Edited by: Rich Norris
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Today’s themed answers end with the letter string MxSS, where x is a vowel progression:
- 20A. Sustained nuclear chain reaction requirement : CRITICAL MASS
- 27A. Really botch things : MAKE A MESS
- 35A. Haphazard : HIT OR MISS
- 45A. Edible seaweed : IRISH MOSS
- 51A. A breeze to use, in adspeak : NO FUSS, NO MUSS
Bill’s errors: 0
Today’s Wiki-est, Amazonian Googlies
1. Feathered Nile wader : IBIS
The ibis is a wading bird that was revered in ancient Egypt. “Ibis” is an interesting word grammatically speaking. You can have one “ibis” or two “ibises”, and then again one has a flock of “ibis”. And if you want to go with the classical plural, instead of two “ibises” you would have two “ibides”!
5. Tropical hardwoods : TEAKS
Teak is a hardwood tree in the mint family, commonly found in monsoon forests of Asia. Teak’s tight grain and high oil content make it very suitable for constructing outdoor furniture, where weather resistance is valued. For the same reason, teak is the wood of choice for wooden decks on boats.
14. Have a flat? : RENT
“Flat” is a word more commonly used in the British Isles than here, in the sense of an apartment or condominium. The word “flat” is Scottish in origin, in which language it meant a “floor in a house”.
15. Barbera’s partner in cartoons : HANNA
I once had the privilege of spending an afternoon in the room (Bill Hanna’s den) where Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera came up with the idea of “The Flintstones” …
16. Sea eagle : ERNE
The ern (sometimes “erne”) is also called the white-tailed eagle, or the sea-eagle.
17. Designer Schiaparelli : ELSA
Elsa Schiaparelli was an Italian fashion designer, a great rival of the perhaps more famous Coco Chanel. Schiaparelli was most successful between the two World Wars, but her business closed in 1954 as she failed to adapt to changing tastes after WWII.
19. Journalist Jacob : RIIS
Journalist Jacob Riis is famous for his photographs and newspaper articles that highlighted the plight of the impoverished in New York City. He wrote “How the Other Half Lives”, originally an extensive article that appeared in “Scribner’s Magazine” at Christmas 1889. The article had such an impact that Riis was commissioned to expand it into a book, which was published the following year.
20. Sustained nuclear chain reaction requirement : CRITICAL MASS
The phrase “critical mass” comes from the world of nuclear physics. The critical mass of a fissionable element, such as plutonium or uranium, is the amount of material necessary to maintain a chain reaction. We use the term figuratively in other fields to describe the amount of resources necessary to sustain a particular effort or achieve a specific result.
31. Port and claret : WINES
Portugal’s city of Oporto (“Porto” in Portuguese) gave its name to port wine in the late 1600s. Oporto was the seaport through which most of the region’s fortified red wine was exported.
Clairet is a dark rosé wine. Although it is uncommon today, clairet used to be the most common wine produced in the Bordeaux region of France. For centuries now, English consumers have used the derivative term “claret” to describe any red wine from Bordeaux.
32. __-Magnon : CRO
Remains of early man, dating back to 35,000 years ago, were found in Abri de Cro-Magnon in southwest France, giving the name to those early humans. Cro-Magnon remains are the oldest human relics that have been discovered in Europe.
33. The Cowboys of the NCAA’s Big 12 : OSU
The athletic teams of Oklahoma State University are called the Cowboys and the Cowgirls.
35. Haphazard : HIT OR MISS
Our word “hap” means chance or fortune. It turns up combined in words like “haphazard” and even “happen”. “Happen” originally meant to “occur by hap, by chance”.
44. Emmy nominee Fischer of “The Office” : JENNA
In the excellent sitcom “The Office”, the character Pam Halpert (née Beesly) is played very ably by the lovely Jenna Fischer. If you’ve seen the original version of “The Office” from the UK, then you’d have met Pam’s equivalent character, Dawn Tinsley.
45. Edible seaweed : IRISH MOSS
Irish moss is a common name for a species of red algae called Chondrus crispus. Over in Ireland we call the same species “carrageen moss”, from the Irish “carraigín” meaning “little rock”, as the seaweed is found growing attached to little rocks on the beaches of the Atlantic coast. Carrageen moss is the source of “carrageenan”, which is widely used as a thickening agent in processed foods and ice cream.
48. 1992 Disney film featuring a magic lamp : ALADDIN
The Disney animated feature “Aladdin” was released in 1992 and is one of the best movies to come out of the studio, in my opinion, largely due to the great performance by Robin Williams who voiced the Genie. “Aladdin” was the most successful film of 1992, earning over $500 million worldwide, an unusual feat for an animated movie.
50. Wild West brothers : EARPS
The famous Earp brothers of the Wild West were Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan. All three brothers participated in what has to be the most famous gunfight in the history of the Old West, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. Strangely enough, the fight didn’t happen at the O.K. Corral, but took place six doors down the street in a vacant lot next to a photography studio.
