FRIDAY, Sep. 26, 2008 - Barry Silk (Dish named for the queen consort of Italy's Umberto I / Film about an aristocrat captured by the Sioux)
Friday, September 26, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
This puzzle was probably easier than I imagine - I did it at night on the heels of about five other puzzles, and I was tired. Nothing about it excited me, even PIZZA MARGHERITA, which is delicious (58A: Dish named for the queen consort of Italy's Umberto I). There were only two answers that I'd never heard of before - HAAG (23A: Den _____, Nederland) and AQI (16D: Smog stat.). The bottom half of the puzzle is Way more interesting than the top half. I'm not sure why, but NOBEL PEACE PRIZE (15A: King's honor) on top of CIA HEADQUARTERS (17A: Where moles may try to dig?) makes me want to fall asleep. STATIONARY ORBIT (34A: An artificial satellite may have one) - ditto. But "A MAN CALLED HORSE" (55A: Film about an aristocrat captured by the Sioux) on top of PIZZA MARGHERITA - magic.
There was a lot of ordinary, common, tired fill here - more than I'd expect on a Friday. ERIE (52D: War of 1812 siege site) and ERE I (22D: "A special laurel _____ go": Whitman) at least have the decency to be playfully anagrammatic, but NEST, ESTER, ESTE (53D: City SW of Padua) ... just pass the "EST" back and forth. EZRA, ABAB, EMIT, ILE ... meh and more meh. I do like the pile-up of HARRY, VARY, and STATIONARY in the middle of the puzzle, as well as the overlapping RARE SNARE WEARS SERT (32A: Muralist José María _____) configuration, but overall there was a vanilla feel to the whole thing. I like vanilla. But I prefer chocolate.
Lots and lots of people in the puzzle. After MARGHERITA, there's Cheryl TIEGS (46D: Model who wrote "The Way to Natural Beauty") making a highly improbable second appearance in the grid in as many days. There's John ASTIN (25D: John of "Freaky Friday"). GANDHI you know (44D: Leader who said "There is no god higher than truth"). Reagan appointee Katherine ORTEGA you forgot about, if you ever knew her (11D: Katherine _____, 1983-89 Treasurer of the United States). Oh, SERT we already met. MENA Suvari (21A: Actress Suvari) needs to get in touch with Mira Sorvino and then explain to me how in the world I'm supposed to keep the two of them straight.
I balked at BAKERS for 24A: Ones at home on the range? BAKERS work in a range, not on it. If you go for the pun, you had better nail it. Forced puns are the worst. Worst! I had PAKERS here for a few seconds because PASTE would work as well as BASTE for 24D: Beat badly. Back to the issue of "?" clues - what is the logic behind the "?" in 50A: Halo tarnisher? (sin)? It's pretty straightforward. Is it that you don't want people to think you actually believe halos exist, or are made of metal that might actually tarnish? Is there a play on words I'm missing? Does the clue reference the "first-person shooter" game "Halo" in ways I just don't understand?
- Love the ATAVISM (1A: Reversion to an earlier type) / IT'S OPEN (8A: Shout after a knock) pairing at the top of the puzzle
- 19A: Xbox 360 competitor (Wii) - you can play "Halo" on Xbox.
- 41A: "Friends" who aren't really being helpful (enablers) - well, parents can certainly be ENABLERS, as can spouses, children, etc. "Friends" in quotation marks is a TV show.
- 5D: Ithaque, e.g. (ile) - Frenchifying "The Odyssey." Nice.
- 13D: Book concerned with the end of the Babylonian captivity (Ezra) - good thing this was in four letters; my bible knowledge can get a bit shaky in places.
- 14D: Kite flying destination? (nest) - that's a Good "?" clue
- 29D: Vichyssoise garnish (chive) - I used celery and parsley leaves to garnish the soup I made this past weekend.
- 43D: Flock-related (laical) - worst word in the grid. Why would you add "AL" to a word that already means "flock-related"?
- 26D: Sluggish tree-dweller (koala) - not clued as a "bear," so that's good. I wonder what "tree dweller" will have to say about this clue...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld