Veracruz's capital / WED 7-7-10 / Czar of Russia between Feodors / Relative of aardwolf / Symbol of simple harmonic motion
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Constructor: Will Nediger
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: Composer commands — common phrases are changed to include a pun on a composer's name, and then clued as a "command" of some kind
Word of the Day: TOKAY (33D: Hungarian wine) —
Tokaji (Hungarian: of Tokaj) is the name of the wines from the region of Tokaj-Hegyalja in Hungary. The name Tokaji (which is of Protected Designation of Origin) is used for labeling wines from this wine district. This region is noted for its sweet wines made from grapes affected by noble rot, a style of wine which has a long history in this region. Tokaj is mentioned in the official national anthem of Hungary. Tokaji is a Hungarikum, a term used to refer to uniquely Hungarian products, especially cuisine.
This was a good bit harder than recent Wednesday offerings, mainly by way of the inclusion of odd / obscure / exotic proper nouns. JALAPA (1A: Veracruz's capital) was not a pleasant way to begin. Needed every cross. Heard of Uccello, but had no idea his first name was PAOLO (22A: Uccello who painted "The Battle of San Romano") (that whole NE corner, small though it is, was the roughest part of the grid for me). There was apparently a non-Muppet named ELMO at some point in history, so that was interesting to learn (65A: Adm. Zumwalt, chief of naval operations during the Vietnam War). A tsar named BORIS? OK. Lots of great BORISes out there, but ... whatever. You want a tsar, you got a tsar. Oh, wait, I see that today, it's a "czar" for some reason. Arbitrary (55A: Czar of Russia between Feodors). What else? Oh, Jacques Cousteau's middle name? It's YVES. Some agent is named ARI (shocker) (23D: Talent agent ___ Emanuel). Okay TOKAY (33D: Hungarian wine). Then there were the heaps of familiar names. Awfully namey, overall. Theme-wise, the puns didn't quite come off. They're supposed to be commands, but they do Not sound like commands unless you really force the issue, and punctuate the answers differently in different cases, e.g. BIZET exclamation point SIGNAL exclamation point, but THROW comma BACH period. The puns range from perfect (HAYDN) to way off (BACH). In the end, the "command" feature just doesn't work for me, as a unifying principle. Seems forced, and the puns aren't good enough to redeem it. I will say that I liked the added challenge on a Wednesday, and that the grid, despite being exceedingly name-heavy, is at least interesting. Spicy. Scrabbly.
- 17A: Command to a French composer at an intersection? (BIZET! SIGNAL!)
- 30A: Command to a Hungarian composer at the piano? (PLAY, LISZT.) — nice that the Hungarian composer crosses the Hungarian wine.
- 46A: Command to a German composer on a baseball diamond? (THROW, BACH.)
- 61A: Command to an Austrian composer on a scavenger hunt? (HAYDN! GO SEEK [that thing that you are supposed to be seeking]!)
ABS OF STEEL (11D: Hard core?) is a commercial product, and the only reason the phrase is in the language at all. Clue was way, way too vague for me to pick on until the very end. Also tough up in that corner: the aforementioned PAOLO; the Really vaguely clued EXPO (13D: Fair — I had SO-SO); and the semi-toughly clued APE (11A: Bonobo, for one). If you think I'm exaggerating about the name-i-ness of this grid, consider this: there are nine (9) names stacked (however jaggedly) on top of each other in this grid: LISZT on YVES on LOREN (39A: Sophia of "Marriage Italian-Style") on SAKI (43A: Author who famously ended a short story with the line "Romance at short notice was her specialty") on BACH on DAISY (50A: Jay Gatsby's love) on BORIS on HAYDN on ELMO. Beat that.
- 7A: Its motto is "Semper paratus": Abbr. (USCG) — not an abbr. you see too often in the grid. Had the "G" from GAL PALS (10D: Bachelorette party attendees), but was really, really doubting it for a little while.
- 8D: Symbol of simple harmonic motion (SINE WAVE) — this is nice. I keep reading the clue as "harmonic convergence," which was some New Agey thing that allegedly happened ... when? The 90s? Nope, late 80s. Most hilarious claim on the wikipedia page for "Harmonic Convergence": "The convergence is purported to have "corresponded with a great shift in the earth’s energy from warlike to peaceful."
- 26D: Relative of an aardwolf (HYENA) — another very tough clue. I can't even picture an aardwolf, so no help there.
- 28D: Truth, archaically (SOOTH) — when you read a lot of Chaucer (as I did, at one point in my life), this becomes an ordinary, everyday word. Like "EEK" for "also."
- 29D: 1939 title role for Frank Morgan (WIZARD OF OZ) — got very quickly despite not knowing who Frank Morgan is. When you have WIZ- in place, your options are limited.
- 32D: 1964 title role for Anthony Quinn (ZORBA) — I wanted ZORBA right away, but I had AMEBA at 49A because I'd written it in the wrong damned slot (should've been spelled differently and then shoved in 44A: Cell on a slide). Then I read the clue correctly (49A: Lessen, as fears), and promptly wrote in ABATE. It's ALLAY :(
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