55. Moscow news acronym : ITAR
TASS is the abbreviation used for the former news agency that had the full name Telegraph Association of the Soviet Union (Telegrafnoe Agentstvo Sovetskogo Soyuza). When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1992, the Moscow-based agency’s scope changed along with its name. It is now known as the Information Telegraph Agency of Russia (ITAR-TASS).
57. Thames museum : TATE
The museum known as “the Tate” is actually made up of four separate galleries in England. The original Tate gallery was founded by Sir Henry Tate as the National Gallery of British Art. It is located on Millbank in London, on the site of the old Millbank Prison, and is now called Tate Britain. There is also the Tate Liverpool in the north of England located in an old warehouse, and the Tate St. Ives in the west country located in an old gas works. My favorite of the Tate galleries is the Tate Modern which lies on the banks of the Thames in London. It’s a beautiful building, a converted power station that you have to see to believe.
62. “I give!” : UNCLE!
“To say uncle” is an American expression meaning “to submit, yield”. Its usage dates back to the early 1900s, but nobody seems to know how “uncle!” came to mean “stop!”
63. Ticklish Muppet : ELMO
The “Sesame Street” character named Elmo has a birthday every February 3rd, and on that birthday he always turns 3½ years old. The man behind/under Elmo on “Sesame Street” is Kevin Clash. If you want to learn more about Elmo and Clash, you can watch the 2011 documentary “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey”.
66. Prince’s “Purple __” : RAIN
“Purple Rain” is a 1984 song by Prince that is the title track from an album of the same name. The album in turn was a soundtrack, of the film “Purple Rain”. The song reached #2 in the charts in 1984, but then made it to #1 soon after Prince’s death in 2016.
2. __ Paese: Italian cheese : BEL
Bel Paese is a mild Italian cheese that was developed in 1906. The name “bel paese” means beautiful country in Italian, and is taken from the title of a book written by Antonio Stoppani.
3. GEICO product: Abbr. : INS
GEICO was founded in 1936 with a very specific mission, to provide auto insurance for employees of the federal government and their families, hence the name Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO). GEICO is a private company, despite the word “government” in its name. The founders’ idea was to focus on government employees as they believed such a group represented a lower risk profile than the rest of the population. Nowadays any qualifying person can take out a policy with GEICO.
4. One of Barbie’s siblings : STACIE
Stacie and Todd Roberts are twin siblings of Barbie, the doll. Barbie’s full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts, the daughter of George and Margaret Roberts.
5. Pad __ : THAI
The delicious dish called pad Thai is a meld of stir-fried rice noodles with tamarind juice, red chili pepper plus a mix of vegetables and possibly tofu, meat or fish. It is usually topped with crushed peanuts, coriander and lime. The name “pad Thai” translates as “fried Thai-style”.
8. Madison Square Garden hoopsters : KNICKS
The New York Knickerbockers team (aka “the Knicks”) is one of only two founding members of the original National Basketball Association that still plays in its original home city. The other is the Boston Celtics.
Madison Square Garden is an arena in New York City used for a variety of events. In the world of sports it is home to the New York Rangers of the NHL, as well as the New York Knicks of the NBA. “The Garden” is also the third busiest music venue in the world in terms of ticket sales. The current arena is the fourth structure to bear the name, a name taken from the Madison Square location in Manhattan. In turn, the square was named for James Madison, the fourth President of the US.
9. Clear wrap : SARAN
What’s known as plastic wrap in America, we call cling-film in Ireland. The brand name Saran is often used generically in the US, while Glad wrap is common down under. Plastic wrap was one of those unintended inventions, a byproduct of a development program to create a hard plastic cover for cars.
10. Mythological swimmers : MERMAIDS
The mythological creatures named mermaids are usually depicted with the head and upper body of a human female, and with the tail of a fish. The term “mermaid” comes from the Old English “mere” meaning “sea, lake” and “maid” meaning “young woman”. The original mermaids were probably tail-less, with that “fishy” addition likely coming with comparison to classical sirens.
11. Daughter of King Minos : ARIADNE
In Greek mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, the King of Crete and master of the Minotaur. Minos charged his daughter with control of the labyrinth that housed the Minotaur. However, Ariadne fell in love with Theseus who had vowed to kill the Minotaur, and she helped him fulfill his mission. In other myths, Ariadne became the bride of the god Dionysius.
12. Liqueur flavoring : ANISEED
Liquorice (also licorice) and aniseed have similar flavors, but they come from unrelated plants. The liquorice plant is a legume like a bean, and the sweet flavor is an extract from the roots. The flavor mainly comes from an ether compound called anethole, the same substance that gives the distinctive flavor to anise. The seedpods of the anise plant are what we know as “aniseed”. The anise seeds themselves are usually ground to release the flavor.
