Dirty Harry's employer / MON 3-29-10 / Shoulder muscle informally / Jon Bon Jovi Tina Turner Betty Boop Superman features
Monday, March 29, 2010
Constructor: John Dunn
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: IN THE CROSSHAIRS (38A: Fixed as a target ... or a hint to four pairs of intersecting answers in this puzzle) — grid features four pairs of intersecting hair types, arranged symmetrically
Word of the Day: DINA Merrill (18D: Actress Merrill) —
Dina Merrill (born December 9, 1925) is an American actress and socialite. // Merrill was born Nedenia Marjorie Hutton in New York City, the only child of Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her second husband, Wall Street stockbroker Edward Francis Hutton. She was educated at The George Washington University. // Merrill acted in twenty-two motion pictures [... and ...] appeared regularly on television in the 1960s [...] Merrill is a presidential appointee to the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a trustee of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Foundation, a vice president of the New York City Mission Society. // She served on the board of directors and the compensation committee of Lehman Brothers for 18 years until 2007.
A very interesting theme idea, with an usual theme answer pattern. Conceptually, I loved it. Theme made the puzzle slightly harder than a normal Monday, though (3:24), as I had no idea what Mamie feature was supposed to be definitive and had no idea what Tina Turner and Jon Bon Jovi could possibly have in common. Also, don't know how a BRAID is different from a PLAIT (would never in a million years have associated PLAIT with Pippi). The cluing seemed a bit off in places — actually, more unnecessarily wordy than flat-out off. 29D: What tagging a runner and catching a fly ball result in is an eternal clue for OUTS (also, sometimes you tag a runner and he is not, in fact, out). Why not [Apartment payment] for RENT? Do we need "dweller's" in there? Isn't [Mosey] enough to clue AMBLE. Why [Mosey along]? Much SODA POP is not, in fact, "sugary." The clue on WREN is undoubtedly accurate (36D: Bird that perches with its tail erect) but did *nothing* to signal WREN to me. My wife knows more about birds than I. I asked, "Is that what you think of when you think of WREN?" She thought about it a bit. "No." Still, all these cluing issues were just annoying static — the core of the puzzle was sound and enjoyable.
A couple more issues, though, having to do with theme consistency. MANES is really generic as it applies to human hair. A POMPADOUR and BANGS and a BRAID are all fairly limited in their meanings, whereas MANES could be any old thick head of hair. Further, LOCKS is just ... hair. Rapunzel had looong LOCKS, but LOCKS is not a hair style. So it's an outlier. So is BEARD, as all the other hairs are on the top of the head; BEARD is the only facial hair of the bunch. Lastly, some answers are plural. Some are not. So it's a bit wonky, but it'll do. The imagination and ambition of the theme makes the wonkiness fade in importance.
- 19A: Mamie Eisenhower feature (BANGS)
- 11D: Jon Bon Jovi and Tina Turner features (MANES)
- 60A: Willie Nelson feature (BRAID)
- 51D: Pippi Longstocking feature (PLAIT)
- 62A: Betty Boop and Superman features (SPITCURLS)
- 53D: Rapunzel feature (LOCKS)
ATTIRED (30A: Clad) and APPAREL (49A: Clothing) are eerily similar words, and not just because both relate to clothing. Same length, vowels and consonants all in same places, "A" "R" and "E" all in the same places, and double-letter in same places. If your APPAREL is MESHY, it might be SAUCY. It might also be SO BAD that I have to leave the room. If you are ATTIRED in PARSNIPS, well, god help you.
- 23A: Shoulder muscle, informally (DELT) — just blanked on this. My brain went "LAT" then ... nothing.
- 1D: Dirty Harry's employer: Abbr. (SFPD) — There is just one fact that all solvers know about the SFPD. This is it. If you have to be known by one fact, it's not a bad one.
- 13D: They may be sordid (PASTS) — I thought TALES. Another reason why the NE took me much longer than the other quadrants.
- 28D: Real estate (LAND) — I thought LOTS.
- 31D: Give a shellacking (TROMP) — this word looks wronger the more I stare at it. Like it can't decide if it's TROUNCE or STOMP.
Oh, and congratulations to known crossworder Sherman Alexie on winning the Pen/Faulkner Award last week for "War Dances," a fantastic book with at least one story ("Fearful Symmetry") in which crossword-solving figures prominently. You should get a copy. That's A-L-E-X-I-E. Will Shortz, I'm looking at you :)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
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