I have a number of thing to say today. One, before I lay out my crossword frustrations, I want to do a modified “Six Degrees …” of my background films (that is, films and TV series I run while I am working on various written word-related projects.)
It started with Black Narcissus, Michael Powell’s luscious adaptation of Rumer Godden’s book, because I was browsing Criterion Channel looking for amusement. Then I started thinking about classic movies featuring nuns, and graduated to The Song of Bernadette, starring the luminous, innocent face of Jennifer Jones, which led me to Portrait of Jennie, the bizarre ghost story featuring Jones and favorites of mine like Ethyl Barrymore (love her voice!) and a very young David Wayne (he might be rather obscure in his supporting roles in romantic comedies, a fabulous pianist and singer.) Something about William Dieterle’s dreamy direction of Portrait of Jennie (and the appearance of Lillian Gish as a nun), led me to think about Charles Laughton’s direction of Night of the Hunter, with Robert Mitchum’s portrayal of a frighteningly sociopathic preacher and also, there is Lillian Gish again—not a nun but a widow who takes in starving Depression-era orphans. This led to more favorite Robert Mitchum films—there are scads of them, but today the “Six Degrees” series has led me to Heaven Knows, Mr Allison—Deborah Kerr in habit again as Sister Angela. So series runs its full circle.
I also want to explain my reaction to the final episode of The White Lotus, the popular HBO series with one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. My first thought on seeing it was NO, fueled by my jump-start biases regarding male TV writers and female characters, blah blah, a hapless flaw of mine. I irrationally begged the story gods for Season 2, because so many of the characters’ angst and personal realizations were not resolved. However the next morning I had my own personal realization that most of the time in real life, anyway, there is never a resolution. Without spoiling, I will say there was one very satisfying personal transformation, but the rest, as the guests filed into the shuttle for the airport, if they happen, have to happen off screen. Unless these guests come back next year. Season 2 is being planned, but it’s hard to envision how.
OK, on to the puzzles. This morning I completed two: this week’s The New Yorker puzzle and the Saturday New York Times puzzle. Admittedly I’m stuck on these puzzles because they challenge me every time. While it’s satisfying to punch out easy puzzles like those in USA Today, I do like the struggle. Most of the time.
The New Yorker prepares the puzzle user with polite descriptive phrases like “A lightly challenging puzzle”, or “A moderately challenging puzzle”. Robyn Weintraub, constructor of The New Yorker crossword this week, is one of my favorites. I found Robyn’s puzzle not so challenging; she gave me a break by including enough references to old media like Buddy of The Beverly Hillbillies: “Ebson”, and Garr of Young Frankenstein: “Teri”. Favorite clue: The ‘R’ of R.G.B.
What trips me up are contemporary references to media, like clues from The Simpsons (never watched it but know who these characters are by now thanks to crosswords) and Seinfeld quotes. Also the names of rappers and the great majority of sports-related clues, especially basketball slang, increase my frustration level.
Today’s New York Times puzzle, constructor Julian Lim, was HARD. I try to breeze through the grid, answering the ones I am sure of, but when you have clues like Pops or Put away or Steaming with multiple meanings, you just have to guess until you figure out the first answer you entered is wrong. Of answers I never, ever heard of, “SIForKids” gave me the most heart burn. It’s apparently the name of a magazine and the clue mentions Michael Jordan. Another answer was “sigma”, signifying Symbol for stock volatility, in finance. I confess I had to look these up—the Internet provides convenient crossword-answer sites. I’m sure I’m not alone here. But my rule is to look up the answer to a clue I will never be able to figure out from the acrosses and downs. And I could just imagine Mr. Lim chuckling as I entered “Tom Hanks” for the answer to ”Bridge of Spies” co-star, 2015. Tom Hanks has the same number of letters as Alan Alda, which was, in the end, the correct answer. (Great film, BTW)
And I got jam on my iPad was because I do my puzzles on the kitchen table, a repository for jam, spilled ground pepper, and coffee stains.