R&B singer Peniston / WED 3-7-12 / Grantorto's victim in Faerie Queene / Bluesy Waters / Vegas casino magnate Steve / Complete train wreck Southern slang
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "MEET ME ON THE CONGA LINE" — this message is spelled out by circles that snake in SERPENTINE fashion from the top of the grid to the bottom. Other theme answers include:
- DANCE CLASS (16A: Subject for a Degas painting)
- "ONE, TWO, THREE, KICK!" (39A: Classic Xavier Cugat song ... or a hint to the invitation in the circled letters)
Word of the Day: INO (28D: Queen of Thebes, in myth) —
In Greek mythology Ino (Greek: Ἰνώ) was a mortal queen of Thebes, who after her death and transfiguration was worshiped as a goddess under her epithet Leucothea, the "white goddess." Alcmancalled her "Queen of the Sea" (θαλασσομέδουσα), which, if not hyperbole, would make her a doublet of Amphitrite. // In her mortal self, Ino, the second wife of the Minyan king Athamas, the mother of Learches and Melicertes, daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia and stepmother of Phrixus and Helle, was one of the three sisters of Semele, the mortal woman of the house of Cadmus who gave birth to Dionysus. The three sisters were AGAVE [!], Autonoë and Ino, who was a surrogate for the divine nurses of Dionysus: "Ino was a primordial Dionysian woman, nurse to the god and a divine maenad" (Kerenyi 1976:246). (wikipedia)
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Wow. This puzzle couldn't have been more not-me if it tried. I know what a conga line is ... but whatever culture of conga spawned this puzzle, I have absolutely no experience with. I have never heard the phrase "MEET ME ON THE CONGA LINE." I have never heard of the "classic" song "ONE, TWO, THREE, KICK!" I think we have *very* different ideas about what "classic" means. I ... I ... I'm just out of the loop, or line, today. I'm loving some of the fill, like NO-TELL MOTEL and WEIRD AL (56A: Parody singer Yankovic) and HOT MESS (though I had no idea that now-common phrase was "Southern") (19A: Complete train wreck, in Southern slang). But there was an awful lot of short gunk. I mean, *way* more than you normally see in a Gorski grid. I'd say the good-to-great longer answers make up for the junk, but only barely. If the theme meant anything to me at all, I'm sure I'd like it better.
While ECO-FREAKS is a great-looking answer, I've never ever heard of it. Neither has my wife. Both of us thought it seemed too made-up (8D: Green nuts?). Further, O' THE and ATE A ... crossing? That's rough. I can see that that is a very theme-dense part of the grid, and yet, yikes. BRAE / AURAE is also a little hurty (5D: Scottish slope + 13A: Glowing rings). My wife also wondered if anyone had ever actually said the word VALIDATIONS in a parking context (9D: Parking amenities). "Do they validate?" Yes. "Do they provide VALIDATIONS?" Seems ... less likely. Also, "amenities" is a gigantic stretch. A robe at a spa is an amenity. "Your parking also comes with these lovely VALIDATIONS. Enjoy." Again, can't see it. In the "never heard of it" category, I've got WYNN (40D: Vegas casino magnate Steve), IRENA (22D: Grantorto's victim in "The Faerie Queene"), INO (28D: Queen of Thebes, in myth), and ROWE (70A: Host Mike of the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs"). Clearly these were fairly crossed, as I got them all. It's clear, though, that the puzzle had to go to some rather dark places to make this superficially peppy theme come off.
Wife and I disagreed about the word "zero-star" (52D: Zero-star, say). I knew instantly what the clue meant (though SEEDY did not come quickly), but my wife thought it was an actual star, like a red star. Again she fell back on the "has anyone ever said that?" And I had to confess that I'd say "no-star" and that probably most star ratings systems didn't go as low as "zero-star." Also, anything SEEDY is not likely to show up in any guidebook that gave motels (hotels, restaurants) stars.
- 8A: Hunter who wrote "The Blackboard Jungle" (EVAN) — I know this only because I have a massive collection of old paperbacks. EVAN Hunter also wrote under the (more famous) name "Ed McBain."
- 50A: Fast-food franchise with a game piece in its logo (DOMINO'S) — nice clue. Also a nice clue: 47A: Like some vowels and pants (LONG).
- 66A: Paraffin-coated Dutch imports (EDAMS) — at least the not-great fill in the grid is colorfully clued.
- 6D: Banquo, in Verdi's "Macbeth" (BASSO) — the "Verdi" part should've tipped me off. Took nearly all the crosses to find BASSO.
- 30D: Bluesy Waters (NOT MUDDY)
- 35D: "With the bow," to a violinist (ARCO) — wasn't sure it was ARCO or ARCA. Thought the latter at first, since the former is normally clued as an oil company or the (bygone) name of the arena where the Sacramento Kings play.
- 54D: Wedding day destination (ALTAR) — off the "A," wrote in AISLE ... if the AISLE was as far as you got, there were likely ... problems.