Oncle's spouse — WEDNESDAY, Sep. 16 2009 — Gold rush locale of 1898-99 / Croquet locale / Athenian marketplace / Land of Esau's descendants
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Constructor: Maura B. Jacobson
Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: Playground math — if there are TWENTY-THREE KIDS (40A: Playground situation #2) but only TWENTY-ONE SWINGS (17A: Playground situation #1), then that leaves "TWO FOR THE SEE SAW" (64A: 1962 Robert Mitchum/Shirley MacLaine film ... or the outcome of 17- and 40-Across?)
Word of the Day: NOLI me tangere (35A: _____ me tangere (touch-me-not)) —
The words were a popular trope in Gregorian chant. The supposed moment in which they were spoken was a popular subject for paintings in cycles of the Life of Christ and as single subjects, for which the phrase is the usual title. (wikipedia)-----
Maura Jacobson is a crosswording legend. I have a book of her New York Magazine puzzles right here on the book shelf next to me — always enjoyable. She's had a puzzle in the ACPT (American Crossword Puzzle Tournament) every year since its inception, if I remember correctly. A total pro. I normally enjoy her work quite a bit. But ... what the hell was this? I will say that the puzzle gets high marks for originality. It's so bizarre in its conception that I almost like it. Almost. As far as I can gather, the entire puzzle is built around the title of a 47-year-old movie. A movie with two very famous stars and yet a movie I've never heard of. I am sure it was well known in its day, but please don't anyone try to pull this "oh, it's very famous" bull!@#! today. Lots of movies with famous stars go on to ... nothing. They die in the historical memory. Anyway, the problem here isn't really the movie, it's the Long Theme Answers That Are Arbitrary Phrases Unreachable By Clue Alone. I see that the puzzle tried to make up for this fact by making Every Other Answer In The Puzzle Extremely Easy. Result: in effect, a Monday puzzle that got run over three times by the Random Tractor. Why that many kids? That many swings? Answer — those phrases are fifteen letters long. In the end, I was actually more disappointed in the non-theme fill (really pedestrian) than I was in the odd premise and execution of the theme (which, as I said, at least had a semi-appealing oddness factor).
I got slowed down in exactly one part of the grid, and that's because I typoed myself to death. I wrote in YSS instead of YSL at 50A: High-fashion inits., and I really needed that "L" because none of the other Downs in that area were making sense to me (those are the Downs that cross the impossible-to-get-without-crosses KIDS part of the central theme answers). I got MODES (33D: Styles) easily enough, but TOKE (31D: Hit, of a sort) was nicely, obliquely clued, so I couldn't see it, and ICILY (32D: How you might respond to an offensive remark) wanted to be IN something, and then EASEL ... well, once I corrected the YSS typo, EASEL went straight in and the section cleaned itself up from there. My favorite answer in the grid was probably "DAY BY DAY" (5D: How diaries are written) though (not surprisingly) I would have loved to see a clue referencing the short-lived 80s sitcom starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Courtney Thorne-Smith (don't worry; I'm only half serious).
- 14A: Athenian marketplace (agora) — probably the most important fact (crossword-wise) I learned in my Athenian Democracy course in college.
- 21A: Where Springsteen was born (in the U.S.A.) — this clue/answer is particularly lame. IN THE USA could have been the answer to [Where Cher was born], and possibly even [Where Obama was born] (now *that's* a clue I would have loved). I get that Springsteen had an album/song entitled "Born in the U.S.A." but your clue does not acknowledge the difference between what someone says in a song (songs are fiction — do you believe the rest of that song is about Bruce? Answer: no you don't. Not literally anyway.)
- 28A: Land of Esau's descendants (Edom) — EDOM EDAM ELAM ELON ELOI ELEM ELOA ELIA ELEA ... this is what my brain looks like, roughly, when a clue like this comes up. I know the answer, but have trouble finding it in the clutter of my E-closet.
- 29D: Bill who said of his TV monologues "It's all been satirized for your protection" (Maher) — went MAHRE. He can be funny, though I like him better in writing than in person. Haven't see "Religulous" — its in the queueueueueue.
- 57D: Gold rush locale of 1898-99 (Nome) — seen the clue before. Gold rush + four letters = NOME. I think. There wasn't a gold rush in RENO? Or AMES? Was there?
Finally, Happy Birthday to a certain crossword constructor I know. I would tell you the person's name, but you can find it out for yourself when you solve the puzzle that Caleb Madison and I made for him as a gift. Here it is, enjoy.
[AcrossLite and .pdf version available here.
You can also print it out very easily, below (just click on "More" and then "Print")]
Across Lite - Happy Birthday, Kevin
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]