "living in the fast lane", but it feels weird by itself. Anyone want to weigh in on this?

  • 35d: Imitate (APE). It's almost always APE or PARROT; occasionally ECHO.

  • 37d: Oklahoma city near Vance Air Force Base (ENID). Enid shows up a lot for not a very large place. According to Wikipedia, it has the most grain storage capacity in the United States. Sounds like an exciting place.

  • 40d: Pitchfork-shaped letter (PSI)

  • 43d: Houdini's expertise (ESCAPE)

  • 44d: Insect section (THORAX). If Dr. Seuss's Lorax and "The Hobbit's" Thorin Oakenshield had a love child...

  • 46d: Arty Manhattan neighborhood (SOHO). Short for SOuth of HOuston (Street).

  • 50d: Candle parts (WICKS). Can you name another part of a candle?

  • 54d: The House ___Ruth Built (nickname of Yankee Stadium) (THAT). Long clue just for a "THAT", but it's topical since this is the last season for Yankee Stadium. Even as a Red Sox fan, I feel sentimental about that.

  • 56d: Thick mass of hair (MOP)

Suns of Bitches:

  • 22a: Actress Hudgens of "High School Musical 2" (VANESSA). I didn't know this, but was able to suss it out from the crossings.

  • 62a: "The Soul of a New Machine" author Tracy (KIDDER). Never heard of him. Luckily, KIDDER felt like a normal enough name, so the crossing at the "I" with MENUHIN was guessable. But it was a guess, so it gets the "guess-the-vowel" tag.

  • 38d: "___, Babe"(1992 Mark Leyner book) (ET TU). Did not know this.

  • 41d: Violinist Yehudi (MENUHIN). Not a clue. See "KIDDER" above.

Bottom line, this was just an okay puzzle for me (I feel like I'm channeling Randy Jackson... "Yo, dude... so... okay... listen up..."). Pretty forgettable, but without major flaw.

Thanks for listening.

- Pete M.


Deciminyan said...

I believe Tracy Kidder is a "he". I read the book many years ago - its a great history of the early days of the computer industry - Data General vs Digital (where are theyy now?)

NinaK said...

Spike Lee calls his movies "joints." Don't know why.

Dan said...

Yeah, Spike's films are credited as "A Spike Lee Joint". He's just hip like that.

As for EXES: that's always the spelling when it's referring to people. XES is clued as "crosses (out)" or "simple signature" or something referring to the letter X. And apparently the only legitimate clue for EXS is the George Strait song where they all live in Texas.

Joon said...

everybody else already said what i was going to say about spike lee and EXS. by the way, the star of "he got game" was ray allen, but if you've seen him this postseason... he no got any mo game. it's pretty pathetic.

liked this puzzle. unlike pete, i found some of the theme entries to be excellent. MACHOCHEESE? awesome. MEATFREAK? love it. MAILCLIPPER and METASSETS are only ho-hum, but still, that's pretty good.

i agree on FASTLANE. something is a bit off there.

i don't understand your newscast story. is it a joke? is there a pun lurking in there? do the couple's names enter into it somehow?

i think it's APIECE, not A PIECE.

Pete M said...

@steve: Yes, you're right about Tracy being a he. Good catch. 25 bonus points.

@joon: The humor in the story is homophonic. I'll leave it at that. And Ray is going to have a break-out game soon; good shooters don't stay as cold as he has for long unless they're hurt. I don't think we've heard the last of him yet.

embien said...

Petem: 62a: "The Soul of a New Machine" author Tracy (KIDDER). Never heard of him.

This book was a classic in its day, and a "must read" for anyone who had anything to do with computers (this is before the PC was developed). I remember when the Data General Eclipse (the subject of the book) was in development, as the floating point processors I worked on interfaced to them.

Kidder also wrote House which is an enjoyable narrative of the building of a custom house (and all the pitfalls that are encountered).

Nowadays this kind of thing is the stuff of TV reality shows.

Orange said...

Yeah, letter substitution themes can be blah, but this one? With MACHO CHEESE and a MEAT FREAK? I thought those two entries were funnier than any other theme entries I've seen in the last few days (and that includes...add the ones, carry the ten...a good 15 to 20 puzzles).

Bill from NJ said...

Spike Lee's films are refered to as Joints because they are joint collaborations and as a double entendre for a certain controlled substance.

I remember reading this in an article about his first film She's Gotta Have It

Pete M said...

@Orange: You're probably right. I've been in a grumpy mood the past couple of days (work stuff, mostly). It definitely frames my perception; I shouldn't blog when I'm grumpy. :)

Bill D said...

Ya gotta love a puzzle that starts off with GAFFER crossing GAM! I didn't know KIDDER or VANESSA of HS Musical 2 (see my anti-modern musical rants yesterday @ Rex Parker's blog) but they were gettable from downs. Great to see OWNED UP in full, rather than as a part answer (..., with "up").

Dan, thanks for the lowdown on EXES, etc. Do you think we can get the editors to agree to it? I always have to leave the last letter in 3-card MONTE blank until cross-verification.

Cool puzzle!

YBD said...

Hi. I'm the puzzle's author. It was my first puzzle in a major publication. Good luck with the blog, Pete. Thanks for creating a forum where constructors can get feedback; it's so important for us to know our customers. And thanks to all who take the time to comment.

Pete M said...

@ybd: Congratulations! Keep it up. And welcome to the blog.