MONDAY, Dec. 21, 2009 — Holly Barnes

THEME: "YOU'RE FIRED" (60A: Donald Trump catchphrase, and hint to the first two, three and four letters, respectively, respectively, of 17-, 26- and 46-Across) — relevant theme answers begin AX, CAN, BOOT, respectively

Not a fan of the "first letters"-type puzzle. First words, last words, OK. Letters ... well, it better be good, and this was just OK. With so few letters implicated in the theme, theme answers could have been billions (well, lots) of different (unrelated) things — would have been nice if a. they'd bee related or b. they'd been really snappy. Further, why are there 42 black squares in a puzzle with only four theme answers? Seems excessive. I give the puzzle credit for a handful of interesting answers, like MULLAHS (I had SULTANS !?) (9D: Islamic clerics) and OKINAWA (10D: 1945 Pacific battle site) and ST. JAMES (42D: Orange Place on a Monopoly board) (one of three orange places, actually). I also admire the attempt to zazz up the puzzle by cramming in Xs wherever they'd fit. But Donald Trump catchphrase already feels really dated (It's still on? People still watch?), and that guy's repulsive, so the best I can say about this puzzle is that it's fine. Acceptable.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: War on terror foe (AX is of Evil) — this needs some kind of caveat or qualification. AXIS OF EVIL was a stupid sci-fi-sounding catchphrase that was probably the most useless, counterproductive thing uttered by the last president. What, do we live in a @#$#ing comic book? Come on. Also, the so-called War On Terror simply doesn't include North Korea.
  • 26A: Elton John tribute rededicated to Princess Diana ("CANdle in the Wind")
  • 46A: "Alice Adams" novelist (BOOTh Tarkington) — kind of obscure for a Monday, but easy enough to piece together (assuming you've heard of the guy).

Crosswordese 101: "I, TINA" (29D: Turner autobiography) — a gift from the crossword gods to all constructors of the earth. Or maybe it came from Santa: "Just what I always wanted: a 'T' to put into I-INA ... and 'I' to put into IT-NA ... etc." Such useful letters, and yet the only letter that's replaceable is the "T" and even that has only one possible substitute: an "R". You will see "I, TINA" now and for many years to come (and the book is already 23 years old!)

What else?

  • 6A: Rock genre involving flamboyant garb (glam) — I feel like I'm seeing this word more and more in puzzles. And I like it.

  • 16A: Green Hornet's sidekick (Kato) — Seth Rogen is ... The Green Hornet. Opening one year from tomorrow. I'm not kidding!
  • 39A: "___ Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts": old song ("I've") — possibly the stupidest possible clue for "I'VE." The song is just "old?" Huh. O man, I tried to listen to this, but wanted to stick a fork in ears after about 30 seconds. Enjoy.

  • 55D: Yorick's skull, e.g. (prop) — minor hold-up: kept misreading this as [Yorick's skill, e.g.] — uh ... dying?

See you ... well, I'm not sure I'll see you Friday. I might have to have someone cover for me, as I'll be traveling, or will have been. We'll see.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]



Fun puzzle and even more fun with Rex's writeup. Omigosh, what's gotten into you Rex? Austin Powers, Bart Simpson, New York Powers, Lovely Bunch of Coconuts!!! ... as my dear aunt would say "you've just gotta get some culture." The only thing that would have redeemed you on this, Rex--- a clip of GWEN Stefani! I hope you know I'm trying to TWEAK ya!

I just love any puzzle that has a lot of XES and with fill that is uncommonly used in CWs.

Thought KATO was OJ's buddy.

Actually AXISOFEVIL is nothing new and certainly shouldn't be attributed to pop culture or goofy movies. The first time I heard of it used was during the days of Nazi Germany (WWII).

Time for my Amaretto Coffee and HAM & eggs.



Matthew said...

@JNH - The Axis of evil was never used during WWII to any significant exten. The term AXIS was coined by Germany, Italy, Hungary to describe their alliance, and I'm pretty sure they didn't coin themselves the AXISOFEVIL. Japan joined, we won.

GLowe said...

I think it's a decent job. Can't say the theme is all that inventive.

That grid is totally Tetris, best thing about the puzzle.

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Tinbeni said...

@Rex - Nice write-up on a ho-hum puzzle, I struggled with ... that second clip. UGH!
Sometimes when I am doing these puzzles my eyes have not yet woken up, so that skill-v-skull comment re:poor Yorick; made sense to me.

Faves - Canal Country = A Man A Plan PANAMA.
Model train giant = LIONEL (my favorite Christmas present)
Tennis score - AD IN (it is usually love)
EMTS - In the right context.

IMAM & MULLAHS this week will probably bring back the debate.

@GLowe - You're right, Tetris!

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*David* said...

I liked this puzzle for a Monday. It felt less dialed in then most and the theme was cute.

You had some nice correlation with IMAM on one side of AXISOFEVIL and MULLAHS on the other, just sayin'.

Burner10 said...

Haven't been puzzling in my usual way, so I was glad to be back in acceptable Monday form. You know the puzzle is ho hum when the most interesting comments are about the grid.

Gareth Bain said...

I like the idea of letters at the start rather than words at the start as a refreshing, but definitely very occasion change-up; I wouldn't like them to happen too regularly...

Though I do agree 42 is excessive, I'd rather see a clean 42 like this than a 37 that's a little iffy. I suspect 2X15 in the middle has something to do with it. At least at my neophyte skill-level of grid-filling it isn't the easiest... Liked seeing MULLAHS, they don't get nearly the same crossword exposure as their relatives the IMAMs do! Could do without NETFUL though. It is a word, but a rather arbitrary one.

Sfingi said...

Is the plural of netful netsful?

Only writeover was STRAYED for "swerved."

For those of us who prefer My Little Pony (cute) and Dilbert (funny) to comic book heroes (high testosterone boring), was Brian "Kato" Kaelin nicknamed Kato because he was a basic sidekick?

@John - Really? Actually, the one who pulled his strings is Dr. Evil. But both are a big disappointment (and both are ARGH! my ditant cousins - as is Obama, who is related to Cheney, but that's another story).

Didn't get any snow Upstate. We usually don't from Nor'easters. But, ours is coming.

Tuttle said...

I'm disappointed they used XL squared instead of a reference to the seminal hardcore punk-rock band MDC.

Here they are with an apt tune for a Monday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZHrRRlxS8c

C said...

Heh, @Tuttle, I was thinking the same, great time to introduce the crossword community to MDC.

Not a bad puzzle for a Monday.

mac said...

Quick Monday puzzle, where finding the theme was harder than any clue. Did not want to be reminded of some of the people brought up here.... Why do I always want axe with the e?

I haven't read anything by him, but I like that name Booth Tarkington and it popped out somehow. Mullahs and usury are nice words.

DataGeek said...

OK puzzle. If you've got to clue "I've" with a song name, how about "I've Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates..." At least it's Christmasy. We've seen a lot of LIONEL lately, also Christmasy.

Are MULLAH's considered part of the Axis of Evil??

Happy Monday! Thanks Rex, for the write-up and videos!

chefbea said...

Easy Monday. Learned Mullah today.

shrub5 said...

A nice Monday puzzle with many fresh clues and answers. BOOTH TARKINGTON and CANDLE IN THE WIND were easy fills for me so got going quickly. I loved actress/dancer GWEN Verdon, best remembered for her Broadway theater roles in "Sweet Charity", "Damn Yankees" and "Chicago" -- was married to choreographer Bob Fosse.

split infinitive said...

Oooh, am still recovering from the "lovely bunch of coconuts" ditty. I liked the write up more than the puzzle; thanks, Rex!

GLAM rock is due for a glittery comeback. Lada Gaga ain't got enough rock going to make it happen. Knew about SUMP pump but didn't know that a cube of sugar is also called a LUMP. Family secret: pour a little brandy on the sugar cube, *then* put it in the coffee! Not recommended in the workplace, at least before 4 pm.

At the fishmonger's, may I ask for one 'NETFUL of eels' or squid? Interesting word. Not sure it'll be useful.

I am confused: JNH is in a huff over ¿whaat? today? We're hitting a new topic every few days. Obviously, a man with great passions, including the puzzle.

Rex and all other travelers: wishing you safe journeys. Bring plenty of snacks & books in case you get stuck!


All men turn into little boys at Christmas... I just set up my old LIONEL train under the tree (thanks to inspiration from this puzzle)... omg it still works!

Now if I could just get that damn Merv Griffin tune out of my head!!!

Van55 said...

XL squared -- ick.

Otherwise it seemed a solid and original puzzle for a Monday.


Hey it could have been worse.
How about the square root of MDC?
When was the last time you did a square root (and I mean without a calculator)?

gespenst said...

To me, MDC = Metropolitan District Commission, i.e. the poeople who provide my water. I guess that's not universal, though ;)

I liked the puzzle for a Monday ... not too easy, but no big empty areas when I finished my first run-through.

Thanks for the I, Tina bit ... I was very confused how to parse that: IT INA wasn't getting me anywhere ;) And I even knew it was TINA Turner, not Ted etc.

split infinitive said...

I did learn something today from Rex's write up: Until actors Gina Lollobrigida (b. 1926) or Gina Gershon (b. 1966) pen their autobiographies and call them 'I, Gina' we're pretty safe with I*INA being I, TINA. I doubt and hope Olympic skaters IRINA Slutskaya or Rodnina can compete with Miss Tina Turner. Plus, 'I, Slutskaya' as a title might draw the wrong type of crowd to the book signing.

GLowe: I missed the Tetris thing w
ith the grid until just now. Great observation!

Sfingi said...

@GLowe - now there's a whole new way of looking at the black squares. Brilliant!

@John - how about cube roots? I have some old math books dealing with method. They're really both tedious, and now they teach an interpolation method at most for HS level. But, I think it's worth a day of classroom to show the old methods.

Happy Winter Solstice all!

I guarantee you don't have to sacrifice anyone to get the sun back. If I'm lying, I'll fall on my sword. Remember Tollund man in the peatbog? Just one example of the massive loss of human life back in the day, all over the world, before even Roman numerals.

Carol said...

A little late doing the puzzle! Got to get that shopping & wrapping done!

Decent Monday puzzle & great writeup. Laughed over the "Lovely Bunch of Coconuts." Remember my Dad singing that to us kids while playing his tenor guitar. Amazingly could remember all the words. Thanks, Rex - even if you thought the video pretty awful (which it was) it brought back fun memories.

Love this blog. Never know just what people will talk about!

GLowe said...

@Carol - indeed you never know. Guessing is the best, if not terrifying, part.

And if the answer IVE can drive the whole conversation, well, who wouldn't be happier?


Shopping > wrapping > puzzling. Goodonya for having your priorities straight!

xyz said...

Perfectly OK if not exactly jumpy.

Charles Bogle said...

Just jumping in to extend Happy Holiday wishes to all--we have journeyed way out west and, while the lodge has this PC, it disallows downloading the software necessary for me to do the LA Times puzzle; the only print newspaper around is the Summit Daily News which has the sorriest excuse for a puzzle I've seen! Now, if one of the two older kids loans me a laptop...