Thursday, March 20, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: Border town portmanteaus - border towns whose names are hybrids of the states whose borders they lie on
I must finish my grading by class time, so this will have to be very quick. In short, I did not like this puzzle. Found the place names absurd (though a couple were familiar) and the non-theme fill either boring or painfully forced. Had terrible trouble in the far north and the SE, for reasons I'll explain below.
- 20A: South-of-the-border border town portmanteau (Mexicali, Mexico) - here, I had no idea what was going on - I had the MEXICALI part (or most of it) and thought maybe some totally new word was being invented. MEXICO is not part of the "portmanteau," so it took me Forever to figure out that the state name would be part of the answer.
- 25A: Plains border town portmanteau (Kanorado, Kansas) - stupidest name of them all.
- 42A: Mid-Atlantic border town portmanteau (Delmar, Delaware) - this is weird. Del Mar just means "of the sea" in Spanish. Are people in DELMAR, DE sure they're living in a portmanteau and not just a city with a Spanish name?
- 47A: South-central border town portmanteau (Texarkana, Texas)
And I now officially hate the word "portmanteau" (you can type it only so many times before the hatred starts to well up)
- 5A: Burns and Cowper (bards) - hate hate hate this. Maybe it's because I teach poetry most every day of my damned life, but I hate the word BARD. It's pretentious and dated and rightly should be attached only to Shakespeare and ancient Celtic minstrel poets. Further, Cowper??? On a Thursday? Wow. OK, Let's stay in the north for a sec ...:
- 8D: Run (out of) (drum) - the heart of my trouble up there in the north. Is this supposed to be a phrase meaning to "run" someone "out of" ... town? I have never ever ever heard this word used this way. I do not doubt that there is a valid dictionary definition to back this up, but the phrasing here is just horrible. A Horribly written clue. When you go to parentheses in your clue, you better have damned good reason. DRUM ... ugh.
- 16A: Locale of the highways H1 and H2 (Oahu) - Not sure what to do with this clue. Got this from crosses. Nothing about this clue says Hawaii to me. (Is that what the "H"s stand for?)
- 18A: Animal in the 2005 film "Madagascar" (lemur) - beginning of all my troubles. I had HIPPO. There were many LEMURS, just one HIPPO (one of the main characters), so the singular "animal" led me to HIPPO. This is what happens when you know far more than you should about children's animated fare.
- 23A: "_____ certainly do not!" ("No, I") - another terrible clue. A painful partial. I can't hear someone saying this. When I hear it, there is no "No" at the beginning, and there is a "most" between "I" and "certainly."
- 24A: Te-_____ cigars (amo) - why the hyphen?
- 36A: Each state, symbolically (star) - ????? I have no idea what this means. [thanks to the commenter who pointed out what must have been obvious to most people: stars = states on the U.S. flag]
- 45A: Issue pikes and poleaxes, e.g. (arm) - I love the image. If only that's how people "ARMed" themselves these days.
- 55A: Minestrone morsels (orzo) - zing, a "Z." I like this.
- 56A: "The Big Trail" or "The Big Stampede" (oater) - one of my favorite crossword words.
- 57A: Source for an outburst (nova) - why "for" and not "of?" The clue is almost clever, but something about it feels off. Many of today's clues feel like they were tortured in a desperate attempt to make them difficult/clever, resulting only in carnage.
- 58A: The Putumayo River forms part of its norther border (Peru) - news to me.
- 59A: Two bells, in a sailor's middle watch (one a.m.) - I'd like to thank the puzzle for teaching me that this "bells" stuff is sailor-talk for time.
- 63A: Donkey _____ (Kong) - mmmm, that's what I need. Take me back to a simpler time, when a quarter could get me Joan Jett on the jukebox and another quarter could get me countless hours of electronic ape-fighting.
- 3D: Doonesbury's daughter in "Doonesbury" (Alex) - news to me.
- 4D: Takeout alternative (tv dinner) - do they make these anymore? And if they do, do they actually call them TV DINNERs? Seems so ... pre-1980, somehow.
- 5D: 1950s-'70s Chevy (Bel Air) - had no idea. The final piece in my crazy northern puzzle. I thought I had seen every make of car I would ever see in a puzzle. Guess not. These seem to have been discontinued before my time (i.e. before makes of cars became part of my vocabulary).
- 6D: Jump and a twist (axel) - Where is the first indefinite article? Odd. Anyway, I'm grateful for this clue, as it helped me start to undo the north.
- 7D: Do trailers? (re mi) - in the end, I have to give it up for this clue. I Hated it when I was in the middle of solving, because I couldn't make it work. I thought the answer was SEMI for a while (trailers ... tractor trailers ... semis ... ). But once I got it, I had to acknowledge its cleverness.
- 21D: Nighttime scavenger, informally (coon) - [Nighttime scavenger, hillbillily]
- 28D: Doleful air (dirge) - Never did like "air" for "song," though it's obviously perfectly legitimate. I always think of "air" as something, well, AIRy, or light, so DIRGE seems out of place here.
- 29D: Buck _____, first African-American coach in Major League Baseball (O'Neil) - interesting O'NEIL choice. I like it. After a career in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs, O'NEIL was hired as a coach (not The coach) by the Cubs in 1962.
- 37D: Campus digs (dorm room) - I weirdly miss dorm life. An idyllic, privileged existence.
- 40D: Italian sweetie (cara) - I had CARO, which is a syrup (nope, that's KARO).
- 48D: Fitch of Abercrombie & Fitch (Ezra) - Long Island kids love their mall gear. A&F and Hollister and Aeropostale, plastered across their chests like they were team names. Why? Why do otherwise bright and shiny young people insist on wearing what is essentially a uniform that says "I Shop At The Mall."
- 52D: Tic-tac-toe choice (x or o) - not only my least favorite answer of the puzzle, but possibly my least favorite answer of the year. I can't even speak about it.
- 54D: Trolled (sang) - this word is completely out of concert, aesthetically, with its meaning. I just imagine a bunch of really ugly monsters who live under a bridge singing barbershop quartet.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld