Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Malone of Into the Wild / TUE 9-20-11 / President Taft's foreign policy / 15th century French king nicknamed Prudent / First wife Julius Caesar

Constructor: Daniel Raymon

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: RENT-A-CARS (63A: Some vacation expenses ... or a hint to the starts of 17-, 23-, 38- and 54-Across) — four theme phrases begin with words that are also names of rental car chains

Word of the Day: JENA Malone (50A: Malone of "Into the Wild") —

Jena Malone ( ... born November 21, 1984) is an American actress and musician who has appeared on television, in films, and on Broadway. She made her movie debut with the film Bastard Out of Carolina (1996), and has appeared in films including Contact (1997), Stepmom (1998), Donnie Darko (2001), Saved! (2004), Into the Wild (2007), and Sucker Punch (2011). // Malone is also an experimental musician who has released music both under her own name and as "The Shoe". (wikipedia)

• • •

Lightning fast, most of the time, but a few answers required cross-hammering, so my overall time was nothing special. I think I lost some time groaning at some of the fill, too: mainly the poor array of short stuff (LAK, ADE, SER, INAN, ICEL, etc.), and the odd plurals—more than one URIAH? Really? (10D: Heep and others=>URIAHS) Really didn't like the plurals in the theme answers. Could've cut both of them out and still had symmetrical entries. Now, I *know* that 14s are notoriously difficult to work with for a constructor—far harder than 15s (that one black square on the end of a 14 creates murderous problems), but the fact remains that the "S"s feel tacked on, and both answers, esp. NATIONAL ANTHEMS, would be better in the singular. Overall, this was a pretty ordinary, inoffensive "first words"-type puzzle.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Way to reduce spending (BUDGET CUT) — ironically, this answer would actually be *better* in the plural—change revealer to RENTAL CARS: tada! Symmetry.
  • 23A: Pre-sporting-event songs (NATIONAL ANTHEMS)
  • 38A: President Taft's foreign policy (DOLLAR DIPLOMACY) — easily my favorite answer in the whole grid
  • 54A: Areas targeted for economic revitalization (ENTERPRISE ZONES)
Speed bumps included CORNELIA (11D: First wife of Julius Caesar), who was first nothing and then CORDELIA; ___ DIPLOMACY (just took me a few headshakes to jar DOLLAR loose); JENA, who is completely unknown to me, although it's possible I've encountered her in a crossword before; LEFT ___ (40D: More than liberal=>LEFT WING) (had no idea this meant anything *but* "liberal); and LOUIS XI (like CORNELIA, this reeks of "name my computer told me would fit" rather than "name I'd really like in my puzzle") (25D: 15th-century French king nicknamed "the Prudent").

  • 5A: Capital ENE of Fiji (APIA) — an example of crosswordese that I don't mind at all. World capitals get a free pass (and anyway, I'd rather see APIA than OSLO any day)
  • 30A: Genesis mariner (NOAH) — When PHIL COLLINS wouldn't fit ...

  • 70A: One pitied by Mr. T (FOOL) — the world needs another Mr. T. I realize he's still alive, but my point stands.
  • 6D: Game with four "ghosts" (PAC-MAN) — More 80s goodness. PAC-MAN ghosts are *really* "ghosts," insofar as "ghosts" can be said to be "real" at all (they aren't, surfeit of "ghost"-based reality shows notwithstanding). The quotation marks seem unnecessary.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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