13. Mr. and Mr. : MESSRS
The abbreviation “Messrs.” is used at the head of a list of male names, in place of “Misters”. It is an abbreviation of the French “messieurs”, the plural of “monsieur”.
22. Explorer with Clark : LEWIS
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were soldiers in the US Army. Lewis was a personal aide to President Thomas Jefferson, even residing in the Presidential Mansion. This exposure contributed to his selection as leader of the famous expedition. William Clark was actually Lewis’s boss for a while before Clark retired. Lewis asked Clark to come out of retirement to accompany him on his three-year exploration.
23. “Preacher” network : AMC
AMC, formerly known as American Movie Classics, is one of my favorite television channels. Although the channel’s focus has shifted from airing classic movies to including other programming, there’s still a lot of quality output. AMC’s flagship shows are “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad”.
“Preacher” is a TV series based on a comic book superhero series of the same name. Doesn’t sound like my cup of tea …
25. Ref’s ruling : TKO
In boxing, a knockout (KO) is when one of the fighters can’t get up from the canvas within a specified time, usually 10 seconds. This can be due to fatigue, injury, or the participant may be truly “knocked out”. A referee, fighter or doctor may also decide to stop a fight without a physical knockout, especially if there is concern about a fighter’s safety. In this case the bout is said to end with a technical knockout (TKO).
28. Zingers : MOTS
“Bon mot” translates from French as “good word”. We use “bon mot” (and sometimes just “mot”) to mean a quip, a witticism.
29. That, in Tegucigalpa : ESO
Tegucigalpa is the capital of Honduras, and is a city often known by the name “Téguz”. It is a city with many problems. Its infrastructure is very strained, with the transportation system in particular extremely strapped. Crime is also a big problem, which might be expected given that Tegucigalpa is the capital of the nation with the highest murder rate in the whole world.
34. Information units : BITS
In the world of computing, a bit is the basic unit of information. It has a value of 0 or 1. A “byte” is a small collection of “bits” (usually 8), the number of bits needed to uniquely identify a character of text. The prefix mega- stands for 10 to the power of 6, so a megabyte (meg) is 1,000,000 bytes. And the prefix giga- means 10 to the power of 9, so a gigabyte (gig) is 1,000,000,000 bytes. Well, those are the SI definitions of megabyte and kilobyte. The purists still use 2 to the power of 20 for a megabyte (i.e. 1,048,576), and 2 to the power of 30 for a gigabyte.
35. Tegucigalpa’s country : HONDURAS
Honduras is a Central American country that used to be known as Spanish Honduras, in order to differentiate it from British Honduras that is now called Belize. “Honduras” is the Spanish word for “the depths”, which is probably a reference to deep coastal waters.
36. Tablets that can’t be swallowed : IPADS
The groundbreaking iPad was introduced by Apple in 2010. The iOS-based iPads dominated the market for tablet computers until 2013, when Android-based tablets (manufactured by several companies) took over the number-one spot.
37. __ tai : MAI
The Mai Tai cocktail is strongly associated with the Polynesian islands, but the drink was supposedly invented in 1944 in Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland, California. One recipe is 6 parts white rum, 3 parts orange curaçao, 3 parts Orgeat syrup, 1 part rock candy syrup, 2 parts fresh lime juice, all mixed with ice and then a float added of 6 parts dark rum. “Maita’i” is the Tahitian word for “good”.
38. Jai alai balls : PELOTAS
The essential equipment in the game of jai alai is the pelota (ball) and the cesta (wicker scoop).
39. Observing Ramadan, say : ON A FAST
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is traditionally a period of fasting. The faithful that observe Ramadan refrain from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn to dusk everyday, a lesson in patience, humility and spirituality.
41. __ favor : POR
“Por favor” is Spanish for “please”.
42. Sixth sense letters : ESP
Extrasensory perception (ESP)
44. Muppet who plays lead guitar in The Electric Mayhem : JANICE
The Muppet character called Janice plays lead guitar in “The Muppet Show” band, which is actually called Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Janice is the only female member of the band.
46. Blokes : HES
“Bloke” is British slang for a fellow. The etymology of “bloke” seems to have been lost in the mists of time.
52. Killer whale : ORCA
The taxonomic name for the killer whale is Orcinus orca. The use of the name “orca”, rather than “killer whale”, is becoming more and more common. The Latin word “Orcinus” means “belonging to Orcus”, with Orcus being the name for the Kingdom of the Dead.
54. Doesn’t allow to rust : USES
Rust is iron oxide. Rust forms when iron oxidizes, reacts with oxygen.
58. Mobile’s st. : ALA
Alabama is known as the Yellowhammer State, in honor of the state bird. Alabama is also called the “Heart of Dixie”.
Mobile, Alabama was the first capital of French Colonial Louisiana, founded in 1702. The city takes its name from the Mobilian tribe of Native Americans who lived in that area.
59. “Enough gory details, thanks” : TMI
TMI (too much information!)