Doc Savage portrayer / FRI 8-29-14 / Political theorist Carl / Neighbor of St Kitts / Football Hall of Famer Tunnell / Miss Julie composer 1965 / Kroger alternative / Longtime Laker Lamar / Player of Fin Tutuola / Host of 1950s TVs Bank on Stars
Friday, August 29, 2014
Constructor: Daniel Raymon
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
Word of the Day: RERI Grist (25A: Soprano Grist) —
Reri Grist (February 29, 1932) is an American coloratura soprano, one of the pioneer African-American singers to enjoy a major international career in opera. (wikipedia)
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CROWDSOURCE), perhaps took me way too long, but when I got it, the struggle seemed worth it. There's a wonderful colloquial vibe all over, with IN A NUTSHELL, EXCUSE ME, REST ASSURED, and AND THEN SOME all lending the puzzle a lively chattiness. Good long stuff will make people forget bad short stuff—that's the general rule. Today, though … man, this puzzle really tests that rule. It's not so much that the fill is "bad," in the sense that plural suffixes are bad and variant spellings are bad and random roman numerals are bad (I see you, MMIV). It's just name-heavy. Not just name-heavy. Like, crazy-name-heavy. Laden with names that sound made-up. Names that just don't seem like plausible human names. But they are—they are real. I looked them up. Still, even after having looked RERI up, I'm not convinced it's real. I mean, she is. She's had a notable career. But her name's not famous, and it's certainly *entirely* unguessable (unlike, say, SCHMITT, whom I'd also never heard of, but whose name seemed plausibly human). What is a RONELY? Did he play Doc Savage on the radio? Do most of you even know who Doc Savage (pulp hero of yore) is? Oh, wait … crap. HA ha [seriously, genuine LOL]. It's RON [space] ELY, not RONELY. RON [space] ELY is best known for playing Tarzan. He played Doc Savage in a 1975 film you've never seen or heard of. Other big names in that movie include no one.
LEBEAU clue, that whole area might still be staring me down (21A: Longtime N.F.L. coach whose name is French for "the handsome"). Dick LEBEAU is somebody whose name I've heard, so I don't doubt his crossworthiness, but I wasn't gonna get him from [Longtime N.F.L. coach] alone. So OK, I got him. From French. But if you don't know football and don't know French, you might be in trouble. It seems especially cruel, then, particularly to non-sports fans, to cross the one old-timey N.F.L. answer (LEBEAU) with *another* old-timey N.F.L. answer., this time cluing a name not only obscure, but preposterous-looking. EMLEN? That guy hasn't been in the NYT, or any major puzzle, for 15 years. Thank god I'd heard of "NEVIS & St. Kitts" [by which I apparently mean "St. Kitts & NEVIS"] because otherwise that "N" is Entirely unguessable. And if you don't know the rules of French, you'd be forgiven for perhaps thinking LABEAU instead of LEBEAU. And *then* you'd have a real mess on your hands. Proper nouns, particularly ones that are manifestly obscure and unguessable, Have To Be Handled Carefully. If you must include them, keep them Far away from each other and try not to cross them with other proper nouns at unguessable letters. This is a big danger of a massively name-heavy puzzle (like this one)—you're always dancing through a Natick minefield. I don't think there are any true Naticks* here, but there are definitely some scares. The main issue is that Bizarro names distract from the otherwise high quality of the puzzle.
I didn't even mention LIAT, a name I now know because of crosswords, but … again, a very non-name-seeming name. Sports, opera, geography, cinema: whatever your cultural ignorance, this puzzle has a proper-noun groin-kick waiting just for you. The sports-averse must feel particularly pummeled. Crossing not-terribly-famous N.F.L. names and then a double dose of Bo Jackson!? *And* Lamar ODOM? All In A Single Quadrant Of The Puzzle!?!? I legitimately feel sorry for you anti-sports folks today. I really do.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
*For a definition of "Natick," click the "FAQ" tab up top; in a nutshell, a "Natick" refers to a crossing of relatively obscure proper nouns at an unguessable letter. I coined the term when I encountered just such a situation at the crossing of *N*. C. WYETH (whose name I now know well) and …. NATICK.