European black thrush / FRI 5-28-10 / Blocker of 1960s TV / Seminal mystery of 1887 / One of 13 religious leaders
Friday, May 28, 2010
Dan Blocker (December 10, 1928 – May 13, 1972) was an American actor best remembered for his role as Eric "Hoss" Cartwright in the NBC western television blockbuster Bonanza. (wikipedia)
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I mostly enjoyed solving this, though looking back over the puzzle, it's hard to see why, exactly. None of the answers are particularly scintillating, but some of the cluing is fantastic. Really enjoyed the struggle involved in getting TEAR GAS (60A: Demonstrating control?), PIRATE (25D: Take the wrong way?), and NATALIE (23D: Merchant selling records). NATALIE Merchant is a singer and songwriter who was a huge pop star in the '90s — former singer of the band 10,000 Maniacs, a band I enjoyed (and saw in concert, in Edinburgh) in college. I teach Crime Fiction, so even though I'm not a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, it was fun to run into "A STUDY IN SCARLET" (3D: Seminal mystery of 1887). Anna Karenina is possibly my favorite novel of all time (neck and neck with The Long Goodbye), so I was happy to see ALEXEI. But these are all pretty idiosyncratic reasons for liking a puzzle, I'll admit.
If I look at the grid somewhat more objectively, there are problems. Two answers contain the word SET, and they intersect (?) — NULL SET (39D: It has zero measure, in math) and SET SHOT (61A: Alternative to jumper). Two answer contain ONE, and they intersect ... that is, the ONEs themselves intersect (!?!) — PART ONE (38D: Succession starter) and ONE LANE (59A: Narrow, in a way) — in the same section that the SET answers intersect. How these doublings weren't noticed, and why they weren't eliminated, I have no idea. You aren't supposed to double up words at all, but especially when repeated instances of a word are right on top of each other. Mystifying. Further, the grid is not (as advertised) an OPTICAL ILLUSION (17A: Thing that may appear to be symmetrical but isn't ... like this puzzle's grid). If you're going to wink and do a little showing off, your cluing should at least be exact. The grid simply *isn't* symmetrical. Optically, I can see that it's not symmetrical. The issue here is whether you're looking for it or not. Something has to genuinely appear to be something that it's not in order to be an optical illusion. This grid doesn't cut it. THESE are optical illusions. If you part your hair on the other side of your head, and I don't notice, this does not mean that you have created an OPTICAL ILLUSION.
ONION RINGS are always FRIED, in my experience, so that answer seems redundant (12D: Burger accompaniment). That answer originates in what is, by far, the weakest quadrant in the puzzle. From (gag) INDORSE to EDUCE to CHELA down to the multiple ARLENES (33A: TV's Francis and others) and the exceedingly vowely prefix AERI-, there's a lot not to like up there. Luckily for this puzzle, that quadrant was where I started — with a random guess at KILAUEA (8D: World's most active volcano) that was immediately backed up by KEEP FIT (8A: Stay in shape) — so my clockwise trajectory took me on a journey from bad to good, leaving me feeling pretty good about the puzzle in the end, despite its problems.
- 30A: 19th-century women's rights advocate (MOTT) — I wonder if this MOTT / MERL (30D: European black thrush) crossing will flatten anyone today. Lucretia MOTT is pretty famous, but I'm pretty sure MERL Reagle is more famous than this avian MERL (which I somehow knew — from crosswords, of course).
- 56A: Considered financially (DOLLARS AND CENTS) — I'm sure this clue works, but my brain can't yet figure out how. Is it adjectival?
- 2D: One of 13 religious leaders (POPE LEO) — On the one hand, I like this variation on the crossword stalwart LEO (LEOI, LEOIX, etc). On the other hand, the use of the title feels a bit awkward without the Roman numeral following.
- 14D: Flat population (TENANTS) — transparent, but still clever.
- 34D: Results of "Unsolved Mysteries" airings (LEADS) — another very good clue. "America's Most Wanted" would have worked here too, I think.
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