Conductor noted for wearing turtlenecks: THURSDAY, Feb. 19, 2009 - K Der (Marshalls competitor / Bond villain in "Moonraker" / Boomer's kid)
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: EXTRA, EXTRA (57A: Old street cry, or what's in 18-, 23-, 34-, 42- and 51-Across?) - theme answers are familiar phrases with one EXTRA letter added to the beginning, creating wacky phrases, which are clued, "?"-style; the added letters are, in order, E, X, T, R, and A.
Word of the Day: AVULSE - To separate or tear away a body part, as from an accident or surgery. (medicinenet.com)
I loved this puzzle. That is, I loved it until the SE, where my love was seriously compromised by a horrendous crossing of ugliness. I wanted to AVULSE that corner from the puzzle. In fact, I did. Or, rather, I quickly rewrote it to make the ugliness go away.
I admit it's a bit bland. ARE isn't great and ITER is a bit too xwordy, but ULNA and AS IS aren't exactly winners either. Besides, I did this version in about two minutes with just pencil and paper. A little effort and surely even better fill would emerge. I'll take NuGrid over the current grid if only because my way = no AVULSE (47D: Tear off forcefully) / A.M.E. (47A: Letters on some churches) crossing, which, though I guessed the "A" correctly, is a "Natick Principle" violation in my book (despite its involving only one proper noun). It especially bugs me when a crossing of not terribly common terms happens a. at a vowel, and b. at an initial, or part of an abbreviation. Since AVULSE is a fantastically uncommon word, I'd expect that "A" cross to be something gettable, or at least something that would make "E" impossible, because I really, really wanted "E," and Latin-wise, the "E" prefix makes total sense. EVERT, EGEST, EJECT. The only reason I guessed "A" was that "A.M.E." rang a very faint bell, and I could imagine that the "A" stood for something common like "American." Turns out it stands for "African," as in "African Methodist Episcopal." In retrospect, I'm sure I've seen "A.M.E." before. But ... wow, that corner is just painful. OK, I'm done. On to the awesomeness.
I love when the theme answers don't just work (i.e. pass muster) - they snap. They sizzle. AWES CRAVEN (51A: Amazes a horror film director?) is very clever, as is RADIOS AMIGOS (42A: Transmits a message to Pancho and pals?), despite the vowel sound change both entail. I'm not exactly sure what kind of "WINDOW" is being referred to in the clue for EBAY WINDOW (18A: What might have the heading "Collectibles" or "Toys & Hobbies"). I'm guessing it's just a web browser window, but does the "WINDOW" have the "heading?" Maybe so. XRAY OF HOPE (23A: Optimistic scan at the dentist's?) and TURBAN LEGEND (34A: Story of Ali Baba?) round out the long and impressive list of theme answers. Going six deep, all Acrosses, is a very impressive feat.
In typical KDer-esque fashion, this puzzle crackles with inventive fill and Scrabbly letters. In fact, I think it was probably excessive fondness for the "Q" that got this puzzle into trouble in the SE (56A: Starters and more -> SQUAD / 54D: Water colors -> AQUAS). Sometimes you have to know when to say when. But the X's today are phenomenal - and they're everywhere. Two answers with two X's in them - the last theme answer, as well as the dramatic TJ MAXX (1D: Marshalls competitor) - and then a fifth "X" at the end of DRAX (55A: Bond villain in "Moonraker"). I had DR. NO where DRAX was supposed to be at first, though I knew he was the eponymous villain in "DR. NO," not "Moonraker." Then there are the ZEES (50A: Scrabble 10-pointers). Penelope CRUZ (37D: "Volver" actress, 2006) does not interest me, despite her beautiful first name, but OZAWA ... OZAWA I like, especially dressed up in this sartorial clue - 67A: Conductor noted for wearing turtlenecks. If you are going to do a Google Image search of [Ozawa] and have an aversion to Japanese/Canadian porn stars, I suggest you turn the SafeSearch function "ON" before you begin. Or just search [Ozawa conductor]. That seemed to do the trick.
Lastly, I love the scifi mini-theme up in the N and NW. JERI (14A: Ryan of "Star Trek: Voyager") followed immediately by YODA (15A: Film character who says "Named must your fear be before banish it you can") ... and intersected by NIMOY (4D: "I Am Spock" autobiographer)!? The nerd factor in that nexus is so high that I don't think it can be accurately measured. Very daring, Mr. Der.
- 30A: Boomer's kid (X'er) - my parents are a tad too old to be boomers, but I am right in the XER sweet spot. Both my parents were born *during* the war. Don' t know what that makes them.
- 68A: Unfortunate date ending (slap) - I love this clue, but I sure hope it's a girl slapping a guy and not the other way around. The latter scenario would make "unfortunate" a horrible euphemism.
- 69A: Dickens's Mr. Pecksniff (Seth) - I really should read more Dickens. To me, SETH is a fantastic comics artist and illustrator.
- 3D: Amount of debt, old-style (arrear) - singular!? Wow, how "old" are we talking? Both the definitions in my Webster's Third International Dictionary that are marked "archaic" are not debt-related. Guess I need to crack out my OED. Ugh. It's downstairs. Too lazy.
- 7D: Home of the City of Rocks National Reserve (Idaho) - been to the state many times, but never heard of this "city". It's eerie-looking. Its "inhabitants" are all rocks that look like strange, ghost-like creatures.
- 10D: Ancient pillager (Hun) - poor Huns. Known for only one thing.
- 12D: "Wedding Album" recording artist (Ono) - Oh, Yoko. You can't stay away for long, can you?
- 19D: Prop on "The Price is Right" (wheel) - this took me way longer than it should have. I forgot about that damned gigantic wheel.
- 36D: Dortmund denials (neins) - the Dortmunder novels of the late Donald Westlake are worth checking out. Speaking of speaking German, here is one of my favorite German-speakers - Rainier Wolfcastle!
- 55D: Precursor to Surrealism (Dada) - Dada I generally like, but Surrealism, not so much. Melting watches and bird-headed ladies only do so much for me.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld