Fairy tale question / MON 7-22-19 / Strong-smelling cheese made in England / Louisiana's avian nickname

Monday, July 22, 2019

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (2:51)

THEME: RUM PEL STILT SKIN — clue to the revealer says it all: 61A: Fairy tale question whose answer is spelled out in the starts of 18-, 24-, 40- and 51-Across ("WHAT'S MY NAME?")

Theme answers:
  • RUMMAGE SALE (18A: Yard event to clear out the attic)
  • PELICAN STATE (24A: Louisiana's avian nickname)
  • STILTON (40A: Strong-smelling cheese made in England)
  • SKINNY DIPPER (51A: One barely in the water?)
Word of the Day: EUROPA (66A: Mythical beauty who lent her name to a continent) —
In Greek mythologyEuropa (/jʊəˈrpəjə-/Ancient GreekΕὐρώπηEurṓpēAttic Greekpronunciation: [eu̯.rɔ̌ː.pɛː]) was the mother of King Minos of Crete, a Phoenician princess of Argive origin, after whom the continent Europe is named. The story of her abduction by Zeus in the form of a bull was a Cretanstory; as classicist Károly Kerényi points out, "most of the love-stories concerning Zeus originated from more ancient tales describing his marriages with goddesses. This can especially be said of the story of Europa."
Europa's earliest literary reference is in the Iliad, which is commonly dated to the 8th century BC. Another early reference to her is in a fragment of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, discovered at Oxyrhynchus. The earliest vase-painting securely identifiable as Europa dates from mid-7th century BC. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle might very well have been even easier than I've rated it. I say that because I absolutely drove the car into the ditch in one answer—total and complete incompetence and negligence on my part. Some bad luck, but mostly just idiocy (mine, and ironically, at an answer that crosses IDIOTPROOF (30D: Impossible to mess up): instead of coming down the middle of the grid, from left to right, like a normal, I did this dumb thing where I followed a solving path off the end of PELICAN STATE and then straight down the east of the grid via IDIOTPROOF (so proud to get that off of just a couple letters ... insert maxim about pride here). In following this path, I ended up in the position of having to come back into the center of the grid upside-down and backward, i.e. from bottom right toward the upper left. Fine, doable, except what happened was a. when I looked at 49A: Ledger entry on the minus side, I had one letter in place (the final "T"), and b. when I read the clue, my eyes never got past the "Ledger entry" part and I wrote in .... ASSET. So not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong. Couldn't-be-wronger. And if I hadn't had that "T," I probably wouldn't have screwed up and jumped the gun, and if I'd just read the clue to the end, I certainly would've gotten DEBIT. But see "T" write ASSET biff bam boom. And then, predictably, I immediately stalled. No hope for PIPE and BISECT to say nothing of OPED and STUDY. I got so flustered that I couldn't figure out how to clean up the mess and just started up again back in the NW and worked my way back down, at which point the error quickly became obvious. Still, I probably lost 15-20 seconds with that screw-up, which means I *should've* been in the 2:30s, not the 2:50s, and 2:30s, for me, is very fast. Not record, but record-adjacent. But what about the theme!? Was the puzzle good!? Tell me what to think!?!?! Easy. We're getting there.

Lynn Lempel's name doesn't pop up in NYT crossword bylines as much as it once did (back in the mid/late '00s. Back then, Ms. Lempel was averaging 8 puzzles a year or so for a while. Of course back then, the NYT was publishing considerably more woman-authored puzzles (nearly 50% more than now!), but more on that some other time (i.e. the next time I think about it, maybe tomorrow). She has a well-deserved reputation for sparkling M/T puzzles: tight, clever themes, clean grids. This one's no exception. Theme type here is a reasonably common one, and the revealer didn't land for me the way it probably did for others (that question makes me think more Snoop Dogg than Stilt Skin), buuuutt the revealer questions does tie nicely into the theme, in that it forces you to sound out his name (and, uh, keep your first-born child, I guess). In an odd coincidence, I had a stilton cheese sandwich this afternoon. Eeeeeeerie.

Thanks to Christopher Adams for filling in for me last-minute yesterday—it did not occur to me until quite late that going to a concert at night, 90 minutes away from my home, might seriously interfere with my ability to produce the Sunday write-up in a timely fashion. His generosity allowed me to enjoy Blondie and Elvis Costello without that "youregonnahavetoworkwhenyougethome" feeling nagging at the back of my mind all night.

Sometimes when you go to concerts, there are crossword constructors there (Mike Nothnagel says 'hi')

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


They don't keep their thoughts to themselves / SUN 7-21-19 / "However," in textspeak / Someone who might engage in a hobby with some frequency? / Dangerous substance that smells like bitter almonds / Org. with an Inspiration Award and an Award of Valor

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Constructor: Jason Mueller + Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: easy (6:30)

