Mathematician Paul / SUN 3-3-13 / British actress Diana / Chicago lakefront attraction / Cole Porter title woman / TV's Peter literature's Ben / Gold Silver waltz composer / Insect pupa sold as fish food / Fargo's partner / Sexologist's subject / Start of Willa Cather's Great Plains trilogy
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: "Seven Blurbs for Seven Biographies" — Clues are imagined blurbs for wacky book titles, which are created by taking phrase that follows the pattern "THE x OF y" and reversing "x" and "y"
- 22A: "It's worth it just for Ms. Behar's famous lasagna recipe" ("THE COOKING OF JOY")
- 35A: "An insightful look at how playing Miss Brooks took its toll on Ms. Arden" ("THE DESTRUCTION OF EVE")
- 48A: "You don't have to be a gardener to dig this book about Kerouac's tools" ("THE SPADES OF JACK")
- 58A: "Finally, we learn how one Jonas brother defined an entire generation" ("THE TIME OF NICK")
- 73A: "Clinton's a well-known southpaw, so this exposé on his other-handed punches is an eye-opener" ("THE RIGHTS OF BILL") [awkward clue]
- 87A: "Required reading for all 'Purple Rain' fans who think their idol is too goody-goody" (THE DARKNESS OF PRINCE)
- 103A: "A gripping narrative about one folk singer's violent turn against Paul Simon" (THE WARFARE OF ART") [weird that this is the only clue w/o title subject's last name in it ... well Prince just has the one name, but still ...]
Word of the Day: Paul ERDOS (28A: Mathematician Paul) —
Paul Erdős (Hungarian: Erdős Pál [ˈɛrdøːʃ paːl]; 26 March 1913 – 20 September 1996) was a Hungarian mathematician. Erdős published more papers than any other mathematician in history, working with hundreds of collaborators. He worked on problems in combinatorics, graph theory, number theory, classical analysis, approximation theory, set theory, and probability theory.He is also known for his "legendarily eccentric" personality. (wikipedia)
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Recently Will Shortz declared somewhere (I forget where) that he was looking for Sundays with lower word counts in the hopes that it would result in more interesting fill. I am paraphrasing and perhaps garbling the message, but that is what I remember (someone will surely correct me). Anyway, this puzzle seems to be something like he had in mind—there's a Ton of white space for a Sunday. Huge open spaces that do, to some extent, achieve the "interesting fill" goal. But I have this feeling the push for more whiteness is going to yield diminishing returns after a point. For every bit of interesting fill (say, EASY DOES IT or BLISTER PACK) there's something ham-fisted (like CORD OF WOOD) or there's a passel of short junk. NE and SW are good examples of the tension between short and long fill. I'd take one less 9 in both those corners if it would result in no PARAS, LIRAS (79D: Old Italian dough), PARTER, A PAIR, NO SEE, GO ASK, EENIE, etc. Unnecessary acrobatics (i.e. many showy long Downs) in those corners resulted in much wincing when it came to the small stuff. Plus there's the ERDOS / PASSIVATE crossing, which was absolute gibberish to me (28A: Mathematician Paul + 17D: Give an anticorrosive coating to). I had to flat-out guess at that "S"—the fact that I guessed right means it's inferrable, I suppose, but still: rough. If I'm alone on that score, I'll eat my hat. In general, more white squares to fill adequately = more reliance on computer assistance with the construction, which *can* result in an acceptance of adequate as opposed to a striving for great. This is especially true in an era when the Theme is Everything. Why bother polishing your work. Your word list is a virtual guarantee that whatever your construction software suggests to you has been used before, and is thus valid, or was, in some context, at some point. This theme is indeed very good. Cute and funny (despite my audible groan at THE WARFARE OF ART—I've only ever heard that title rendered as "The Art of War"). So this is by no means a bad puzzle. I just want to speak out against this "more white space for more white space's sake" idea. If I end up having to choke on stuff like OFST and DORS (32A: British actress Diana) and ATTWO and ANTEGG (1A: Insect pupa sold as fish food) and GEOG and GUNNS and EELER etc., then I don't see the point.
I lost a full minute of time when I actually stopped solving and checked to confirm that ERDOS and PASSIVATE were real things. This almost *never* happens—that a cross is so baffling that I am compelled to check my work. Theme was easy to uncover and easy to solve, and should've made the puzzle easier overall, but didn't. Which is fine—harder Sundays I can get behind. But there was something a bit sloggy about this one.
- 50D: Food Network host Guy (FIERI) — he's been in the (food) news a lot lately, and not in a positive light. I really wish the clue here could've referenced this amazing NYT review of FIERI's Manhattan restaurant, Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, or this (amazing) parody menu.
- 7A: Doesn't get the memo, maybe (MISREADS) — a hard, hard clue. I had MIS-EADS and didn't get it. "MISLEADS?"
- 41A: Cole Porter title woman (KATE) — wanted OTIS.
- 82A: Chicago lakefront attraction (NAVY PIER) — one of the nicer answers in the grid.
- 16D: Start of Willa Cather's Great Plains trilogy ("O PIONEERS") — I don't think I've ever read Cather. I read an Alice Munro short story that was indirectly about her. But nothing by her. Still, got this easily.
- 32D: Some bathroom crystals (DRANO) — again, brutal. The DORS crossing didn't help. Had to guess that "D."
- 40D: Composer of the "Gold and Silver" waltz (LEHAR) — rhymes with (see 22A) "Behar." I think.
- 65D: Fargo's partner (WELLS) — I never thought of those names as belonging to different people. They exist as one word in my brain: WellsFargo. So I thought ... I don't know what I thought, actually. But I sure didn't know it straight off.
- 75D: Sexologist's subject (G-SPOT) — maybe, I guess, but do sexologists still talk about this? It feels very ... '70s to me. Maybe '80s. But according to wikipedia, the topic still generates considerable debate. More than you could possibly want to know here.