Former Portuguese colony in China — WEDNESDAY, Nov. 4 2009 — 1941-42 Allies vs. Japanese battle locale / Cousin of cassowary / Blessing elicitor
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Constructor: Ricky Ini Liu
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: Tic Tac D'oh! — "X" is changed to "O" in familiar phrases
Word of the Day: CERES (54D: Dwarf planet in the asteroid belt) — Ceres, formally designated 1 Ceres, is the smallest identified dwarf planet in the Solar System and the only one in the asteroid belt. It was discovered on 1 January 1801, by Giuseppe Piazzi, and is named after Ceres, the Roman goddess of growing plants, the harvest, and motherly love. [hence the word "cereal]
This is a weird, thin theme that yet results in some pretty funny answers. I don't understand the logic of changing "X" to "O" — usually there is some hook, some logic, some rationale somewhere for a letter change. Don't see it here. "Tic tac toe" is the only context I could come up with, and since you don't change "X"s to "O"s in that game, that hardly seems right. I guess you have "X"s and "O"s on chalkboard when football coaches draw up plays. Don't think that's right either, but it's something. So the concept seems pretty weak (simple change-a-letter, with no clear rationale, and the letter change *diminishes* the Scrabbliness of the puzzle ...), but OENOPHOBIC and BOOING MATCH are kind of amusing. Also, grid shape is very cool and unusual, from the parallel-bar theme answers of equal length in the NE and SW, to the Ridiculously deep NW and SE corners, to the little "+" sign in the middle. Really inventive. Thumbs up to that stuff — but overall, marginal thumbs down.
- 18A: Three-ingredient breakfast serving? (Trio cereal) — doesn't really work. Maybe [Breakfast for the Dixie Chicks?] would have been better.
- 24A: Afraid of wine? (oenophobic) — from "xenophobic," nice.
- 53A: Foreboding cartoons? (Omen Comics) — by far the hardest for me to get, and I read comics. I don't think of OMEN COMICS as a self-standing phrase. There are many, many X-MEN titles. That is not one of them. But together, I see, they are X-MEN COMICS. OK. I had RIA for RIM (44D: Canyon area), and the whole area in and around COMICS in general was tougher than the rest of the grid for me to pick up.
- 60A: The way of government? (Federal Tao) — again, not thrilled with the base phrase. Speaking of government ... margins in two biggest local races are currently 61 and 1 (that's ONE) vote, respectively. Hey, jackass in Johnson City who thought his vote didn't matter? Guess what?
- 3D: Film that been speechified? (O-rated movie) — clue / answer pairings feel more clunky than zingy. I can't even imagine what a "film that has been speechified" might mean.
- 26D: Shout of disapproval exactly like another? (booing match) — "MATCH" should have been clued as a "contest" here, for many reasons (it would lead to a funnier clue, all the other theme answers' unchanged words have the same meaning in clue and answer, etc.)
Two dwarf planets? CERES is a perfectly good goddess (as is ERIS — 46A: Largest dwarf planet in the solar system). Maybe the double-dwarfing was supposed to create a cool subtheme (and by "cool" I mean "arousing to astronomers"). Also, two "MA-" places in Asia (MALAYA— 2D: 1941-42 Allies vs. Japanese battle locale + MACAU— 33A: Former Portuguese colony in China). That's not a problem. Just an interesting doubling.
- 17A: Stop talking, with "up" (clam) — SHUT
- 20A: Word before mail or crime (hate) — depressing clue.
- 32A: TV character who jumped the shark, with "the" (Fonz) — "Ehhhhhhh!" I like this. Technically he jumped "a" shark. It was not until his jump came to symbolize the point at which *any* TV show starts to go downhill in quality that the phrase "jumped THE shark" was coined.
- 64A: Volcano that devastated Catania (Etna) — volcano in four letters, hmmm.
- 12D: Constellation south of Scorpius (Ara) — this will sound weird, but I didn't know you could describe stellar positions by earth-oriented terms like "south."
- 47D: Blessing elicitor, sometimes (sneeze) — cover your mouth with your sleeve, or better yet, just go home and stay there til you're better.
- 51D: Dotted-line user (signee) — yeah, that's not a great word.
- 61D: Cousin of a cassowary (emu) — this clue for EMU needs to be put out to pasture. How 'bout [Mate of a moa]? ("mate" in Aussie sense of "friend"). [Reallygoodfriend of a rhea]?
- 38D: '63 role for Liz (Cleo) — daughter went as CLEO for Halloween (after we nixed the "sexy French maid" costume. She's 9, so ... no. Somehow, going as the suicidal lover of a Roman general seemed more wholesome).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
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