THEME: "Fifty Years On" — a tribute puzzle to the Apollo 11 moon landing

Theme answers:
  • APOLLO ELEVEN (3D: Long-distance traveler of 1969)
  • MAN ON THE MOON (14D: Achievement of 1969)
  • TRANQUILITY (23A: Name of a sea first visited in 1969)
  • ARMSTRONG (71A: Newsmaker of July 1969)
  • ONE SMALL STEP (32D: What 71-Across took in 1969, as represented literally in a corner of this puzzle)
  • ONE GIANT LEAP (36D: What 71-Across took in 1969, as represented literally in another corner of this puzzle)
  • THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (110A: Announcement of July 1969)
Word of the Day: RBG [59A: The Notorious ___ (Supreme Court Nickname)] —
[Ruth Bader] Ginsburg has been referred to as a "pop culture icon". Ginsburg's profile began to rise after O'Connor's retirement in 2006 left Ginsburg as the only serving female justice. Her increasingly fiery dissents, particularly in Shelby County v. Holder 570 U.S. 2 (2013), led to the creation of the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr and Internet meme comparing the justice to rapper The Notorious B.I.G. The creator of the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr, then-law student Shana Knizhnik, teamed up with MSNBC reporter Irin Carmon to turn the blog into a book titled Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Released in October 2015, the book became a New York Times bestseller. In 2015, Ginsburg and Scalia, known for their shared love of opera, were fictionalized in Scalia/Ginsburg, an opera by Derrick Wang. [Wikipedia, emphasis mine]
• • •
Christopher Adams here, filling in once again for Rex. Fun fact: today's puzzle was originally scheduled to be by me, but then it got pushed back to next week because this puzzle needed to run today. So that means I don't get to self-blog my own puzzle. It also means I had a pretty good hunch of what the theme was going to be, although the title may or may not have given things away, depending on how much you've seen in the news about the anniversary.

In any case, this one definitely played easy, and about the only stumbling block I hit was right at the beginning. After filling in TSA (an agency I don't care for, with a cutesy clue I don't care for either), my brain decided that the [Long-distance traveler of 1969] was ALAN SHEPHERD; folks more knowledgeable about this sort of thing will realize that I messed up both the spelling of his name (it's SHEPARD) and the landing he was in (his was a few years later). But thankfully, lots of easy answers like ROE and OTOH, coupled with some old standbys like ETO, OSLO, PALEO, etc., led to me fixing that error very quickly.

I didn't particularly like the spelled out ELEVEN (instead of APOLLO 11), but symmetry dictated it. OTOHI did like the ONE SMALL STEP / ONE GIANT LEAP symmetry; I've never noticed before that they're the same length. From those, filled in the lower corners very quickly, thanks to the theme clues, and then most of the bottom. I'd like to call attention to the bottom middle, which is (a pair of helper squares aside) essentially a 5x7 region, and filled very cleanly, and with some good answers. FOOD CHAIN is my favorite there, but IDLESSE and DELTA (whose clue, [Dirty mouth?], I absolutely loved) ensured that I was SOLD ON that area.

Most of the theme answers in this one filled themselves in pretty fast, especially once I got confirmation on the theme. None came as fast THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, though, which I dropped in without any crosses. Despite being the last theme answer, though, I encountered it maybe a third of the way into solving, thanks to hopping around the grid. But I like that it's at the end; it's like the entry itself is landing on the bottom of the grid.

Otherwise, though, the rest of the solve was just that—a solve. Not too much stood out, good or bad. Finished up in the center, which was a bit closed off from the rest of the puzzle. Would've liked to have that connect more to the rest of the puzzle, or at least contain some longer answers; definitely felt a bit choppy, and AMBIT (a word I could do without) didn't help either. But RBG, COOKIE JAR, JOR-EL, even CYANIDE (more for the fun fact in the clue than for the word itself) were enjoyable, so I can't complain too much about that area.

Also: that center area kinda looks like a face; not a happy face, not a frowny face, just a face. It almost wants to say that "yeah, this was a puzzle" and nothing else; I'm a little more upbeat about this one. It may not have knocked my socks off, but it was cleanly filled (which is always my top priority) and, unlike some recent tribute puzzles, didn't make me wince and groan by stuffing way too much in there. And sure, this one may feel a bit encyclopedic at times (especially with the repeated "1969" in clues, which wore a little while solving), but at the end of the day, there's nothing that feels out of place here, nothing that feels missing, and the little touches in the bottom corners are a nice bonus.

  • OMANI (65D: Nationality seen in most of Romania) — More of a cryptic clue than a normal clue; OMANI is literally found in Romania, sandwiched between the R and the A. That said, definitely on the easier side of cryptic clues, and with fair crossings everywhere, it's the perfect place to use such a clue.
  • BEER ME (88A: Request for a cold one) — Debut yesterday, second time today. I've noticed Will has a tendency to phase in some newer answers with short intervals between appearances, which is a good way to reinforce learning; in any case, given the weather, make it a really cold one.
  • NBA TEAM (95A: Wizards, but not witches)  — The masked capital strikes again! (Masked capital meaning that the first word is a proper noun and is not just capitalized because it's the first word in the clue.)
  • SATS (4D: 800 things?) — Didn't care for this. For one, the clue doesn't have a surface meaning w/o the question mark, so it's not good wordplay. For another, the SAT isn't out of 800; only the individual sections (but not the essay!) are. Finally, it's just a meh plural initialism; with SITS ATOP nearby, I might've changed this.
  • MAIA (90D: Mother of Hermes) — Forget Roman Greek mythology, let's clue this as American ice dancer and Olympic medalist Maia Shibutani, who turned 25 yesterday, and who  also merits a tribute puzzle.
Yours in puzzling, Christopher Adams, Court Jester of CrossWorld

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