Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cartoon villain who sails Black Barnacle / FRI 10-14-11 / Ozone destroyers / Player of Duke Santos 1960 / Artist whose moniker is pronunciation of his initials

Constructor: Caleb Madison and J.A.S.A. Class

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: A.J. CRONIN (41A: A. J. who wrote "The Citadel") —
Archibald Joseph Cronin (19 July 1896–6 January 1981) was a Scottish physician and novelist. His best-known works are Hatter's Castle, The Stars Look Down, The Citadel, The Keys of the Kingdom and The Green Years, all of which were adapted to film. He also created the Dr. Finlay character, the hero of a series of stories that served as the basis for the popular BBC television and radio series entitled Dr. Finlay's Casebook. [...] The Citadel, a tale of a mining company doctor's struggle to balance scientific integrity with social obligations, incited the establishment of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom by exposing the inequity and incompetence of medical practice at the time. In the novel, Cronin advocated a free public health service in order to defeat the wiles of those doctors who "raised guinea-snatching and the bamboozling of patients to an art form." Dr. Cronin and Aneurin Bevan had both worked at the Tredegar Cottage Hospital in Wales, which served as the basis for the NHS. The author quickly made a number of enemies in the medical profession, and there was a concerted effort by one group of specialists to get The Citadel banned. Cronin's novel, which was the publisher's best-selling book in its history, informed the public of corruption within the medical system, planting a seed that eventually led to necessary reform. Not only were the author's pioneering ideas instrumental in the creation of the NHS, but historian Raphael Samuel has stated that the popularity of his novels played a substantial role in the Labour Party's landslide 1945 victory. (wikipedia)
• • •

With the notable exceptions of FACEBOOK PROFILE (38A: Where to see the writing on the wall?) and KRISTEN WIIG (17A: Co-writer and star of "Bridesmaids"), this puzzle didn't seem very original. Themelesses thrive zingy long stuff, and it just isn't here. I wonder if a class that is just learning to construct should be doing themelesses (which, in my experience, are much harder to pull off than themed puzzles). When the fairly obscure proper nouns like CRONIN and "PETULIA" (which I still can't believe is right ...) (40D: 1968 Julie Christie movie set in San Francisco) upstage your good stuff, and you have to rely on so much ordinary-to-weak short stuff to hold it all together, you have something of a problem. AAU? I'm just noticing that answer now (25A: Sports org.). What the hell is that? Amateur Athletic Union ... I feel like I've complained about this answer before. Bah. Anyway, from GEER to GEAR to GORE, not a ton of joy here today. Wait, I forgot to give love to OFA. OFA is terrible fill, yes, but that is one good clue, I must say (16A: What may come between two friends?).

Flew through the top of the puzzle, and struggled in normal Friday fashion through the middle. The struggle was due almost entirely to CRONIN and (really?) "PETULIA." Also SEA HAG (47D: Cartoon villain who sails the Black Barnacle), which is a cartoon character I somehow missed (this from someone who at this very moment is wearing a Mighty Mouse t-shirt). She's an enemy of Popeye, it turns out. Seems like I should've known that. There are few words I dislike as much as I dislike DECOCT (45D: Extract the essence of by boiling), but the weird thing about really disliking a word is that you get pretty familiar with it—you gotta be familiar to have strong opinions—and so I strangely threw DECOCT down with hardly any crosses in place. Seeing ONTARIO (15D: One side of the Detroit River) in a puzzle (even the crosswordese abbrev. version, ONT) always gives me mild pangs of NOSTALGIA (11D: It "isn't what it used to be," said Simone Signoret) for my days living in southern Michigan, very close to the Canadian border. Speaking of which, go Tigers.

  • 14A: Player of Duke Santos in "Ocean's Eleven," 1960 (CESAR ROMERO) — also player of The Joker in '60s "Batman"
  • 26A: Coal-rich valley (SAAR) — important crosswordese that I always forget. I wanted RUHR.
  • 60A: Peabody Museum patron, perhaps (ELI) — this is just Caleb secretly showing off that he's an Ivy-Leaguer now. 

[absolute insanity]

  • 64A: Playwright who became a president (VACLAV HAVEL) — I should be more impressed than I am by this answer. I feel like I saw him in a puzzle not too long ago, so my reaction wasn't "wow," but "oh, you again." Strangely, it's been sixteen years since this exact answer has appeared in the NYT, so I don't know where I saw my HAVEL. Maybe I'm getting him confused with LECH WALESA (I think I do that).
  • 1D: Official in the Clinton White House (ICKES) — thumbing through the first pages of Terry Teachout's bio of H.L. Mencken today, I noticed the name ICKES and thought "that appears in crosswords sometimes." That particular ICKES was Secretary of the Interior under FDR, not Deputy Chief of Staff for Clinton. Hey, whaddyaknow—they're father/son.
  • 6D: Father of Harmonia, in myth (ARES) — the only way I was able to spell KRISTEN correctly.
  • 13D: William ___, 1990s attorney general (BARR) — don't know him, but I have a distinct feeling I've not known him before, because his name eventually came to me without much assistance. He's Bush I, I think.
Happy birthday, Sandy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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