THURSDAY, Jan. 15, 2009 - P. Blindauer (Longtime breath freshener / Paul Anka hit that made it to #19 / Irish interjection / Paradoxical fellow)
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: BREAK IN (38A: Burglary ... or a hint to 17/18-, 26/29-, 47/51- and 62/63-Across) - theme answers are all 14 letters long and broken in half (by a black square) between the "I" and the "N"
Word of the day: SEN-SEN - Sen-Sen is a type of breath freshener originally marketed as a "breath perfume" in the late nineteenth century by the T. B. Dunn Company, currently produced by F&F Foods. Sen Sen bears a strong resemblance to Nigroids, a liquorice sweet made by Ernest Jackson & Company Ltd. [wikipedia]
Writing this one up quickly tonight, as I don't have much to say about it. Love the idea and execution of the theme, not so wild about the rest of the fill. The grid (perhaps by necessity) is this odd snaky shape that creates a lot of 3- and 4-letter words - not the optimal conditions for interesting, let alone exciting fill. To PB2's credit, there's not much real junk - only one weak partial, for instance, at ASET (12D: Play _____ (do some tennis)). SENSEN feels like something a puzzle forces you into - like there's a pay-to-play transaction going on, where the word donates huge amounts of very useful letters to your puzzle-writing campaign, and in exchange you let him hang around and smoke your cigars and generally be an incompetent nuisance. Then again, I didn't know SENSEN (8D: Longtime breath freshener), so maybe in time I will see that he is very worthy, and, in fact, a very nice guy. Still, as I was saying, SENSEN's about as ughy as full-word fill gets here, so that's good. But what is with the abbreviations? I count six, and that's not including R.I.P. and AKA (which are used so often that they have full-word status in my mind): SSGT, ETAS, MKTS, NSA, SPR, and YEO. I'm not sure what the average is, or what the ideal is, but six seems high. Maybe the theme was more restrictive than I can tell. That's possible.
Then there's the names. I like names. I'm a name-liker. They can make puzzles fun. AIELLO is kind of entertaining (49D: Danny of "Ruby"), what with all those vowels (AIELLO played Sal in "Do The Right Thing" and SAL'S shows up in puzzles from time to time, FYI). But here there's a torrent of names, and not enough of them good. A good chunk of them come from the world of TV and movies - AIELLO, GRETA, MAYER (26D: Early film executive), INGA. Then there's the know- it- only- from- crosswords AKELA, the disappointingly immortal EDEL (25A: Pulitzer-winning biographer Leon), and the ultra-common OTT, SAKI, and NAOMI (28D: She renamed herself Mara, in Scripture). TAZ (35D: Looney Tunes nickname) and ZENO (45A: Paradoxical fellow) get passes, as they have fancy Zs and are cutely holding hands. What does all this mean? Not a lot. I guess I'm saying I wish the fill were as inspired as the theme concept. If it were, perhaps I wouldn't be spending the write-up counting abbreviations and names. Or counting all the "IN"s that aren't broken - RUIN, INSIST, INGA, SINE, and the first RAIN.
- 17A: With 18-Across, "J'ai Deux Amours" singer (Josephi / ne Baker)
- 26A: With 29-Across, tangerine (Mandari / n orange)
- 47A: With 51-Across, wet-day wish ("Rain, rai / n, go away!") - have to say, wasn't real sure what a "wet-day" was at first ... Also, my first thought at 51A, before I'd looked at the clue, was "Who is this Vietnamese guy I've never heard of?"
- 62A: With 63-Across, temporary setback (stumbli / ng block)
The clues in this puzzle are, for the most part, remarkably straightforward - not as tricksy as I expect from a late-week puzzle. I did get burned, temporarily, by 20A: Extended vacationers may take them, because I couldn't figure out how "take" was being used, and could not see what word letter could possibly go in the empty space in -UBLETS. NUBLETS? TUBLETS? I think I had to run through the alphabet, or start doing so, anyway, before SUBLETS came to me. Further, I couldn't figure out, even after I got the answer, if the vacationers sublet a home at their vacation destination, or sublet their own home to other people while they were away. I'm guessing the former. Beyond that clue, nothing really caused confusion. Oh, I think I might have had EAT at first for 11A: One way to get something down (pat). 36A: Rice pad for DORM is cute, but I saw right through it - probably because of the [Duke's quarters?] clue last week.
- 15A: Paul Anka hit that made it to #19 ("Eso Beso") - a crossword standard, usually seen in partial form (i.e. either "ESO" or "BESO")
- 1A: Irish interjection (Begorra!) - it's quite multicultural up there in the NW, with the Irish and the Mexicans (1D: Mexican peninsula -> BAJA) and the ARABIAN horse (14A: The Black Stallion, e.g.)
- 42A: Viral inflammation, informally (hep) - it's a close call, but I'd rather be reminded of a HEP cat than be reminded of hepatitis. As far as I can tell, this is the first time HEP has received a disease-related clue.
- 66A: Baby shower attendees, often (gal pals) - I have a love / hate relationship with this phrase. I admire its sassiness, as a phrase (that is, as a linguistic entity), but something about the phrase reminds me of a TV show that I'm sure many of you love, but ... every time I catch even a glimpse of it, it makes me want to gouge out every sensory organ I've got. Every single one.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld