Pearl Mosque city / WED 12-26-12 / Rose-red dye / Cooper's handiwork / Boomers babies / Folkie who chronicled Alice / Egocentric person's mantra / Often-dry stream / Qin dynasty follower
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Constructor: Dan Schoenholz
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: "ME ME ME ME ME" (35A: Egocentric person's mantra)— rebus puzzle w/ 13 different "ME" squares
- 4D: Chile relleno, e.g. (MEXICAN MEAL)
- 18A: Best Director of 1997 (JAMES CAMERON)
- 56A: Statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (MEDIAN INCOME)
- 33D: ABAB, for one (RHYME SCHEME)
Word of the Day: MARE (29A: Dark area on the moon) —
The lunar maria pron.: // (singular: mare //) are large, dark, basalticplains on Earth's Moon, formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. They were dubbedmaria, Latin for "seas", by early astronomers who mistook them for actual seas. They are less reflective than the "highlands" as a result of their iron-rich compositions, and hence appear dark to the naked eye. The maria cover about 16 percent of the lunar surface, mostly on the near-side visible from Earth. The few maria on the far-side are much smaller, residing mostly in very large craters. The traditional nomenclature for the Moon also includes one oceanus (ocean), as well as features with the names lacus (lake), palus (marsh) and sinus (bay). The latter three are smaller than maria, but have the same nature and characteristics. (wikipedia)
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The "-Challenging" part of the difficulty rating comes almost entirely from being blind-sided by a rebus on a Wednesday (nine times out of ten, roughly, these types of puzzles appear on Thursdays). Once you suss out the rebus, the puzzle isn't that hard at all. As you might imagine, rebusing "ME" is not very hard. Gajillions of words have that little letter string in them. So this puzzle ups the construction difficulty level (as well as the stylishness) of the grid by managing to get all the "ME" squares into the puzzle's central answer and the four long answers (one in each corner of the grid). So the "ME"s aren't simply scattered around the grid—they're quite neatly contained; five in the central answer, and then two in each of the long answers. They aren't symmetrical, but thank god for that. I like that there is some rhyme / reason to the "ME" placement, but exact symmetry would a. likely be impossible, and b. would make the puzzle too easy to solve. The real trick in making a puzzle like this isn't getting the "ME" squares into the grid so much as making sure you don't have *any* "ME" strings that have *not* been rebused. All "ME" strings are rebused. No strays. "ME" is such a common sequence that you'd have to be quite vigilant to ensure that none appeared in your grid in a non-rebus context. Anyway, I thought it was a decent rebus puzzle, and that the constructor did a reasonably good job of making a potentially weak theme concept rather interesting.
I picked up the rebus at Anouk AIMÉE. Had a hard time picking up MEXICAN MEAL, perhaps because this is a supremely weak phrase. It's a "green paint" answer—i.e. it's a phrase one might say, sure, but it is far too arbitrary an adj./noun pairing to qualify for crossworthiness. MEXICAN STANDOFF is a thing, MEXICAN MEAL is not. MEXICAN FOOD, yes. MEXICAN MEAL, no. MEXICAN JUMPING BEANS ... you get the picture. Anyway, it's an answer that was perhaps necessitated by the theme constraints, and it's gettable, so let's move on. I wanted BIOTA were BIOMES ended up, and I wouldn't know either of these words were it not for crosswords. See also the unlovable, use-only-when-desperate EOSIN (41D: Rose-red dye). Otherwise, the grid was pretty light on tired fill. After I picked up the theme, I had no real trouble anywhere except near the end when I put in the reasonable EENY at 65A: Choosing-up-sides word and then noticed that it had to be MEENY ... but didn't bother to actually go to that square and change it. So I didn't get a Happy Pencil when I was done. This is what happens when your brain makes changes to your grid but your fingers don't.
Thanks to Jenny and Liz and Milo for filling in for me the past couple of days. Very nice to relax with family and go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Sadly, I did not get the one thing I wanted for Christmas, which is for the NYT to release the puzzle at 9pm instead of 10pm Eastern time. Yes, that is likely the saddest thing anyone has ever requested from Santa, but that hour, man ... you have no idea.