Companion of Algernon in Oscar Wilde play / FRI 3-19-10 / Joyner joiner / 1952 best seller set in California / Schaefer alternative
Friday, March 19, 2010
Rue (Ruta) is a genus of strongly scented evergreen subshrubs 20-60 cm tall, in the family Rutaceae, native to the Mediterranean region, Macaronesia and southwest Asia. There are perhaps 8 to 40 species in the genus. A well-known species is the Common Rue. [...] It is very bitter. It was used extensively in Middle Eastern cuisine in olden days, as well as in many ancient Roman recipes (according to Apicius, and is still used, for example in northern Africa. In Italy rue leaves are sometimes added to grappa to obtain grappa alla ruta. [...] According to The Oxford Book of Health Foods, extracts from rue have been used to treat eyestrain, sore eyes, and as an insect repellent. Rue has been used internally as an antispasmodic, as a treatment for menstrual problems, as an abortifacient, and as a sedative. [...] Rue is mentioned in the Bible, Luke 11.42: "But woe unto you, Pharisees! For ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs". (wikipedia)
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Solid. Right over the plate. Almost generic in its Fridayness. Much more crosswordese than I care to see in a themeless puzzle, but otherwise just fine, with some very clever cluing here and there. Biggest trap in this puzzle — or the biggest one I fell into, at any rate — came at 20A: Joyner joiner? Took me a while to figure out what the clue could possibly be going for, but after a few crosses, I got it — it's the name that's "joined" to "Joyner" in the last name of track legend Jackie Joyner-KERSEY. That is how I spelled it. With a "Y." That seemed the only reasonable spelling, and its reasonableness was confirmed immediately by the "Y" cross: 21D: First name in design. Of course, the answer was YVES. Wham, bam, thank you, Ms. Joyner-KERSEY. But then I looked at NOSV- for 25A: They change people's profiles, and I knew something was amiss. But so sure was I of KERSEY / YVES, I actually yanked ERNEST for a bit, thinking maybe there was some other Wilde character starting ERNE- besides ERNEST (10D: Companion of Algernon in an Oscar Wilde play). Eventually pulled YVES and immediately got NOSEJOBS, but it never, ever occurred to me to pull the "Y." So I ended the puzzle wondering who this YERO guy was. Thought about it. Thought about it. Crosses check out. Must be r... oh, wait. It's not ... EERO!? KERSEE!? The revelation there was a big let-down. Never good when the big reveal involves a whole mess of "E"s.
A little heavy on the overly familiar crossword names today. EERO is just the tip of the iceberg. See also EDA, ELIA (11A: "The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers" writer), and ETTA (not to mention EMINEM — 45A: "The Way I Am" autobiographer). Throw in ORO (28D: Plata's partner) and LST (24D: Allied transport, for short) and NCOS and ETAS (19A: Viscosity symbols) and -ERN and a few others and it starts feeling pretty stale around the edges. No real marquee answers today. In fact, the more I think about it, the less this seems like a Trip Payne puzzle. It's just too dull. Even the longish answers are kind of listless. ALICANTE (37D: Spanish seaport) is really just high-end crosswordese. And ASSESSEE ... well, that's some kind of crossword crime against humanity (14D: Person who's been charged). I thought words like this (long, chock full of "E"s and "S"s) were considered beneath the great constructors. I've seen specific injunctions words like ASSESSMENTS before. Oh well. At least RAISE A STINK is kind of interesting (4D: Complain loudly).
Ingrid Michaelson "The Way I Am" (music video)
Where the puzzle does have pizazz is in its cluing. First two long Acrosses provide good examples. 1A: Land grant, of a sort (SHORE LEAVE). Complete repurposing of the familiar phrase "Land grant." And 15A: Person with a shaky story? (HULA DANCER) is even better. Lively, funny, wonderful. My first thought on encountering that clue was the much more morbid QUAKE VICTIM. Then there was 47A: Person from Moscow (IDAHOAN). Moscow is the home of the University of Idaho. My relatives used to live in nearby Lewiston, ID. My grandmother still lives in St. Maries, ID. Needless to say, this clue didn't fool me at all, but I suspect at least a handful of people blithely wrote in RUSSIAN.
Only mysteries today, beyond the spelling of KERSEE, were the Patty Hearst alias (TANIA) and the main ore of iron (HEMATITE). Figured the latter ended in -ITE. Got rest from crosses. Oh, and I'd never heard of RUE as clued. What else? ACORN gets a very fresh clue (8D: Voter registration grp. founded in 1970). Two physicists storm the grid, and run into each other in the process: FERMI (54A: Physicist with a unit of distance named after him) and AMPERE (49D: A in physics?). And OSSIE Davis turns out to have been in the '90s sitcom "Evening Shade" (34A: Davis of "Evening Shade"). That show had Hal Holbrook and Charles Durning too? Wow. That's talent. If they'd been the stars, I might have watched it. I *love* Charles Durning as Denis Leary's character's father on "Rescue Me." Fantastic, hilarious, unflattering role. Then there's this:
- 31A: Schaefer alternative (STROH'S) — not sure why, but this was the first answer I wanted. I think the last time I saw SCHAEFER in a puzzle, I wasn't even aware it was a beer. And yet somehow, today, I knew it was a beer and (eerily, i.e. without any crosses) knew the "alternative" that was called for.
- 67A: 1952 best seller set in California ("EAST OF EDEN") — not too hard when you have EDEN in place before you ever see the clue. Whole SE was a real piece of cake.
- 12D: It was last an official Olympic event in 1908 (LACROSSE) — had no idea that anyone outside of North America ever played this sport.
- 32D: Female octopus (HEN) — You'd think I'd know this by now. After considering SOW and EWE (?), I honestly contemplated writing "HER" in here.
- 35D: 1994 Michael Keaton film in which real journalists have cameo roles ("THE PAPER") — How in the world did I remember this move? I saw it in the theater. Once. Maybe 15 years ago. I remember almost nothing about it. And yet, there it was. I wanted to call it "THE PRESS" at first, but eventually it fell into place.
- 39D: Sheller's discard (POD) — that's what they call the hard outer casing of the crab.
- 50D: Pathfinder producer (NISSAN) — came across a picture of my old Pathfinder in the snow and got weirdly nostalgic. I really miss that car.
- 61D: Tibetan wolf's prey (YAK) — here are some stats you'll never need to know, courtesy of wikipedia:
Wolves can be a serious problem for livestock owners in Tibet. A study on livestock predation showed that the wolf was the most prominent predator, accounting for 60% of the total livestock losses, followed by the snow leopard (38%) and lynx (2%). Goats were the most frequent victims (32%), followed by sheep (30%), yak (15%), and horses (13%). Wolves killed horses significantly more and goats less than would be expected from their relative abundance.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
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