Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Title: Atom
Author: Alan Olschwang
Theme: The entire puzzle uses only the letters from the first half of the alphabet: A-to-M.

I'll be honest. I finished this puzzle and stared at the long answers trying to figure out the theme. Then I looked at the title and back at the long answers again. Nothing. I wrote an email to fellow blogger Amy Reynaldo to see if she had figured it out. Just before hitting the "Send" button, I tried one more time... what could the title possibly mean? Then I saw it... A to M. Looked back at the puzzle. Sure enough, the whole puzzle (not just the long answers) used those letters. Hunh.

Okay, so here's the deal. Yes, it's cool that you can construct a puzzle using only half the alphabet (albeit, the easier half), but if it's that hard to realize what's going on, is it worth it? I did a puzzle for the LA Times last year (7/6/07) that featured phrases with the E dropped out. I went out of my way to fill the remaining grid without using the letter E, and no one really noticed until it was pointed out. Was it worth it? Well, it sold a puzzle, so it was worth it to me. I don't think the solvers much cared. The fact is, today's theme adds zero enjoyment to the solving of the puzzle. There's no humor or wordplay involved at all. In fact, it's essentially a themeless, only with a J and a few Ks to show for it.

Okay, enough about the theme. Let's check out the entries.

Sunny Spots:

  • 1a: Boxer LaMotta (JAKE). Subject of the film "Raging Bull", for which Robert DeNiro won an Oscar. It was also nominated for Best Picture and Director (Scorsese), but lost out on both counts to "Ordinary People" (Redford), which I don't disagree with. I own the DVD and love DeNiro as an actor, but frankly I find this movie hard to watch more than once. As opposed to, say, "Taxi Driver", which I can watch over and over. Or "Sixteen Candles", which also prominently features a guy named Jake.

  • 66a: Manicurist in Palmolive ads who said "You're soaking in it" (MADGE). This one's right in my wheelhouse; I've probably seen these commercials a thousand times growing up.

  • 19a: Prisoner of Jabba the Hutt (LEIA). I'm a sucker for Star Wars references.

  • 28d: ___ Sutra (KAMA). It's like the Hite Report of 4th century India.

  • 5a: "Cherchez la ___" (FEMME). This is not an era of music I particularly want to remember. I forced myself to go listen to it, so you should too. Suffering is always best shared among friends.

  • 10a: Hall of Fame baseball manager Connie (MACK).

  • 14a: It has two lameds in its name (EL AL). Are there any other airlines out there? No? Just this one? Okay.

  • 18a: Capital of France's Nord department (LILLE). Near the border of BELGium (65a: Brussels is its cap.).

  • 20a: The Golden Globe lifetime achievement award is named after him (CECIL B DEMILLE).

  • 23a: Flo's TV boss (MEL). From "Alice".

  • 36a: World Cup teammate of Akers and Foudy (Mia HAMM).

  • 40a: "Mamma Mia!" song (GIMME GIMME GIMME). Two MIAs, back-to-back. Must be intentional.

  • 43a: Zeno's home (ELEA). I think this one was on my crosswordese list before ACPT 2008, but it seems to show up just infrequently enough that I forget it since the last time.

  • 45a: With ___ aforethought (MALICE).

  • 46a: Estes was his running mate in 1956 (ADLAI).

  • 48a: Small bit (FLECK). Started with SPECK.

  • 52a: Half-___ (java order) (CAF). I figured this out easily enough, but it's not a term I'm familiar with. Is it half decaf half regular coffee?

  • 63a: Beatnik's expression of understanding (I DIG).

  • 67a: Swit costar (ALDA). From "M*A*S*H", the series.

  • 69a: Adorn with precious stones (BEGEM). I'm torn on this type of verb. On the one hand, no one uses this language these days. On the other, it's kind of cool sounding.

  • 1d: Clampett patriarch (JED). From "The Beverly Hillbillies"

  • 2d: Baldwin of "Pearl Harbor" (ALEC).

  • 6d: Unlike toadstools (EDIBLE).

  • 7d: Put one's cards on the table, maybe (MELD). I grew up playing cards, so this was a breeze.

  • 11d: Amtrak speedster (ACELA). Shows up a lot in puzzles.

  • 13d: New Zealand parrot (KEA).

  • 27d: One-named model who wrote the children's book "What Are You Hungry For?" (EMME). I only know this name from puzzles; didn't know she wrote a kid's book.

  • 30d: "La ___" (1987 Lou Diamond Phillips film) (BAMBA). Good film about Ritchie Valens, also featuring Joe Pantoliano and crossword regular Esai Morales. Here's a clip..

  • 34d: "Zounds!" (EGAD).

  • 37d/64d: Guy's female friend (AMIE/GAL). Same clue for two answers. In this case, the first Guy is the French name (rhymes with "bee"), as in La Fleur.

  • 38d: LXXXVIII x XXV (MMCC). This one looks harder than it is. 88 x 25 is 8800 x 25% = 2200.

  • 39d: Lamblike (MEEK). This requires a link to a classic scene from Monty Python's "Life of Brian".

  • 42d: Social blunder (GAFFE).

  • 46d: ATV part (ALL). All-terrain vehicle.

  • 55d: Certain foot (IAMB). This might have tripped me up if we hadn't just seen "Salute using feet?" for ODE in yesterday's puzzle.

  • 56d: Winglike parts (ALAE).

  • 58d: Oasis singer Gallagher (LIAM). I had NOEL to start. Couldn't remember which was which (or do they both sing?).

  • 59d: "___ hands are the devil's tools" (IDLE).

  • 60d: John musical (AIDA). The musical, based on Verdi's opera, by Elton John and Tim Rice.

  • 61d: Oakland Oaks' org. (ABA).

Suns of Bitches:

A real potpourri of strange names in this one. I have enough trouble with remembering common names. Still, except for one crossing they fell out pretty quickly.
  • 25a: 2005 NBA Rookie of the Year ___ Okafor (EMEKA). I'll readily admit I didn't watch much basketball in 2005.

  • 29a: 2003 Peace Nobelist Shirin ___ (EBADI).

  • 54a: Peggy Parish protagonist (AMELIA BEDELIA). This one I got completely by crossings, with a guess at the D, where it crossed ADHEM, below.

  • 10d: Director of "Au Revoir, Les Enfants" (MALLE).

  • 50d: "Speed Racer" star Hirsch (EMILE).

  • 53d: "Abou Ben ___" (Leigh Hunt poem) (ADHEM).

Overall, the fill wasn't bad. But the theme and long answers fell a little flat for me, casting a bit of a pall over the rest of the puzzle. Not one of my favorites.

Thanks for listening.

- Pete M.


Joon said...

other airlines: AER lingus is a favorite. QANTAS occasionally rears its head. KLM and SAS are certainly crossworthy enough. i suspect i've seen UAL and USAIR, though i can't remember the last time off the top of my head. TWA and PANAM are certainly not dead in crosswords.

i think both gallaghers sing, but only LIAM fits the theme. (and, obviously, the crossings.)

"cherchez la FEMME" didn't scream "music" to me. it's just a common expression--if you want to know why man is acting strangely, look for the woman in his life. admittedly it's a little dated, and i have no idea, really, why it's in french. presumably there is an explanation out there somewhere.

my suns of bitches did not include EMEKA okafor, louis MALLE, EMILE hirsch (i couldn't pick him out of a lineup, but he's in like one crossword a week, it seems) or abou ben ADHEM, but did include MADGE. we are supposed to know character names from commercials?!?

Pete M said...

@joon: C'mon man. Madge is right up there with Mr. Whipple and the Maytag repairman! She did these commercials for about 125 years, too.

@allthepeoplewhothoughtthelakershadabetterbenchandbettercoachandmoretalentthantheceltics: Not!

@joon(2): Told you Ray Allen still got game. :)

Anonymous said...

BEGEM is the sort of word that shows up in the vocabulary quiz at, which is cute if you've got a few minutes to kill. If you get the first four right, it will start you at level 40. From there, if you get one wrong, you go down a level. Get three in a row right, you go up a level. Good luck staying above level 50.

Nonetheless, this sort of word drives me a little nuts, although maybe I can put this particular one in the category of words I *should* know. That's better than words that are just obscurities that happen to fit.

Joon said...

you were dead right about ray-ray. he got hot against the pistons and never got unhot. i might have heaped the dirt onto his open grave a little prematurely. anyway, it was fun to watch him regain his touch--i love watching great shooters.

mellocat said...

Nice pictures -- is that Jed Clampett? I never watched the Beverly Hillbillies.

I did the puzzle late at night and didn't even realize I was completely missing a theme. Only when I went to load it in my DB did I notice it had a huge long list of unused letters, otherwise I would have been entirely flummoxed.

Pete M said...

@mellocat: That is indeed Jed Clampett. I did't watch it much either, but enough to get the general idea and main characters.