Cousin of a camel — WEDNESDAY, Jun 10 2009 — Locale of famous playing fields / Euro predecessor / Old Dead Sea kingdom / Obsessed mariner
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Constructor: Richard Silvestri
Relative difficulty: Challenging (took me Well over my normal Wednesday time)
THEME: FORTY-FOUR (55A: See 18-, 23-, 35- and 49-Across) — four theme answers are all in some way associated with the number "44" (except SUPER BOWL, which has the number 44 only on the date mentioned in the clue)
Word of the Day: ROSEATE (30A: Promising) — adj.
- Rose-colored: the roseate glow of dawn.
- Cheerful or bright; optimistic: a roseate outlook.
[From Latin roseus, rosy, from rosa, rose.]A mostly joyless experience today. The mutually referential theme clues meant that you could get none of the theme answers without crosses. OK, maybe you could infer HANK AARON (what other truly famous Atlanta Braves are there) or SUPER BOWL (the date mentioned in the clue is a hint), but when all the theme answers want you to see 55-Across, and 55-Across says "see the theme answers" ... well, I lose interest slightly and start in on the non-theme fill. And today, for whatever reason, a lot of it seemed very vaguely or trickily clued, such that ... well, virtually everything N and NW of ROSEATE (30A: Promising) was patchy-to-empty for a while. Never heard of RUTHENIUM, so that was never going to come on its own, or with help from 55-Across. Can't think of a use for TAURO- (7D: Bullish beginning?) as a prefix (though that answer, I got), didn't know ETON had "playing fields" that were at all well known (6A: Locale of famous playing fields), OFTEN got a tricky clue that looked more noun than adverb (8D: A lot), RAFT got a similar (and similarly vague) clue (15A: Whole lot), and NTH got a great but very tricky clue as well (9D: Nonacademic degree). The NW was a disaster too until I finally saw the clue for TIN EAR (2D: Musical liability), which is practically crosswordese it's so common, and then it opened up. This is all to say that the puzzle felt more Thursday or Friday than Wednesday, especially in these northern climes.
But difficulty is not a knock against the puzzle. My main complaint is about the theme. First, why is FORTY-FOUR interesting? Should I look forward to puzzles just like this with other numbers in there. THIRTY-TWO? EIGHTY-EIGHT? Seems a very loose theme, especially with SUPER BOWL in there, which is a terrible answer. All the other theme answers are genuine "44"s. SUPER BOWL is not "44". It's just not. Next year's SUPER BOWL is 44 (or XLIV). So three theme answers are definitively "44," while one is "44" only with a qualifier found off-grid (i.e. in the clue). Bah. Publishing this puzzle during the run-up to next year's SUPER BOWL might have saved this answer. Might have. Even then, though, this answer would have been the ugly, clunky, misshapen duckling. Not sure what makes FORTY-FOUR an interesting theme. Maybe if the core answers were really fascinating and provocative. But when RUTHENIUM and SUPER BOWL are half your arsenal ...
- 18A: Element number 55-Across (Ruthenium)
- 23A: Atlanta Brave who wore the number 55-Across (Hank Aaron)
- 35A: President number 55-Across (Barack Obama) — had the terminal "A" in place and that was enough; one of the few answers that went down quickly today
- 49A: Feb. 7, 2010, the date of this event's number 55-Across (Super Bowl) — clue is oddly phrased, as if the date were the clue. Feels like there should be an "is" after 2010.
The grid is otherwise reasonably filled, with more stumpers than I'm used to on a Wednesday. Didn't know RUTHENIUM or GUANACO (40A: Cousin of a camel) or BORMAN (45D: Apollo astronaut Frank). Had GUANACA right to the bitter end, when I realized MAAB was probably not the [Old Dead Sea kingdom] in question. So sad, considering GUANACOS was my "Word of the Day" a while back! So overall, solving was slow-going, without much pleasure in the process. I simply wasn't on this puzzle's wavelength (despite the "American Idol" bone it tossed me — 24D: "American Idol" judge DioGuardi).
- 16A: Obsessed mariner (Ahab) — possibly the first thing I put in the grid. Nope, I take that back. First thing was the delightful MCCI (10A: Start of the 13th century). Shortly thereafter, I filed in the equally delightful ENE / NNE crossing (ENE tries, and fails, to pretend that it is not also a direction)
- 31D: Euro predecessor (écu) — by a couple centuries, yes. The ECU ceased being an official currency unit during the French Revolution.
- 20A: Bygone compact (Geo) — had nothing here. Wasn't GEO the make (not model)? Were all GEOs "compacts?"
- 10D: Capital founded by Spanish invaders, 1571 (Manila) — nice Pacific Rim mini-theme up there in the NE.
- 21D: Music section (passage) — another good example of late-week cluing. This killed me, as I was looking for something like BRASS or WOODWINDS or STRINGS.
- 32D: Abbr. on a blotter (AKA) — took me a while to process "blotter"
- 43D: Tony winner Tyne (Daly) — best known to me as Mary Beth Lacey on "Cagney and Lacey"
- 56D: Term of a address in a monastery (Fra) — FRA Angelico was an Italian Renaissance painter, while FRA Diavolo was a "guerrila leader who resisted the French occupation of Naples" in the early 19th century (wikipedia). He also lent his name to a spicy pasta sauce.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld