Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "MIDDLE MAN" - 34A: Go-between, and a clue to 17-, 24-, 49- and 57-Across; MAN appears in the "middle" of four theme answers
The theme is cute. Not mind-blowing, but cute. The simple fact of having "MAN" in the "middle" of the answer doesn't offer much coherence, or excitement. But there's cleverness here, which I suppose is something.
- 17A: Newts and such (salaMANders)
- 24A: Take apart (disMANtle) - how about [Run down Mickey?]
- 49A: Salon job (perMANent) - least interesting theme answer
- 57A: Locale of Uhuru Peak (KiliMANjaro) - best of the lot
I have one major objection to this puzzle - it broke one of the unwritten rules (which I wrote, in my head) of crossword constructions: supremely uncommon names must not cross (unless one of those names is Very well known). And while I'm sure there are people out there who knew one or both of the names in question, that's really neither here nor there. These two names should not cross:
18D: Actress Powers of "Cyrano de Bergerac" (Mala)
23A: Senior Saarinen (Eliel)
I know EERO Saarinen, of course, but could not retrieve the "Senior" one, even with four letters. Why would you name a woman "MALA" - sounds like it means "BAD." Wanted MARA or MATA or even MANA. These names are not only odd, and their celebrity status somewhat dubious, but they are both from way back in the mid- and early 20th century. So there's lots of reasons to protest here. Of course, if you knew even one of these names instinctively, then what do you care? I'm just trying to lay out a basic principle here.
Took me far too long to figure out BOER (1A: Great Trek participant of the 1830s) - I took at least two passes at it and by the time I got it, I already had three letters. ASSTDA (5A: Courtroom fig.) looks insane in the grid. I does not look half as insane, however, as AGSTDA, which is what I had for the brief period when I had GOD as the answer to 6D: Trinity member (Son).
28A: In groups (elites) threw me, as I'm sure it was supposed to.
What kind of an idiot says "Dare me!" (9D: Risktaker's challenge)? "I dare you" is a common challenge, but "Dare me!" - no; if you are a risktaker of any merit, then you will take the risk on your own without requiring some perfunctory dare. Childish - just like the tiresome playground-speak of 7D: "Me too" ("So do I"). Actually, that's pretty ordinary-speak, but somehow still smacks of the playground-retort-type clue we see so often in puzzles.
Please tell me PORTA Potti is not what it sounds like (52A: _____ Potti).
OREG (61A: Neighbor of Wash.) is pretty useless as abbreviations go - you have only two more letters to go. What's your rush? I've seen OR and even ORE more than I've seen this four-letter clunker.
LOD (59A: Israeli airport city) sounds made up ... and "airport city?" Is NYC an American "airport city?" Or is Tulsa, for that matter? I like SEA DOGS (43D: Old salts) because it's the name of a minor league team that occasionally comes to town - speaking of minor league teams, the Indians' minor league team came into my gym today and used all the stationary bikes surrounding me as a warm-up for their work-outs. One of them had the Indian "I" on the back of his shirt, but I didn't know they were the farm team until I saw the bus outside with a giant Chief Wahoo on it.
THE SPOT (38D: X marks it) and CON JOB (48D: Swindler's work) are today's best answers.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld