Old TV Uncle / THU 7-15-10 / River site Javert's demise / 1970s supergroup for short / Jiang's predecessor / Tessellation piece
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Constructors: Brendan Emmett Quigley and Patrick Blindauer
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (leaning toward the latter...)
THEME: Shhhh... it's a SECRET — eight theme answers all start [After 66-Across ...], only there is no 66-Across in the puzzle. You have to figure out what it is and then imagine it, sitting right underneath 63-Across, in order for the theme answers to make sense, and for the Downs in the SW corner to make any sense.
Word of the Day: ILGWU (43D: Labor grp.) —
The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union was once one of the largest labor unions in the United States, one of the first U.S. unions to have a primarily female membership, and a key player in the labor history of the 1920s and 1930s. The union, generally referred to as the "ILGWU" or the "ILG," merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union in 1995 to form the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE). UNITE merged with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) in 2004 to create a new union known as UNITE HERE. The two unions that formed UNITE in 1995 represented only 250,000 workers between them, down from the ILGWU's peak membership of 450,000 in 1969. (wikipedia)
Wow. I feel strongly both ways. Very strongly. First of all: the theme is really brilliant, first because it requires us to think (literally) outside the box, not once, but twice. I mean, I got blind-sided by the theme, mainly because I was sure I had figured it out — there's a 66-Across that I have to imagine, and it is the word "SECRET." Yay. Issue solved. Only ... only ... why was the bottom half of the puzzle not going anywhere? I mean, I was just stopped. Well, there are two answers to this question: one, the SE was just terrible for me, having nothing to do with the theme (more on that below); and two, I had yet to discover the other feature of the theme. SECRET didn't simply exist in the imaginary—you have to physically insert it (or imagine its physical presence, I suppose) underneath 63-Across for any of the Down answers to make sense down there. Until you get this, you're screwed. Had the "A" and wanted AS YET for 48D: Still (AT REST). Wanted ORNE or some other four-letter French river for 54D: River that's the site of Javert's demise in "Les Miserables" (SEINE). AMO for 56D: Member of a Latin trio (AMAS).
This AMO/AMAS confusion makes a nice segue to one of the things I did *not* like so much—cheap trickery. Cluing that, in retrospect, is deliberately intended to make you think a specific wrong answer. Trickery is good if it's not heavy-handed, but too often today, it was. The AMO for AMAS was the least of it. LADMAG (46D: Maxim, e.g.) was another where the payoff was more ugh than wow. That's a British term. Maxim is not British. Not exclusively, anyway. I see that it is "International," but whatever, LADMAG is a specifically UK term, and nothing in the clue tips that. Here's the wikipedia def. of LAD MAG:
Lads', Lads, or Laddie mags (magazines) (known exclusively as men's magazines in English-speaking North America - the United States, Canada, and the Bahamas) contain non-nude photography (or bare-breasted photography in the case of some British "lads' mags"), accompanied by articles about women (usually models or actresses); consumer stories about cars, tools, toys, foods, alcoholic beverages; or "guy tales" of sexual encounters.
Note the part that beings "known exclusively as men's magazines in English-speaking North America." Hey, *I* live in English-speaking North America; therefore, Maxim, *not* a "LAD MAG." Further, the clue (here's the cheap trickery part) is deliberately vague in a way that could have you thinking adage or Nissan, and possibly other things I can't think of. Oh crap, the Nissan is a MaximA. OK, my bad. The worst cheap trickery, though, is 62A: 1970s supergroup for short (ELP). 99% of you will have entered ELO, and I'm guessing over half had to at least stop and think about what the hell ELP could possibly stand for. Some of you are still waiting to find out. It's Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Come on! Clue is written so that you will think ELO. Not so that you will be misdirected, but so that you will be wrong in a very specific way, and clue stretches significance of ('ulp) ELP to do so. Me no like. Yes, they sold a lot of albums in their time, but ELP? That's Eliza Doolittle singing the Beatles. ILGWU (while we're down there) is about the fugliest abbr. in the history of mankind. And "squarepants" is just a toon to me (not self-evidently a DWEEB), so I was well and truly screwed in the SE until the very end (ELP was the very very last thing to go down).
So it's a tale of two puzzles—the theme is pure Win. The cluing and fill, in places, less than palatable. I've got REAIM and YOGAS (31D: Options at a gym) and a couple others irking me as well. ANO is never good (39A: Agosto to agosto). Don't understand ION (5D: One in an accelerated program?), but that's because I'm sci-illiterate. Got very held up by both SNARFED and ALKIE, largely because I would never think to look for them—super slangy. I love them both, so no complaints there. That's the kind of "Wha?" I like. I think I'm going to start using ILGWU to mean "horrendously ugly," as in "LEADY? Man, that is some ILGWU fill."
- 17A: After 66-Across, Batcave feature (ENTRANCE)
- 21A: After 66-Across, anonymous Valentine sender (ADMIRER)
- 23A: After 66-Across, participant in a gift-giving activity (SANTA)
- 35A: After 66-Across, election standard (BALLOT)
- 40A: After 66-Across, classic 1911 children's book, with "The" ("GARDEN")
- 49A: After 66-Across, spy (AGENT)
- 53A: After 66-Across, exposé subject (HISTORY)
- 58A: After 66-Across, marketing gimmicks (FORMULAS)
- 19A: Popular headlights (XENONS) — guessed off the "XE-"; not familiar with these as a kind of headlight.
- 30A: Mideast city that is the captial of the world in H. G. Wells's "The Shape of Things to Come" (BASRA) — H. G. Wells's what now? I had CAIRO.
- 36A: Kitchen gadget brand with a rotationally symmetric logo (OXO) — nice little winky metacrossword clue there (crossword grids are, almost without fail, rotationally symmetric(al))
- 42A: Janis Ian, Billy Preston and George Carlin were its first guests (SNL) — doesn't require an abbrev. cue, apparently.
- 48A: Literary character who says "For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee" (AHAB) — sweet, sweet gimme. This line was made very famous as part of KHAN's (not KAHN's, 29D: "Clue" actress Madeline) last speech in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan":
- 60A: Old TV "Uncle" (MILTIE) — embarrassing how long this took me. I could think only of Uncle Charlie on "My Three Sons." Lots of "Old" stuff today. ILGWU!
- 64A: Jiang's predecessor (DENG) — DENG Xiaoping. Leader of China from late '70s to early '90s.
- 3D: "Der Ring des Nibelungen" war god (WOTAN) — whoa. No way. Had WODEN in there at first (whence the name "Wednesday," which would have been "ironic," as it is Thursday...)
- 11D: Judicial area dealing with athletes (SPORTS LAW) — I like this. Feels solid. Straightforward. Real. Also, original.
- 12D: Host (TON) — A HOST of something = a TON of something? Like ... a LOT of something?
- 26D: Chief Joseph ___, after whom a Maine college town is named (ORONO) — Will let a lot of these long, explanatory clues stand today. My brain: "blah blah Maine college town => ORONO. Next!"
- 35D: 2,100-square mile island with six volcanoes (BALI) — long island with volcanoes = probably south pacific = wait for crosses, aha, BALI.
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