Deadhead icon — WEDNESDAY, Jun. 3 2009 — Restaurateur Toots / Banned apple spray / Retired Mach 1 breaker
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: TWENTY-SIX STATES (36A: What this puzzle's perimeter contains abbreviations for) - state codes line the perimeter of the puzzle, from MA to HI in the north, from IA to ME in the east, from NE to DE in the south, and from MO to IN in the west
Word of the Day: OLMEC (41A: Early Mexican) - n., pl. Olmec or -mecs.
- An early Mesoamerican Indian civilization centered in the Veracruz region of southeast Mexico that flourished between 1300 and 400 B.C., whose cultural influence was widespread throughout southern Mexico and Central America.
- A member of any of various peoples sharing the Olmec culture.
I just don't understand: Why does this puzzle exist? Is it TWENTY-SIX STATES Day? Why TWENTY-SIX? Please don't tell me it's because that's exactly how many state codes could fit around the perimeter of the puzzle, because that is not a good enough answer. Yes, there is a mild "look what he did" factor today, getting the state codes to ring the puzzle, with none of them repeating, and corner letters having to do double duty. But, again, I ask "why?" This is a completely pointless concept, especially when your central answer is something as arbitrary as TWENTY-SIX STATES. Why, that's almost as arbitrary as, say, AGE TEN (44D: What many fifth graders have reached) (an answer I hate so much I won't even speak of it ... I'm just glad to know that AGETHREE, AGESIXTY, and AGEEIGHTYEIGHT are all valid crossword answers now; that should be interesting). Knowing that the perimeter is made of state codes does nothing to help you solve the puzzle — unless, like me, you can't spell GANDHI to save your life, in which case maybe there was a small point to the state code thing after all (9A: Title role for Ben Kingsley). After I finished the puzzle, I could look and say, "boy, those sure are ... TWENTY-SIX STATES." That is not what I would call a payoff.
Moreover, the fill in this puzzle is manifestly subpar. I'll start by saying I love MALARIAL (1A: Like some fevers) and TJMAXX (21D: Discount apparel chain) as answers, but that's about where the praise ends today. First wince came at ETTES (22A: Diminutive endings). Suffixes aren't likable, but they're tolerable. Plural suffixes, however, should go straight to hell without passing Go. Then we have the equally unlovable variant spelling of EMIR - today, EMEER (31D: Mideast bigwig: Var.). Then there's IRANIS (60A: Farsi speakers), which is standard crossword fare, but I'm under the influence of veteran constructor and onetime "Simpsons" guest star Merl Reagle, who is on record as saying, and I quote:
EERY and IRANI: I would not use them except as a last, embarrassing resort. My main reason is that the mainstream press doesn't recognize them as acceptable, and thus readers don't either [...] I read a lot. I follow domestic and world news. I keep notebooks on words and usages. I have never see IRANI outside of a crossword. Period. This doesn't mean I myself have never used it in a puzzle. I've been making New York Times-style crosswords for thirty-one years. I've used practically every crappy word on anyone's crappy word list. Volume 3 of my Sunday crosswords has EMEER in it twice, both times clued as a variant ..." (from "The Crossword Obsession" by Coral Amende, p. 226-27)
I know you have 61 squares of theme fill, and are thus compelled to make some compromises, but come on. All this crosswordese. All this iffy stuff like STAC. (49D: Opposite of legato, in mus.) and CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps - news to me - 58D: New Deal inits.). Oh, and then there's the fact that the "state code" thing has been done to death in puzzles over the past few years. And then there's the ASMARA / JAGR crossing, which I got because JAGR (45A: Hockey's Jaromir) is very famous, hockey-wise, but ... I can imagine some people hitting those two crossing proper nouns, the first of which is certainly not that well known (34D: Eritrea's capital) and the second of which is very well known only to sports fans, and thinking "what ... goes here?" The "R" is not exactly inferrable (to Americans) in a name like JAGR. So, to conclude, IN RE: this puzzle — boo.
- 1A: Like some fevers (MA LA RI AL)
- 9A: Title role for Ben Kingsley (GA ND HI)
- 14D: Pet food brand (IA MS)
- 32D: Like items in a junk drawer: Abbr. (MI SC)
- 54D: Showed up (CA ME)
- 1D: When repeated, a Billy Idol hit (MO NY)
- 33D: Gas, e.g.: Abbr. (UTIL)
- 47D: Self-absorbed (VA IN)
- 62A: Drink of the gods (NE CT AR)
- 63A: Retired Mach breaker (CO NC OR DE)
- 23A: Restaurateur Toots (Shor) - Crosswordese 101. Actually, very appealing, as crosswordese goes — an important figure in the nightlife of postwar New York. I collect vintage paperbacks in large part because so many of the people on the covers look so damned cool, like they've just come from smoking and drinking and generally enjoying themselves at Toots SHOR's.
- 34A: Banned apple spray (alar) - Crosswordese 101. Not as cool as SHOR.
- 9D: 1970s-'80s supermodel Carangi (Gia) - Crosswordese ... OK, I'll stop now.
- 38D: Vegan's protein source (tofu) - first, not all vegans eat TOFU. Second, TOFU is the "protein source" of Anyone Who Eats Tofu (lots of meat-eaters eat tofu). Kill this clue.
- 43D: Deadhead icon (Garcia) - I was thinking "wasted-looking teddy bear"
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
See Orange's write-up of today's puzzling LAT puzzle here.