Title bird in Rimsky-Korsakov opéra / FRI 12-5-14 / Old show horse / Umami source briefly / Furry oyster cracker / Social even in no no nanette / French soliloquy starter / 2002 Denzel Washington thriller / Ancient game much studied in game theory
Friday, December 5, 2014
Constructor: Tim Croce
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging, though maybe closer to Medium if I'd been less stubborn ...
Word of the Day: Victor Herbert (53D: "___ Modiste" (Victor Herbert operetta))
Victor August Herbert (February 1, 1859 – May 26, 1924) was an Irish-born, German-raised American composer, cellist and conductor. Although Herbert enjoyed important careers as a cello soloist and conductor, he is best known for composing many successful operettas that premiered on Broadway from the 1890s to World War I. He was also prominent among the tin pan alley composers and was later a founder of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). A prolific composer, Herbert produced two operas, a cantata, 43 operettas, incidental music to 10 plays, 31 compositions for orchestra, nine band compositions, nine cello compositions, five violin compositions with piano or orchestra, 22 piano compositions and numerous songs, choral compositions and orchestrations of works by other composers, among other music.Vienna, Austria, and Stuttgart, Germany, during which he began to compose orchestral music. Herbert and his opera singer wife, Therese Förster, moved to the U.S. in 1886 when both were engaged by the Metropolitan Opera. In the U.S., Herbert continued his performing career, while also teaching at the National Conservatory of Music, conducting and composing. His most notable instrumental compositions were his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30 (1894), which entered the standard repertoire, and his Auditorium Festival March (1901). He led the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1898 to 1904 and then founded the Victor Herbert Orchestra, which he conducted throughout the rest of his life.Herbert began to compose operettas in 1894, producing several successes, including The Serenade (1897) and The Fortune Teller (1898). Even more successful were some of the operettas that he wrote after the turn of the 20th century: Babes in Toyland (1903), Mlle. Modiste(1905), The Red Mill (1906), Naughty Marietta (1910), Sweethearts (1913) and Eileen (1917). After World War I, with the change of popular musical tastes, Herbert began to compose musicals and contributed music to other composers' shows. While some of these were well-received, he never again achieved the level of success that he had enjoyed with his most popular operettas.
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TURNED THE TABLES, which would've given me BR- at the head of 38D: Showed signs of life, which, when coupled with the smattering of crosses I think I already had, would most certainly have given me BREATHED and thus gone a long way toward opening up that corner. But I did not do that for some reason, and so BREATHED remained hidden, as did EEL (Gulper? Yeesh, no way) and MLLE. (…? I don't think I've ever even heard of Victor Herbert before today, let alone his opera with an abbr. in its title; again, yeesh, no way). BBGUNS, really hard to see. DIE LAUGHING, also Really hard to see with that clue (57A: Totally break up). So I pieced things together somewhat slowly, from OSAKA (off the "S") to OBLAST (a guess … I just know that word as a term relevant to Russian geography). So many common letters in that corner (mainly "E"s and "L"s) that the "K" from OSAKA and the "H" (!) from BREATHED ended up being really important just to get some kind of grip on how to parse those long Acrosses. Sadly, there was little that was entertaining about this struggle-corner. It is an adequate corner. Nothing wrong. But nothing great (except possibly the phrase DIE LAUGHING, whose clue I didn't really like). I felt this about most of the puzzle, actually, even though the rest of the puzzle was much easier for me—mostly adequate, partly interesting, only occasionally enjoyable.
COQ and then saw that the "Q" had a symmetrical "J" as its counterpart, I think I literally laughed out loud. Way to cram in those high-value tiles! That does … well, nothing to the quality of the grid. It has this superficially showy look, but the answers involved are pretty blah, even "JOHN Q" (27D: 2002 Denzel Washington thriller), a movie no one will remember but for crosswords. So depressing that STEVE CARELL gets a sad, already dated Maxwell Smart clue. He's done much better work *and* is currently an awards-season favorite for his portrayal of philanthropist / philatelist / naturalist / murderer John Eleuthère Du Pont in "Foxcatcher." He deserves better than a 2008 Maxwell Smart clue, is what I'm saying. "Daily Show"? "Crazy, Stupid, Love"? "Anchorman"? "Over the Hedge"? Holy crap, how is "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" about to turn 10 Years Old!?!? That just came out!
Otherwise, let's see … I really enjoyed 1A: "Perish the thought!" ("GOD, I HOPE NOT!"). While the rest of the grid is not bad, it's a bit dull in the long stuff and a bit creaky in the short stuff (ENE, XESIN, BIS, NOE, ATEN, NIM, ITE, TRE, IRREG, ETRE-TETE-COQ-MLLE, etc.) for my tastes.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
P.S. clue on SUN TAN OIL is quite good (31D: Browning selection?)
P.P.S. "acid" in clues (33A), ACID- in the grid (13D) :(