Wednesday, December 6, 2006
Solving time: 9:43
THEME: "Land bridge" - theme answers are all two-word phrases, wherein the words in the phrase are spanned or "bridged" by the word TERRA, Latin for "land," e.g. 41A: Intruder in Mr. McGregor's garden (PeTERRAbbit)
Felt like I flailed around inside this puzzle quite a bit, but it got done somehow. Once again, I did not see the theme until I was finished. Not only that, I thought for sure, as I was solving the puzzle, that the theme had something to do with double letters. The double letters in the two long Down answers (HUBBA HUBBA and INTERMEZZO) caused me mistakenly to believe that they were somehow theme answers as well - throw in the double letters in ESTELLE, MATT, ABAA, WHIRRS, RAZZ, DO OVER, etc. and you can (sort of) see the basis of my misapprehension. In fact the theme description, LANDBRIDGE, was about the last answer to fall, first, because I just could not think of what the clue, "Continental connection," could be getting at, and second, because I had ROAD TAR as a cross coming down (instead of the correct 43D: Track foundation (road bed)), putting "T" where the "B" should be in LANDBRIDGE, so I lost time somewhere in there pondering what LANDT- could be. Also, for a time, had OUTERBANKS where OUTERRANKS (17A) should have been, bogging me down a bit in the NW. "Land bridge" is a very cute theme, with which I have one major quibble (discussed below). Plus the grid in general is fun and lively: I especially like how PEORIA (14A: Illinois River city) stands in 180-degree rotational symmetrical relationship to EAST L.A. (64A: Calif. barrio locale). Nice geographical dissonance.
15D: "_____ tu," aria sung by Renato (Eri)
I just got through saying, in a very recent commentary, that ERI TU (and its component parts) is klassic krosswordese that I haven't seen much of since the Maleska era. And yet here it is again. Can we put this one back in the vault for a while. Otherwise it will get a taste for freedom and start talking about "rights" and demanding representation and what not. Back in the Pantheon basement with you, ERI TU. If I had my way, you'd have lots of opera company (see LOTTE, LILLI, etc.). Glad to see 32D: Perfume name (Estée) back in the grid, if only because she is on my short list of Pantheon nominees (which I will publish shortly) and I was beginning to get a little worried that my faith in her was ill-founded. She couldn't have timed her appearance any better. Not that thrilled that she was made to run parallel to the similar-sounding 42D: English-born centenarian actress Winwood (Estelle), but whatever. I was also not so thrilled to see ESTEE's perfume counterpart, 3D: Perfume name (Coty), in the puzzle. In general, I don't like repeat clues. It's as if construction inelegance (two very similar items in same puzzle, e.g. ULNAS and RADII) is trying to pass itself off as intentional trickery. Feels cheap. Cheap like COTY perfume.
31A (THEME): Hip-hop subgenre (gangsTERRAp)
Here is the one part of the puzzle that bothers me. The proper term is GANGSTA RAP. Now, there is no question that GANGSTER RAP is, technically, legitimate fill, as I find many sources that list that term as a variant, but GANGSTER RAP is basically what white people who don't like, don't listen to, and don't respect rap in general will call any rap that scares them (which is to say, most rap). This is one of the reasons that the -ER bugs me. It smacks of white condescension. Not that much so-called "gangsta rap" isn't total crap and worthy of all kinds of criticism ... and not that you can't find the term "gangstER rap" on t-shirts, albums, and what not, if you look. But if you Google ["gangsta rap"], you get 1.52 million hits. Do the same for ["gangster rap"], and not only do you get just 243K hits, but many of those mention "gangster" only by way of conceding it as a variant. I know you need the -ER for your theme, so fine. But most people who actually listen to rap would not refer to this "subgenre" as "gangstER." There is at least one other word I can think of where the difference between an -ER and an -A ending can make a substantive difference in terms of meaning, but it's not a word this white man is inclined to put anywhere in his blog.
39A: Simple rhyme scheme (abaa)
It's simple alright. So simple that I Never See it. What is in ABAA? I had ABAB and ABBA here before the Down cross 35D: Of the flock (laic) forced me to concede this weird-looking scheme. The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, the Air Barrier [?] Association of America, and the Australian Business Aircraft Association all want to know what's wrong with them? What are they, chopped liver?
40A: Arctic explorer John (Rae)
First: wow, there's another way to clue RAE!? That's great news for RAE, which could find its Pantheon status bumped up if this new (to me) clue leads to more grid appearances. Second: Who? RAE was a Scottish physician who explored Canada's arctic in the mid-19th century. He made contact with the Inuit. Not sure how that went. Whoa - he was investigating the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin Expedition, and discovered evidence that members of that expedition had, in desperation, resorted to cannibalism. This was not news anyone wanted to hear. Best factoid about RAE: he at one point in his life accepted a position as surgeon in the best-named place on earth: Moose Factory, Ontario.
Two other very modern answers are gunning for Pantheon status here as well: 44A: Singer DiFranco (Ani) and 54D: Part of a home entertainment system (HDTV) are increasingly common fill, or seem to be, to this solver. Ending in "I" is a big help for ANI (about a quarter of the words on my soon-to-be-released nominees list end in "I") and HDTV gets you that great cavalcade of consonants. [late addendum: in this discussion of potentially Pantheonic words, I totally neglected to mention poor AGAR over there at 27D. Good ol' reliable AGAR. So common, so overlooked. I wouldn't know an AGAR if it bit me. To me, a "thickening agent" would be ... well, if Roger Moore had let himself go by the time he made "Octopussy," he could have been a thickening agent. But he was a well-appointed hunk of suave manhood in that movie, as in all his movies, so the term doesn't apply.]
60D: 1990's Indian P.M. (Rao)
Another stumper. I really should get out and / or read more. A "statesman, scholar, and polyglot" (wicked good word for an epitaph), PV Narasimha Rao took over India's Congress following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May of 1991. He died in late 2004. I have nowhere to go with this entry. It's more of a public service announcement to the informationally-challenged solvers of the world, such as myself. John RAE and Prime Minister RAO - tuck them away in your puzzling ruck sack for limited but possibly significant future use.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld