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Well, the premise of this ambitious puzzle is creative and entertaining, and it’s spelled out at 10D. and the puzzle theme that’s revealed in each string of circled letters] STAND UP COMEDIAN. Love the theme set’s balanced composition, giving us two women and two men; love the upside-down configuration of the names and the way each spans the two-word phrase it’s a part of; and love the way the clues and phrases work together. But finding those women (and men) with names short enough to make the grade and then work in the same puzzle is one serious challenge. Hope the week ahead will be a good one—and that you’ll find some comic relief if and as you need it. Plus we have a few offerings that one could place atop one’s salad: [17a: Raisins or prunes, e.g.]: DRIED FRUIT, [30a: French or Italian, e.g.]: DRESSING, and [48a: Little bread boxes? I suppose that salads served with the appetizer course could also be considered COLD OPENS [11d: Scenes preceding title sequences].For inside “each string of circled letters”—in the four remaining vertically-placed themers—is the name of a STAND UP COMEDIAN in reverse letter-order. A puzzle that celebrates comedy—at this juncture in time? The clue for each solid theme phrase incorporates said COMEDIAN’s first name as it plays with what is unlikely to be a true “favorite” for that person—which is why each clue ends with a question mark. I detect an outlier among the themers, and it’s the very first one (a beautiful matching grid-spanner for the reveal), which is not particularly smile-making as a result. Just wish Liz had been able to find another woman with actual STAND UP creds. Fortunately, the let-down there is diminished not only by thoughts of CHO, LENO and ROCK, but also by some of the non-theme fill that sparkles throughout. (Credit here properly belongs to those who inspired me.) I also got worked up writing about such issues as free expression, the hijacking of pop culture for partisan political purposes, and the war on film critics, all of which are, of course, linked.That these continue to be issues of contention saddens me, and it’spartly our fault as critics and journalists for not doing a better jobof explaining what the stakes are.We get a lot of juicy sevens today, my faves among them being JOE COOL [Snoopy’s alter ego], [ seat…], NUT CASE—a non-comestible [Fruitcake], the floral ANNUALS [Marigolds, e.g.] pairing, ELEGANT, PURITAN for [Morally strict], and ONE FOOT clued with the punny/twisty [Standard shoe length? Nice, too, the way the stacked sevens in the SW and NE are completed by equally strong KETTLE and FIASCO respectively. And also loved seeing the latter (a favorite word) clued with another fave: [Debacle]. They get at how important entertainment really is in our lives, and they open the emotional floodgates for readers by reminding you of things you’d forgotten you loved.It was this sort of writing — passionate discussion of things individual writers cared deeply about — that marked the best of Pop Watch for me in 2007.
The phrase “guilty pleasure” has long outlived its usefulness.
Michael returns to Pittsburgh just as Chris Hobbs is sentenced. Michael wants to reconnect with Brian at the comic convention.