Last of 1973 murder mystery / MON 4-6-15 / Stone Age tool / Second-largest city in Kenya / Press conference danger for unguarded comment / Relatives of violas /
Monday, April 6, 2015
Constructor: Finn Vigeland
Relative difficulty: Challenging (*for a Monday*) (time: close to 4:00)
Word of the Day: "The Last of SHEILA" (37D: "The Last of ___" (1973 murder mystery)) —
The Last of Sheila is a 1973 mystery film that was directed by Herbert Ross and written directly for the screen by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim, It starred Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Coburn, Joan Hackett, James Mason, Ian McShane, and Raquel Welch.
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NEOLITH (39A: Stone Age tool) in that category. MOMBASA (54A: Second-largest city in Kenya) as well (though I'd heard of / seen both before). Also, grid is structured such that it has rather large stacks all over the place—very tough to pull off smoothly; or, rather, tough to pull off smoothly while still keeping yourself in Easy puzzle territory (which Mondays are supposed to be). Try to be clever in the cluing (as this puzzle does), and the difficulty ratchets up quickly. HOLLOW—Saturday clue (9D: Like jack-o'-lanterns or meaningless victories). HOT MIC—very unexpected answer (9A: Press conference danger of an unguarded comment). MWAH—unusual, never easy (54D: "Love ya!"). I like *all* those answers (incl. the clue on HOLLOW), but they aren't Monday-easy. You can be clever and smart and still stay Monday-easy. Monday is entry-level for many solvers, and that should be respected. This thing seems like a Wed. or Thu. that got brutally beaten into an ersatz Monday. As I told Finn just now, I wish this thing had been let loose to be a Wednesday. Puzzle feels like it's being forced to be something it's not.
The kind of weird no-man's-land this puzzle ends up in, identity-wise, is best exemplified by the clue on SHEILA (37D: "The Last of ___" (1973 murder mystery)). My solving joy was brought crashing down by this 40+-year-old *nothing* of a film. I teach crime fiction and can name a passel of '70s crime movies and this … isn't one of them. It's not my not knowing it that's the problem, however. It's simply a terrible, ridiculous, hyper-obscure way to clue SHEILA … I repeat: On. A. Monday. Seriously, I keep staring at this puzzle going "How did that clue pass?" It's Fill-in-the-blank, so you can't say it's good / imaginative / clever. Is it because it involves a scavenger hunt, so maybe puzzle people will like it? Is it because Sondheim was involved and he likes puzzles? Or puzzle solvers like Sondheim? (And please, Sondheim mafia, spare me your "How could you not know…?" stuff on this one). What kind of b.s. insidery nonsense allows this clue into existence on a Monday. This is an editorial issue. Even if constructor submits that clue, if it's Monday (and it is), that clue's gone. Gone. It's a Fri/Sat clue, and again, even then, not great. Worth something only as an obscurity-leavening agent.
- "LIFE OF PI" correctly offered w/o the def. article "THE," unlike in that train-wreck of a recent Sunday puzzle. Still shaking my head over that one (has SMH been in a puzzle? I like it).
- Lively grid overall, with very little true junk. I just had a disagreement with Finn about MADEA v. MEDEA. He likes the freshness of MADEA, I prefer the classics. So I'm supporting MEDEA / MEL / PLANK, while Finn stands firmly by MADEA / MAR / PRANK. I think MAR / PRANK is better … but not better enough to justify the awkwardly-spelled (and less Monday-worthy) MADEA. We both agree that ENOTE / NEL / PLANK would've been terrible.