MONDAY, Mar. 30, 2009 - AC Michaels (1944 thriller with Fred MacMurray / 1928 Oscar winner Jannings / Drug that calms the nerves, slangily)
Monday, March 30, 2009
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x - four 15-letter theme answers that begin SINGLE, DOUBLE, TRIPLE, and QUADRUPLE, respectively
Word of the Day: WHIR - v., whirred, whir·ring, whirs. v.intr.
To move so as to produce a vibrating or buzzing sound.v.tr.
To cause to make a vibratory sound.n.
- A sound of buzzing or vibration: the whir of turning wheels.
- Excited, noisy activity; bustle: the whir of busy shoppers.
[Middle English whirren, probably of Scandinavian origin.]I came close to breaking the three minute mark on this one, which puts it on the easy side for me, but looking back over the puzzle, I honestly think it's got more challenging, or at least more unusual and interesting, fill than most Mondays, so I bumped its difficulty level back up to Average. It's not a terribly original theme, but as usual with Andrea's puzzles, the theme is tight and coherent, the answers are solid and colorful, and nowhere in the puzzle did I ever utter "ugh" or squint in displeasure. This puzzle is like a Double Stuf Oreo with the bleaker, dryer, darker answers on the top and bottom - SINGLE OCCUPANCY (17A: Small hotel room specification) sounds depressing and QUADRUPLE BYPASS (62A: Serious heart surgery) is clearly undesirable (unless the alternative is death - at any rate, unpleasant). Then there are the creamy middle answers, the delicious TRIPLE LAYER CAKE (47A: Baked dessert with lemon filling, maybe) and the sweet noir goodness of "DOUBLE INDEMNITY" (27A: 1944 thriller with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck) - one of the small handful of movies that originally defined "Film Noir." The dialogue toward the end of this clip is rightly legendary:
I made WHIR my Word of the Day (21A: Fan sound) because it looks wrong to me, which means I clearly can't spell it. I want it to be WHIRR, like ... SHIRR, I guess, which is a far less common word, but nonetheless, that's what I want. I feel like WHIR needs two "R"s to signify what it's doing, i.e. buzzing. One "R" just doesn't evoke the sound. The "R" is doubled, or course, in the present participle (WHIRRING) and the past tense (WHIRRED), and STIR seems to do just fine with one "R" - but STIR doesn't have to make noise. WHIRRRRRR.
My problems with WHIR aside, the grid is lovely, with many points of interest, especially the conspiracy theory in the middle, where Diana SPENCER (40A: Princess Diana's family name) has a run-in with a NINJA (31D: Japanese fighter). The latter clue is an instance of strange difficulty (for a Monday). I wanted a fighter plane. There is nothing in the clue to indicate that the answer is a. human or b. stealthy, both of which are quintessential NINJA qualities. I also thought CELIA was tough (58A: Oliver's love in "As You Like It"). I haven't read that play (or seen it) in years and so did Not know the answer. Ben Jonson's "Song to CELIA" is more familiar to me, as is the Simon and Garfunkel song [the song is actually "Cecilia" - I could swear they eat that first syllable at least once]. Other stuff made me pause too, but mainly because of its cool originality, not its inherent toughness. BIG BABY is a fantastic answer - one that on a Saturday could be clued as [Nickname of Celtics forward Glen Davis]. It's true - that's his (great) nickname: Glen "BIG BABY" Davis. I also love (and did Not get at first pass) TRANK (34D: Drug that calms the nerves, slangily). Colloquial, slangy, vaguely scandalous-sounding. Livens up an already lively grid. Good stuff.
- 5A: 1928 Oscar winner Jannings (Emil) - learned of him from xwords. He joins a host of other 4-letter actors, incl. ESAI, EDIE, and SELA. Then there are the 4-letter non-actors, TONI, KERN, and OMAR. And then the 4-letter fictional character, XENA.
- 1D: Words said in fun (jest) - I was weirdly slow getting out of the NW because of this answer. I went with JOKE. Stupid, since the "in fun" part should have triggered the phrase "in JEST" ... but no.
- 38A: Ad _____ per aspera (Kansas' motto) (astra)- yeah, if you haven't already, you should really memorize that motto. That, and Montana's "Oro y Plata"
- 44D: Start of a daily school recital ("I pledge") - way to improvise! I PLEDGE is not really a self-standing phrase, but it's clued perfectly, it's easy to get, and it (probably) results in a corner more interesting than it would have been otherwise. Actually, it was probably a desperation move to born out of the need to come up with something to connect those two theme answers at the odd letters "P" and "D." Whatever. I love it. Also, it goes great with "I, TINA" (33D: Singer Turner's autobiography).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
Cool Baseball / Shakespeare puzzle over at BEQ.