Uganda's second P.M. / THU 9-13-12 / 109 acres for Vatican City / Trypanosomiasis transmitter / Battleship co-star 2012 / Deep Impact menace / Visual olio
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Constructor: Matt Ginsberg
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: Punny riddle — Question appears entirely in Across answers; Answer appears entirely in the Downs
- WHY / ARE / FRENCH / OMELETTES / SMALL? (Q1-Q5)
- BECAUSE / ONE EGG / IS AN / OEUF (A1-A4)
Word of the Day: RIAA (24A: Fighter of pirates, in brief) —
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is a trade organization that represents the recording industry distributors in the United States. Its members consist of record labels and distributors, which the RIAA say "create, manufacture and/or distribute approximately 85% of all legally sold recorded music in the United States." RIAA has its headquarters in Washington, D.C. (wikipedia)
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Howdy folks, I'm Rex's cousin Tex Parker. Actually, I'm not quite sure how we're related—I'd ask Rex, but he's far too busy knitting to blog tonight, so I'm definitely not going to interrupt him with genealogical questions. Besides, I have more important things to do myself—I'm gonna go grab a beer and then I'll be back to take a stab at today's crossword.
As a rule, I'm not a fan of quote/quip puzzles. There are exceptions, but they're usually due to other awesomeness outweighing the quote/quip badness.
As a rule, I'm not a fan of cross-reference-heavy puzzles. There are exceptions, but they're usually due to other awesomeness outweighing the cross-reference badness. (Or perhaps something particularly clever—but that's damn rare.)
But a quote/quip puzzle with lots of cross-referencing, whose theme is an old joke that neither I nor Leo McGarry (see below) found funny the first time (but isn't bad enough to give Plan 9-like entertainment), that also has its theme entries asymmetrically strewn around the grid ... that's a perfect storm of "no thank you" for me.
There are many clues and entries I really like in this puzzle—more on that later—but I am not a fan of the theme (in part the specific quote, but especially the way it's presented).
Quote/quip puzzles usually require a significant portion of the theme squares to be discovered via crossing entries before the quote actually goes from hindering to helping the solver. The quotes/quips are usually stale/unfunny. If a constructor simply must construct a quote/quip puzzle, I hope that (s)he would make it have few theme squares and make the rest of the puzzle excellent—essentially a themeless puzzle that just happens to have a few cross-referenced entries (that happen to form a quote/quip). An excellent example is a recent Onion A.V. Club puzzle (6/27/12), featuring a 24-square quote (and 11 more theme squares for the speaker's name) that just happens to be in a (70-word) puzzle with lots of fun and/or new entries. But, most of time, I'd rather just not see a quote/quip puzzle.
Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, and Q5 initially look to me like they could refer to five different questions. Once I noticed that the down entries include exactly four similarly clued entries (A1, A2, A3, and A4), it seemed unlikely that there were five questions and four answers ... but, honestly, I just more or less ignored these nine entries and focused on the other entries for most of my solving.
Eventually I got to WHY ARE FRENCH OMELETTES SMALL? / BECAUSE ONEEGG ISAN OEUF.
I think that the first time I heard this was in a first-season episode of The West Wing (originally aired May 10, 2000):
(Presumably a shorter version ("Why are French omelettes small?") was opted for because "You know why they only eat one egg for breakfast in France?" would mean finding where to place an additional 21 theme squares.)
I wonder if the constructor tried for a (at-least-in-my-opinion) more elegant construction using five symmetrically placed entries (instead of five strewn-around-the-grid across entries & four strewn-across-the-grid down entries):
I have several theme ideas that just aren't quite there—maybe I'm one theme entry short or maybe the common thread between the theme entries doesn't feel tight enough or any other number of small problems. But I will admit defeat rather than create a puzzle that suffers from badness (well, at least in my opinion).
Other bad things:
- 41A: Currency exchange premium (AGIO): well, there's some Maleskan crosswordese that I never need to see again.
- 55A/55D: that "O" square seems a bit too hard, even for Thursday; you need to know at least one of that oeuf is French for "egg" or that there was a Ugandan PM named OBOTE (55A: Uganda's second P.M.)—if you know neither and, say, had a cursory knowledge of some French, you might even put an N in the square. But maybe that's just me.
Earlier I promised some good, and—even though I've been complaining for a while—there is a good amount of good in this puzzle:
- 14A: 109 acres, for Vatican Ciy (AREA): an otherwise-kind-of-mundane entry gets a cute little trivia clue
- 18A: Musical interlude (REST): cute misdirection
- 24A: Fighter of pirates, in brief (RIAA): using "pirates" in a way that isn't the first way I generally think
- 28A: Get back on the horse (REMOUNT): RE- entries are often weak, but, like 14A, a nice clue can go a long way
- 30A: Only Semitic language that's an official language of the European Union (MALTESE): an uncommon entry that could've been fine with a nice Maltese Falcon clue, but instead we get a trivia clue that may read to a lot of people (as it did to me) as essentially [European non-Romance language]
- 48A: Reliable profit center (CASHCOW): that's a fun entry, period
- 1D: Good thing to hit (PAYDIRT): another fun entry
- 27D: Is in low power mode (SLEEPS): a modern take on an old word
- 43D: Beat, journalistically (SCOOPED): more cute misdirection—at least I would think that "beat" interpreted as "area covered by a journalist" would be the primary definition implied here
If the nine theme entries had been reclued independent of each other, this could have been a decent (if not quite fun) themeless in my opinion. (Admittedly, the clues would need to be a little harder to make this at least a Friday, but that's essentially always possible.)