Volcano south of Quito / FRI 12-16-11 / Taiwan strait city / Loser at Salamis and Plataea / Early Appalachian crossers / Longa ancient city founded by son of Aeneas
Friday, December 16, 2011
Constructor: Doug Peterson and Barry C. Silk
Relative difficulty: Medium
Word of the Day: COTOPAXI (31D: Volcano south of Quito) —
Cotopaxi is a stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains, located about 28 km (17 mi) south of Quito, Ecuador, South America. It is the second highest summit in the country, reaching a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft) // Cotopaxi has an almost symmetrical cone that rises from a highland plain of about 3,800 metres (12,500 ft), with a width at its base of about 23 kilometres (14 mi). It has one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world, which starts at the height of 5,000 metres (16,400 ft). The mountain is clearly visible on the skyline from Quito. It is part of the chain of volcanoes around the Pacific plate known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. // The volcano is the subject of 1855 and 1862 paintings by Frederic Edwin Church. (wikipedia)
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Not a very scintillating grid today. Maybe STELLAR PARALLAX is good (45A: Effect used to measure astronomical distances). Don't know. Never heard of it. Just figured it out from crosses. Other stuff I've seen before. Shorter stuff doesn't really pop. I would love to love COTOPAXI, but I've never seen it before (that I recall), and don't generally like proper nouns that are pretty obscure and look like a random set of consonants and vowels. Puzzle played very easy for me—a series of sprints, interrupted by slight pauses—until I tried to finish off the top of COTOPAXI. I'd gotten all the lower part of it from crosses, but my luck ran out up there, north of PATIO, as it did west of CORVETTE. I spent as much time on that blank patch of land (even removing the -ETTE part of CORVETTE at one point) as I did on the Entire Rest Of The Puzzle. In retrospect, this shouldn't have happened. I wanted PAULO for 26D: "The Alchemist" novelist Coelho from the get-go, but something kept me from writing it in. When I said it to myself, it sounded preposterous. "That can't actually be someone's name, can it? Why would you give your kid a sing-songy, rhyming name?" Also, Tony Coehlo, who I think was a California politician when I was a kid, was running interference. If COTOPAXI was the main bad guy on one side of the Great White Hole in my grid, PETIT was the other. I don't know if I really know what a PETIT four is (26A: Four front?). I am imagining a CANAPE ... crossed with a pinafore (whatever that is). I see it's a dessert thing. O well. JESTS was ridiculous, as I had JOKES and JAPES beforehand. Clues on COALS and CHUTES and CHAIN were all terribly ambiguous, so I just floundered stupidly for a while until I went back to square one and thought "What if I just plug PAULO in here after all...?" So I rate this puzzle Easy-Challenging. Thus, Medium.
I started with WON OUT (2D: Carried the day). Lucky guess? Maybe. Whatever, it worked. Shortly thereafter (once I turned SMIRCH to SCORCH), I threw the 15s across and took HOKKAIDO down. Took care of the NE corner and then got stuck (see above). Went back to W and SW, and polished that off with no problem (except SAN MATEO / AMOY, yipes — the former took a while to come into view, and good thing it did, as AMOY means nothing to me) (39A: Taiwan Strait city). Once AEROBIC EXERCISE went in, the SE was a cinch, and then it was just a matter of climbing COTOPAXI, which I did, cross by cross, until ... (again, see above).
- 21A: Striking things about rec rooms (CUES) — first significant pause. Even with CU-S in place, I had no idea what was up with this. I found the cluing a little overly clever / precious today.
- 8D: Triptych trio (PANELS) — I somehow thought MAGI at first. Then crosses made it all clear.
- 22D: Orange half of a TV duo (ERNIE) — much easier to get than I thought it would be. Ruled out any possible tanning-bed casualties that might be on TV, then went for Muppets.
- 36D: Simpson who was Time's first Woman of the Year (WALLIS) — didn't know her a few months back. Still don't. American socialite who married the Duke of Windsor? No wonder I don't care.
- 43D: ___ Longa, ancient city founded by the son of Aeneas (ALBA) — I have some familiarity with this material, so this was a cinch. See also XERXES (38D: Loser at Salamis and Plataea).