WEDNESDAY, Nov. 19, 2008 - Peter A. Collins (Where to find a vaquero / Eisner successor at Disney / Ancient Dead Sea sect / Classic batting game)
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: Mixed-up athletes - five theme answers are anagrams of college sports team names; wacky clues end in "?"' and contain the phrase "mixed-up [college name] athlete"
Good day to know your major college sports teams. I did. Otherwise, I'm not sure how good a day it was. A very inventive theme is marred by some hard-to-overlook nonsense in the non-theme fill. And the theme itself covers only 33 squares - normally I'm not a square-counter, but the theme depth here feels particularly shallow. This means there's a lot of non-theme ground to cover, and there are fewer excuses for why non-theme answers could or should go so horribly wrong. I'll start with HEDONICS (21D: Study of pleasure) - undoubtedly a word, but yikes, what the hell? Is this a scientific study? Anthropological study? If you mean "study" in terms of "practice," then surely the correct / better / non-insane word is HEDONISM. That's the word actual people actually know and might actually use, anyway. Then there are the partials, ON A (33A: _____ high) and AN O (48A: What makes God good?). Anagrammatic partials? I don't know whether to groan or applaud. If there were no more odd partials, I would tilt toward applause, but then A CAB comes careening along and it's partial bloodshed. ACAB (61A: Hail _____)! For an answer that absurd, why not get a clue to match, like [End of a 1981 Genesis album]? [1981 Genesis finale?]?. A CAB hurts, especially after the ONA ANO twins. Oh god, they're palindromes too. [Oh god, I temporarily forgot what "palindrome" means! If you squoosh them together, they're a palindrome] Now they just seem evil.
GOO is bad enough in the singular - GOOS seems a joke (19A: Nursery sounds). "What's the noise coming from the baby's room, honey?" "Those are just GOOS - go back to sleep." It's a hard word to use in a sentence (with a straight face). My biggest issues with this puzzle, however, are back in ACABIA, which is what I have renamed the SW corner (for today only). Aside from the aforementioned ACAB, I get the variant spelling of a "batting game" that is already super-dated and unknown to most people born after 1960. I "know" this "batting game" as ONE *O* CAT. A quick look at the cruciverb database shows that this is how the puzzle generally knows the game as well. Today's ONE *A* CAT (41D: Classic batting game) is an outlier. The NYT, for the past decade, has something like one instance of using the "A"-spelling, and then only in a partial (ONEA). I kept the "O" there for a long time, thinking "well, I know SOLUT is not a word ... but I know ONEOCAT is right ..." SOLUT was of course SALUT (58A: "Cheers!" abroad). So memo to self - ONEA and ONEO both count even though No One Plays This Game Anymore.
But the killer answer in the puzzle, the one that really murdered me (and my unborn son), was LACI (66A: Peterson of 2003 news). "News?" I don't know what to say here. The best thing I can say is that it's in poor taste. Not mentioning *why* she was in the "news" seems really disingenuous - and yet it's clear that you couldn't very well clue it [2003 murder victim Peterson], could you? Which means you probably should have just left it alone. No other LACIs, you say. Hmmm. Not sure that's a good enough excuse for not rewriting the quadrant. "Gee, we'd like to respect your memory and your privacy, but your name is just too damned convenient to pass up ... sorry, LACI." Using the name while (vainly) sanitizing it of its origin seems very, very wrong.
- 23A: Jacket material for a mixed-up North Carolina athlete? (leather) - TARHEEL
- 37A: Oenophile, as a mixed-up Michigan athlete? (wine lover) - WOLVERINE
- 56A: Flew by, as a mixed-up Michigan state athlete? (ran past) - SPARTAN
- 10D: Jargon from a mixed-up Florida athlete? (argot) - GATOR
- 55D: Apply to the skin, as on a mixed-up U.C.L.A. athlete? (rub in) - BRUIN
- 6A: Shots for sots (nips) - "sots" is one of my favorite xword words
- 43A: 1962 #1 country hit "_____ Been Everywhere" ("I've") - a song that has been virtually destroyed by the Choice Hotels commercial:
Here, use this to get the taste out of that last version out of your mouth:
This one's even better:
- 44A: "Ma! He's Making Eyes _____" (1940 hit) ("at me") - !?
- 53A: King of the Roman Empire (Rex) - yay! Hey, why is REX preceded by EGO ...? (51A: Sartre's "The Transcendence of the _____")
- 62A: Actress Raines on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Ella) - odd clue. She's famous for being on the Walk of Fame?
- 69A: Egyptian sun god (Aten) - sounds like a highway or a bingo square ... you know, if BINGO contained an "A"
- 1D: Flanders of Springfield (Ned) - awesome that this puzzle's Downs go from one three-letter animated extreme (NED) to another (REN - 65D: Stimpy's TV pal)
- 5D: Where to find a vaquero (rancho) - [_____ Cucamonga] would have made me happy in a way that few fill-in-the-blanks ever could
- 7D: Eisner successor at Disney (Iger) - ILER? IVER? IGOR? This guy's name is hard for me to remember.
- 8D: Grace, for one (prayer) - for some reason, I didn't understand this at first. Then I remembered that one can "Say Grace" before dinner and what not ... I think of "grace" as a concept, not a prayer. But this is a fine clue.
- 22D: Tony winner Patrick (Magee) - unknown to me. Did a lot of Beckett. Was in "A Clockwork Orange."
- 24D: Shogun capital (Edo) - took me a while to sort out ETO and EDO when I first started solving crosswords. I associate both with war.
- 32D: Actress Aulin of "Candy" (Ewa) - Ewwwwwww. Who? What is "Candy?" - whoa: "The erotic journey of a naive schoolgirl!?" Sounds like something I should know. Apparently EWA did something with Ringo Starr, because how else do you explain this?:
- 46D: Mayo, for one (mes) - Spanish. Very nice misdirection.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS Happy birthday to longtime reader and frequent commenter "imsdave" (Facebook "friends" tend to get birthday shout-outs, as Facebook remembers birthdays better than I ever could)