7.27.2009

MONDAY, Jul. 27, 2009 — Samuel A. Donaldson

THEME: Counting down by halves — theme answers begin with TWENTY, TEN, FIVE and TWO AND A HALF, respectively

A fine Monday puzzle that confused me at the very end because I assumed we were counting down by currency denominations, and so when I realized the first word of the last theme answer was going to be TWO, I thought "O come on, you're really going to count the TWO dollar bill!?" But no. Nothing to do with currency. Whole puzzle must have been inspired by the show "TWO AND A HALF MEN." It's nice that that show inspired something besides my desire not to watch it, or any other laff-trakked sitcom, ever again.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Borax haulers, in classic ads (TWENTY MULE TEAM) — man, it is old-timey Monday today (if you did the NYT, you know what I'm talking about). I don't know these "ads" from Adam. Let's see if I can dredge one up... here's one that teaches you how to wash your hands "the modern way":

["I'm the old ranger ..." [!?!?]]

  • 31A: Cowboy's topper (TEN GALLON HAT)
  • 41A: Poker game where one might stand pat (FIVE CARD DRAW)
  • 57A: CBS sitcom since 2003 ("TWO AND A HALF MEN")

Crosswordese 101: ERMA (22D: Witty Bombeck) — I was going to go with LARUE, but he got mentioned in Orange's write-up of OATER a while back. He probably deserves his own write-up, but I'll leave him for now and pick up the IRMA / ERMA split instead. ILSA : ELSA :: IRMA : ERMA. Easily confusable. IRMA almost always gets clued via the Billy Wilder film "IRMA La Douce" (with Shirley MacLaine in the title role), while ERMA is almost always clued via Ms. Bombeck. Sometimes you see Bombeck clued as an "Aunt" with a "Cope Book" because of her 1979 bestseller "Aunt ERMA's Cope Book." How to tell the "I"RMA from the "E"RMA? You just have to decide: which one looks more hookerish? That one is IRMA.

What else?

  • 35A: "... _____ saw Elba" (ERE I) — EREI and IERE are some of the most execrable bits of small fill in the world of crosswords. You can thank this ancient palindrome for their continued existence: "Able was I ERE I saw Elba."
  • 3D: It's to the far right on freeways (SLOW LANE) — also called the "Going The Speed Limit Lane."
  • 39D: Kim of "L.A. Confidential" (BASINGER) — she won an Oscar for a movie based on this blog. Good for her.
  • 43D: Some West Indian religious cultists (VOODOOS) — you can be a VOODOO? I have never seen the word used to mean anything but the religion itself.

That's all. See you Friday.

~Rex

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

I could not write the answers fast enough. It was easier than the baby puzzle that also appears in my newspaper. I felt vaguely unsatisfied as though my brain did not get a good workout. Easily remembered TWENTY MULL TEAM Borax from early TV commercials. Liked 25a TCB and 52a OOFS. With BOONE, MULE TEAM, TEN GALLON HAT, FIVE CARD DRAW even fake cowboy LARUE, an earlier time is part of the puzzle. Did Daniel Boone play poker? Oh well, it's Monday!

Anonymous said...

About above, I think I was dissatisfied, not unsatisfied.

Lurene said...

TCB? Getting the job done briefly? I don't understand.

Rex Parker said...

Taking Care of Business. I think it was an Elvis expression. Also a BTO song.

rp

Anonymous said...

TCB = Taking Care of Business

ddbmc said...

Song for Rex today would be "Tell Me Why I don't like Mondays!" Saw "Irma La Douce" one summer vacation when we were fogged in on Block Island and my little brother was sick. Mom stayed with him and Dad took me to the movies! In retrospect, what kind of movie was that for an 8 year old? Sheesh! I remember ads for 20 Mule Team Borax-have some in the laundry room right now for laxer son's muddy duds. Saving grace for today was, I was away for Friday's puzzle, so I did that today! Made up for the "Monday Mundaner." Thanks, as always, for the blog.

Eric said...

A nice Monday puzzle. Not difficult but entertaining. One of my hidden secrets is a liking for Charlie Sheen et al in Two and a half Men. Sorry

Anonymous said...

