Monday, August 29, 2011

Aunt in Oklahoma / TUE 8-30-11 / Davenport long-running Doonesbury character / Longtime New York theater critic / Popular card game since 1954

Constructor: Bernice Gordon

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a Tuesday*)

THEME: B-RN — last word in six theme answers starts B-RN, with a different vowel (incl. "Y") in the blank spot each time

Word of the Day: DAVID BIRNEY (39A: TV/film/stage actor once married to actress Meredith Baxter)
David Edwin Birney (born 23 April 1939) is an American actor/director whose career has performances in both contemporary and classical roles in theatre, film and television. He has three children, a daughter Kate, and twins, Peter and Mollie. [...] Birney married Meredith Baxter in 1974 (the two had met costarring on the sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie). They have three children: Kate (born 1974), and twins Peter and Mollie (born 1984). Birney and Baxter divorced in 1989. In 2011, Baxter said Birney had repeatedly psychologically and physically abused her during their marriage, allegations Birney has denied. (wikipedia)

• • •

Hey there. I missed you guys. It's good to be back. Well, not so good. I mean, this puzzle ... has problems. I knew right away it wouldn't be in my wheelhouse—if memory serves, the constructor is roughly my grandmother's age, and so, understandably, her cultural center of gravity's going to be a little farther back than mine. Still, I didn't expect to have to deal with So Many Names from Yesteryear. I'm going to ask you to imagine an intersection like the EDD BYRNES / LACEY / ELLER / CLIVE BARNES one here, only replace all those names (ugh, so many proximate names) with ones that came to fame some time after 1975. Now try after 1995. If you're like me, you'd like that puzzle a hell of a lot more than this one, but that's not really the point. The point is, such a puzzle would piss off huge chunks of the solving population (I know from experience), and rightly so. Lesson: Don't crowd names together in a puzzle, *especially* ones that simply aren't universally known and all belong to one time period or field of knowledge. Theater, theater critic, "Doonesbury," and "77 Sunset Strip" don't exactly scream modern, or relevant, or well known. I'd be happy to accept any one or two of these answers, but four? And intersecting? Really, really bad form.

I haven't even mentioned the theme, which is absurd. Vowel progression isn't even in order. AYOIEU? What? BORNES is the best you could do for "BORN"? What about David BYRNE, who is infinitely more famous (today) than the double-D EDD guy? Conceptually, it's all a mess. As a friend of mine just said a few minutes ago: "Also, to help tie the theme together, it's three people, a card game, a dog, and part of a stove. So there's that." Yes. Yes there is.

That's two days in a row now that theme answers have been quite marginal, bordering on obscure. This bugs me for personal reasons. In my mind, every theme answer has to pass the SHERMAN ALEXIE test. This is because Will didn't know who SHERMAN ALEXIE was, and rejected a puzzle of mine almost exclusively on that basis (never mind that Alexie won the National Book Award, has been on "Colbert" multiple times, etc.). So now any time I see something like THE PURPLE ONION (!?!?) or DAVID BIRNEY (come on!) I just cringe and think, "you *must* be joking..."

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Longtime New York theater critic (CLIVE BARNES)

  • 23A: Actor in 1960s TV's "77 Sunset Strip" (EDD BYRNES)

  • 34A: Popular card game since 1954 (MILLE BORNES)

  • 39A: TV/film/stage actor once married to Meredith Baxter (DAVID BIRNEY) — interesting that he's puzzleworthy only when tied to Elyse from "Family Ties" (see, *she* has a puzzleworthy acting credential)

  • 53A: Big dog (ST. BERNARD)

  • 59A: Prime cooking spot (FRONT BURNER)

Oh, and I had an error. Had RECTOR for 4A: Person assisting a worship service (LECTOR) and never thought to correct it, despite the resulting RACEY at 4D: ___ Davenport, long-running "Doonesbury" character (LACEY). I probably just assumed that if anyone wanted LACEY, they'd use "Cagney and LACEY" to get there.

One last thing: if you are a U.S. Congressperson or a well-known or prominent Washington figure of some kind (I'm looking at you, Obamas!), or you know someone who is and who also a. solves the puzzle and b. reads my blog (even occasionally), please let me know (rexparker at mac dot com). I'm being interviewed by CBS in a couple weeks, and they apparently could use this info. I'd be most grateful. Thanks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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