Sunday, October 23, 2011

Elizabethan dramatist Thomas / MON 10-24-11 / Furry extraterrestrial in 1980s sitcom / Holey brewing gadget /

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Meeting places — idioms (with "[preposition] THE [noun]" structure) are clued literally, i.e. wackily ("?"-style) as a location where a given group of people might "get together"

Word of the Day: Mel BLANC (47D: Mel with "1,000 voices") —
Melvin Jerome "Mel" Blanc (May 30, 1908 – July 10, 1989) was an American voice actor and comedian. Although he began his nearly six-decade-long career performing in radio commercials, Blanc is best remembered for his work with Warner Bros. during the "Golden Age of American animation" (and later for Hanna-Barbera television productions) as the voice of such well-known characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Taz, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, Woody Woodpecker, Barney Rubble, Mr. Spacely, Speed Buggy, Captain Caveman, Heathcliff, Speedy Gonzales, Tom and Jerry, and hundreds of others. Having earned the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” Blanc is regarded as one of the most influential people in the voice-acting industry. (wikipedia)
• • •
Structure of this grid was odd, especially for a Monday. Huge corners, heavily segmented and choppy middle. I found it actually somewhat slower than a typical Monday, for a couple reasons. First, the aforementioned structure. Long Downs + the long theme answer in the NW made it hard to shoot right out of that corner. Had to hack together crosses in a slightly more methodical way than I'm accustomed to on Mondays. From a speed-solving perspective, the grid wasn't built for velocity—not on the margins, anyway. This is not, of course, a knock on the puzzle. There's no law that says I should be able to do every Monday in under three minutes. The other slight slowing factor, for me, was that the theme just didn't resonate. Even now I have a hard time getting my head around the catch. The "?" clues have one element that refers to the idiomatic meaning of the phrase, then another that attempts to literalize the phrase. The result was that the concept felt clunky and then uncovering of the answers brought no joy at all. Fill seems average, though the big corners give us some shinier, more interesting stuff than an early-week puzzle typically brings with it. I'm a big fan of SIN TAXES (2D: Extra costs of smoking and drinking) (that is, I'm a fan of the answer, not the taxes), and YOGI BEAR (39D: Boo Boo's buddy in Jellystone Park).

A very minor sidenote—I'd've gone OSU (or even ASU) and DIES rather than EDU and DIED just so that I could avoid the horrid THE (pretending it's French THÉ) crossing THE in the theme answer. Aside from ugliness, another reason to boot THÉ is that it's clue contains "tea," which appears in the grid as part of TEA BALL (54A: Holey brewing gadget). I like that clue on TEA BALL, though. Also, the clue on GEL (53A: Hair spiffer-upper). Why not spiff up your ordinary fill with a jazzy clue every now and again?

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Where sad trash collectors get together? (IN THE DUMPS)
  • 28A: Where future motorists get together? (DOWN THE ROAD) — what the hell is a "future motorist?"
  • 49A: Where elderly picnickers get together? (OVER THE HILL)
  • 63A: Where stranded canoeists get together? (UP THE CREEK)
I didn't know that DELL was started in a dorm room (41D: Texas computer giant started in a dorm room). I guess Facebook kind of laid permanent public claim to that particular origin story. I mean, if you have to think of a "giant" company started in a dorm room, you answer "Facebook." DELL makes me think only of that horrible spokesjerk, the DELL computer guy: "Dude, you're gettin' a DELL!" From the early aughts. Yeah, you remember.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the answer to last week's meta-puzzle was JULIUS CAESAR, "THE DIE IS CAST" — if you fill in the "circles" (that is, all the "O"s) in the Mon-Sat puzzles, you see that they act like the pips on a die, with each puzzle representing a different side (or number) of that die. Those numbers give you the order you have to put the puzzles in to decipher the answer. All NW corners (in the order established by the Os/pips) spell out JULIUS, all NE corners CAESAR, all SW corners THE DIE, all SE corners IS CAST.

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