Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Life autobiographer 1975 / THU 11-10-11 / Explosive roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure / Roman writer grain of salt / In bad company per Ambrose Bierce

Constructor: Tim Croce

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: I to l — Clues on theme letters appear to begin with capital Is, but really begin with lowercase Ls. Revealer = 55A: Feature replaced in four clues in this puzzle (CAPITAL LETTER)

Word of the Day: PLINY (10D: Roman writer who originated the phrase "with a grain of salt") —
Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 AD – August 25, 79 AD), better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian. Spending most of his spare time studying, writing or investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field, he wrote an encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia, which became a model for all such works written subsequently. Pliny the Younger, his nephew, wrote of him in a letter to the historian Tacitus:

For my part I deem those blessed to whom, by favour of the gods, it has been granted either to do what is worth writing of, or to write what is worth reading; above measure blessed those on whom both gifts have been conferred. In the latter number will be my uncle, by virtue of his own and of your compositions.
Pliny is referring to the fact that Tacitus relied on his uncle's now missing work on the History of the German Wars. Pliny the Elder died on August 25, 79 AD, while attempting the rescue by ship of a friend and his family from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that had just destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The prevailing wind would not allow his ship to leave the shore. His companions attributed his collapse and death to toxic fumes; but they were unaffected by the fumes, suggesting natural causes. (wikipedia)

• • •

I am having a terrible solving week. Couldn't get a handle on this one for a long time. Huge chunks of the puzzle filled in and No idea what was going on. Eventually had enough sense to see the common trait shared by all the long Acrosses, and somehow my brain moved IAMB to LAMB in one of the theme clues, and ... I got it. Feeling of "I got it" was more "oh..." (or "AH, ME") than "aha." Never did like these clues-as-answers, answers-as-clues puzzles (e.g. LAKE IN SPANISH is a clue phrase, not a phrase you'd normally see in a grid on its own). For the second day in a row, there is almost no contemporary frame of reference, so it feels very musty. For the second day in a row, the fill is suspect (a ton of short junk). And yet this is a more clever and better executed puzzle than yesterday's. Seems like an original concept, and it definitely provided a challenge. The revealer is weak, though. Too vague—not letter specific enough. It's not just a CAPITAL LETTER that's replaced; it's a specific CAPITAL LETTER, and it's replaced with another specific lowercase letter. Great concepts need execution that is worthy of them. This one felt like it came out of the oven a bit early.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: lago (LAKE IN SPANISH)
  • 26A: lon (ACTOR CHANEY)
  • 35A: lams, say (FLEES FROM PRISON)
  • 47A: lamb's place (PASTURELAND)

It's late, and I want to go watch Penn State burn, so I'll make this quick.

  • 15A: "Absolut Nicht!" ("NEIN!") — Thought this was a vodka clue. Also thought "nicht" was "night."
  • 16A: River to the Arctic Ocean (LENA) — not how I think of the LENA ... insofar as I think of the LENA at all, which I don't. Much.
  • 22A: Half of a 1955 merger, for short (CIO) — AFL-CIO. CIO is ... sub-optimal. Not as sub-optimal as -ICAL, but close.
  • 64A: "My Life" autobiographer, 1975 (MEIR) — this kind of cluing is depressing. Generic. Colorless. Absurd. 

  • 1D: Dollar coin figure before Susan B. Anthony, familiarly (IKE) — I misread this and thought we were looking for the nickname of the coin. "They called those IKEs?" I mean, I knew Eisenhower was the reference.
  • 12D: Fills, as black squares (INKS IN) — how the hell do you fill black squares!?!? If they are black, they are full. End of story.
  • 19D: Compromise is the best and cheapest LAWYER" (saying attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson) — "attributed to?" Get a real quotation.
  • 52D: "Explosive" roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure (NITRO) — my one great guess of the day. I really, really needed it, because that whole SW section was empty for a while (had LETTER, but couldn't come up with CAPITAL because I figured the answer would have to be more specific).
  • 41D: "___ Declassified School Survival Guide" ("NED'S") — absolutely no idea what this means. What the hell? A defunct Nickelodeon sitcom?
  • 57D: Angle iron (L BAR) — Phrase "angle iron" means zero to me. Thought it might be a golf club. L BAR is junk fill.
  • 56D: Mythical ship with a speaking oak beam (ARGO) — clue could've stopped at "Mythical ship"; four letters—everyone knows the answer.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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