FRIDAY, April 10, 2009 — Nora Pearlstone

Theme: R to RK — familiar words and phrases have a "K" added following an "R," creating wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

I think this may be the toughest LAT puzzle of the past few weeks, certainly the toughest since the old TMS puzzle died and newspapers nationwide switched to the LAT (this won't mean anything to those who have always solved the LAT, but to solvers around the country, the shift was kind of a big deal). For whatever reason, many of the theme answers today were not self-evident, and there were enough places around the grid where the cluing was deliberately skewed hard that the puzzle proved a worthy late-week challenge. You can see in my picture of the completely grid that there are black triangles in three squares in the SE corner. This is an object lesson in stupidity. A grid full of legitimate toughness, all of which I tamed successfully, only to blow the whole thing by making the stupid mistake of Not Checking My Crosses in the SE. Threw down EXILE for 56D: Political outcast (EX-PAT) and didn't even notice what a mess that made of all the Acrosses. Sloppy.

As for the theme — it's a bit awkward, in places, in that the "K" is sometimes added to the end of a word, sometimes shoved into the middle of a word. At least it's always added to the first syllable — that's an admirable consistency. The wacky phrases are pretty amusing, and the fact that the added letter is my favorite letter means that it's hard for me to stay mad at it. I would have clued STARK-GAZING as [Staring at Iron Man?] — if you are at the Steppes, are you really gazing at STARK? The others make more sense. I think my favorite of the lot is BARK CODES. I've been trying to interpret my own dog's BARF CODES for the past week, and we may be zeroing in on a culprit. It's not really barf — it's a disgustingly productive cough that is probably the result of something called "aspirational pneumonia." I saw the images from her upper G.I. series yesterday, and one of her lungs is "a little too busy," as the vet said. Radiologist is looking at images today and we go from there. She seems very healthy and normal otherwise, and she'll be starting antibiotics today, so ... fingers crossed. Sorry to regale you with dog vomit stories on this lovely morning, but it's on my mind (not to mention my floor ... OK, I'm done)

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Sightseeing at the Steppes? (STARK-GAZING)
  • 24A: Dogs' communication systems? (BARK CODES)
  • 39A: Creative executive compensation techniques? (PERK-FORMING ARTS)
  • 51A: Price of the village green? (PARK VALUE)
  • 62A: Ones who never know what to use for their salad? (FORK DUMMIES)
Crosswordese 101: Presidential monogram edition. Today's example: AES (38A: '50s campaign monogram), as in Adlai Ewing (I did not know that) Stevenson, two-time loser to DDE (another common puzzle monogram). As far as I know, AES is the only crossworthy monogram for someone who ran but was never elected president. You are not apt to see HRP, for instance, though Perot also ran and lost twice. AES are just such sweet, common letters that they demanded to be used, and thus that monogram has been a crossword staple for as long as I've been solving (and probably a lot longer). What's weird to me is how there is a mid-century boom in monogrammatic presidents, and then ... nothing. LBJ is officially the last one. Actually, RMN appears from time to time, I think, but JEC, no. RWR, GHWB, WJC, GWB, BHO, all no's, though ... that last one would be cool. But don't hold your breath. Before FDR ... not much. Maybe you get a HCH, but I doubt it. Does anyone really remember his middle initial, let alone what it stands for (Clark, btw)? Your big presidential mongrams are FDR, HST, DDE, and AES. JFK and LBJ are there too, but because of their very Scrabbly letters, they are harder to get in the grid, and thus less common than the others.

What else?
  • 15A: "L.A. Law" co-creator (BOCHCO) — I believe he is also responsible for "Cop Rock." "L.A. Law" was a huge hit when I was in college.
  • 27A: Wall St. trader (ARB.) — short for "arbitrageur" — Learned it from crosswords.
  • 36A: Cádiz cat (GATO) — With the foreign words in particular, editors Love the alliterative clue. Can't resist.
  • 49A: Crooner's asset (EAR) — Good asset for any musician.
  • 60A: Certain presentee (DEB) — Makes sense, but "presentee" hurts, as a word.

["... laser rays ..."]

