Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Building toy brand / THU 11-3-11 / Monarch moniker for short / Wood used in Voldemort's wand / Apt name for crime boss

Constructor: Parker Lewis

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: idioms literalized — common phrases following the structure "___ IN A ___" are represented with the first part of the phrase "literally" inside the second part; thus, e.g., "Needle in a haystack" becomes HAYNEEDLESTACK

Word of the Day: MERC (11D: Chicago exchange, informally, with "the") —
The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) (often called "the Chicago Merc," or "the Merc") is an American financial and commodity derivative exchange based in Chicago. The CME was founded in 1898 as the Chicago Butter and Egg Board. Originally, the exchange was a non-profit organization. The exchange demutualized in November 2000, went public in December 2002, and it merged with the Chicago Board of Trade in July 2007 to become a designated contract market of the CME Group Inc. The Chief Executive Officer of CME Group is Craig S. Donohue. On August 18, 2008 shareholders approved a merger with the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and COMEX. The Merc, CBOT, NYMEX and COMEX are now markets owned by the CME Group. (wikipedia)
• • •
A very clever theme, though more Wednesday than Thursday material. Once you pick up the gimmick, the other theme answers come very easily. There is some vagueness in the clues here and there that toughens things up slightly, but from the shape of the grid (heavily segmented, with lots of 4x4 and 4x5 sections) to its content (basic vocabulary all around), this doesn't quite have the zing or imaginative spin that we're used to in Thursdays. But that's not the puzzle's fault. It's very good for what it is. Simple, neat theme that I can't believe hasn't been done before. I had one minor and one major (stupid) misstep—the latter is one that I doubt any other solver replicated. So, I had TWERP instead of DWEEB (37A: Weenie)—TWERP is a much better answer for that clue, but whatever. I fixed it, no problem. But then I put in WALK for 35A: Promenade. No part of me ever doubted this or questioned it, even when it left me with KONGNECK (!?!?) (36D: Certain beer bottle) and IWAC (31D: Jobs plan, once). It was only after accepting that the Jobs answer had to be IMAC that I got to MALK ... and then, after checking the (ridiculous) "K" cross, to MALL (sidenote: no way on god's green earth that you can justify cluing an IMAC as a "plan"; I see that you wanted to do something cute with Jobs there ("Jobs plan," get it!?), but no. A computer is not a "plan," especially without a "?" clue. Also, playing on Jobs' name in clues is Old Hat, so if you're going to do it, it better be spot-on).

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Nearly impossible target, literally (HAYNEEDLESTACK)
  • 25A: One who's enraptured, say, literally (CANDYKIDSTORE) — I was thinking "Left Behind" here ... 
  • 46A: Inadvertently destructive sort, literally (CHINABULLSHOP)
  • 52A: Something rapidly deteriorating goes to it, literally (HANDHELLBASKET) — figured out this one without ever having to look at the clue.
  • 1A: Certain lamp goo (LAVA) — Should've been a gimme. Wasn't. I wanted something sooty. I was thinking lampblack. I don't know what I was thinking.
  • 16A: Monarch moniker, for short (QEII) — first guess. In four letters, it seemed probable. Placement of "Q" (in second position in the cross) also seemed auspicious.
  • 26D: Wood used in Voldemort's wand (YEW) — in three letters, it could've been several woods, but I had the "E" from SEEN, and just guessed YEW. Seemed the only reasonable guess at that point. 

  • 56D: Building toy brand (K'NEX) — this brand falls into that uncanny valley of children's entertainment, between the time when kids' entertainment had fallen off my radar (college, roughly) and the time it came back on (A.D., Anno Daughter, 2000). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are in there somewhere too.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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