Title location Hemingway novel / WED 12-8-10 / Cartoon stinker / Mrs. Frisby's charges in Secret of NIMH / Motocross racer for short / Screening aid
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Constructor: Mike Nothnagel
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: SECRET AGENTS (53A: Undercover operatives ... or what are hiding in 17-, 20-, 35- and 58-Across?) — the word "SPY" can be found, backwards, inside each theme answer
Word of the Day: SOYUZ (29D: Russian space program started in the 1960s) —
The Soyuz programme (Russian: Союз, pronounced [saˈjuz], meaning "Union") is a human spaceflight programme that was initiated by the Soviet Union in the early 1960's. It was originally part of a Moon landing programme intended to put a Soviet cosmonaut on the Moon. Both the Soyuz spacecraft and the Soyuz rocket are part of this programme, which is now the responsibility of the Russian Federal Space Agency. (wikipedia)
This was thornier-than-average, almost all over. SE corner was a breeze, but almost everywhere else I had to struggle with vague or deliberately misleading cluing—which I don't mind, but don't expect so much of on a Wednesday. Nothing in the grid is very obscure (except SER. —??? yuck; 31A: It might precede a collection: Abbr.), but the cluing is clearly amped up a notch. Also, I had no idea what the theme was until very late, and there were many clues along the way that suggested a theme that never materialized. This happened largely in the NE, where the long WAR MOVIE was cross-referenced with the central Across, APOCALYPSE NOW, which made me almost certain we had some kind of movie tribute puzzle on our hands. Then there was the cross-referencing of two more clues, both in that same NE section: ALTAR and VOTIVE. So the whole thing felt a mess until I got much further along, and even after I finished, I had to think for a second to understand what SECRET AGENTS had to do with the theme answers. The NE and SW corners were, in general, the hardest parts of the puzzle — felt very open, and contained virtually no gimmes. You race ATVs (43A: Motocross racer, for short)? You wear SHAWLS to pray (49A: Some prayer clothing)? Yes, apparently.
Would've ditched SER. (it's short for SERIES? Maybe?) [someone in "Comments" says "SERmon," which makes sense, but doesn't make me like SER. any more] for SES or SED, which have the virtual of being words, albeit foreign ones. The backwards placement of SPY is an interesting twist on the normal way of "hiding" embedded answers in puzzles—in plain sight, stretched across two words. YPS is not a letter string that wants to be broken across two words, and freedom from that constraint means that there are more possible theme answers to work with. Grid is interesting. Lively. Only SER. and AMUST gave me any pause. Some of the cluing seemed a bit forced (in an attempt to be tricky, I suppose), but overall this one provided an enjoyable challenge.
- 17A: Home of Eastern Michigan University (YPSILANTI)
- 20A: Harry Belafonte's specialty (CALYPSO MUSIC)
- 35A: 1979 film with Capt. Willard and Col. Kurtz ("APOCALYPSE NOW")
- 58A: Leaf-eating insect scourge (GYPSY MOTH)
- 57A: Onetime TWA competitor (US AIR) — one of the keys to unlocking the SE. Just couldn't see many of the answers down there, including AS SUCH (43D: In and of itself), and the ambiguously clued CALLER ID (36D: Screening aid).
- 3D: First of a pair of lists (DOS) — this clue made No sense to me. Feels almost Saturdayish in its oddness. Once you get it, it's easy: "Oh, right, DOS and DONTS." But before you (I) get it, "... lists come in pairs? What kind of lists? WTF?"
- 10D: North Pacific islander (ALEUT) — crosswordese, but phrased this way, it stumped me at first. When I see "Pacific islander" my mind goes south. The fact that "North" is the first word in the clue did not affect this tendency in the slightest.
- 29D: Russian space program started in the 1960s (SOYUZ) — wanted SOYEZ, which is the 2nd person plural imperative "Be," in French.
- 33D: Medical condition treated by thrombolysis (CLOT) — another very non-Wednesday clue.
- 44D: Title location in a Hemingway novel (THE SEA) — glad this was the first thing that came to mind (given the crosses I had), because this could have been tough. Just like with A MUST, I don't normally expect articles (def. or indef.) in my answers.
- 51D: Cartoon stinker (LEPEW) — As in Pepe. The only other cartoon stinker I can think of is Pigpen, from "Peanuts." He's more dirty than stinky, though.
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