A (mostly) pretty uninspiring list of celebrities, to be sure. Yet, in crosswords, they are the heavy hitters. The reason they appear all the time is because of their vowel-heaviness, shortness of length, and easy-to-use-letters of their names.
The thing with pop culture questions is that you either know it or you don't. As constructors we try to add the extra tags to make it feel like even if you don't know it, you should know it. "Coldplay producer Brian" for example (see 2-Down).
Back in the spring of 2002, I attended a luncheon with some other puzzlemakers and editors. Nancy Schuster, The New York Times's head test-solver at the time, was sharing a beef she had with a supposedly very difficult Saturday-level clue that she felt was an easy gimme: "'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' author." Everyone at the table had heard of the book/play/movie, but nobody could remember Muriel Spark's name. Thing was, it was Nancy's favorite book, so of course she's going to know it!
But where's the line of "fair game" drawn? What are the things we shoud be expected to know, and what's too meaningless to know? At the luncheon, Nancy asked the very same questions, and, trying to prove her point, posited the question: "Who was the Super Bowl MVP this year?" Which of course I immediately shouted "Tom Brady!" as my team, the Patriots, was fresh off their first Super Bowl victory of the decade. (Full disclosure: I have the biggest man crush on the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback.)
Shouldn't puzzles reflect the zeitgeist? Shouldn't puzzles be for the people who can wax poetic about "Lost" and recite pages upon pages of Lil Wayne lyrics? Can't puzzles reference both viral videos and video games? Wasn't that the reason we read all those post-modernist authors like Don DeLilo, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace? Not only did we appreciate the obtuse references to obscure punk bands and rules of tennis but we felt smarter having to draw upon our rudimentary grasp of animal husbandry and subtance recovery programs in order to get the jokes.
Crosswords today should be just like that! Listen, in today's puzzle world you're going to have to know not only the capital of Malawi and which opera has the "Sull" aria, but also what indie rock band is used to shill iPods and you're going to have to speak LEET.
All right, enough spieling. Enjoy this one.