Smear with wax old-style / SUN 9-12-10 / What Fels-Naptha banished old ads / Alderaan royal / Watts who hosted 1990s talk show / Swiftian brute
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Constructor: Paula Gamache
Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: "IT'S GOING TO COST YOU" — ... an ARM and a LEG (a rebus puzzle with five ARM squares in the western section and five LEG squares in the eastern)
Word of the Day: CERE (42D: Smear with wax, old-style) —
tr.v., cered, cer·ing, ceres.
To wrap in or as if in cerecloth.*
[Middle English ceren, ciren, from Old French cirer, to cover with wax, from Latin cērāre. See cerate.]
Cloth coated with wax, formerly used for wrapping the dead. (answers.com)
The theme, I liked, though I'm really surprised it hasn't been done before. I know I've seen a CATs and DOGs puzzle, and I could've sworn I'd seen an ARM and LEG puzzle, but apparently not [whoops, spoke too soon: Thursday, Apr. 26, 2007]. Theme leads into some interesting (DOUBLE-GLAZED) and not so interesting (CALENDAR MONTHS) territory. I enjoyed wrestling with a Sunday puzzle (for once) — most Sundays of late have been Tues/Wed level rather than the Thurs level they're supposed to be — but in the end, today, I found too much of the fill slightly ridiculous, and the cluing just a little SMARMy. At least half a dozen French words/places/ideas ... literary stuff that even this literary Ph.D. found a little recherché (now there's a pretentious word), e.g. MONODRAMA (62A: Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape," e.g.), MALLARMÉ (62D: "L'Après-midi d'un faune" poet Stéphane ___), etc. ... but mainly it's the preponderance of Absurd proper nouns. I mean, name after name I'd simply never heard of. Some, I should have known (e.g. MBEKI, 67A: Mandela's presidential successor), but some ... let's start in the NE, where the second-most ridiculous clue of the puzzle resides: 25A: What Fels-Naptha banished, in old ads. Fels-Naptha? Fels ... Naptha? I could not design a more unlikely, or worse name than that. Is it a brand? A person? What kind of ads? How old? Must be Really old. Whoa, it seems to still exist. But even if I'd known what it was, I certainly had no way of knowing this alleged slogan. I figured Fels-Naptha was a hair dye—what else could TATTLE-TALE GRAY refer to? (just simple dinginess, I guess). But it appears to be a bar laundry soap. And this is a *theme* answer? Maybe you are all big Fels-Naptha users, I don't know. But the intersection of this utterly unheard-of slogan and "RHYE" (!?!??!), as well as ESAS (which could easily have been ESOS): just ugh. Whole section needs to be lashed (not UNLASHed, whatever the hell that is).
Worse, however, was the SW, where I finished with a blank square. Didn't even bother guessing. See, I would've quit this puzzle up at TATTLE-TALE GRAY / "RHYE" (18D: "Seven Seas of ___" (early Queen hit)) (in this puzzle, even the Queen hits are old) if I hadn't had to blog it. By the very end, I just called it quits and looked up the so-called adventure writer guy: looks like we've got FENN (109D: George Manville ___, English adventure writer). And SENNAS (122A: Some flowering shrubs). Those are "flowering?" I think of SENNA as a laxative. Not sure SENNAS would have occurred to me (if I'd bothered thinking/guessing). I was probably willing to entertain a large handful of letters in that "N" spot. But I didn't even care enough to be upset at that point. I was just glad to be done. One great consolation was getting raving email from a friend who was less happy than I was with this puzzle. Again, the basic idea is cute, and there are some winning answers here and there, but the corners were just too much Fail for me. Oh, and too many partials with "A" (at least four ... — would've been five but they went a different route on the SETA clue (87A: Botanical bristle).
Big structural plusses — ARMs and LEGs always stretch across two words, all Across theme answers exhibit rotational symmetry, and all ARMs are on one side of grid, all LEGs on the other. Nice work there.
- TATTLE-TALE GRAY / ALLEGE
- BEAR MARKET / "STAR MAN" (3D: David Bowie single with the lyric "If we can sparkle he may land tonight") — that's where I picked up the rebus...