  • 68A: Windy City "L" runner (CTA) — Chicago Transit Authority — More things I learned from crosswords.
  • 1D: Witticism (SQUIB) — Did Not know this. I think of a SQUIB as little explosive. Or a non-magical person born to at least one magical parent.
  • 6D: American Greetings "mailing" (e-CARD) — Thus it doesn't go through the "mail."
  • 19D: Literary miscellanea (ANAS) — Old school crosswordese. I wanted OLIO here ... and a few answers later, I got my wish. This is a phenomenon that got dubbed a "malapop" over at my NYT site. It's when you want a word that ends up being wrong in one place but shows up as the correct word elsewhere in the grid.
  • 32D: Swedish actress Persson (ESSY) — Never seen her or heard of her before, ever.
  • 40D: "I _____ you liked your drink, 'sez Gunga Din" ('OPE) — He spoke like Eliza Doolittle? One of the central settings in "Watchmen" (the book) is the Gunga Diner.
  • 52D: Pitch specialists? (AD MEN) — Be on the lookout for ad-related answers that use the word "pitch" in the clues. Very, very common. AD MEN is a dated term, but still has much grid cred.
  • 58D: Castel Gandolfo resident (POPE) — No idea. None. Had to guess that second "P," as that OPIE guy was unknown to me too (66A: Swing era bandleader Cates). That's two OPIES in two days, neither of which I knew (the other was in the NYT — the English painter John OPIE).
  • 64D: MS. enclosure (SAE) — Self-addressed envelope. More commonly SASE (second "S" standing for "stamped").
I'm out of here for a week or so. Orange, PuzzleGirl and who knows who else have you covered in the meantime.

All the best
~Rex Parker

Everything Else — 1A: What's up? (SKY); 4A: It may be split at lunch (THETAB); 10A: Big name in shoes (MCAN); 14A: Sine __ non (QUA); 15A: "L.A. Law" co-creator (BOCHCO); 16A: Mishmash (OLIO); 17A: Young __ (UNS); 18A: Sightseeing at The Steppes? (STARKGAZING); 20A: Medical suffix (ITIS); 22A: Paid player (PRO); 23A: Stand at attention (SNAPTO); 24A: Dogs' communication systems? (BARKCODES); 27A: Wall St. trader (ARB); 28A: Final: Abbr. (ULT); 29A: Close-at-hand (INSTORE); 33A: Point of view (ANGLE); 36A: C·diz cat (GATO); 38A: '50s campaign monogram (AES); 39A: Creative executive compensation techniques? (PERKFORMINGARTS); 43A: Stowe girl (EVA); 44A: Hurt (PAIN); 45A: Healthy-looking (RUDDY); 46A: Cow country sights (RANCHES); 49A: Crooner's asset (EAR); 50A: Soft & __: deodorant (DRI); 51A: Price of the village green? (PARKVALUE); 57A: Increasing (UPPING); 60A: Certain presentee (DEB); 61A: Old Mercury model (LYNX); 62A: Ones who never know what to use for their salad? (FORKDUMMIES); 65A: Cool air feature (NIP); 66A: Swing era bandleader Cates (OPIE); 67A: Egyptian god (AMENRA); 68A: Windy City "L" runner (CTA); 69A: Steamy (SEXY); 70A: __ ‡ trois (MENAGE); 71A: Angry, with "up" (HET); 1D: Witticism (SQUIB); 2D: "Roots" hero (KUNTA); 3D: Co-Nobelist Arafat (YASIR); 4D: "Very funny" station (TBS); 5D: Family-style Asian dish (HOTPOT); 6D: American Greetings "mailing" (ECARD); 7D: Severe pang (THROE); 8D: Disgusted cry (ACK); 9D: Soft spots (BOGS); 10D: Haydn contemporary (MOZART); 11D: Medical office accessory (CLIPBOARD); 12D: Isn't wrong? (AINT); 13D: Canceled (NOGO); 19D: Literary miscellanea (ANAS); 21D: Move stealthily (SKULK); 25D: Pitch indicator (CLEF); 26D: Nonviolent protest (SITIN); 30D: Nice way to beg off? (NON); 31D: Like Gen. Schwarzkopf (RETD); 32D: Swedish actress Persson (ESSY); 33D: Imitator (APER); 34D: St. Petersburg's river (NEVA); 35D: Formula One race (GRANDPRIX); 36D: Get (GRASP); 37D: Chartres chum (AMI); 40D: "'I __ you liked your drink,' sez Gunga Din" (OPE); 41D: Attractive force: Abbr. (GRAV); 42D: Kind of comprehension (AURAL); 47D: "Holy cow!" (CRIKEY); 48D: Rear (HIND); 49D: "La Dolce Vita" actress (EKBERG); 52D: Pitch specialists? (ADMEN); 53D: Madrid monarch (REINA); 54D: "Mulholland Drive" director (LYNCH); 55D: Get together (UNITE); 56D: Political outcast (EXPAT); 57D: Sci-fi hoverers (UFOS); 58D: Castel Gandolfo resident (POPE); 59D: Largest of the Marianas (GUAM); 63D: Fr. title (MME); 64D: MS. enclosure (SAE).


