FRIDAY, Apr. 11, 2008 - Manny Nosowsky (Singer Jamie with the 2001 #1 country song "When I Think About Angels")
Friday, April 11, 2008
Relative difficulty: Challenging
Very little joy in this puzzle for me this morning. Too many one-word clues, too many non-sparkling answers, too much fill that felt forced or slightly off. The stacked 15s of course look fabulous, but none of those answers is very inspiring or lively. There are two towns no one has heard of in the grid. A mysterious "country" singer, a marginal Ava Gardner role, the most marginal Jackson ... I don't know. It was just tough. I normally adore Nosowsky puzzles. Not so much today.
My first big "ugh" was for PORK BARREL BILLS (17A: Sources of government waste). Now, the PORK BARREL I get - good stuff. But I've never heard the phrase with BILLS on the end. PORK BARREL SPENDING, yes. PORK BARREL POLITICS, of course. I am not kidding when I say that I had PORK BARREL B-LLS and had to run the vowels through my head to get it - thought the Volkswagen was a GTO, but PORK BARREL BOLLS? I had the sad distinction of having the front ends (first three letters) of Every Single 15-letter answer, and yet knowing None of them without getting more crosses. the IMP- at 16A: Have cosmetic surgery, for example gave me IMPROVE ... something, probably, but who knows what. The HAS at the beginning of 1A: Is blessed with many assets, before "him" or "her" could have been anything as far as I was concerned. The NAT at the front of 52A: Gross domestic product producer [pause to wince at the phrase "product producer"] was likely NATIONAL ... something. 55A: Some bank offerings - TRA .... TRADE? TRADING? 56A: At every point - ALL ... well yes, "every" and ALL go together, now what? So, in short, the answers did not snap. Almost every one of them took some laborious hacking, and almost none of them was worth the effort. I think I like TRADITIONAL IRAS the best, and I know I like IMPROVE ON NATURE the least. Most people who get cosmetic surgery done are not "improved" - they just end up looking like people who've had work done in a desperate attempt to look younger. Very sad, really (Unless you have a cleft palate or other deformity, I suppose). I would put up a picture of Michael Jackson or Joan Rivers, but, you know ... the breakfast test. I think the whole plastic surgery issue bugs me most because I have a little girl, and any industry / magazine / man / peer group who suggests to her that she's less than perfect the way she is can well and truly go @#$# themselves. There are too many girls with eating disorders in the world for me to feel very friendly toward the fashion / cosmetic / plastic surgery industry. Thankfully, this is America, and you are free to disregard my feelings completely and do whatever you like to your body. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Two Turkish titles - 18A: Old Turkish title (Bey) and 47A: Turkish title (Agha) - that was pretty cute, especially since we just had BEY last week and it threw so many people. Lots of obscure pop culture today too, including 37A: 1954 title role for Ava Gardner (Contessa) - "The Barefoot CONTESSA" was probably a big deal 54 years ago, but today ... no - and 41A: Singer Jamie with the 2001 #1 country song "When I Think About Angels" (O'Neal). I am willing to bet that the song "When I Think About Angels" would make me actually, physically gag. No offense to angels - all offense to contemporary country. Oh yeah, I'm gagging a little ... plus, she does this horrible Meg Ryan thing with her nose right near the beginning of this video. Yikes. Whoa ... this song features the mandatory dramatic key change at the 2/3 mark. Generic! Watch at your peril.
One uncrossworthy place name per puzzle should be the outer limit. Today we get not only LORAIN (42D: Ohio city on Lake Erie) (!!!!?!?!?!?!) but GARDENA (24D: California city with a horticultural name), which, I assure you, is nowhere. I wanted POMONA, the Roman goddess of fruit. EILAT (23A: Gulf of Aqaba city) was a total @#$#, but at least it's a place that a. one might actually go (tourist town), and b. has been in xword puzzles before. Fun fact: GARDENA and EILAT are almost exactly the same size, population-wise (mid-50K).
I started this puzzle with everyone's favorite three-letter Bowie collaborator, ENO (48A: Onetime Bowie collaborator), which got me RETOTAL (36D: Double-check, as figures) pretty quickly thereafter. I futzed around the California part of the puzzle for a while until I had the weirdest looking partially-filled grid I've had in a while - the entire first three columns were filled, and very little else. A smattering of filled squares around Utah, but that's about it. Struggled mightily to get POLENTA (34D: Alternative to pasta), because I eat pasta a lot and almost never eat POLENTA, and because I always think POLENTA is Spanish (confusing it with PAELLA). SAHARAS (22D: Vast arid wastes) was rough too, as I put in DESERTS quite early. And then ESTHESIA (29A: Sensitivity) ... I just crossed my fingers on that one. And as for NASAL (25A: Like an "eh," maybe) - let's just say I am currently sitting at my desk saying "eh" in a thousand different ways, trying to figure out what this clue is getting at. I guess I can do it NASALly. I have to say that the puzzle loses style points for the NASAL / ESTHESIA stacking. Sounds unpleasant. Also sounds like a horrible malady.
- 21A: Awards for J.K. Rowling and P.L. Travers: Abbr. (OBEs) - no idea who P.L. Travers is, so I thought the answer would be some abbreviated version of SMARTIES.
- 24A: Traps (gins) - yyyyikes. I actually thought GINS before writing in the more sensible PINS (I was thinking wrestling, as I ... often do?).
- 53D: Home of the Salmon River Mtns. (Ida.) - crucial to my unlocking the bottom of this puzzle. Salmon River = NW = guess a state = IDA.
- 27A: Something that shouldn't be left open (fly) - as someone who has had his FLY open in front of a lecture hall full of 250 people, I concur. Nice clue.
- 28A: Three-time Masters winner Nick (Faldo) - 80s golf names stick in my head for No Good Reason. The Masters just started this week. Some guy named Trevor is atop the leaderboard, and Tiger Woods is tied for 19th.
- 45A: Heads of a tribe? (totem) - another good clue. Nicely done.
- 49A: Fired pitcher? (ceramic) - hmmm. It's cute, but it's weird to clue a medium with a particular object in that medium, without the "e.g."
- 51A: Void, in Vichy (nul) - see also NIL (54D: No score), which is what I (stupidly) wrote in here first.
- 31A: One of the Jackson 5 (Marlon) - Michael, Tito, Jermaine ... and I'm out.
- 1D: Connector in a song (hip bone) - great clue/answer.
- 4D: Ham's place (ark) - As in Noah's. Again, great. This puzzle is way better in its small answers (and clues) than in its long ones.
- 10D: Buzzards Bay, e.g. (inlet) - where is this? Aha, Massachusetts. If Cape Cod is a shoe, Buzzards Bay is right behind its Achilles heel.
- 14D: "As You Like It" romantic (Orlando) - not my favorite play. Thankfully, the name came easily (due, in part, to ORLANDO Bloom, who remind me of a Shakespearean "romantic").
- 39D: Words before "a Brain" and "an Animal" in book title ("So Human...") - this wins the "you're kidding, right?" award for the day. Never heard of this ... series? SO HUMAN? Are there degrees of HUMAN now?
- 46D: Book containing a prediction of the coming of the Messiah (Micah) - didn't know this, but had -CAH, so no problem.
- 50D: Thomas _____, artist of the Hudson River School (Cole) - no idea. Live and learn ... and likely, forget.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld