Thursday, December 22, 2011

Visitor at beginning of Hobbit / FRI 12-23-11 / Albert's love in Bye Bye Birdie / Flower named for resemblance to turban / Blood shed on Mount Olympus / Murderer in PDQ Bach's spoof opera

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 
 Word of the Day: MANDARIN COLLARS (14A: Nehru jackets have them) —
A mandarin collar is a short unfolded stand-up collar style on a shirt or jacket. Mandarin collars start at the neckline and typically rise vertically two to five centimeters. The style originated from Western interpretation of dresses worn by Mandarins in Imperial China. // The length along a mandarin collar is straight, with either straight or rounded edges at top of the centre front. The edges of the collar either barely meet at the centre front or overlap slightly. Overlapping mandarin collars are often a continuation of a shirt's placket and have a button on the collar to secure the two sides of the shirt together. (wikipedia)
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[FOR MY READERS IN SYNDICATION: It's pledge week here at the Rex Parker site (thru Sat.) —read my pitch for donations in the opening paragraphs of Sunday's write-up, here ... and thanks for your faithful readership (and the many kind messages I've received so far)]

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Fairly typical Berry puzzle—solid and smooth. Tiny passageways between puzzle segments made moving through the grid a bit difficult. Top section played pretty easy, but I couldn't get into the middle at all at first—no way PAGINATE was coming, and though I had POLLIWOG (9D: It grows older and then croaks), I also had ANDREO (!?), which I realized afterward was due to stupid ANDREA *Bocelli*. Botticelli's first name was SANDRO? I had no idea. That middle section was the last to fall. I had to reboot in the bottom section with AVER / VALETED (36D: Did Jeeves's job), but had a harder time down there than I did up top, in part because I had OLE instead of RAH at 50D: Stadium shout, in part because I misspelled the answer to 31D: Blood shed on Mount Olympus (ICHOR) at first (I merged it with the autumnal hue OCHRE to get ICHRE), and in part because I thought 46D: Cross (SORE) was ROOD. Once I finally *saw* the clue for MAURA (44D: Actress Tierney)—a gimme—I got MAPLES (44A: Trees sought by leaf peepers) and started to make good headway. Eventually swung back up into the middle via AMEND / SCHMO / SACRILEGE. The "G" in PAGINATE / GORES was the last thing to go in the grid.

Great morbid clue on RUSSIAN ROULETTE (47A: Game you can't lose twice). Horrible, unnecessarily morbid clue on RHESUS (32D: Popular test animal in medical research). Also a poor clue on SEXISTS (33D: They put half the world down)—a pretty simplistic representation of how sexism works. It's not some guy shouting "All women in the world are stupidheads." You can be sexist and not actively "put down" half the world. I get the idea, but the wording stinks. A few interesting trivia clues today, particularly 22A: Flower named for its resemblance to a turban (TULIP). Both P.D.Q. Bach and "Bye Bye Birdie" are generally outside my sphere of knowledge, so neither of those answers came easily (46A: Murderer in P.D.Q. Bach's spoof opera "A Little Nightmare Music" + 38D: Albert's love in "Bye Bye Birdie"). I did not know ANTs had castes, though I guessed the answer easily enough.

SACRILEGE strikes me as something much stronger than simply lifting a fiver (28A: Stealing from the collection plate, e.g.). OSIER (45A: Twig used in wickerwork) and ORLON (10D: Woollike acrylic fiber) are common crossword materials, and I got them both pretty easily (OSIER helped with the whole ICHRE / ICHOR thing). NCR went from being a stumper when I started this blog to a gimme today (49D: Manufacturer of bar code scanners). Thought [Seller of supplements] would have some trick to it, but no—it's just GNC, a store you can find in any mall, USA. Got a couple lucky breaks up top—I teach Virgil every year, so the obscurish MANTUA was not obscurish to me, and my wife and I just started reading "The Hobbit" aloud to one another in the evenings, so the GANDALF visitation is fresh in my mind (1D: Visitor at the beginning of "The Hobbit"). My nephew is going to be an extra in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" (filming in NZ, out next December). Excitingish!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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