SATURDAY, Jul. 4 2009 — 1946's Giant Brain / Parlor pic / Baseball's Dark Dowling / Non-coffee order at Starbucks / 1973 Ali jaw breaker
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Constructors: Peter A. Collins and Joe Krozel
Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: INDEPENDENCE DAY (7D: Highest-grossing film of 1996) — four theme answers relate to today's national holiday
Word of the Day: Athena ALEA (14A: Greek goddess Athena _____) —
Alea (Greek: Ἀλέα) was an epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, prominent in Arcadian mythology, under which she was worshiped at Alea, Mantineia and Tegea. Alea was initially an independent goddess, but was eventually assimilated with Athena. (wikipedia)
Expected something super-gimmicky, but got an oddly straightforward and uneventful holiday-themed puzzle instead. It's like a Saturday puzzle mated with a Tuesday puzzle, and this odd hybrid was the result. Big and relatively obvious theme answers made the puzzle super-tractable, but then there were these patches where clearly the difficulty had been artificially spiked. ARIS!? (39A: Greed war god, to Greeks). Even googling ARIS doesn't explain that one to you. I'm guessing there are untold numbers of people who have ARES here, grudgingly or happily accepting that the otter-hunting dog is an AEREDALE (actually AIREDALE, 36D: Dog originally bred to hunt otters). Aside from the strong double shot of Greek Goddery, there's not a lot to kill you here. In fact, the puzzle is oddly strong on (overly) familiar fill. EMEER (25A: Big man in Oman) and ENIAC (5A: 1946's "Giant Brain") and EDEL (62A: Henry James biographer Leon) and DDE (29A: Old White House monogram) and even ALAI (57A: Trans _____ (Kyrgyz/Tajik border range) are all old friends, though I'll admit to trying URAL at first for that last one. ALEA/BAKU crossing was a flat-out guess for me, though I'm sure BAKU has been in the puzzle before (4D: Azerbaijan's capital). One of those cities of well over a million people that I've never (or barely) heard of. There are a surprising lot of these, most of them in Asia.
- 20A: Fastest ocean liner ever in a transatlantic crossing (3 days, 12 hours, 12 minutes) (THE UNITED STATES)
- 34A: Private reading? (STARS AND STRIPES) — U.S. military's independent news source
- 54A: Patriotic display (RED WHITE AND BLUE) — is this a specific flag reference, or just a reference to anything RED WHITE AND BLUE, like party cups arranged on a table or M&Ms on a holiday cake or something?
Started up north, where somehow I was right about SARTRE (1D: He wrote "Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal") and SERB (1A: Landlocked European) right off the bat. Soon I had everything up there but the ALEA/BAKU square, including ROCK, which got me ROCK GARDEN (17A: Landscaper's project), and off we went. INDEPENDENCE DAY followed shortly thereafter. Honestly, the rest went so quickly that I can't break remember it well enough to break it down for you. I know I had NEW TO and had to change it to NEW AT, which I like less (27A: Inexperienced with). This got me TAT, which is beautifully and enigmatically clued, 21D: Parlor pic. TALENT was tough because of the plural clue, 24A: Showbiz bookings. Thankfully, TRAVELED was utterly transparent (35D: Broke a court rule), because that "V" made KVETCH (49A: Bellyache) much more seeable than it might have been otherwise. Didn't know ROD STEIGER (58A: Oscar-winning portrayer of Police Chief Bill Gillespie, 1967), but once I finally got TOLL (55D: Single stroke), I knew who I was dealing with. Wife was upset at herself for not getting 58A because she assumed the answer was "that guy who won an Oscar who just died who played a policeman ..." I said "You mean KARL MALDEN?" "Yeah ... [looking at letters she had in place] ... oh."
- 10A: "Seance on _____ Afternoon" (1964 suspense thriller) ("a Wet") — one of your uglier partials.
- 15A: Planet ruled by Ming the Merciless in "Flash Gordon" (Mongo) — annoyed I didn't get it right off, but needed just a cross or two. Alex Raymond is a god among comics artists.
- 19A: 1920s leading lady _____ Naldi (Nita) — more crosswordesey stuff. I gotta remember her in my list of Silent Actresses You Must Know (MABEL Normand, Clara BOW, POLA Negri, THEDA BARA, etc.)
- 30A: Baseball's Dark and Downing (Als) — I know neither. Clue made me think only of Ron Darling.
- 51A: Non-coffee order at Starbucks (chai) — does CHAI go with NAN? (32A: Asian flatbread). It's a combo I've never tried.
- 6D: 1973 Ali jaw breaker (Norton) — Boxer Ken. That's back-to-back days with toughish Ali-related clues. Had no idea NORTON broke his jaw. Should have listened to the shorts (see right).
- 33D: It may be down (pile) — as in carpet? Hmmm. There's a tertiary meaning of PILE: "Soft fine hair, fur, or wool." Maybe that's it.
- 34D: It may make people jump to a conclusion (sack race) — That's very clever.
- 37D: PAC for those who pack? (NRA) — another Tuesday clue.
- 46D: Bath beads maker (Calgon) — "take me away!"
- 48D: Disc holder (stereo) — The CD/DVD player holds the disc. This clue ... is like calling a HOUSE a [Couch holder].
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
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