Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mosel tributary / FRI 1-27-12 / Scrooge star 1951 / Henry James biographer / Wailuku's county / French expert in body language

Constructor: Joe Krozel

Relative difficulty: EEEEEasy

THEME: BOX (36A: Enclosure ... and an alphabetical listing of letters not appearing elsewhere in this puzzle's answer) — BOX appears free-floating, in the middle of the grid, inside a BOX made of black squares

Word of the Day: TALIA Shire (37A: Sylvester's "Rocky" co-star) —
Talia Shire (born April 25, 1946) is an American actress most known for her roles as Connie Corleone in The Godfather films and Adrian Pennino in the Rocky series. // Shire was born Talia Rose Coppola in Lake Success, New York, the daughter of Italia (née Pennino) and arranger/composer Carmine Coppola. Talia is the sister of director and producer Francis Ford Coppola and academic August Coppola, the aunt of actor Nicolas Cage and director Sofia Coppola, and the niece of composer and conductor Anton Coppola. She was married to composer David Shire, with whom she had a son, Matthew Orlando Shire. She has two other sons, actors/musicians Robert Schwartzman and Jason Schwartzman, from her second marriage to the late producer Jack Schwartzman.(wikipedia)
• • •

Yesterday we had a Wed. trying to be a Thur., today a Thur. trying to be a Fri. (while being as easy as a Wed.—full circle!). Freakishly easy, and interesting only at the architectural level. I want to fail it as a crossword, given that nothing "crosses" BOX, but you need (or can use) info outside the BOX to solve BOX, so ... good enough, I guess. Maybe "think outside the box" was the impetus of the phrase, since you (sort of) have to (literally) do that to solve the puzzle. At any rate, aside from the arrangement of the black squares, it's a dull and easy puzzle that suffers from the problems every pangram suffers from—most notably, a general all-over junkiness of fill that seems patently unnecessary. I mean, look at that eastern section. Ghastly. Inexplicable ... until you realize: W's gotta go somewhere (I don't know *what* the SW's excuse is. You already got your Q up top... In fact Z, Q, J, and K are all dispatched in exactly two Acrosses up top). Anyway, the fact that TALIA is the Word of the Day tells you nothing interesting is happening inside the grid. You got a box. A little picture. There you go.

[Yes, that *is* Tilda Swinton]

Started with EMMAS and never stopped (1A: Actress Stone and others). What was the logic behind making the cluing so easy? The only place I hesitated at all was the far SE, and then only because there were a pair of self-referential clues down there and I didn't know that ALDA was the host of PBS's "Scientific American Frontiers." AMPS also froze me out (even with -MPS in place) (55D: Concert pieces). But I finished this thing in under 5. Except for that one ridiculously fluky Friday where I finished under 4, this was almost certainly my fastest Friday ever. EDEL (63A: Henry James biographer) and SIM (5D: "Scrooge" star, 1951) are mildly obscure to ordinary folk, but to longtime solvers they're as ordinary as houseflies. MARCEAU is an interesting name and close to the most interesting thing in the grid (23A: French expert in body language?). Actually, I think JUST MY LUCK is my favorite answer (21A: "Figures I'd have this problem!"). Bouncy, colloquial, fresh—everything the rest of the grid is not.

  • 56A: Baseball All-Star Kinsler and others (IANS) — an attempt to toughen up the puzzle a bit, I gather. I watch a lot of baseball, so this was a gimme. Also, two plural names in the same (easy) grid? (see also EMMAS) Not great form.
  • 57A: "1984" shelfmate ("ANIMAL FARM") — interesting clue, but far, far too easy. Now if the answer had been "PILGRIM'S PROGRESS" (my shelf holds allegories...), that would've been a surprise.
  • 34D: Mosel tributary (SAAR) — one of your lesser-used 4-letter European xword rivers.
  • 51D: The Charleses' pet (ASTA) — to the NYT's credit, this dog is not nearly as common as he once was. But when you stick him in a corner like that SW corner, well, it's like he's at a group meeting for his 12-step "recovering crosswordese" program. O man, I didn't even see AGRA until just now. Quaint euphemism! It's old-timers' day at the crossword.
  • 2D: Wailuku's county (MAUI) — you don't say ... hey, has "YOU DON'T SAY" ever been an answer? 'Cause I think it'd be a good one. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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