Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vamp Negri / WED 9-28-11 / Root used as soap substitute / Player of TV junkman / Eighth-inning hurler often / 1960s Bye

Constructor: Steve Salitan

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: CLOUT (65A: Influence ... and a hint to 20-, 26-, 46- and 56-Across) — "CL" is taken OUT of four familiar phrases, creating four wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: SETT (59D: Paving stone) —
A badger sett or set is a badger's den, usually consisting of a network of tunnels. The largest setts are spacious enough to accommodate 15 or more animals, with up to 300 metres (980 ft) of tunnels and as many as 40 openings. It takes many years for the animals to dig these large setts. Setts are typically excavated in soil that is well drained and easy to dig, such as sand, and situated on sloping ground where there is some cover. (wikipedia) [I realize this isn't the definition that was clued, but I like this one better— thanks to Chicago sports radio talk show host Dan Bernstein for pointing it out to me recently]
• • •

This is a puzzle I like more in retrospect than I did while solving it. I've seen several versions of the -OUT puzzle before, so this is not-at-all original, concept-wise, but at least a couple of the theme answers are cute, and the long Downs are pretty nice as well, especially REDD FOXX (37D: Player of a TV junkman) and SET-UP MAN (9D: Eighth-inning hurler, often). It always gets me down when the short fill is terrible, and it's pretty damned grievous today. I realize that the best that short fill can be is inoffensive, but if that's the best it can be, then that should be the goal. Even with cheater squares I'm having to deal with EDO (53A: Tokyo, to shoguns) and SETT ... two ugly Latin plurals in the same tiny quadrant with ACTA and SERA (60A: Anti-snakebite supplies, e.g.) ... the World's Worst Partial in AAND. I almost wish AMOLE had been a partial (to go with ACOW) because I botched that one (31A: Root used as a soap substitute). It's not a pretty word. You want people marveling at your nice long stuff, not groaning at the gunk in the works. To sum up: a recycled concept, adequately executed, with some nice longer fill.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Iodine in a barber's first-aid kit? (EAR CUT SOLUTION)
  • 26A: Doofus given a pink slip? (ASS DISMISSED)
  • 46A: One modifying goals? (AIMS ADJUSTOR) — extremely vague (and dull) clue made this one the hardest to get. 
  • 56A: Cronus and Rhea's barbecue remains? (ASH OF THE TITANS) — easiest one to get, by far.
Speaking of Titans, I know who Argus is, but I did not know Argus-eyed meant ALERT. I remembered that THETA  was an [Angle symbol in trigonometry] only after I changed BRIE to PATÉ to get the initial "T" (BRIE tastes lovely while PATÉ tastes like dog food, hence my solving instinct). I've seen POLA Negri in puzzles many, many times (25A: Vamp Negri), and yet still hesitated. Brain couldn't quite accept that POLA was a real name. I had to manually override it. I just googled "serpent" to see how exactly it is different from "snake" (short answer: it isn't), and noticed that "The Serpent" was a 1916 silent film starring POLA Negri's crossword compatriot, THEDA "Don't call me THETA" BARA. Just a little bit of trivia for you to forget in a few minutes.

You know who's a big fan of serpents (by which I mean "snakes")? Dana Delany. You can see her discuss her herpetological interests here, in this interview with Jimmy Kimmel. She also discusses crosswords, including her experience co-constructing a Sunday NYT puzzle with Matt Ginsberg this past summer (interview starts around the 16 min. mark, in show's second segment). I want to thank her for saying such kind things about this blog, and for giving Jimmy the opportunity to ridicule my name, repeatedly, on national television. A huge thrill and honor on both counts.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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