Monday, December 19, 2011

Word on biblical wall / TUE 12-20-11 / Writer John who won Pulitzer for Annals of Former World / John Constable Camille Pissarro / Shore dinner staple

Constructor: Julian Lim

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: SPLIT PEA (36D: Kind of soup ... or a hint to the answers to the five starred clues) — letter string "PEA" is "split" across two words in familiar phrases

Word of the Day: John MCPHEE (10D: Writer John who won a Pulitzer for "Annals of the Former World") —
John Angus McPhee (born 8 March 1931) is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, widely considered one of the pioneers of creative nonfiction. // Unlike Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, who helped kick-start the "new journalism" in the 1960s, McPhee produced a gentler, literary style of journalism by incorporating techniques from fiction. McPhee avoided the streams of consciousness of Wolfe and Thompson, but detailed description of characters and appetite for details make his writing lively and personal, even when it focuses on obscure or difficult topics. He is highly regarded by fellow writers for the quality, quantity and diversity of his literary output. // Since 1974, McPhee has been the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. (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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This just didn't work for me. First, I am really prejudiced against these word-splitting themes when the split word does not touch every single word in the theme phrase. So that HOPE hanging out there at the end of the first theme answer and that DOPE hanging out there at the end of the third are really irksome distractions (blame Patrick Berry, who beat it into me that the "touch-every-word" feature was ideal). Then there's the fact that HOPE AGAINST HOPE and ROPE-A-DOPE seem like they could secede and start some other theme. Then there's TYPE-AS, which is clearly a "SPLIT PEA" but is not clued as such and at any rate does not have a symmetrical thematic counterpart. The whole set-up just felt very wonky. Outside the theme, things are mostly decent. I found the puzzle harder than the average Tuesday (by close to a minute)—from the BARK AT / HOWL AT trap at 1A: Serenade, as the moon to the never-ever-heard-it-used-that-way REHABS at 31D: Fixes up, as an old house to the interesting but unusual stuff in the SW corner, most notably ONE LB and ON AUTO (the latter didn't come together until I got every single cross). Even [Shore dinner staple] didn't quite compute for me. I can get CRAB anywhere ... Cool to see John MCPHEE in the grid. He's a good writer.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: *Wish desperately (HOPE AGAINST HOPE)
  • 28A: *Be worry-free (SLEEP EASY)
  • 43A: *Muhammad Ali ring tactic (ROPE-A-DOPE)
  • 53A: *John Constable or Camille Pissarro (LANDSCAPE ARTIST) 
  • 4D: *Like some bunnies and puppies (LOP-EARED) 
  • 14A: Colored part of the iris (AREOLA) — I associate this more with the breast than the eye.
  • 42A: Facebook competitor (MYSPACE) — yes, the way the Washington Generals are [Globetrotters' competitors]. 
  • 1D: Dinner from previous dinners (HASH) — another example of an answer's just not coming easily. Tried to think of a shortish word for "leftovers."
  • 2D: Modern ice cream flavor (OREO) — as opposed to what, *ancient* ice cream flavor. First, it's not a flavor, it's a brand. Second, "Cookies & Cream" has been around a long time, and that's essentially what OREO ice cream is. So "modern" is an odd term. Is anything besides the five Canonical flavors (Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, Rocky Road, and ... Butter Brickle??) considered "modern?"

  • 42D: Word on a biblical wall ("MENE") — Grandma got me a book once about phrases in the Bible—the title was "MENE MENE TEKEL." Never read it, but turns out I learned something valuable just by reading the title.
  • 52D: "The ___ is out there" (catchphrase on "The X-Files") (TRUTH) — yet another TV show that everyone around me seemed to love but that I never watched. Never ever cared about the paranormal or the loopy people who believe in it.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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