Evian competitor / TUE 1-20-15 / Violinist Leopold / Guernsey chew / English princess who competed in 1976 Olympics / Like some rich soil / Fabric once described as comfort in action
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Constructor: Susan Gelfand
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: COMIC RELIEF (60A: What the starts of 18-, 24-, 37- and 52-Across can provide?) — four familiar two-word phrases where the first word is the last name of a famous COMIC:
- CAESAR SALAD (18A: Dish with croutons and Paremsan cheese) (Sid Caesar)
- MURPHY BED (24A: Pull-down sleeper) (Eddie Murphy)
- CRYSTAL GEYSER (37A: Evian competitor) (Billy Crystal)
- ROCK OPERA (52A: "Tommy," for one) (Chris Rock)
Rowena // was the daughter of the Anglo-Saxon chief Hengist and a wife of Vortigern, King of the Britons, in British legend. Presented as a beautiful femme fatale, she won her people the Kingdom of Kent through her treacherous seduction of Vortigern. Contemporary sources do not mention Rowena, which leads modern historians to regard her as fictitious. […] She was a titular character in William Henry Ireland's play Vortigern and Rowena (1796). Her name was later borrowed by Sir Walter Scott for the beautiful Saxon heroine in his historical novel Ivanhoe (1819), after which it came into use as an English given name. (Presumably due to the original legendary Rowena's character flaws, her name was not commonly used until after the appearance of Ivanhoe.) (wikipedia)
• • •
COMIC RELIEF makes zero sense as the revealer. The COMIC part, I get. But why RELIEF? It's a totally extraneous, completely non-descriptive element … a bed can provide relief, I guess, but a salad … I dunno, maybe … an opera … pushing it … and geyser, no way. Nobody ever got relieved by a geyser. So RELIEF is a meaningless, throwaway word—not cool in a revealer. May as well have been COMIC TIMING for all the thematic sense that phrase makes. Billy Crystal was part of the '80s comedy benefit program "COMIC RELIEF" … but the other guys weren't. Were they? I thought that was Crystal, Williams, and Goldberg. Also, one of these four is not like the others (again). Murphy, Crystal, and Rock were all stand-ups (Rock is the only one who still is, I think). Caesar, however (per wikipedia) "was considered a "sketch comic" and actor, as opposed to a stand-up comedian." Now, since all the other comics were at some point on SNL (again, not Caesar, another way he's not like the others; see also "dead"), they were all "sketch comics," in a way, so maybe there is consistency there. Like I said, the main issue is RELIEF, which just … hangs there. OPENING ACT … well, that wouldn't have worked either, since it wouldn't have captured the comedy part very well, but at least it would've had some relationship to where we find the words-that-are-also-comics. The aptness of revealers is Really important to the overall quality of a puzzle (not all puzzles have revealers, but if they do, they must be spot-on).
Puzzle also suffers from a touch of the datedness. When Rock (older than middle-aged me) is the young guy in your set of comics, you know your comic sensibility crystalized (!) at least two decades (probably more) ago. Opening words of the themers = an arbitrary, not-terribly-coherent list of (broadly-defined) "comics." And the fill, while nice in a few places (the NW corner, due N and due S, the CAMEROON/RASHOMON pair), is overall only OK, and perhaps has a bit too much screechiness in the short stuff (BAAS ENE ETES AUER MES ELD). If the theme had landed, I'd've noticed this stuff less. But it didn't. So I did.
If you wanted to do a modern stand-up theme, here are some more options (besides ROCK):
- WATTS RIOTS
- COOK ISLANDS
- BURR GRINDER
- BLACK FRIDAY
- NORTON ANTIVIRUS
Did you hear the one about the IRONER and the ANALYZER? No, of course you didn't.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld