Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bret harte/mark twain play / THU 1-19-12 / 1994 Ray Liotta action film / Holy Roman emperor who succeeded father 973 / 1920s-40s baseballer / Big gobbler

Constructor: Derek Bowman and Sarah Keller 

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: TO-DO LIST (66A: Agenda ... or, together, what the seven starred clues and their answers constitute?) — all the starred clues have answers that are synonymous with "TO-DO" (i.e. "disturbance")

Word of the Day: "AH, SIN" (9D: Bret Harte/Mark Twain play) —
Ah Sin (1877), a play by Bret Harte, Mark Twain. [ Fifth Avenue Theatre, 35 perf.] Broderick (Edmund K. Collier), a “knave through circumstances over which he ought to have control,” attacks Uncle Billy Plunkett (P. A. Anderson), “the Champion Liar of Calaveras,” leaving him for dead and attributing the attack to mill owner York (Henry Crisp). Just as a lynch mob is about to hang York, the wily Chinaman Ah Sin (Charles T. Parsloe) solves the crime by connecting an incriminating coat to Broderick. The Augustin Daly production, developed from a character in Harte's poem, was a failure, but it is remembered because of the speech Mark Twain, dressed in white, gave at the end that many critics claimed was better than anything in the play. Sensing a poor reception, Mark Twain began by wryly telling the audience that the play was “intended rather for instruction than amusement” and suggesting, as an example, that “for the instruction of the young we have introduced a game of poker.”
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[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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Maybe it's just the 10 hours (!) sleep talking, but I *loved* this puzzle.  Thorny without being filled with annoying, obscure words; delightful in the broad subject range of its answers; and smart in its theme and the execution thereof. Very clever repurposing of "TO-DO." And So Many Theme Answers—all symmetrical, all *intersecting* other theme answers, and yet nowhere does the grid feel strained or awkward. The only thing that bugged me had nothing to do with the quality of the puzzle—why does HULLA have two "L"s but "BALOO" doesn't? My brain rejects this lack of "L" symmetry. I don't know who Derek Bowman is, but Sarah Keller is an old pro—though usually you see her stuff on Monday or Tuesday. Whatever they've got going is working and they should do it again sometime.

Theme answers:
  • 1A: *Rumpus (BROUHAHA) — more spelling issues here. I mean, "OU?" It's not HOUPLA or HULLABALOU or HOUHAH, after all...
  • 7D: *Hubbub (HURLY-BURLY)
  • 16A: *Excitement (HOOHAH)
  • 10D: *Turmoil (COMMOTION) — stands out like a sore thumb for being the one theme answer one might actually use unironically / unsillily.
  • 32D: *Tumult (KERFUFFLE)
  • 63A: *Foofaraw (HOOPLA)
  • 30D: *Ruckus (HULLABALOO)  

With so little connection between the east and west halves of the grid, this really was like two different puzzles, though both ended up being about the same in terms of difficulty. I've been constructing puzzles over the past week (for eventual publication as well as for private clients) and I think being in constructing mode helps your solving brain, if only slightly. I used OAXACA in a clue yesterday (3D: Southern Mexican state), and I had to write a KSU clue a few days ago (P.S. almost all KSU clues are the same as this one—32A: The Wildcats of the N.C.A.A.). When you construct, you not only encounter all the words that eventually end up in your grid, but all the words that could've been in your grid, the ones you select, discard, put back in, spin around, write your friends about to see if they're good / terrible, etc. Anyway, I didn't need much special help or luck today, as the short answers were generally easy enough to give me significant purchase on the longer stuff. ANA and UNS in the NW, LMN and YMA near the middle, TAM and EBAY (51A: Web site that includes the heading "Dolls & Bears") in the SE. Do boxers have "matches" (25D: Match enders, briefly = TKOS)? I guess they do. But that's a word I associate more with soccer (aka football). Boxers have "bouts."

  • 17A: Like the maximum-height New York City apartment building that's not required to have a fire evacuation plan (SIX-STORY) — I think I spent half my solving time reading this clue. Shouldn't every NYC building have, at least, a "plan" for getting people out of the building if it's burning?
  • 28A: Inits. on many uniforms since 2002 (TSA) — good clue; had me stumped all the way.
  • 34: Figure on Scotland's coat of arms (UNICORN) — I was looking for THISTLE, but luckily already had some important crosses, most notably the "U"
  • 64A: They may be painted in a bathroom (TOENAILS) — I always imagine women doing this on the couch while watching soaps and eating bon-bons. Not accurate?
  • 37D: Hungarian hero ___ Nagy (IMRE) — Crosswordese 102. Not much else available in the -MR- department. 
  • 39D: 1994 Ray Liotta action film ("NO ESCAPE") — never heard of it, and yet I got it easily, off of "NOES-." I've been watching 1987 movies lately. I recommend seeing "Black Widow" (starring Debra Winger and Theresa Russell) and avoiding "The Bedroom Window" (starring a completely miscast Steve Guttenberg ... but also a frequently naked Isabelle Huppert, so ... you could choose to take the bad with the good, I guess). The fact that both movies have the initials "BW" is a complete coincidence, as far as I know.
  • 45D: 1920s-'40s baseballer with a retired "4" (MEL OTT) — lack of any indication of how great he was left me searching for a much less legendary player. The fact of a retired no. doesn't tell me much about real greatness. No "Hall-of-Fame," no position, no team ... totally gettable, but not the gimme it might have been.
  • 46D: Holy Roman emperor who succeeded his father in 973 (OTTO II) — [Holy Roman emperor who [some random bit of trivia that will clarify things for you not at all]]
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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