Labors of Hercules painter / FRI 8-20-10 / Objet d'art auction Octopussy / Rosaceous ornamental / Simple trattoria dressing
Friday, August 20, 2010
(born Nov. 4, 1575, Bologna, Papal States — died Aug. 18, 1642, Bologna) Italian painter. Apprenticed to the Flemish painter Denis Calvaert at 10, he was later influenced by the novel naturalism of the Carracci family of his native Bologna, the frescoes of Raphael, and ancient Greco-Roman sculpture. He executed many important commissions in Rome, including the celebrated ceiling fresco Aurora (1613 – 14). In his religious and mythological works, he tempered Baroque exuberance and complexity with Classical restraint, tender emotion, and delicate colouring. Until John Ruskin scorned him in the 19th century, he was highly regarded; his status as one of the great painters of the 17th century has since been reestablished. (answers.com)
• • •
Pretty typical Brad Wilber fare. Very hard. Out of my wheelhouse. This one was just a slog, with little joy along the way. I mean, seeing "Octopussy" in the clues is always amusing (1A: Objet d'art at auction in "Octopussy"=>FABERGÉ EGG), so that's a nice way to start, but after that, there's not much to love. I will say that the workout was fierce (for me), and that's always worth something. There's a reliance here on trick cluing that gets a Little old—the reveal is too often not worth it. More "oh" than "oh!" Stuff like 34D: Hospital administration, briefly (MEDS) — where the word "administration" is used accurately but awkwardly and out-of-the-language-ly — dominate the clues. See, for instance:
- 14D: What cribs might be used for (ESSAY TESTS)
- 29A: Shake, as a tail (ELUDE) — here both "shake" and "tail" mean things that the phrasing of the clue does not suggest
- 43A: Strands on a branch, perhaps (TINSEL)
- 31A: Bit of bread (ONE) — ?!?!? ouch
Obviously whether trickery is clever or forced is a judgment call. I think my judgment develops from my happiness with the grid as a whole. If there is sizzle, or if the trickery is undeniably clever, then I'm OK (OK) (47D: Assent to relent) (??). But I only really liked two entries today: HATE MONGER (13D: Prejudicial propagandist) and WIDOW'S PEAK (55A: Common feature of a Dracula mask), the latter being especially good because its clue was original as well. Hard to get excited about barely-a-words like SEMI-MATURE (25D: Still developing), odd phrases like SCORCH MARK (49A: Lampshade blemish), and obscure name crossings like RENI / JESSIE (39D: Daughter in "'night, Mother"). I'm betting most people couldn't even tell you what "'night, Mother" is, let alone the names of the characters in it. Yeesh. I'm sure FLOPSHOT (28A: Phil Mickelson specialty) is exciting to avid golf fans, but I've never heard the term, and it's not like I haven't heard tons of golf coverage on TV in my day. FLIP SHOT felt like it made more sense. And that cross—again with the oddly phrased ambiguity: 10D: Pilot's setting (GAS STOVE). Again, technically accurate, in that the pilot is "set" in my STOVE, but [cough] [cough] ugh.
Started in the NW and didn't have much trouble. Then I had trouble. Lots of it, mainly because just about the only gimme left in the grid for me was FLAGG (28D: Fannie who wrote "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe"). Oh, and ASHE (11A: Queens's ___ Stadium), which could have been SHEA, so not really a gimme gimme. Lucky enough to get MAH JONGG off of just the final "G" in FLAGG (38A: It's played with 144 pieces), but *not* lucky enough to be able to spell MAH JONGG correctly. I had, let's see, MAH JOHNG and MAH JONNG in there before, at the very very end, SERGE (30D: It has a diagonal rib) (which I don't know from a hole in the ground) forced my hand. CGI and MOP and MAO and something-SAW helped me get started again in the SE, but ... having GAS-blank up top and blank-SAW down below was killing any hopes I had of getting into the middle, and the NE just wouldn't behave at first. Still not sure how I got the SW. Just guessed JESSIE off the J and last E. Just guessed UZIS (there's more than one Rambo???) (48A: Rambos might wield them). Knowing ALIENEE as primo crosswordese helped me get that one (41A: Heir, legally), and then I finally worked my way back up to the utterly unknown ERDE (23D: Himmel und ___ (apple-and-potato dish)). Last letter was at SERGE / BARGE (36A: Origination point for many fireworks), both words I had to Force myself to accept (wanted STAGE for the latter; wanted it a lot). I hope you enjoyed this one more than I. I do appreciate the workout, but I just couldn't work up much affection for this one.
- 21A: Rosaceous ornamental (SPIREA) — Technical flora stuff is just beyond me. I had seen SPIREA before, and just pieced it together.
- 40A: Reading-and-feeding occasions (SEDERS) — Reading-and-eating I get. "Feeding" = weird. Are you "feeding" Elijah? I know you set a place for him, but ... do you put food on his plate? And does he eat it? I'm basically asking if he's like Santa Claus. You know, eating the cookies we put out for him on Christmas Eve? No offense.
- 53A: Simple trattoria dressing (AGLIO E OLIO) — i.e. a bunch of damn vowels.
- 5D: "Touché" elicitor (RIPOSTE) — "Elicitor" is a great example of the strange vocabulary of crossword cluing. See also "denizen," "sloganeer," etc.
- 40D: Creature with a paddlelike tail (SEA COW) — also known as a manatee, I think. Yes.
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]