Constructor: Joel Fagliano
Relative Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Word of the Day: OTIS
Otis is Luthor's bumbling fat henchman in the first Superman movie. He is first seen getting a paper for his boss then returning to Luthor's underground lair and Luthor tells him he was followed again (which could mean either Otis is a wanted criminal himself or the police realize he is connected to Luthor). He participates in Luthor's interception of the US Army and US Navy nuclear warheads. He is then seen with Luthor when Superman arrives and when Luthor tells Superman his plan and is annoyed that Otis wanted a place named after him called "Otisburg" in Luthor's new city. He is then seen with Lex watching the missiles launch only to find Miss Teschmacher has double crossed them and helped Superman. He is last seen at the end of the film when he and his boss are carried to prison by Superman and are walked off to their cells while Luthor claims he'll have revenge while Otis repeats what he says but Lex tells him to shut up. ("Superman: The Movie") (The Superman Wiki)
An acquaintance of mine recently described Kansas City, hometown of this blog's author and the so-called "Paris of the Midwest" (Not sure if this is an actual thing), by saying "It's fine." Spoken in a tone pregnant with a verbal irony equal parts derision and nonchalance, the description seemed to capture a certain postmodern hyper-awareness often possessed by KC denizens, who like to think of themselves as being in on the joke of which their community is the perennial butt. As in, "Oh, Kansas City? The sophisticated, polyglot hotbed of high culture and good taste? Well.... It's fine." And that is how I feel about this puzzle.
Like KC, this puzzle is trying to convince me that it is "hip" and "with it" by dropping in these topical references like CUBA [1D: Country that Obama just visited] and MITCH [3D: McConnell of the senate]. The latter clue is nicely worded and strikes me belonging alongside such cultural touchstones as "Lawrence of Arabia" and "George of the Jungle." ("Me Mitch. You secret Muslim." Etc.). I could see a building a whole puzzle around this syntax; that could be fun. For instance, OTIS could have been "Redding of Stax Records" to go along with this idea [5D: R&B legend Redding].
Other than HSN, the grid itself is pretty clean and not too forced [9A: Cable channel with a lot of sales pitches]. I like the continental flair of NEIN [6D: "No," to the Germans]. For such a basic foreign word I would have appreciated cluing it via a different foreign language (e.g. "Non, to the Germans"), but It's not worth complaining about. It's fine. And I love ASCII, because that computer standard and its history are super interesting [8A: Computer text code]. Also, useful for indeterminate compositional processes.
I don't know much about the city of BUTTE, but I imagine it's the perennial butt of something [7A: Geological feature that's also the name of a Montana city]. I'm not sure whether we should completely outlaw the practice of naming cities after land formations or if we need FAR MORE of them, but it's definitely one or the other. Probably the latter, actually. Look at Wikipedia's List of Land Formations and tell me you don't want to visit some of those cities! I, personally, wouldn't mind calling the venerable town of Yardang my home. And Monadnock has a nice ring to it as well.
Scree might be appropriate for Kansas City, as it does tend to get stuck in your shoes forever.
Signed, Jonathan Gibson, perennial yardang of CrossWorld.