Sunday, May 11, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "Done with Ease" - theme answers are puns wherein short "i" is turned to long "e" sound, with the the whole theme clued via 93D: Stretch ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme? (elongate)
I'm not the world's biggest pun fan, but this is a remarkable puzzle in many ways, with at least a couple truly fantastic theme answers. As someone who broke his back just two days ago trying to fill a grid with a demanding theme and blocks of 7-letter answers, I'm pretty impressed with those huge first two and last two Across answers and the wide-open spaces they create. Going big like that means you increase the danger of using horrible fill, and though the GPA ULT LEI run and its fraternal twin at the bottom of the puzze, NEA NYS ESO, aren't beautiful, at least you aren't looking at ARU (an actual answer I had in the original draft of my puzzle - don't worry, I killed it). It did seem, however, that this puzzle went to (to my mind) obscure proper names an awful lot today:
- 1D: _____ Kadar, 1950s-'80s Hungarian leader (Janos) - my main mistake here: my brain invented a world where the NETS played at the Meadowlands (1A: Rooter at the Meadowlands => JETS FAN), giving me NANOS, which looks horribly wrong, even for a Hungarian name.
- 49A: Jazz virtuoso Garner (Erroll) - "Alert! Alert! Be on the lookout for a two-L ERROLL, I repeat, a two-L ERROLL!" It seems that, by far, this guy's biggest accomplishment was composing "Misty," the song featured in Clint Eastwood's "Play Misty For Me."
- 101D: Director Mark of "Earthquake" (Robson) - Neeever heard of him. He died when I was in grade school. Turns out "Earthquake" was his penultimate movie. He also directed "Valley of the Dolls" and "Peyton Place."
- 57A: Fashion designer Bartley (Luella) - I know she's been in my puzzle before, but I still don't buy her "fame."
- 37D: German biographer _____ Ludwig (Emil) - ??????
Those guys all make ARP and MANN and INDIRA seem run-of-the-mill. None of them were killers, however, since the crosses were all fair and gettable, so no big deal. It just seems that the relatively open grid caused some necessary stretching ... which brings me to my one big question for this puzzle: 93D Stretch ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme? (elongate)!??? So many things are bad about this. First, it's a horrible pun. It's not even a pun. It's a halting play on words. Yes, the E's are long, we get it. Why oh why did you feel the need to include this monster. It's not nearly cute enough - I'm sure the challenge was exceedingly tempting, but it was Not worth it. First, there's the answer itself, which is a groaner. Second, it runs right smack through the very weakest part of the grid ... everything around the front end of ELONGATE is a disaster. SLUE (97A: Turn on an axis) is OK, I'll allow it, but crossing the Horrible EDUCT (87D: Extracted chemical) and the pathetic partial A SET (88D: "_____ of Six" (Joseph Conrad story collection))?? And on top of that OCTA (103A: Numerical prefix)? When your puzzle already has the beautifully-clued OCTANE in it (95A: 87 or 93). No. No no no. You don't need ELONGATE in this puzzle. This is like when I tell the American Idol contestants on my TV screen (to no avail) that they Do Not Have To go for the High-Powered Money Note at the end. That is a surefire way to ruin Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." But do they listen? No. They are tempted by the challenge, much like Eve with the apple. But it's an unnecessary challenge. A dangerous challenge. Sam Cooke doesn't need your Money Note, just as these excellent theme answers don't need any help from ELONGATE, just as I don't need a laff trak to tell me when to laugh at my sitcoms. I get it. Or I don't, and I change the channel. In this case, I get it. The title is enough - it tells me the trick. And a theme answer like MINNESOTA TWEENS is so fantastically badass that ELONGATE can only bring it down. Please, world, listen: resist the bad pun. Your life, the planet (and more importantly, my puzzle) will be better off for it.
Consider the musicality of the consecutive Acrosses "ANKA INDIRA CINQ" - that's practically a song refrain, especially if you elide the last syllable of ANKA (as often happens in song and poetry): ANKINDIRACINQ, ANKINDIRACINQ ... it's like INKADINKADOO, only less silly.
- 62A: "Puppy Love" singer, 1960 (Anka)
- 63A: Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter (Indira)
- 65A: Rouge roulette number (cinq)
- 23A: State of a bottle-fed baby? (no-wean situation)
- 38A: A platform in front of Elsinore, in "Hamlet"? (original scene) - not sure what the cluing on this one is supposed to mean
- 51A: Massage therapist's office? (feeling station) - tee hee. Good one. Sooo much more fun than the filling station these days.