- REGULAR MEALS / CHARMED
- DOUBLE-GLAZED (59A: Like some doughnuts and windows) / PHLEGM (Mmm, double-glazed phlegm...)
- SOLAR MASS (61A: Unit of star measurement)/ ALARMS
- BUBBLE GUM / ELEGIES
- WAR MEMORIALS (77A: Arc de Triomphe and Nelson's Column) / ARMANI
- MIDDLE GROUND / ALLEGRA
- CALENDAR MONTHS (114A: April, May and June) / SMARM (you know what my favorite kind of months are? CALENDAR MONTHS. You don't want to mess around with any of those months that aren't in calendars. Really unreliable.) ("Lousy SMARCH weather!")
- IDLE GOSSIP / LEGAL
- 4A: Electronic music pioneer Robert (MOOG) — of synthesizer fame
- 19A: Cry after poor service? (LET) — boo! Poor service = fault or double fault. A LET is just a do-over. "Poor?" No.
- 20A: River with the Reichenbach Falls (AARE) — crosswordiest river of all.
- 27A: Where N.B.A. coach Rick Pitino played college ball (U. MASS) — guessed it, based on fact it was "U" something and I knew Pitino had coached in Boston.
- 28A: Relating to songbirds (OSCINE) — strange: this is an odd word, but one I didn't even blink at. Must've seen it in xwords before.
- 31A: French ice cream flavorer (MENTHE) — eat it on the SAONE while you sip your OAK-flavored Chardonnay, why don't you?
- 48A: Heavenly body that humans will never set foot on (GAS PLANET) — ooh, this I like. A lot.
- 52A: Alderaan royal (LEIA) — Yeah, that'll get googled.
- 55A: Alternatively, in Internet lingo (OTOH) — on the other hand...
- 81A: Bet in craps (PASS LINE) — Noooooo idea. Craps tends to conflict with my MONODRAMA-watching and MALLARMÉ-reading.
- 84A: Company that introduced NutraSweet (SEARLE) — like OSCINE, a word I know without knowing why. SEARLE sounds like a mattress brand.
- 101A: Mezzanotte is one (ORA) — and now we're just in a different part of Europe. So ... "midnight" is an "hour." OK.
- 118A: Subject of the 2008 biography "Somebody" (BRANDO) — four proper nouns, three of which I've never heard of ... you cross them all with BRANDO and *this* is how you clue him??? I think this corner wants me to hate it.
- 125A: Like a three-card monte player (SLY) — I think of the player as the pigeon, i.e. the idiot who's getting conned. The non-SLY one.
- 38D: Kyushu volcano (ASO) — Now *that* is how you clue ASO! [Also, I cannot believe there is a MTAPO and a MTASO out there. Yikes.]
- 40D: "Do I dare to ___ peach?" ("EAT A") — I dared to eat two today. Absolutely perfect. The best piece(s) of fruit I've had all year.
- 41D: Rinkitink ___" (L. Frank Baum book) ("IN OZ") — please look at that section. The Downs are: Three partials and *$&#ing CERE!? (42D: Smear with wax, old-style). Painful (P.S. that CERE clue is one of my all-time "favorites"—beats the Fels-Naptha clue hands-down. It also raises the important question: what is the hip, new, modern word for smearing something in wax?)
- 44D: Hooch holder at a ballgame (FLASK) — must be some context for "ballgame" that I don't get. I've been to ballgames, and guys just get hammered on beer and more beer.
- 58D: Swiftian brute (YAHOO) — yeah, that'll get googled.
- 75D: He taught Mowgli the law of the jungle (BALOO) — after AKELA, I'm out of "Jungle Book" characters.
- 89D: Watts who hosted a 1990s talk show (ROLONDA) — I remember the 90s, vaguely, but I do NOT remember this person. She headlines a quartet of yuck names down there in the SW. OLAN I've heard of (all too often), but FENN, ROLONDA, and ERDOS (98D: Mathematician Paul)? Hell no. "But ERDOS is an eminent..." Yeah, yeah, I'm sure. He'd have been fine in a less obscure-name-drenched portion of the puzzle.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
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