Actress Suvari of "American Beauty" / SUN 7-25-15 / Mark's replacement / Scenic drapery fabric / Panama part
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Constructor: Ellen Leuschner and Jeff Chen
Relative difficulty: Measium
THEME: "No Escape" — There's a BLACK HOLE in the middle of the grid.
Word of the Day: LA TOSCA (41D. French play that inspired and Italian opera) —
La Tosca is a five-act drama by the 19th-century French playwright Victorien Sardou. It was first performed on 24 November 1887 at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martinin Paris, with Sarah Bernhardt in the title role. Despite negative reviews from the Paris critics at the opening night, it became one of Sardou's most successful plays and was toured by Bernhardt throughout the world in the years following its premiere. The play itself is no longer performed, but its operatic adaptation, Giacomo Puccini'sTosca, has achieved enduring popularity. There have been several other adaptations of the play including two for the Japanese theatre and an English burlesque, Tra-La-La Tosca (all of which premiered in the 1890s) as well as several film versions.La Tosca is set in Rome on 17 June 1800 following the French victory in the Battle of Marengo. The action takes place over an eighteen-hour period, ending at dawn on 18 June 1800. Its melodramatic plot centers on Floria Tosca, a celebrated opera singer; her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, an artist and Bonapartist sympathiser; and Baron Scarpia, Rome's ruthless Regent of Police. By the end of the play, all three are dead. Scarpia arrests Cavaradossi and sentences him to death in the Castel Sant'Angelo. He then offers to spare her lover if Tosca will sleep with him. She appears to acquiesce, but as soon as Scarpia gives the order for the firing squad to use blanks, she stabs him to death. On discovering that Cavaradossi's execution had in fact been a real one, Tosca commits suicide by throwing herself from the castle's parapets. (Wikipedia)
• • •This was a Janus-like puzzle for me. The upper/left half was really straightforward, and the other other half (this puzzle is literally divided into two pieces) was a bit trickier. Not much, but there was a noticeable hiccup in solving for me. Was it the gimmick that made the bottom/right harder? I don't think so. There are just some tricky choices, like ACACIA (93D. Mimosa, for one) and EASY FIX (90D. Simple solution) that bump up the difficulty. Not hard for a Sunday... just a rougher groove than I'd found on the west side.
So there are two parts to this theme. Number one: long phrases that describe a BLACK HOLE.
- HEART OF DARKNESS (21A. Novella that served as the basis for "Apocalypse Now")
- DISAPPEARING ACT (14D. Avoidance maneuver)
- FATAL ATTRACTION (42D. 1987 Michael Douglas/Glenn Close blockbuster)
- CENTER OF GRAVITY (112A. Tightrope walker's concern)
So this is cute, too. A nice visual effect. I was wondering if the whole second half of the grid would be reversed, with every entry being affected by the black hole, but nope. That's fine. Two black spots on this puzzle, though. First, why is PIE duplicated between MEAT PIE and PIE HOLE (theme answer!)?!? This is clearly a constructor error, but should've been caught and fixed ahead of time. Some might argue "short word, not a dupe, doesn't count, you can never have too much pie, &c." I am set in my ways, and I don't care if it's a short word. It is a very meaningful word, so it certainly counts. The other is certainly and editorial choice: DRAT (108D. "Darn!") and DARN IT. Why not use a different clue? Or link the two together? I don't understand the reasoning behind this at all.
I praise the constructors for using corner cheater squares in exchange for (what I assume is) cleaner fill. That's an unexpected decision.
- COIN PURSES (13D. Change places) — Favorite clue of the puzzle. Sure, I saw right through it (wanted REGISTERS, though), but a verb/noun misdirect is a good time.
- AARP (93A. 50 or more people?) — This would be a "favorite" contender, if I'd not seen some variant of it before. Speaking of "people," no PEEP HOLE in this grid?
- EPISODE I (29A. "The Phantom Menace" in the "Star Wars" series) — I still haven't seen "Star Wars." But I knew enough to get this right away. Are there any other things that are commonly referred to as "episode one," or is this it? Google suggests that part of the video game Half-Life 2 is "episode one," but the closest I've come to that is playing Portal. Help me out here.
- AFRESH (45A. From scratch) — "I shall bake this cake afresh!"
- LEANN RIMES (70D. Singer with the 1997 3x platinum single "How Do I Live") — For about a year in the late '90s, Dad would play his one LeAnn Rimes album anytime we got in the car. It was most noticeable going to and coming home from church. And it would always start from track one, "Blue." And sometimes he'd put it on repeat. Taste the yodeling with me.
- YES MEN (12D. Rubber stamps) — Hadn't heard the slang usage of the clue before, but it makes sense, metonymically. It's a fun entry, regardless.
- HATE MAIL 74A. Some written rants) — I hear that one Mr. Parker gets great joy from receiving your missives (as well as ones likely intended for Mr. Shortz), so please, keep the coming. Address is on the sidebar. You know what to do.