Industrial time units / SAT 4-17-10 / Shooter who co-created zone system / Shakespearean lament / Mast-to-tackle rope on ship
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Borstal Boy is a play adapted by Frank McMahon from the 1958 autobiographical novel of Irish nationalist Brendan Behan of the same title. The play debuted in 1967 at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, with Frank Grimes as the young Behan. McMahon won a New York Drama Critics' Circle Award in 1970 and Tony Award in 1971 for his adaptation. // The title takes its name from the borstal, a British juvenile jail, at Hollesley Bay. The book was originally banned in Ireland for obscenity. // The story is a recounting of Behan's imprisonment at Hollesley Bay for carrying explosives into the United Kingdom, with intent to cause explosions on a mission for the I.R.A.. A young, idealistic Behan loses his naivete over the three years of his sentence, softening his radical stance and warming to the other prisoners. (wikipedia)
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I disliked this puzzle from the get-go, and that never changed. In fact, it just got worse, culminating in my having to guess at random characters in defunct bad sitcoms and suburbs of cities I didn't know had suburbs in order to put together BORSTAL, a word I had never laid eyes on before today. To start, this puzzle (esp. the top) is dull as ecru paint, with tons of lame short fill (ANE, AMT, NETWT, ATEAM, SEEST, PC LAB, URANO, etc.), alt. spellings (AMEBA, ALINED, APHIS), and ... whatever "O WOE" is (5D: Shakespearean lament). This puzzle has two great answers: POKER FACE (31D: You'll get nothing out of a good one) and GO ASK YOUR MOTHER (51A: Bit of parental diversion). The rest is ordinary-to-bad. OLE OLE is not redeemed by the "?" clue (41D: Reinforced ring support?). It's still just 2xcrosswordese, a bunch of vowels with twin consonants coming along for the ride. Crossword arcana like ATRI makes me wince on a good day, which today was not (50D: Longfellow's bell town). RAVI (32D: First name in raga performance) and REESE and ALTE and APSE and CLEO (35D: Fatally poisoned royal, for short) are hoary old dullards — the fact that all this trite fill was clued in somewhat AMPED up fashion did not help; in fact, it made the solving process more annoying. I had to go through that for this? Not worth it. Difficulty should lead to Revelation, not shrugging or groaning.
[MASK — 4D: It may be right in front of your eyes]
So I already had "bad" "ugh" "terrible" etc. scribbled in various places on my grid, and *then* I experienced the "BORSTAL BOY" fiasco. Now, I accept that sometimes I just don't know things. Happens all the time. I expect, however, that if you are going to go to a not-currently-very-famous 40-year-old play, containing a word that is highly unusual, you will cross it fairly. That is, with words / places one might know. But IMBRUES, SASHA, and CARY were All Guesses (presented here in increasing order of guessiness). I figured IMBRUES had to be right (38D: Stains), though I don't think I've ever seen it before. Nothing else but "B" would go there, and it made a recognizable word ("BOY"), so OK. But SASHA?? — again, best guess, as the "S" created a more namelike name than any of the other letters of the alphabet. But I resent, and deeply, having the "S" in *&^$ing BORSTAL be the same "S" in the name of a D-list actor from a marginal sitcom that's been defunct for 12 years. That's a ridiculous crossing. And then there's CARY. A Raleigh suburb? Really. I'm supposed to know a Raleigh suburb? It's bad enough I have to know EDINA (Mpls. suburb), but CARY? And yet I would accept this odd, North Carolina CARY, if, again, it Weren't Crossing *&^$ing BORSTAL ("of or related to BORSCHT," I imagined). Maybe the NY-centric test-solvers all thought "Oh, everyone knows 'BORSTAL BOY,' it was the toast of Broadblahblahblah." No. Just, no. So, to reiterate: The problem isn't including "BORSTAL BOY" per se. It's crossing "BORSTAL" (*not an inferrable word*) with absurd obscurity — or, rather, crossing it with familiar names which have *deliberately* been made obscure. CARY could have been CORY for all I knew. I just got lucky. CARY makes me almost like CONY (no mean feat) (49D: Rabbit fur).
- 1A: Industrial time units (MAN MONTHS) — Who uses these units? I got the "MAN" and when it wasn't "HOURS," I just started with smallest time increment I could think of and worked up 'til I hit "MONTHS."
- 19A: "Snow Falling on Cedars" star, 1999 (HAWKE) — He was in that? To its credit, this clue is slightly more current than the SASHA clue. The Jamie Lee Curtis remake of "Freaky Friday" (2003) looks downright current next to this stuff (27D: Jamie Lee Curtis's "Freaky Friday" role); and, while I'm on the topic: why go to "Freaky Friday" for TESS? It's not as if that name is memorable to anyone, for any reason. No wonder so many solvers hate "pop culture," generally. This kind of random, tin-ear cluing would make me hate it too.
- 22A: Shooter who co-created the zone system (ANSEL ADAMS) — the only part of this clue that kind of makes sense to me is "Shooter." Picked it up easily enough from a few crosses. Didn't know ANSEL ADAMS created a fad diet. Interesting.
- 49A: "Meet John Doe" director, 1941 (CAPRA) — Don't know it, but do know CAPRA, which I got off the (incorrect) APHID ...
- 7D: Mast-to-tackle rope on a ship (TYE) — had WYE at first, as TYE just seemed too spot-on for a rope name.
- 14D: ___ Axton, co-composer of "Heartbreak Hotel" (MAE) — Wanted HOYT, then wanted nothing. Turns out, she's HOYT's mother.
- 29D: Where many students click (PC LAB) — Good clue for tired answer.
- 47D: Pads (LARDS) — So it's a verb? I had LAIRS.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
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