Monday, May 19, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: Into the Void - four theme answers begin with synonyms for "unoccupied"
Wow, Mike Nothnagel on a Monday? That's like seeing Santa in June. Fun, but weird. And fifteen-letter grid-spanning answers on a Monday? Also unusual. Felt like I thrashed around a lot while solving this puzzle, but came out of it with an average Monday time, so ... it must be Monday. The clever theme here was offset (dramatically) by the horrific long Downs. Now, they aren't horrific as strings of letters - they are simply images I'd rather not have to contemplate on a Monday morning (or Sunday night, or any time, really). I was excited when I saw the clue 10D: Portrayer of Frank Sinatra on "Saturday Night Live" because I thought "Awesome! Phil Hartman!" But he wouldn't fit, so I had to wait it out a little. Let me just say ... do you know how far the fall is from Mt. Hartman to the JOE PISCOPO Pits? It is Very, Very far, and my landing was not smooth. At least in the SW I was prepared for crap, as the clue told me I would be looking at a Robin Williams movie that was not "The World According to Garp": 26D: 1998 Robin Williams title role. "PATCH ADAMS" is about a real guy. I know because that guy came to speak a my University some time last year, resulting in one of my favorite, most random-seeming store marquee signs - On the big notice board outside the local (kinda shabby) KFC was the greeting "Welcome Patch Adams." Since PATCH ADAMS is a doctor, I imagined that the implicit second part of that message was "Please Save Us From Our Food!"
- 16A: Place not generating rent (vacant apartment)
- 24A: Guarantees that mean nothing (empty promises)
- 42A: Win that brings little actual gain (hollow victory)
- 57A: Contents of guns used in training exercises (blank cartridges)
There were several names in the puzzle I did not know, or did not know well. EDIE (53D: Actress McClurg) floated up out of somewhere in my brain, though brain also thought EVIE would be a pretty good answer. I could see Elias HOWE (14A: Inventor Elias) a million times and never remember his name come crunch time - who knows why? The most difficult name for me to get, and the one that still looks least like an actual, legitimate name, is AMORY (13A: "The Cat and the Curmudgeon" author Cleveland). I have no idea what that title is, and the only Clevelands I know are Grover and the neighbor on "Family Guy." Oh, there's a Renaissance poet named John Cleveland. The book is ... about a cat ... it's for kids? I canNot figure it out, even after looking it up @ amazon.com. Why Is This Famous?
The weakest part of this puzzle was the doubling up of RE- answers: REAIM is a terrible word (30A: Point again, as a gun) (see also RECARVE from a few puzzles back). REHEATS (52A: Warms up again) is fine, but paired with REAIM, it hurts. Not too fond of A COG and A MULE showing up together either. I always figure that stuff like this is bound to get your puzzle rejected, or at least substantially rewritten. I guess the theme, and some of the longer fill, is strong enough to override these smaller considerations.
- 22D: Scuttlebutt (lowdown) - sweet clue/answer pairing, though I'd rather not deal with the word BUTT in anything but a cigarette context, in general.
- 44D: Whirlpool or tornado (vortex) - another great word. Cool, long "V" and "X" word to wake me up on my Monday. Good job.
- 49A: Brandy cocktail (side car) - one of my favorite drink names. Sounds cool - mid-century crime novel cool. According to this write-up, its heyday was between the wars. This article mentions a fabulous SF restaurant, btw: Bix. I sat on the balcony or mezzanine or whatever that is up there and spent a gajillion dollars and ate cheese and port for dessert when I was in S.F. interviewing for ... my current job. That was nine years ago. Remains one of the most memorable meals of my life.
- 10A: PBS newsman Lehrer (Jim) - I wrote in, and still want, TIM.
- 20A: Rock band follower (groupie) - great answer; much better than ROADIE
- 38A: Pretend to be, as at a Halloween party (go as) - why I love this little two-worder so much, I don't know.
- 36D: Baseball great Hodges (Gil) - this made me laugh, as yesterday I suggested a good clue for GIL would be this comic strip, while this legendary baseball player completely slipped my mind. HA ha.
- 41D: A pair of deuces beats it (ace high) - more shiny goodness from Mr. Nothnagel.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld