Summer wind in Mediterranean / FRI 3-26-10 / Actress Felton 1950s TV / Oldest of literary quartet / Gradually quieting in music / 1932 song 1984 movie
Friday, March 26, 2010
The etesians (Ancient Greek ετησίαι 'annual (winds)', sometimes found in the Latin form etesiae), meltemi μελτέμι (Greek), or meltem (Turkish) are the strong, dry north winds of the Aegean Sea, which blow from about mid-May to mid-September. During hot summer days, this is by far the most preferred weather type and is considered a blessing. They are at their strongest in the afternoon and often die down at night, but sometimes meltemi winds last for days without a break. Similar winds blow in the Adriatic and Ionian regions. Meltemi winds are dangerous to sailors because they come up in clear weather without warning and can blow at 7-8 Beaufort. Some yachts and most inter island ferries cannot sail under such conditions. (wikipedia)
• • •
Henry Hook is a legendary, and legendarily tough, constructor. I can't remember the last time I saw his by-line in the NYT, but it feels like a long time ago. I spied his name before I started in on this one, and was prepared for some entertaining brutality. Somewhat sadly, it ended up being (mostly) simply brutal. There are some amazing aspects of this puzzle: the symmetrical body builders — SCHWARZENEGGER (16A: Famous bodybuilder) and DR. FRANKENTSTEIN (48A: Famous body builder?) — paralleled by the symmetrical "EN" phrases — EN ROUTE and EN MASSE; the hard-to-make-out but totally-worth-the-wait ZERO SUM GAME (17D: Balancing act?); the deftly clued MEG MARCH (35A: Oldest of a literary quartet). All of these brought happiness to my solving experience. But other things about solving the puzzle changed the experience from tough workout to ... what do you call the experience of being gutted with a dull knife? Maybe that's too strong, but this puzzle relied too much on pure oddness and obscurity, on the one hand, and grimace-inducing semi-made-up words on the other.
Let's start with the proper nouns. Some of the clues felt like jokes. My two "favorite" are:
- 43A: Racehorse whose 1955 Kentucky Derby win kept Nashua from taking the Triple Crown (SWAPS) — this clue indicates that the constructor hates you and the editor was too indulgent. As a non-horse-racing follower who was born 14 years after this particular Derby ... come on. What's worse, it was part of a stack of proper nouns, the only one of which I finally, dimly recalled, was BEAME (46A: New York City's first Jewish mayor). Cluing "AGONY" via musical theater (40A: Song from Sondheim's "Into the Woods")? Well, yes, "AGONY."
- 23D: Actress Felton of 1950s TV's "December Bride" (VERNA) — OK, I'm guessing that even octogenarians are going to have a little trouble coming up with SWAPS and VERNA. "1950s TV's" made me laugh out loud. If I've heard of VERNA, I can't remember. Never heard of "December Bride." I see it was a sitcom that ran five season in the late '50s and also featured ... Harry Morgan (Sherman Potter of TV's "M*A*S*H"). VERNA was in yet another trouble spot for me, as I'd never heard of ETESIAN (the "S" was a flat-out, if semi-educated, guess), and couldn't remember what 29A: Apollonian meant (SERENE).
Another big issue: What the hell is up with RECLASPS and AWAKER. If you're going to be brutal, at least give me a cleanish grid. RECLASPS is up there with RECARVE as the most ridiculous RE-word I've seen in a puzzle. It's made more ridiculous by sharing the stage with its better-looking brothers, REENTER and REOPENED, and its not wholly unpresentable cousins, REVUE (19A: "Closer Than Ever," e.g.), REEVES, and REEDIER. As for AWAKER ... I'd buy AWAKER (barely) as a relative adjective before I buy it as a noun. Good luck trying to find it as anything but a weird name / title, anywhere in the English language. I get 2.5 times more hits for "ZYZZYVA."
Wait, can we go back to the clue on REVUE (19A: "Closer Than Ever," e.g.)? I've never not understood a clue more than I did this one. How am I supposed to recognize that title, whatever it is, as a REVUE? O god, it's more musical theater [shakes fist] — specifically, a musical REVUE in two acts from the late '80s — this time with a wink to well known puzzle constructor Richard Maltby, Jr., who wrote the words to "Closer Than Ever." Ugh. Share your winks somewhere else, please. That's (at least) three Broadway / Off-Broadway clues. The limit should be one. If you're going to rely on obscurity in your puzzles, at least pull it from different fields. "AGONY!"
- 1A: Nightclub in the Trump Taj (CASBAH) — news to me, but inferrable after a few crosses, at least.
- 14A: Part of the iris bordering the pupil (AREOLA) — this is an astonishingly prevalent word — if it's ring-shaped, good chance someone somewhere has referred to it as an AREOLA.
- 16A: "On Golden Pond" wife (ETHEL) — vaguely memorable. Again, inferrable from a few crosses.
- 24A: TV lawyer Stone (ELI) — a gimme (along with DIAN and DER ALTE (13D: Nickname of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer) and a EDER (18D: Broadway star Linda who won $100,000 on "Star Search")), but this clue should be retired starting today, as that show only lasted about 18 months. Already the clue should read [Old TV lawyer Stone].
- 25A: Splotchy apparel, familiarly (CAMOS) — look, I'll give you CAMO, but CAMOS, with an "S!?!" I see it's got some traction out there in some quarters, but boo.
- 1D: Vegetable oil soap (CASTILE) — no idea. More guessing / inferring.
- 6D: Disapproving comment (HARRUMPH) — LOVE this. One of the best things about the grid. Great "word."
- 3D: To look, in Leipzig (SEHEN) — too German for my blood. Again, inferrable, after a while.
- 32D: Some people do it to think (SHUDDER) — fantastic clue.
- 30A: In days of knights? (ARTHURIAN) — couldn't get this, or much of the center of the puzzle, until the end. Had virtually all the periphery and none of the center. Fun fact: I'm teaching ARTHURIAN Literature in the fall.
- 34D: 1932 song or 1984 movie ("ALL OF ME") — thank god the clue went past [1932 song] ... I was dying for *anything* contemporary (i.e. of the past quarter century). I should say *anything* that wasn't #$%&ing Broadway.
- 37D: Gradually quieting, in music (CALANDO) — seriously, is this a love letter to Maltby? It's kind of cloying. Is it his birthday?
- 46D: Cordage fiber (BAST) — vaguely familiar from puzzles bast, I mean "past."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]