Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: Two-way street — Down answers on west side of grid head south (like normal Downs), while Down answers on east side of the grid head north (i.e. they're upside-down). Theme is indicated by three grid-spanning Downs: in the west, ONCOMING TRAFFIC (4D: Passing preventer); in the middle, MIDDLE OF THE ROAD (7D: Conventional); and in the east, NORTH-BOUND LANES (which is to say, SENAL DNUOB-HTRON) (10D: Half of almost any odd-numbered Interstate highway)
Word of the Day: M.I.A. (23A: Hip-hop singer with the 2008 hit "Paper Planes") —
Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam (Tamil: மாதங்கி 'மாயா' அருள்பிரகாசம், Mātaṅki 'Māyā' Aruḷpirakācam ?; born 18 July 1975), better known by her stage name M.I.A., is a British singer-songwriter, rapper and record producer whose eclectic compositions combine elements of hip-hop, electronica, dance, alternative and world music. // M.I.A. began her career in 2000 as a visual artist and designer in West London. Since rising to prominence in early 2004 for her singles "Galang" and "Sunshowers," she has been nominated for an Academy Award, two Grammy Awards and the Mercury Prize. She released her debut album Arular in 2005 and second album Kala in 2007. Kala went gold in Canada and the United States and silver in the United Kingdom, and the singles "Boyz" and "Paper Planes" became North American top ten chart favourites in 2008. M.I.A.'s third album Maya was released in 2010 soon after the song-film short "Born Free," and reached the top ten in numerous countries worldwide. She has embarked on four global headlining tours and is the founder of her own multimedia label, N.E.E.T.. In 2008, M.I.A. was listed in Esquire magazine's list of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century and in 2009, Time magazine included M.I.A. in its annual Time 100 list of the world's most influential people. (wikipedia)
• • •Very cool puzzle. I was looking for something tricky today, so the NORTH-BOUND stuff didn't faze me. Much. Did take me a while to uncover the trick. Had great success early when I threw down MIDDLE OF THE ROAD with hardly any effort, after solving only the little northern part of the puzzle. First indication that something was amiss came when I couldn't solve the little southern part of the puzzle with the same rapidity. Acrosses made sense—seemed unimpeachable—but I was getting nonsense in the Downs. So I ended up doing the (very conventional, untricky) west first, and then hitting that MIDDLE OF THE ROAD barrier. Just looking at the two long Downs I had at that point let me know that there was some kind of TRAFFIC theme, and finally I realized that "-C-T Bell" was, in fact, TACO Bell. From that point on, it was just a matter of thinking upside-down. Not a problem. It's a smooth, elegant little puzzle, with hardly an ugly or obscure answer in sight. A one-trick pony, yes, but it's a good trick. Truly AHA.
The only "huh?" moment I had (after grokking ... is that the word? ... the theme) came with the biography "INDIRA," which I had never heard of (27D: 2002 Katherine Frank political biography). That clue is an outlier. It's mildly obscure trivia, where the rest of the grid ... isn't. Still, pretty easy to infer. Crosses were a cinch. Oh, no, wait—37A: English novelist Bawden (NINA) is pretty INDIRA-ish too. Never heard of her. Oh, and never heard of John Betjeman or his poem, "How to Get on in Society" (43A: Serving in John Betjeman's poem "How to get on in Society"=>SCONES). Wow, how did I not have trouble in that section? I guess the clues were written in such a way, and the crosses were reasonable enough, that I could fight through it all without too much pain. LEONAS (SANOEL) was a fat gimme in that section, a sharp contrast to the other names in that section (and a very sharp contrast to NUBILE—46A: Available, in a way).
- 14A: Elvis follower (ARON) — this seemed obvious, unlike some other stuff up there in the NW, which I flubbed: PORE for GAZE, RICE for ZINC, SHOO and SCAT for GO! GO! etc.
- 3D: Hammer accompanier (GONG) — probably a lot of people went with NAIL at first.
- 5D: They're subject to rapid inflation (AIRBAGS) — ooh, good clue.
- 42D: It starts "Tell me, muse, of the man of many resources" ("ODYSSEY") — see also "The wrath of Achilles..." or "Arma virumque cano..." or "Of Man's first Disobedience..." (we talk about epics a lot in my Brit Lit class). Interesting ODYSSEY news: Virgil thinks Odysseus is an asshole for coming up with that whole Trojan Horse thing; Dante concurs, putting Odysseus (Ulysses, actually) way, way down in the 8th ring of hell (Fraud). And then there's Milton's Satan. And then there's Maude!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
Since it's a heavy-traffic day, I'll take this opportunity once again to plug the Crosswords L.A. Tournament, which takes place one month from today, 5/1/11, at Loyola-Marymount University. It's always a blast, the puzzles this year are fantastic (I've seen them), and all proceeds go to a wonderful charity ("Reading to Kids"). Go here for details.
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]
P.S. Patrick Blindauer has a new puzzle up at his site this month. It's pretty sweet. You should do it.
P.P.S. You could also do this puzzle. There's a decent likelihood it will annoy the hell out of you, but ... if there's any day to distribute such a puzzle, it's today. (Go here —to Amy Reynaldo's "Island of Lost Puzzles"— to print a .pdf or get a .puz version, or just print the puzzle out from here).
SOLUTION (and puzzle discussion) HERE.