I had never seen gismo spelled that way before. It's always been a gizmo for me. Should have been a (var.) in the clue.

mac said...

Thanks for the explanation of TCB. Now what is BTO?

Very easy although I've never had Borax around and wasn't around for the ads. My only write-over was win-win instead of no-lose.

Anonymous said...

I saw "Irma La Douce on Broadway in 1961. Irma, a parisian prostitute, was a far cry from wholesome funny Erma Bombeck. I agree, DDBMC, not a movie for an 8 year old, but back then you probably didn't get it. I read "Forever Amber" at 8 and had no clue. Kids today are more savvy. Rex, always look forward to your observations!

PuzzleGirl said...

Don't forget IRMA Rombauer, who wrote The Joy of Cooking. She pops up quite a bit in puzzle clues too.

Very nice Monday puzzle. I originally had WIN-WIN for NO-LOSE, but otherwise no major slow-downs.

Denise said...

Five and a half minutes, minutes that I spent thinking, "How many people are going to write in 20 MULE TEAM?" The show was great -- "Death Valley Days." And BORAXO could beat LAVA in any contest. I loved seeing the clip.

Didn't pay attention to the math operation, just filled in numbers.

Where was BTO?

shrub5 said...

I didn't figure out the theme of this puzzle until I completed it which was purdy darn fast.

A friend of mine has a little dog named GIZMO. He spells his name with a Z not an S. So that's what I entered but it was erased rather quickly. I remember my dad had a dispenser of 20 Mule Team Borax powder at the wash basin in our garage.

Well, that's all for this morning. Gotta go TCB.

Anonymous said...

BTO = Bachman Turner Overdrive. A Canadian rock band from the 70's. Had a big hit with Takin'Care of Business.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, TCB (Taking Care of Business) has also been used as a euphemism/code for having sex.....

gjelizabeth said...

Nice simple Monday. George ORWELL clue was timely given the dust-up about Amazon "repossessing" Kindle copies of ANIMAL FARM.
I remember news coverage of Nikita Khrushchev's visit to the U.S. in 1959, which included a trip to Hollywood, during which he toured a set for IRMA LA DOUCE. The can-can dance sequence was being filmed and the papers ran pictures of him covering his wife's eyes during the racy bits. Looking back, it's amazing what passed for naughty in the 50's.

Anonymous said...

Yes glelizabeth, things were so tame in the 50's that the movie "Irma La Deuce" was filmed so that the unsophisticated could believe that everyone was just dating. Wonder had it would be filmed now?

OhioGeek said...

Enjoyed the puzzle - in my 50+ year-old wheelhouse, I guess. Probably my fastest Monday ever. Read the original copy of ERMABOMBECK's book, TWENTYMULETEAM Borax sure took me back, my Grandfather used to wear a TENGALLONHAT (those were the days..). Even DANIELBOONE reminded me of the old TV show. I had Five Card Stud instead of DRAW for a while and only SWAT got me out of that situation. Count me in the always change channels group when TWOANDAHALFMEN comes on.
Thanks RP for the write-up!

chefbea said...

Loved the puzzle and love Two and a half men. We watch it every Monday night. Its sooo funny.

Never heard of tcb. Thanx for the explanation

Now to do the ny times

Ruth said...

When my daughter was in 2nd grade the kids had to name their favorite movie--and my daughter reported that a bunch of her friends wrote "Pretty Woman" and maybe we could go see that? (it was current at the time) Holy cripe--what passes for parenting. . .

Danielle said...

I don't watch any TV and I'm not totally immersed in pop culture so I was pretty proud of myself that i realized immediately that the CBS sitcom started with "Two" and had "Men" in it...followed by me feeling like an idiot when i realized that "Two Men and a Baby" was not a TV show, or even a movie for that matter!

And that while "Salinger" might be used in a crossword puzzle at some point, and probably has been, that Kim from LA Confidential was NOT one of those times!

fergus said...

Very confused while watching Oaters as a child and thinking, no way ten gallons are going to fit into any wearable hat. A little flashback I suppose, to my introduction to figurative language, or hyperbole, or whatever ...