Denise said...

This was really hard, and I had to go back over it several time. I have a love/hate relationship with the hoopla at the end, when the puzzle is done --- my ego loves the cartoon, but I like to read over the finished puzzle.

Why is TBS the fully network?

Anonymous said...


PuzzleGirl said...

I really hate to say this, but I did not love this puzzle. And I want so badly to love all these puzzles! But this one just didn't feel smooth for me at all. FORK DUMMIES made me LOL and BARK CODES is good, but the fill that you talked about in your write-up -- ANAS, OPE, non-Mayberry-OPIE -- plus GRAV, ULT, DRI ... ESSY???? Ugh. I was just not on this wavelength today, I think. Also a little nervous about tomorrow since obviously the difficulty meter is amping up and I've always had trouble with LAT Saturdays in the past....

Fred said...

Some may not know that Nora Pearlstone is a nom de plume of Rich Norris.

Rex Parker said...

Yeah, I should have mentioned that. My bad. I have a list of editor pseudonyms sitting around here somewhere ...

And TBS is the "Very Funny" station. I guess it's their catchphrase du jour.


John said...

This puzzle jumped the gun on the hardness meter big time! Made the NYT look like a Tuesday!! Tommorow's ought be a real Bear!!

They ought to send PERKFORMINGARTS to Gitanimo Bay to get some last minute torture in.

Joon said...

tough puzzle, i agree.

humorlesstwit said...

@Rex - Unlike you, I have no particular fondness for K, so I've managed to stay mad at this puzzle for quite some time.

I had the same mess in the SE with EXILE rather than EXPAT because, while clearly incorrect, all EXILEs are outcasts, whereas none of EXPATs are. I was left with clear errors here, and an additional mess in the NE but, telling of the puzzle, I just didn't care.

Don Gagliardo said...

Thanks for the comments, Rex. I sympathize about that SE corner. It was a deliberate trap, just like 30-down. I always fall for that "Nice" routine, no matter how many times it appears.

I also like Ks, which is probably why I really liked this puzzle. In fact, I had a puzzle published last year (Feb 21 LA Times) where I used 30 Ks.

It would be interesting to know what Swedish actress Persson has appeared in. Her name, Essy, could come in handy in another puzzle.

My favorite clue was "Pitch indicator" for CLEF, probably because I am a musician.

This puzzle was not as difficult for me as most of the LA Friday puzzles, for some reason. If it really is Rich's puzzle, that might explain it. I have seen Nora Pearlstone's name in many LA Times Sunday puzzles, but this might be a first during the week. I imagined some little old biddy methodically cranking out Sunday-only puzzles until I saw this Friday one. I wish Fred would explain how he knows about Nora, so that I can dismiss the idea. It would just shatter my fantasy to find out she is not a real person.

PuzzleGirl said...

@Don G: I hate to tell you this, but I have it on pretty good authority that Nora Pearlstone is, in fact, Rich Norris. And it's funny that you said it would shatter your fantasy to find out she's "not a real person." Guess what Nora Pearlstone is an anagram for? ;-)

chefbea said...

tough puzzle. couldn't finnish it. Gave up and came here.

Trying to figure out the anagram.Please let us know Puzzle girl

chefbea said...

got it!!!! but I'll let everyone else figure it out. Very cleaver.

Strict-9er said...

I wrote PLAINES for 46A which worked with OPE and GRASP thus leaving me stumped with the rest of the SW corner for longer than I care to admit.

Interesting little bit about the "malapop" - a co-worker of mine had one those with ELO on yesterday's puzzle!

Don G. said...

@Puzzle Girl: O.k. Thanks for setting me on the road to reality. I have seen the anagram, and it makes perfectly good sense. I also like that the first three letters are NOR, as in NORRIS. Honestly, Barbara (my wife) and I just figured she was a schoolmarm because she was so old school, with entries from classical music, mathematics, sciences, history, etc. We really looked forward to puzzles from quaint old Nora. Alas, our dreams are shattered, like some many other things in life. (sob,sob) Are you sure about this?

Crockett1947 said...

@denise You have the option to go over the puzzle, at least where I solve it online. Click on "continue playing" and then on "look over this puzzle."

Anonymous said...

Puzzle Girl, I was glad to see your comment -- I hated this puzzle! Both the theme answers and a lot of the fill. I was kind of aghast at myself after learning it was really a Rich Norris puzzle, but everyone's entitled to an occasional clunker. And John's comment about perkformingarts and Gitmo was priceless.

-- QuentinC