English-born cabaret singer / THU 8-18-11 / Bless us and splash us my preciousss / Onetime NASA booster / Epithet for mouse Burns To Mouse
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Constructor: Kevan Choset
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: SIX DEGREES (40A: Often-cited distance between things ... or what's hidden in this puzzle) — rebus puzzle with SIX educational DEGREES crammed into squares throughout the grid
Word of the Day: MABEL / MERCER (5D: With 52-Down English born cabaret singer) —
Mabel Mercer (3 February 1900 – 20 April 1984) was an English-born cabaret singer who performed in the United States, Britain, and Europe with the greats in jazz and cabaret. She was a featured performer at Chez Bricktop in Paris, owned by the hostess Bricktop, and performed in such clubs as Le Ruban Bleu, Tony's, the RSVP, the Carlyle, the St. Regis Hotel, and eventually her own room, the Byline Club. Among those who frequently attended Mercer's shows was Frank Sinatra, who made no secret of his emulating her phrasing and story-telling techniques. (wikipedia)
This was a toughie. Usually SIX DEGREES is attached to the phrase OF SEPARATION, and I've never heard it used of distance between "things" (as the clue indicates), only people. I've seen educational degrees used as the basis of a puzzle theme before, but probably not quite like this. The fill in this puzzle is kind of strained, but that's somewhat to be expected in a rebus puzzle, especially one with a couple of tough squares to pull off (BFA and MBA). Puzzle seemed slightly over-reliant on mild esoterica—plus it uses STAR twice (DOG STAR and S-STARS) (14D: Its rising signaled the flooding of the Nile in ancient Egypt + 74A: Cool red giants) —but I mostly enjoyed it. Seems about an average Thursday rebus puzzle.
Picked up the rebus at ICE MAKER, though I didn't know if EM or MA was the rebus square at first. With MA in one square, I thought maybe there'd be some kind of family or kinship theme, but then SIX gave me SIX DEGREES, and I knew what was up. Even so, finding five more different degrees was tough. Helps to know they're out there, but when you don't know what degrees they are, or where they are, you still have to flail around quite a bit. Had some trouble in the SE, around NERD (?) (63A: Creature in Dr. Seuss's "If I Ran the Zoo") and TRUDGER (??) (48D: Weary walker) and BEASTIE (47A: Epithet for the mouse in Burns's "To a Mouse"). Had more trouble at the end of the solve, in the NE. ANIMIST (29A: Nature worshiper, of a sort) was tough to come up with, and that was one of the only ways into that section. AN ARM and CDS helped, as did partially remembering ERNESTO Zedillo's name (I had ERNEST ... not sure why I hesitated on the "O") (13D: 1990s Mexican president Zedillo). Last letter was the "S" in DOGSTAR / ARLES, I think.
- CABFARE / ABFAB (6D: Hit Brit sitcom)
- ICE MAKER / MAINE
- CMDR / EMDASHES
- VJDAY / JD SALINGER (67A: Writer featured in the memoir "Dream Catcher")
- BATOR / BASS HORN
- SLAMBANG / ZIMBALIST (12D: Notable violinist) — best degree square of them all
- 1A: Traditional keikogi accessory (OBI) — I stupidly thought LEI at first.
- 17A: "Sleepers" co-star, 1996 (DE NIRO) — No idea. I probably saw this, but have no recollection of it. That's pretty back-catalogue, as DE NIRO movies go.
- 18A: Literary source of "Bless us and splash us, my preciousss!" ("THE HOBBIT") — read it as "precsiousness," so did not pick up the obvious "LOTR" reference.
- 33A: Pill bug, for one (ISOPOD) — absolutely no idea what "pill bug" is. Oh, it's one of those armadillo-type bugs. Used to see them in CA. Haven't seen them since moving east.
- 49A: Aegean island near Naxos (IOS) — stone cold guess that happened to be right.