2002 Denzel Washington drama / TUE 2-18-14 / Yiddish author Aleichem / Rule ending in 1947 / James Patterson sleuth Cross / Composer Novello /
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Constructor: David Steinberg
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: ATOZ — Puzzle note: "The answers to the 13 starred clues follow an unusual two-way progression from 1- to 73-Across. Can you figure out what it is?"
Answer: first letters of the answers to the starred clues progress in alphabetical order going out (first half of the alphabet), last letters of the answers progress in alphabetical order heading back (second half of the alphabet. That is, first letters are A-M (ATOZ to MEAN), last letters (headed backwards) are N-Z (MEAN to ATOZ).
John Q is a 2002 American drama film directed by Nick Cassavetes. The film follows John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington), a father and husband whose son is diagnosed with an enlarged heart and then finds out he cannot receive a transplant because HMO insurance will not cover it; therefore, he decides to take a hospital full of patients hostage until the hospital puts his son's name on the recipient's list.
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EXGOV is a stretch (31A: *Sarah Palin or Arnold Schwarzenegger, informally), but I'll give him that one. So conceptually, the theme is impressive. And if "execution" pertained simply to finding and arranging theme answers, then he nailed that as well. But as I've said, the fill was horrendous. Half the grid at least is suboptimal to laughable, esp. for a Tuesday puzzle. ONERS QUIN NISI ENORM — that's just the tip. Don't you want people to enjoy the solve *and* admire the stunt? I just don't understand (clearly).
I just googled "FONDU"—"Did you mean 'fondue'?" Well, yes, before solving this puzzle, that is what I would've meant, but I don't know any more. "The Mysterious Mr. QUIN" is … what??? A short story collection, it seems; I don't think this is widely known outside Christie-fan circles. That cross with "JOHN Q" would be utterly laughable—pure Natick—if the theme didn't (in some fashion) give it away. I like XDIN but only if I imagine it as Bizarro ODIN. I will say that GARMENT DISTRICT, CHATTERBOX and KARATE CHOP are all lovely, and GOES SOFT and ZYGOTE go a long way toward salving the wound caused by NOBETAMANGENL etc. There is no question that this is an impressive construction—when looked at after the fact. But it was largely an unpleasant solving experience. Fill standards should never be set to Bare Minimum, no matter how strong the thematic justification.