THURSDAY, Dec. 4, 2008 - Barry C. Silk (First of a Disney trio / It lies beneath Wayne Manor / Hit 1983 pseudo-documentary / Louis and Carrie)
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "CLEAR THE ..." (63A: With 64-Across, words that can precede the starts of 18-, 31-, 38- and 55-Across)
Had a rough time with this one the first time around, for a couple of reasons. First, I made a huge mistake at 27A: Soup or salad ingredient (scallion) and kept that mistake in place for a long time. Off the -ION, I wrote in RED ONION. Now, I had LAIR correct at 28D: Wilderness home, but RED ONION made me change it to NEST (reasonable!) and created a serious, nearly intractable problem - one that was only compounded by my lack of German - had no clue about SIEG (36A: Victory, Viennese-style). Sounds Hitleresque. Anyway, all of this made that NW very hard to get into. Though I've seen the abbrev. AQI before, I didn't remember it, and still don't remember what it means (14A: E.P.A. pollution meas.). Aargh, it's the Air Quality Index and it's that damned color-coded thing that tells you how bad the air is. AQI also stands for Al-Qaeda in Iraq, btw.
Didn't like any of the theme answers except THROAT LOZENGE, which is great (31A: Medicated candy). All the other answers are indeed actual things, but they don't exactly jump off the grid at you. AIR MAIL LETTER (38A: Comparatively quick communication) seems slightly odd. I know you send LETTERs by AIR MAIL, but I can't imagine saying, "Look, ma, I got me an AIR MAIL LETTER all the way from France!" Doesn't most mail travel by air? The phrase "Par Avion" / "Air Mail" is familiar to me as something you see stamped on letters, but the whole thing together feels a little limp. AREA CODE MAP (55A: Verizon reference) ... I guess there's one of those in the front of my phone book. DECK OFFICER (18A: Bridge authority) is generic. Also, it threw me a bit, as I was waiting on DECK OF ... CARDS? DECK OF ... what!?
There were an ungodly number of abbreviations in this puzzle. I won't list them all, but my least favorite were DIMAG (47A: Joltin' Joe) - which is valid but seems desperate and sounds more like a two-part EMAG; ENLS (33D: Big pictures: Abbr.) - ENL is bad enough without that "S" on the end; and ADDL (4D: Like shipping and handling, typically: Abbr.), which, again, is valid, but looks like it's missing its last letter, and looks particular bad in the top of the puzzle, where most of the abbrevs. are living (AQI, SSW, ETC, ARIZ - 10D: Home of Snowflake, which, ironically, gets very little snow: Abbr.). A HEAP of Abbrevs. (4A: Loads).
I LOSE (60A: "You win") is about the SADDEST (1D: Most blue) crossword answer I've ever seen. It's pathetic both in terms of its meaning, and in terms of its not being really crossworthy, not being very strong as a stand-alone phrase. Also, the clue? Pretty uninspired. Sorry I LOSE, but you do in fact lose.
This puzzle features postcards from Europe - featuring VIEWS (24A: Typical postcard attractions) of the VOLGA (24D: One end of the Moscow Canal) and the ELBE (23A: River of Saxony). It also features twin classical obscurities INO (25D: Daughter of Cadmus) and ENYO (37A: Greek war goddess). INO ENYO sounds like an 80s synth pop band. It's also calling up CHICHEN ITZA and SHIBA INU. And Hawaiian senator Daniel INOUYE.
Still, many other answers were great, including my first answer in the grid, the fantastic BAT CAVE (51A: It lies beneath Wayne Manor). Always good to have a longish gimme to start. The tie-in to GOTHAM (35D: Setting for the 51-Across) was particularly nice.
The whole SW was particularly lovely - "I'M BACK and ready to CRUSH KOREA!" (43D: Announcement after being away + 59A: Infatuation + 62A: So-called Hermit Kingdom of old). The NW, despite being hard to get into, was very likable. SQUELCH is a great word (2D: Silence) and it makes a nice contrast to the more sophisticated-sounding WINE BAR (3D: Reception amenity).
- 16A: Magyar : Hungarian :: Gaelige : _____ (Irish) - should have been a gimme, but my eye scanned it as foreign gibberish I couldn't possibly know and moved quickly on ...
- 22A: Yahoo! competitor (Net Zero) - how do they compete? I don't pay for Yahoo! Mail. Isn't Net Zero an ISP?
- 50A: Actor Tamiroff (Akim) - no hope. No hope in hell. That is a last/first name pairing that don't seem to go together at all. AKIM sounds African (-American) to me, but apparently, this guy is (was) Russian. Whoops, sorry: Georgian. Born in Tbilisi (a great crossword town)!
- 58A: Implement with a collar (oar) - ah, rowing. Where would the puzzle be without you?
- 5D: First of a Disney trio (Huey) - yay. My first guess, and a correct one. Daughter used to be very into Donald Duck (it's all Archie these days).
- 8D: Nokia offering (phone) - adverts for Verizon and Nokia today...
- 12D: Cyberhandle (user ID) - "Cyberhandle"? That sounds like a word some guy would use in the late 90s to impress some chick at a Star Trek convention. "Hey baby, my cyberhandle is picardsux. Look for me."
- 21D: Hastert's successor as speaker of the House (Pelosi) - my first thought, but then the whole RED ONION incident happened ...
- 32D: Hit 1983 pseudo-documentary ("Zelig") - Woody Allen's birthday was on Monday. He's 73.
- 34D: Louis and Carrie (Nyes) - What about Bill?
- 39D: "_____ Man," top 10 hit of 1967 ("I'm a") - finally, some music.
- 48D: _____ Andric, 1961 Literature Nobelist (Ivo) - IVO, meet INO and ENYO. I'm sure you'll get along swimmingly.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld