Brown-tinged Hawaiian crow / SAT 7-3-10 / Sitcom sports agent Michaels / Screened city dweller / Capital 7,200 feet above sea level
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Epsilon Ursae Majoris (ε UMa / ε Ursae Majoris) is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Major (despite its Bayer designation being merely "epsilon"), and at magnitude 1.76 is the thirty-first brightest star in the sky. It has the traditional name Alioth (from the Arabic word alyat—fat tail of a sheep).
• • •Lots of white—daunting at first blush. But as with any long-answer-heavy grid, just a little headway can break things wide open. Slight traction, big results. You know, with some luck. My point is that you can't get cornered in this grid. Lots of ways to come at whatever it is you don't know—not one of those late-week puzzles where every quadrant is sequestered from all the others. For all today's whiteness, the only thing I'm going to remember about the puzzle are the plurals, specifically the awkward plurals like DRY ROTS (15D: Some building weakeners) and BILES, the abbr. plurals like DIRS. and ALTS., and the name plurals, dear lord: ERNIES (27A: Keebler's head elf and others) and NEALES (45A: Tennis's Fraser and others) and ARLOS (25D: Jimmy Johnson title comics character and others), oh my. Big white grids will force you to pay the piper somewhere along the line, and the spate of plurals is today's fare. Else, with the exception of DAEMORNOP, the puzzle is solid and forgettable, with more interest in the clues than in the grid itself — which, by the way, is 16 wide. Why? Because IN ALL PROBABILITY (18A: Most likely) and UNIVERSAL STUDIOS (47A: "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" producer) were answers we just needed to see.
Nice bunch of gimmes clustered around the NW section helped me get going on this one. ISLA (5D: Gran Bretaña, e.g.) seemed obvious, but I wanted LAPAZ and/or SUCRE at 20A: Capital 7,200 feet above sea level (SANA'A! who knew Yemen got that high?), so I balked. Eventually the obvious "IT I" led me to "AS I SAID..." and things started coming together. But what really got me going was POLLED (24A: Sought the opinions of, in a way). Wrote it in with no crosses and answers spilled southwestward from there. Cruised along and turned the corner down there and hit obscure bird (MERLS => 42D: Blackbirds) and obscurer bird (ALALA => 35D: Brown-tinged Hawaiian crow). Handled the first, but got attacked by the second, which I had to take down Entirely from crosses. As with ALALA, so with ALIOTH, the last thing to go in the grid.
- 29A: Levels with sticks? (DYNAMITES) — excellent clue, with the nice verb-for-noun switcheroo in the clue
- 31A: Sitcom sports agent Michaels (ARLI$$) — I count six flat-out gimmes in the grid. This is one of them.
- 35A: Sowing pioneer (APPLESEED) — off the first "P"; might not have needed even that.
- 41A: Italian novelist Morante (ELSA) — yikes. No clue. She wrote ... La Storia (trans "History: A Novel"), about wartime and post-war Rome. She also liked to hang out at the beach with Alberto Moravia, apparently.
- 46A: High-profile defendant of 1992 (GOTTI) — 1992 makes me think of the L.A. riots, so I was trying to remember the names of the accused cops in the Rodney King case. Clearly I was way off base.
- 50A: Clio maker (RENAULT) — she's a muse, she's an advertising award, she's ... a RENAULT. And now you know.
- 2D: Opposing team's turndown ("PENALTY DECLINED") — this is inventive but a little wobbly. Teams decline penalties ... but refs say "PENALTY DECLINED," don't they?
- 11D: Participants in the annual Safety Dance (ELIS) — i.e. Yalies, and not guys who happen to be named ELI, I'm guessing. Acc. to wikipedia, "Each fall, Silliman [Residential College] hosts a Yale-wide 80s theme party called the Safety Dance, the largest dance at Yale." Get your own music, Generation Why. I assure you that when I was in college (the actual 80s), our biggest dance was not a 60s theme party.
[I love Martha Davis!]
- 19D: They were black and yellow in old medicine (BILES) — humors!
- 34D: Bard's break (CAESURA) — another gimme. I teach this concept via Old English poetry (e.g. "Beowulf"), where CAESURAE are a feature of virtually every line.
- 44A: Screened city dweller (SIM) — I *think* this has something to do with the popular computer game "The SIMs." I think.
- 45D: ___ Zürcher Zeitung (leading Swiss daily) (NEUE) — having recently, grudgingly, put NEU in a grid I was working on, this non-English word was fresh on my mind.
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