Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chess champion Mikhail / WED 11-9-11 / French city associated with lace / Title woman Harry Belafonte song / Chemical agent for climate change

Constructor: Paula Gamache

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: INNKEEPER (36A: Accommodating person? ... or a hint to 20-, 28-, 48- and 57-Across) — common (?) phrases have INN inserted into them, creating wacky phrases, etc.

Word of the Day: SOHIO (9A: Old Buckeye State service station name) —
Standard Oil of Ohio or Sohio was an American oil company that was acquired by British Petroleum, now called BP. // It was one of the successor companies to Standard Oil after the antitrust breakup in 1911. Standard Oil of Ohio was the original Standard Oil company founded by John D. Rockefeller. It operated service stations under the "Sohio" brand name in Ohio. The company used the same logo, but with "Boron" as the brand name in other states. // A merger between Sohio and BP was negotiated with Sohio by Sohio CEO Charlie Spahr in 1968. (wikipedia)
• • •


Took forever (by normal Wed. standards) and offered little reward (except maybe "GUINNESS AGAIN?"—that's mildly funny). No idea what the theme was for a long time, largely because the revealer was an enigmatic "?" clue, but also because I don't know what "wing-footed" is. Is that a word for "fast?" Like Mercury, with the wings on his feet? Ugh. Ugh to ALENÇON (3D: French city associated with lace) next to NONNA (4D: Gianni's grandmother) (a surfeit of Euroisms), ugh to is-it-UEY-or-is-it-UIE, ugh to is-it-ENNE-or-ENNA-or-ETTE-or-ETTA, ugh to whatever SOHIO is (besides terrible fill, that is), ugh to two superlative (-IEST) adjectives. Also, SINNING SONG? Sirens lead you to sin? If you think sex is sin, I guess. Not sure ancient Romans / Greeks thought that way, exactly. Lots of heroes bang lots of things without being stigmatized as sinful. This should've been a reasonably winning idea, but somehow the execution (and the cluing) just feels awkward and bungled. "MATILDA" is a Roald Dahl story (46D: Title woman in a Harry Belafonte song) —Belafonte? Maybe you had to be much older to appreciate this one. I got beat (time-wise) by some (older) solvers I normally crush. But mostly the times at the NYT applet look like slow Thursday / fast Friday times. Something about this one was just Off. Or, just not meant for me—like Lawrence Welk or Cirque du Soleil.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Like a successful marathoner? (WINNING FOOTED) — a successful marathoner would also, presumably, be WING-FOOTED, to some degree, so this change isn't much of one.
  • 28A: Helsinki hoosegow? (FINNISH TANK
  • 48A: Call of a siren? (SINNING SONG)
  • 57A: Jaded ale drinker's question? (GUINNESS AGAIN)

  • 35A: Pulitzer nominee for the novels "Black Water" and "Blonde" (OATES) — I know Joyce Carol OATES, but have never heard of either novel mentioned in her clue.
  • 15A: Old buffalo hunters of the Great Plains (OTOE) — because the old buffalo are the easiest to catch.
  • 34A: "___ me my Highland lassie, O": Burns ("GIE") — I accidentally left this out of my "ugh" list, above. 
  • 31D: Home in a Mitchell novel (TARA) — back-to-back days with "Gone With the Wind" answers. Hurray? 

  • 37D: Registering the most on the applause-o-meter (NOISIEST) — this clue couldn't be clunkier if it tried. Applause is applause. It might be louder, I guess, but it's not noise. Also, there's some confusion as to what "registering" means, in that the thing being applauded (as opposed to the applause itself) could be said to be the causal event that "registers" the reading. Really it's just a stupid, overlong, badly worded clue. Also didn't like the clue [Lesser-known astrology symbol], in that the wording strongly suggests a particular symbol, not the general category of symbol (MOON SIGN).
  • 14A: Chewy candy treat (ROLO) — because I didn't know ALENÇON and had NANNA for NONNA, I ended up with ROCA here. Almond ROCA is the opposite of "chewy," so I really should've known better. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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