We've come to my 6th and final magic-spell-based puzzle. I made a 7th, featuring "Mythballs" (legendary dances) and "Doctor Why" (pointless British sci-fi series)--but I've decided to spare you the pain and myself the embarrassment. An 8th, with the revealer "ibex," never got past the early planning stages.
The more I think about the national anthem, the more annoyed I grow. Take just the half-line "Whose broad stripes." Try to say it ten times rapidly. Can't do it? Neither can I. It's hideously cacophonous: "dstr" is not a songlike sound cluster. And the words are not even true. The stripes on the U.S. flag are actually less broad than the stripes on most flags, just because there are more of them: 13; whereas, for example, on the French tricolor there are 3--which, since they're vertically oriented, are very broad indeed. The ratio of height to width for the average flag is 3 to 5. So say your flag is 5 feet, or 60 inches, wide. If you're French, your stripes are fully 20 inches "broad" (60/3). If you're American, your stripes are not even 3 inches "broad" (36/13). The Union Jack, the enemy's flag for Francis Scott Key, had broader stripes than that. If flag stripe-breadth is the measure of national merit, the U.S. falls sadly short. But like all bad poets, Key is not even thinking of what he means.
As to 18 Down, and Wednesday's holiday—would you be interested in my opinion of our national anthem? The music is good, the words are beyond awful. The tortured syntax! The stilted diction! And the whole thing about a flag's decorative pattern (is there anything broader about the stripes, or brighter about the stars, than one finds in the stars or stripes of other countries' flags? and if not, can't we be proud of something actually worth being proud of?) and the not-all-that-interesting fact that said flag didn't catch on fire during some battle or other. Maybe a bipartisan Congressional majority can find something reasonably anthemish by Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson or John Greenleaf Whittier or somebody, and we can retire this unmeaning doggerel?
There's an odd notion afoot, among some crossword editors and reviewers, and possibly some solvers, that if you do a thing to a letter once in a crossword—delete it, replace it, turn it upside down, whatever—you have to do the same thing to that letter every time it appears, at least in the theme entries, if not in the whole puzzle. Everywhere and always, but in this series in particular, I proceed in proud disregard of that notion. If a magician turns her scarf into a parakeet, do you blame her if every scarf in the building, or the world, does not likewise turn into a parakeet? Wouldn't you rather it be just the one scarf?
10 Across was difficult to clue, in that there seems to be no one name for those little pads or screens with up and down arrows that you have to poke at in order to make some machine—the oven, the refrigerator, the furnace, etc.— do more or less of something. Does anyone prefer poking and poking at these arrows to simply turning a 10 Across? How do these idiotic design trends get started? And how can we stop them?
This is the first of six "It's Magic" puzzles, all illustrated with Victorian fairy paintings. You will wonder how you ever endured the prosaic dullness of quotidian reality without such opportunities for escape into a world of magical make-believe.
To continue the quotation begun in 37 Down: Hamlet asks, "Who would bear the whips and scorns of time, / Th' oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, / The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, / The insolence of office, and the spurns / That patient merit of th' unworthy takes"—— if it weren't (as Hamlet might, but doesn't, go on to ask) for the opportunity to insert absurd phrases about such topics into crossword puzzles? I've already touched on some of them; I mean to cover them all eventually. Today I take up not exactly "the law's delay," but litigation in general, one of civilized life's most unpleasant possibilities.
Today we have the suffix with "buck," and the detective-movie dog, and the ambient-music innovator. I wanted to "give a shout out," as the youngsters say, to the sandwich cookie, and the killer whale, and Yoko ___, but what with all the theme answers, I couldn't find room. Maybe next week!
Today's puzzle is a prequel to the one published yesterday in the Los Angeles Times—that is, the theme of this puzzle is related to that of the other as cause to effect. I built the puzzle around 29 Across, the basis for which I have since learned is not so common a phrase as I had supposed. Google's ngram viewer shows that the phrase reached a peak around 1820, held steady through 1910, and then began a precipitous decline. This is a pity, for the unhappy state of mind it tersely describes is a defining feature of human experience, one given frequent attention in Victorian novels, and one I'm delighted to reconceive, through the miracle of cruciverbalism, as a comically self-conceited anthropomorphic bird.
Tomorrow is Mother's Day—time to give your mother a thoughtful present, like a free crossword, or a Victorian novel recommendation. My own mother endures the crosswords of my adulthood as patiently as she did the cross words of my childhood.
If this puzzle doesn't make you groan, you have simply lost the ability to groan. I ought to be sorry about it, but I'm not. Well, I'm a little sorry to have had to use an old ad slogan for 21-Across. But that's all. Otherwise, I'm proud of my work! I glory in it! I represent the avant-avant-garde of paronomasia. As Schoenberg was to Schubert, as Rothko was to Rembrandt, so am I to any old-fashioned punster who cares about such stodgy matters as actual homophonic similarity.
If I were sure this picture would always accompany this puzzle, I wouldn't have bothered with any other clue for 73 Across. "Trees, clouds, cows, hill--why," says the informed viewer, "this can only be the view at ____!"
This puzzle is amusing only if you know the French phrases on which it's based. If you think you don't, consult this helpful list of Six French Phrases Every Crossword-Solver Should Know before you start. Memorize these phrases and use them habitually in conversation, impressing your friends with your cosmopolitanism. Then, after some months have passed, and their use has become second nature to you, attempt the crossword below. You'll find it's well worth the time and effort.
Lord Frederic Leighton, The Last Watch of Hero
There are few areas of popular culture I know less about than superhero comic strips and the movies based on them. In this I must be unusual, for they seem to come up frequently in crosswords, especially those in the New York Times. "Thor" is not just a Norse god but, apparently, a superhero. "Atom" is a diminutive superhero, "green" is superhero " ___ Lantern"; "iron" is superhero "___ man." Anyway, this puzzle is my little act of protest. It's filled with superheroes of my own making, the sort of superheroes I'd like to read about. 22 Across, in particular, is the sort of superhero we need right now.
As every child knows, there were nine Muses: Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Erato, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania. Erato is a crossword favorite, on account of her attractive vowels. However, Wikipedia informs us that there were originally only three Muses, representing Practice, Memory, and Song—and I have constructed this crossword with the purpose of giving some long-overdue attention to this neglected trio, especially its second member, featured in 54 Down, which is where I began work. I really wanted to fit in the other two—Melete and Aoide—but my theme got in the way.
The above Victorian painting alludes to the Victorian worker of 36 Down. The puzzle itself may seem uncharacteristically up-to-date, but don't worry: the grasp of social media I display here is every bit as crude as the grasp of computer networking I displayed in last week's puzzle.
I have never been able to habituate myself to the simulated gore, on television and in the movies, for which the whole world seems to have such an insatiable appetite. Severed limbs, gushing blood, exploding heads—I don't see the appeal. This crossword is my little act of protest.