- 67A: Group of yo-yo experts (Team Duncan) - excellent. Not having held a yo-yo in thirty years, I'd forgotten the Duncan name, but once I got TEAM, it came back, and clearly. I once saw an actual "yo-yo expert" in an airport lounge. He couldn't stop. It was like OCD. He may have been a yo-yo savant. I don't know. It was mesmerizing and embarrassing all at the same time.
- 70A: One willing to take a bullet for Martin or Charlie? (Sheen guard) - good one, especially since Martin SHEEN played the president on TV (president ... secret service ... take a bullet ... not sure why I'm spelling this out for you, but there it is).
- 91A: Little Bo-Peep's charges? (abandoned sheep) - two problems here. One, I thought she "lost her sheep," which seems to me different from abandoning them. Juno's mom "abandoned" her (in the movie "Juno," which I saw for the first time last night, which is good, if a bit too self-consciously hipster for its own good - if "Napoleon Dynamite" were a. good and b. about something, it would be "Juno"). Bo Peep just had some bad luck. Further, something about the past tense of this answer feels weird to me: "Abandon Ship!" seems like the main phrase - in imperative form.
- 99A: Musicians at a marsh? (peat orchestra) - the only answer in the whole puzzle that even remotely smacks of Broadway, Thank God :)
- 120A: St. Paul sixth graders? (Minnesota tweens) - the cream of the crop. Excellent.
- 15A: Superman, to his father (Kal-El) - gimme that! I'm surprised this doesn't appear more often, given its apparent "get you out of a K-jam" usefulness.
- 25A: Woody Allen title role (Zelig) - never saw it, though I'm an unabashed fan of everything Woody Allen did from 1977-1979. And a smattering of his other films as well.
- 50A: The toe of a geographical "boot" (Oman) - I've never heard of the Arabian Peninsula referred to as a "boot." There's only one "boot" - Italy. What kind of messed-up foot would go inside a Arabian Peninsula-shaped boot?
- 55A: Like a Rolek watch (ersatz) - god I love the word ERSATZ. At some point it replaced MEDIOCRE as my favorite word in the language (around high school). I don't know if I have a favorite word now, but ERSATZ is very special to me.
- 79A: Shade on the Riviera (azur) - wanted ECRU (!?) then wanted AQUA.
- 80A: Calypso offshoot (ska) - three letters, Caribbean music => SKA.
- 105A: Corrosive chemical, to a chemist (HCL) - hydrochloric acid.
- 112A: Limo feature (jump seat) - I wanted MOON ROOF. I don't know what a JUMP SEAT is. Isn't that weird? I know the phrase, but I can't picture it. It seems it's just the rear-facing seat behind the driver.
- 4D: Squash, squish, or squelch (step on) - inkadinkadoo, very cute clue.
- 8D: Cuban-born jazz great Sandoval (Arturo) - Here he is playing with Alicia Keys.
- 16D: Green card, informally (Amex) - aha, not that green card.
- 17D: Leslie Caron title role (Lili) - The old LILI vs. GIGI confusion raises its head again.
- 31D: Land west of Togo (Ghana) - My first time through I thought this was the name of the German biographer ... eyeskips'll kill you.
- 32D: The less you see of this person the better (dieter) - disturbing, scientifically inaccurate clue.
- 40D: Romaine (cos) - absolutely threw me. Had to look it up when I was done. Lettuce. Hmmm.
- 42D: Warsaw Pact counterforce (NATO) - "counterforce" sounds like really bad Chuck Norris and/or Sylvester Stallone movie from the '80s.
- 48D: "Bye Bye Bye" band, 2000 (*NSYNC) - Justin Timberlake's original posse. I miss the Boy Band era. So deliciously mockable.
- 52D: Cousin of a camel (llama) - never thought of these beasts as related, given their separation by a gigantic ocean and all.
- 78D: "Luncheon on the Grass" and others (Manets) - I was thinking this was a play until I remembered the French title, "Déjeuner sur l'herbe" - it's an exceedingly famous and much parodied painting.
- 118A: Seaborne lackey (swab) - Forget SWAB, I just want to find a way that I can call someone a "Seaborne lackey" today. That's golden.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of Crossworld