WEDNESDAY, Mar. 11, 2009 - Caleb Madison (Proto-matter from which universe was made / Sitcom father of Mearth / 1957 Fats Domino hit)
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: Four people walk into a BAR ... (58D: Judging by their names, where the answers to the four starred clues might be found?) - four theme answers all have alcoholic beverages in their names
Word of the Day: YLEM - A form of matter hypothesized by proponents of the big bang theory to have existed before the formation of the chemical elements. (answers.com)
This puzzle has a fantastic NW corner. Perhaps that seems an odd place to start, but ... well, no, that's probably where most people start, actually, but I doubt most people knocked it out perfectly on the first go round. It's not (at all) common to see "X" as the first (i.e. far NW) letter in a grid. I had heard of both XENIA (1A: Ohio town called the Bicycle Capital of the Midwest) and X & Y (1D: 2005 #1 album for Coldplay) before, but they did not leap to mind, and so I had to hack at the easier answers up there until they gave way. The whole top half of the puzzle is lovely, actually. OK, maybe not FGH (22D: String after E), but the rest of the upper half is quite good. It's the bottom, specifically everything abutting and including WALLACE BEERY, that gave me trouble, and that got a little ugly in parts.
Let's start with the fact that the only version of "The Champ" I know is from 1979 and stars Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway, and Rick(y) Schroder. I've barely even heard of WALLACE BEERY, but he won an Oscar and I got the BEER part from the theme, so fine. He sticks out a bit in this group (e.g. he's the only dead one), but he's valid. My main problem is the horrid little growths that protrude from him. There's the tiny but irksome ANA / UNU crossing (46D: Tennis's Ivanovic / 49A: First P.M. of Burma). I love palindromes as much as the next guy, but I don't like weird proper nouns crossing like this. Plus they just look silly married together like that. Reminds me of Letterman hosting the Oscars back in the 90s: "ANA ... UNU ... UNU ... ANA."
The bigger problem was the WTF-ery of YLEM (50A: Proto-matter from which the universe was made), insofar as it crosses the rarely seen "W.B." version of YEATS (43D: "The Second Coming" poet), and, especially, EEO (48D: Want ad abbr.), which is one of those nasty little abbrevs. that seems like a shapeshifter - I know I've seen EOE in "want ads" too, and probably other abbrevs. as well. I had seen YLEM once before, I think, probably in a puzzle, so the "E" seemed the only plausible thing to go in the third position (the last square I filled in), but the whole area made me grimace a bit.
But then I noticed OSCULATE / TITS (37D: Kiss / 62A: Small songbirds), and all was forgiven. More than forgiven. How can someone who could probably still get away with ordering a KID'S MEAL (9D: Restaurant offering that might come with a toy) and isn't even old enough to have lived in a DORM ROOM yet (40D: Stereotypically messy digs) pull this kind of stuff off?
- 20A: *Bush cabinet member who resigned in 2006 (Donald RUMsfeld) - did you ever notice that RESIGNED and RE-SIGNED are spelled identically, but mean, essentially, opposite things?
- 26A: *Her "Rehab" won a Grammy for Song of the Year (Amy WINEhouse) - not sure it's cool to implicate an addict in a BAR-related puzzle.
- 45A: *Best Actor winner for "The Champ," 1931 (Wallace BEERy)
- 54A: *"Star Wars" actress who's a Harvard grad (Natalie PORTman) - I hate seeing "Star Wars" used (without qualification) to clue anything but the 1977 movie, even though that version has been renamed "The Last Hope" or "The Final Countdown" or "Temple of Doom" or some such nonsense.
- 6A: Sitcom father of Mearth (Mork) - I had No idea that "Mearth" was spelled that way.
- 10A: Longest-serving senator in U.S. history (Byrd) - I knew he was the longest-serving senator in today's Senate. I did not know he had served longer than any Senator ever. Wow. He beat Thurmond and everything.
- 18A: Librarian's imperative (read) - wait, does that mean the it is imperative for him/her to READ, or that he/she commands you to READ? I'm not sure either one is right. I was expecting some version of "SHHH" here.
- 39A: Friend from way, way back (old dear) - I claim this is made up, or else it's from a time way, way, way back, so far back that of all living people, only Senator BYRD has heard it used in everyday speech.
- 51A: Real ending? (ize) - I had ISM, then IST
- 59A: Simple quatrain form (ABAA) - aargh. This seems less simple (and less common) to me than ABBA or ABAB. ABAA is the FGH of the bottom half of the puzzle.
- 66A: Livia, to Tiberius (mater) - Latin for "mother." I barely recognize the names involved here.
- 44A: Places for hops (oasts) - just one letter off from OASIS (60A: Al-Qatif, for one).
- 6D: Rob of "Numb3rs" (Morrow) - I like to pronounce the "3" when I say it (which, admittedly, is not often)
- 10D: 1957 Fats Domino hit ("Blue Monday") - great answer, one that I thought was a theme answer at first, and so went on the lookout for colors. Or days of the week. FAT TUESDAY?
- 12D: Pretoria money (rand) - is that South Africa? It is. OK. Good. Just checking.
- 27D: Prefix with liberal (neo-) - have not heard anyone called a NEO-liberal. NEO-conservative, all the time.
- 28D: 180's (uies) - ouch. I say that only because I wanted what I consider to be the preferred spelling: UEYS.
- 56D: Relative of a stork (ibis) - took me a bit, mainly because my image of an IBIS involves wading, while my image of a stork involves flying, preferably with a blanket and baby in its mouth.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld