FRIDAY, March 27, 2009 — Spencer Corden

THEME: PRE-fix — in four different theme answers, the prefix "PRE-" is ... prefixed ... to the second word of a familiar two-word phrase, creating a wacky phrase, which is clued "?"-style

Rex Parker here. I'm not used to seeing themes in my Friday puzzle. Over at the NYT, the Friday and Saturday puzzles are almost always themeless, and tough (today's certainly was). This puzzle, by contrast, was themed and comparatively easy, though it was certainly the toughest LAT puzzle of the week so far, and had some genuinely thorny parts. Why it took me only a third of the time that the NYT puzzle took me, I don' t know. The theme on this one took me a while to uncover — I didn't really get it until I was trying to put together "GET UP, PRELATE!" at 47A, where I noticed that the "PRE" part was ridiculous, and then looked back and saw that that was the issue with the earlier two theme answers as well.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Undercover cop? (legal PRE tender) — legal tender = money
  • 25A: Introduction to "SeinLanguage"? (funny PRE face) — "Funny Face" = Audrey Hepburn / Fred Astaire musical
  • 47A: Words to roust an oversleeping ecclesiastic? (get up PRE late) — get up late = ... something you do when you're tired ... not the tightest base phrase in the world
  • 54A: Cannery worker's credo? (born to PRE serve) — "Born to Serve" = yikes ... no idea what this is supposed to refer to. Google image search brings up equal parts worship and bondage / S&M. I thought "Born to Serve" was a famous motto of some sort. Maybe one of you has a clearer idea what the phrase is supposed to evoke.
Crosswordese 101: Again, an array of choices, but I'm going to select YSER (13D: Belgian river). European rivers account for a Lot of high- and low-end crosswordese. YSER is one of the rivers that eventually becomes all but second-nature, especially when you see four letters and clues with "Belgium" or "Flanders" or "North Sea feeder" or "W.W. I fighting." The YSER is very tiny as well-known rivers go: just 48 miles long, originating in the north of France and emptying into the North Sea just below Nieuwpoort, Belgium. It was the site of a W.W. I battle that secured the Belgian coast for the allies, and that, plus its delicious and unusual combination of letters, made it crossworthy (i.e. worthy of inclusion in a crossword ... unlike, say, the MEZEN, which I doubt most of you can find (I certainly can't), and which is a good eight times longer than the YSER.

Late-week puzzles tend to get tougher, and one way they achieve this toughness is by making the clues so vague they could mean many things — e.g. 28D: Outfit, and 29D: Pelt could both be used to clue either nouns or verbs ... and an "outfit" can be a company or group of some sort just as easily as it can be clothing. In this case "outfit" is a verb meaning EQUIP and "pelt" is a noun meaning FUR. Another late-week cluing feature is the deliberate fake-out or DEKE (to borrow a term from hockey), where the clue deliberately misdirects you, leading you to an interpretation that is all wrong. Today, we had the great 5D: A right might cause one (fat lip). Took me a while to figure out what kind of "right" was intended there. Then there's 9D: Domestic class, briefly. Something about that phrase evokes air travel (at least to me) even though I don't think "Domestic" is a class — you've got your first, your business, your coach, etc. Still "domestic" manages to conjure up the general airport milieu pretty well. Only "domestic" in this case refers specifically to one's residence, not one's home country, and the "class" part (the real kicker here) is a class one takes at school: HOME EC. I love the misdirective clue, as well as the way the answer looks in the grid — like one crazy word: HOMEEC! This brings us to another important part of solving: parsing. Sometimes a word you can't believe is a word is actually two words. AANDE (actually 3 wds). BIGD. TWOD. Yesterday, someone thought EDGESIN was one word. Parsing!

