WEDNESDAY, Jun. 27, 2007 - Barbara Olson

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.

Theme answers:

  • 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.

That's all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

27 comments:

Anonymous 11:31 AM  

No mention of the three "ASS"es (ASSTDA, BASSETS, ASSESS) in the puzzle? Oversight or high road? Keep up the good work.

Anonymous 12:07 PM  

If you throw in the period, Oreg. is only one character shorter than Oregon.

Chip Ahoy 12:13 PM  

When you get the theme and the theme entries are satisfyingly filled with three fourths of the puzzle still open is there really any need to carry on?

roro 12:18 PM  

some of us need to finish things to the very

campesite 12:29 PM  

I share your gripe with ELIEL/MALA--didn't know either name.
A better clue for OREG. might have been Neighbor of Washing.

profphil 12:35 PM  

Rex,

I had pretty much the same complaints (except for Boer). Per Wikipidea Mala's given name was Mary Ellen Powers. I don't know if Mala is a nick name or a name she took as an actress. It sounds like something a younger sibling would say (who could barely talk) trying to say mary Ellen.

I felt cheated with those two arcane names crossing. I opted for Maia (or Maya) before I Googled it. I also thought KOA looked wrong and wanted KIA instead. Googled KOA: Kamping of America or something like that. New one on me.

As to Dare Me, I too was unsure of the usage. I am familiar with "Just Dare Me and You'll see." Or "Just Dare Me." Close enough I guess.

Did you excoriate the "Indians" for their racist icons?

cara 12:53 PM  

On "Lod" as "airport city":

I haven't seen this word ever clued differently, and here is, I think, why.

Tulsa and NYC are known for other things besides their airports. Lod on the other hand is a miserable, impoverished place of a factory or two, an army base for the especially unlucky, the country's major airport, and despair.

frances 1:04 PM  

Clueing "tartare" as "rarer than rare" was a nice touch. I fell for it, and headed straight for "-est" as the last three letters.

Michael 1:05 PM  

I completely agree about the intersection of two uncommon proper names. That's the one square I didn't fill in on today's puzzle.

Also, was this clue a typo in my paper or some kind of weird spelling I didn't know:

26 Across: Setting for a chaise longue

They meant "lounge", right? It confused me for a longue time.

Norm 1:13 PM  

Nope. Chaise longue or "long chair" is the correct spelling.

Anonymous 1:21 PM  

"Chaise longue" means "long chair" in French, which is a perfect description of this piece of furniture that was once very popular, sort of a half-chair, half-bed.
The first time I saw "Eliel" in a crossword puzzle, I was bothered. I mean how are you supposed to know the name of the father of a famous Finnish architect (who, incidentally, was quite famous in his own right circa 1920). But, that was many puzzles ago and this has become a common answer from my viewpoint.
As for Mala Powers, the first name was a typical Hollywood construction to make a starlet different. Today she'd probably use Mary Ellen just as Ms. Parker uses Mary Louise.

profphil 1:52 PM  

Michael,

Many people make that mistake, so it is likely that you hear Chaise Lounge and not Chaise Loungue. Especially as one lounges in it, it makes perfect sense. Language changes over time and one day it might be deemed an alternative pronunciation or variant spelling. Perhaps it already is in some dictionary.

Wade 2:14 PM  

Coming from a rural, redneck background, I often doubt my instinctive responses to some clues that invoke aspects of my childhood, figuring that no way would the NYTimes be cued into that world. So I was heartened to see that KOA indeed was the answer to the clue about RV parks. I haven't seen a KOA campground in years, but when I was a kid, if we ever went on vacation (which was rare, and the destination was always pretty close), a KOA campground was bound to figure into the itinerary. But it was car or tent camping, not RV, so maybe the Times isn't quite on my wavelength after all.

Gus91039 3:01 PM  

Porta Potti is as it seems. Mostly used at constructions sites, fairs, and large outdoor gatherings.

Alex 3:15 PM  

Here's how I got MALA. I generally don't do anything other than Monday or Tuesday in one sitting. I'm too easily distracted. About halfway through this one I had M--A and no clue.

When I broke, I went to watch TV and was flipping through the channel guide where this movie was playing on TMC: Outrage. The first two words of the description were "Mala Powers."

I think the American equivelant of that clue for LOD would have to result in SEATAC (the town that is essentially Seattle's airport).

Anonymous 4:24 PM  

In Israel, the highway signs say "LOD" with the airplane symbol alongside.

Jo 4:35 PM  

I know someone named Mala. She says that in the language of her father's homeland it means "beautiful flower". (Or maybe just flower.)

Jo

DONALD 4:51 PM  

chip ahoy

Wish there were a way to communicate with your blog -- it appears to be "view" only. Perhaps you could enable Comments?

As far as finishing a puzzle is concerned after getting the gimmick, well a puzzle exists for the amusement of the solver, and I feel one can do what ever one damn well feels like doing! I myself spend way too much time -- you know with the blog and etc. Not too many people know the work involved!

That's another reason why it would be good to be able to communciate with your site, as you have some very interesting and amusing(!) creations -- would like to be able to share thoughts.

Donald

R. Kane 5:06 PM  

Mala as a starlet's name was meant to be provocative, such as Hedy, Lana, Theda, studio sell...all "bad girl" names -- Theda Bara was an anagram for Arab Death, and Lana Turner, well, do-it-yourself. Mala was indeed meant to mean "bad", e.g., mal with a "capital a". She has a "star" on the "Hollywood Walk of Fame" -- Mary Ellen (Mala) Powers toured universities as a speaker until her death this June at age 75. I new instantly who she was when I saw the reference to "Cyrano de Bergerac". Great old studio version of the classic.

R. Kane 5:08 PM  

"Knew" not "new" -- no excuse!

Karen 5:34 PM  

I'm another one mad at having to wiki the ELIEL/MALA answer. Still I'm happy...in the first ten finishers!

Howard B 8:01 AM  

Wouldn't it be worse if "Porta Potti" was the name of an early-20th century actress? Just a thought.

Mark Iverson 11:22 AM  

Grrr - I got "Hit close to home?" in a snap, but don't get the "Wrong start?" answer, "mis". It's bugging me to no end. I keep thinking miscue. Can someone please explain?

Mark

Rex Parker 12:02 PM  

Mark-

MIS is a prefix that means "wrong." Does that make sense?

rp

Mark 6:13 PM  

Duh - yup. Thanks Rex.

Mark

Anonymous 12:39 PM  

6WL:::::::

Fell for "Rarer than rare". And of course I guessed wrong on MALA. Everything else fell into place (after I put AHAB where I had NEMO).

Waxy in Montreal 7:50 PM  

Add me to those cross with the MALA/ELIEL cross.

Also, in my Oxford Dictionary (Canadian edition), CHAISE LOUNGE does indeed make an official appearance as an alternative to the original CHAISE LONGUE.

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