Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mezzo-soprano Marilyn / FRI 2-24-12 / President's daughter on West Wing / French loanword literally means rung on ladder / Psychedelic 1968 song featuring lengthy drum solo / Once-autonomous people southern Russia / 1980s Tyne Daly role / Hymn sung to Apollo / Homeric character who commits matricide

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: none

Word of the Day: whatnot (51A: What a whatnot has = BRIC A BRAC) —
  1. A minor or unspecified object or article.
  2. A set of light, open shelves for ornaments.
• • •

This seems an OK puzzle, but I didn't enjoy it much. With the exception of (finally) figuring out "INAGADDADAVIDA" (48A: Psychedelic 1968 song featuring a lengthy drum solo), most of the effort didn't seem quite worth it. STOCKS AND SHARES is a meaningless phrase to me (30A: Paper assets). I mean, I know those words, but I wouldn't put them together into a grid-spanning central phrase. I just learned that there are things called "STOCKS AND SHARES ISAs" (Individual Savings Accounts). OK. Started out lightning fast in the NW, then got to WATER- and couldn't build on it at all. Two really bad wrong guesses (SALUTE for SNAP TO (8D: Acknowledge a commander's entrance, maybe), EAR LOBE for EARLOCK (?) (14D: One hanging at a temple) kept me at bay a long time in the north. Don't know who ALAN BATES is (15A: 1968 Best Actor nominee for "The Fixer"). This fact strangely does not EMBARRASS me. Stuff like HERBAGE and ELLIE meant nothing to me (35D: Nonwoody plant parts). [Blank] SLIDE could've been at least two other four-letter words besides ROCK. I certainly didn't know what a "whatnot" was (in this clue's sense of the word), and though the only -AC-ending word I could think of was BRIC A BRAC, it kept seeming wrong for various reasons (51A: What a whatnot has).

The thing that irritated me most about the puzzle—in fact the only thing that I found genuinely irritating at all—is the clue for ORESTES (38A: Homeric character who commits matricide). If we are calling ORESTES a "Homeric character," then virtually every known character from classical mythology is "Homeric." ORESTES is not a "character" in either of the Homeric epics—not in the sense that English-speaking human beings generally understand the word "character." He is mentioned in both. Briefly. Despite the fact that you could lawyer up a defense of the clue on a "letter of the law" basis, this clue is fundamentally dishonest. Aeschylus wrote substantially about ORESTES. Homer simply waved at him in passing.

  • 13A: Mezzo-soprano Marilyn (HORNE) — no idea, but didn't matter 'cause that corner was easy. Also had no idea "DONAHUE" was ever on MSNBC (25A: It was MSNBC's highest-rated program when canceled in 2003).
  • 21A: French loanword that literally means "rung on a ladder" (ECHELON) — this was a gimme—a gimme I could've used in a much harder part of the grid. A gimme that was wasted in this already-easy corner.  

  • 37A: It has a denomination of $1,000 (T-NOTE) — uh ... OK. I was thinking G-NOTE, for obvious reasons.
  • 41A: Weapons used to finish off the Greek army at Thermopylae (ARROWS) — I'd forgotten this. And rounding off the classical trifecta of clues, we have PAEAN (5D: Hymn sung to Apollo).
  • 2D: Poet who gave us "carpe diem" (HORACE) — ah, the opening of this puzzle, when everything seemed so right. I went THAI / IN NEED / ARETHA / HORACE in about 10 seconds. 
  • 7D: Kaplan who co-hosted six seasons of "High Stakes Poker" (GABE) — at four letters, I figured it had to be him, but my incorrect SALUTE kept clashing with him, so I wouldn't put him in. TV poker, ugh ... more stuff I just don't care about. Puzzle is just outside my general sphere of interests.
  • 33D: Once-autonomous people of southern Russia (COSSACKS) — lots about them in Anna Karenina. At least I think that's how I know about them.Whoa, Tolstoy also wrote a novel titled, simply, "The COSSACKS." I did not know that.
  • 12D: Letter on Kal-El's costume (ESS) — It's technically "Clark's" costume, but ... whatever. This was a gimme. Just covered the "ESS" specifically in a recent class discussion of Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns."
  • 47D: 1980s Tyne Daly role (LACEY) — 'Cause CAGNEY wouldn't fit.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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