I'm a good solver, but nonetheless, nearly every puzzle holds mysteries for me, and this was no exception. I know what a FINN is, but I'd certainly never heard of the "markkaa" until today (25D: One who used to spend markkaa). I took some French and so know what PERDU means, but I've never seen it used to mean 11D: Concealed. Just "lost." I know squat about musical theater, but I knew enough about "AIDA" to put it in despite having zero familiarity with the song in question, 53A: Musical with the song "The Gods Love Nubia." And I've never even heard of this PBS show, "The HIPPY Gourmet" (9A: PBS's "The _____ Gourmet TV Show"). "HIPPY" is spelled "HIPPIE" in today's NYT puzzle clues. Curious.

What else?:
  • 24A: Storytelling slave (Remus) — Uncle Remus. I know *of* him but have no first-hand experiences of his stories. Maybe it's because they were compiled and adapted by a guy who romanticized and defended slavery and plantation life in general. No thanks.
  • 65A: Placekicker Jason (Elam) — it may be years before he makes our "Crosswordese 101" list, so you may as well start remembering him right now. He's not that common, but he Will Come Back. He was a Pro Bowl kicker, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Broncos, and he is tied with Tom Dempsey for the longest field goal in NFL history (63 yds). He is also the co-author of something called "Monday Night Jihad" — I can't bring myself to read much of it. It's here.
  • 60A: Sulk (mope) — "Sulk" is one of my favorite comics of the past year. Indescribable. An ongoing series by writer/artist Jeffrey Brown. Maybe I like it because the first issue features a "superhero" called "Bighead." Did I mention I have a big head? Literally, if not figuratively? It's true.
  • 61A: '60s quartet member (mama) — could also have been PAPA, I suppose.
  • 58D: Key with four sharps: Abbr. (E Maj) — see, I don't know this stuff, but I know enough to put the "M" in there. It's gonna be some letter A-G, and the "M" and then either "AJ" or "IN."
In case you haven't seen it yet, please enjoy this wonderful clip of Christina Applegate discussing (in part) her crossword obsession on Letterman the other night.

More from me next week (M, F, sometimes W),
PG and Orange will take care of you 'til then,
Rex Parker

Everything Else — 1A: Place for storage (SHED); 5A: Own (up) (FESS); 14A: Pamplona runner (TORO); 15A: __VistA: search engine (ALTA); 16A: Three-layer snacks (OREOS); 17A: Quaff (SWIG); 18A: Pond denizen (TOAD); 19A: Inspector on the telly (MORSE); 23A: Drama award (OBIE); 30A: Campus climbers (IVIES); 31A: Who, in Quebec (QUI); 32A: Babe in the woods (NAIF); 36A: Wyo. neighbor (NEB); 37A: Vue and Aura, in the auto world (SATURNS); 41A: Gp. with Bucks and Bobcats (NBA); 42A: Houston shuttle letters (NASA); 44A: T'ai __ (CHI); 45A: Weakened (WANED); 51A: New drivers, typically (TEENS); 59A: Battery connection (ANODE); 63A: It can pick up a plane (RADAR); 64A: Catalina, e.g. (ISLE); 66A: Sanctify (BLESS); 67A: Roe source (SHAD); 68A: __ vu (DEJA); 1D: Elm et al.: Abbr. (STS); 2D: React to a kneeslapper (HOWL); 3D: Part of a wet quintet (ERIE); 4D: Dad-blasted (DOGGONE); 6D: One skipping church? (ELOPER); 7D: Have the main role (STAR); 8D: "Smooth Operator" singer (SADE); 10D: Triathletes (IRONMEN); 12D: Models (POSES); 21D: Deep chasm (ABYSS); 22D: Bride follower (TRAIN); 26D: Eye layer (UVEA); 27D: His __: big shot (NIBS); 33D: Author Quindlen (ANNA); 34D: "Yeah, right!" (IBET); 35D: Diminish (FADE); 38D: "Don't __ surprised" (ACTSO); 39D: Holy day: Abbr. (THU); 40D: Any ABBA singer (SWEDE); 43D: Meeting plans (AGENDAS); 46D: Protected, as a home (ALARMED); 48D: Walks on stage (ENTERS); 49D: Spanish stewlike dish (PAELLA); 50D: Put on the line (RISKED); 51D: Relating to pitch (TONAL); 52D: Eat away (ERODE); 54D: Zinger (BARB); 55D: Greek letters (PSIS); 56D: Compensate for oversleeping (RUSH); 57D: Low-lying area (VALE); 62D: Org. with an online DoctorFinder (AMA).


SethG said...

HOMEEC is ugh-lee. Oh, right, parsing! Still, didn't know PERDU or HIPPY, and not sure how I knew MORSE or REMUS, so that was a thorny quadrant.

I got GET UP PRELATE first, and wasn't sure if the PREs were leading to a slurred pun theme--sounds like "pretty late".

The quartet member could have been BASS, too--they all had one. At least the boy ones did.

Same 1/3 of NYT time, but I bet not the same time...

Jeffrey said...

His NIBS is back today. I wonder how long it takes new readers to figure out who the blogger-of-the-day is.

1/3 of the NYT here too.

I drive a SATURN AURA, but AURA is never clued that way, despite appearing about once a week. Today, a little love, if in reverse. Get it, reverse? Sigh.


Do you know the way to MULCT HATLO?

Anonymous said...

Uncle Remus, Isnt He the Brer Rabbit Guy?

Rex Parker said...

Yes, that Uncle Remus. Read about him here.


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Pete M said...

HIS NIBS would have fallen faster for me if I'd realized Wyoming doesn't border Nevada. :)

ELOPER is worth noting, as clues for ELOPE(R/D/ING) are both common and typically quite clever. Ditto for OREO, though perhaps a touch less on the clever side, in general.

Sandy said...

REMUS took longer than it should because I was trying to remember the name of the woman who told the Arabian Nights stories.

FRUGAL Gourmet I've heard of, and isn't the GALLOPING Gourmet somebody, but HIPPY had me stumped.

Thank you for making me feel it was ok not to have heard of Jason ELAM.

Anonymous said...

Seemed awfully easy for a Friday. My only problem was in the NE; never heard of Hippy Gourmet or the "concealed" sense of PERDU--"lost" is all I could think of. Picked up on the theme early on, so that shortened my solving time.

Always cheered when east- and west-coasters remember that my home state (Nebraska) exists: 36A: Wyo. neighbor. And the other day, somewhere(?) in a puzzle, NEBRASKALINCOLN--my hometown.

Myron said...

Looks like I'm the only one so far who went AESOP for "Storytelling slave". I knew it couldn't be right ("Models" isn't going to end with a P.) but HOME EC crossed it just fine, so I hung on longer than I should have.


chefbea said...

Got the theme right a way. Never heard of Hippy gourmet. Does he say et voila? oops wrong puzzle.

The home ec foto looked just like my class room back in the 50's.

I also drive a Saturn - the ION which they no longer make

mac said...

I'm not sure how difficult the LAT Fridays normally are, but this one was pretty easy. Couldn't believe "Hippy" Gourmet was right, insisted on "Happy" for a bit, but my friend Morse saved the day. Nice how "fade" and "waned" cross.
I got the theme almost immediately, in 20A, so it helped a lot this time. Dad-blasted? Where does that come from? I like the fat lit! Pretty rough puzzles today.

Anonymous said...

Come, come, Rex, don't be a slave to your prejudices, prejudging stories before reading. Treat yourself to at least one Brer Rabit tale. ;)

Orange said...

Rex: And while you're at it, check out Leni Riefenstahl's work. She was a top-notch filmmaker! Is it her fault that she worked for Hitler and made Nazism seem sexy? Sure, that was propaganda, but it was effective propaganda.

Norm said...
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Norm said...

Okay, let me try that again.

PERDU came to me from India & harems. Why that is I do not know. Might have appeared in the The Far Pavilions? (Not great literature, but a great epic read.)

BTW, love this blog, although I keep forgetting to check it. I save the LA Times puzzles in the SF Chronicle (please do not go out of business) for the BART ride home, so I have to avoid coming here and then the evening happens and so on and so on. But, thanks to all of you.

Rex Parker said...


It's OK, I forget lots of stuff I actually want to do, too. As long as you stumble back here every once in a while, it's cool. Thanks for commenting.