Anonymous said...

This was easy. I got misled by the Slow Lane answer. I used Shoulder and it worked at first, then it was clearly wrong. Still, it was a quick puzzle today.

Anonymous said...

You know the economy is bad when Sam Donaldson comes out of retirement to moonlight as a crossword constructor ;)

A very easy Monday solve as usual.

PurpleGuy said...

@Anonymous8:11- agree with you about GISMO.
Had it spelled with the "Z" for a long time. The only way I've ever seen it spelled. Should definitely have been a var.

My other complaint was withe the use of VOODOOS. I thought the ones who believed and practiced VOODOO were VOODOOISTS.

Other than those gripes, a fairly easy and fun puzzle.
I remember Dale Robertson as the host of the old TV show "Death Valley Days."
Thanks Denise for reminding me.
Thanks Rex for the great clip.

Orange said...

I sure don't remember the borax commercials. I think they were before my time. But! I do use 20 Mule Team borax. I just opened a new box of it yesterday and poured some into the washer with a load of towels. If your washer is smelly or your towels never get fresh enough, try adding borax to the wash.

You know what I used to read in the paper right near ERMA Bombeck's column? Hints from Heloise. Crap, I'm channeling Hints from Heloise today. I'd much rather channel Dave Barry.

Sam Donaldson said...

Appropos of the difference between IRMA (La Douce) and ERMA (Bombeck), the clue I originally submitted for ERMA was "Author Bombeck of 'Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession'."

I had a $2 bet with a friend that ASTA was going to be the Crosswordese 101 selection today. Rats!

Thanks for the analysis, Rex, and thanks to everyone else for the comments. Yes, TWO AND A HALF MEN was the inspiration for this puzzle. I hate laugh tracks too, but I suggest giving the show a 5-episode trial run. I think it packs more laughs into 22 minutes than any other sitcom I can remember.

Anonymous said...

Didn't we have Jon CRYER, the brother of Charlie Sheen on TWO AND A HALF MEN, as a clue answer a few weeks ago? He's the nerdy whining one and up for (or was up for - has it already been?} an Emmy for comedy. Martin Sheen(Estevez, a terrific actor, is Charlie's father. The show was funny initially but its been on so long now that Sheen's character seems like a dirty old man.

Anonymous said...

Didn't ol' Ronald Regan replace the Old Ranger?

Anonymous said...

Ok now look who gets to follow the actual constructor--smart people then a bloody no-namer (me). Glad to see the behind the scenes view. Like lots of people here "gismo" looked like a variant: even my British spell-checker suggested "gizmo." I thought "voodoun" was a practitioner of the religion, not a "voodoo" but a trip to the Google Bar & Grill added too many confusing explanations to know for sure. Trying to replicate/spell words in any creole is usually futile. "Voodoo" is a good word in a limerick, also, i hear.

Thanks for the writeup, Rex; even on Mondays it's a help.

Denise Terry said...

Remember Rosemary DeCamp, pretty lady in the Twenty Mule Team Borax ads?

Charles Bogle said...

Thank you Sam Donaldson for a very nice Monday puzzle, the theme of which I caught onto even though,like @danielle, I've never seen the Sheen show

And isn't @purpleguy right, that Ron Reagan replaced Robertson as host of "Death Valley Days"?

Also to like here: the "fill" largely was untypical fill (save for ASTA, ERMA)-good going Mr. Donaldson and nice write-up RP. Yes, between this and today's NYT, today must be AARP Day

Bob said...

I have a serious problem with this puzzle - the clue CONFUCIAN "PATH", with the answer TAO.
Taoism and Confucianism are heavily related, but distinct religious traditions.
It's quite wrong.

And yes, I know, it's a puzzle, and I could just let it go.
but if there was a clue - CHRISTIANITY'S PROPHET that came out MOHAMMED, everyone would be quite rightly cohnfused and angry. this is no diffferent, at least to someone who knows religions.

Also, active practitioners of vodoun are really only the priestly class, in which case HOUNGAN or BOKOR would be accurate.