Von Rothbart's daughter in ballet / SAT 6-24-17 / Running gold medalist Steve / Combination undergarment / Old competitor of bikini bare / One-named singer with 2013 top 5 hit Gentleman / Jazz Fest setting informally / Company with striking footwear

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Constructor: Stu Ockman

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ALAN Bean (19A: Bean in a pod?)
Alan LaVern Bean (born March 15, 1932), (CAPT, USN, Ret.), is an American former naval officer and Naval Aviator, aeronautical engineer, test pilot, and NASA astronaut; he was the fourth person to walk on the Moon. He was selected to become an astronaut by NASA in 1963 as part of Astronaut Group 3. He made his first flight into space aboard Apollo 12, the second manned mission to land on the Moon, at the age of thirty-seven years in November 1969. He made his second and final flight into space on the Skylab 3 mission in 1973, the second manned mission to the Skylab space station. After retiring from the United States Navy in 1975 and NASA in 1981, he pursued his interest in painting, depicting various space-related scenes and documenting his own experiences in space as well as that of his fellow Apollo program astronauts. (wikipedia) (I guess Bean is in a "pod" because ... space pod? I searched "pod" on the wikipedia page and turned up nothing)
• • •

Fairly clean for a lowish-word-count puzzle, but fairly dull as well. HOPE TO GOD and MALIA OBAMA are sharp, and DEMOLITION DERBY is OK (but not original—this clue is basically recycled from 2001). But the rest just sits there. It was a fine workout, but more routine and lackluster than I expect from a Saturday. The over-reliance on proper nouns is a bit of a drag here. The NE gets particularly bad, with LAALAA next to ERNEST crossing ALAN, right in the same section with the worst cross in the whole puzzle: ODILE / OVETT. That's dire. That's a one-way ticket to Natick for some people, especially considering the relative popularity of the AVETT Brothers. Yikes. Anyway, that section is yuckily name-dense. Rest of the grid doesn't have this same issue, though ESALEN will be rough for youngSTERs (just as ODELAY will be rough for oldSTERs).  LAALAA and LALA in the same grid? With YAYAS? Nah, nah. Make better choices.

I had a rougher-than-usual time with this one, due almost entirely to the wheels coming off in the SE. Looking back, my stuckness doesn't make sense. It's stupid. I should've been much faster. I just Could Not see (or, later, spell) NOXZEMA (35D: Brand once advertised with "Take it off. Take it all off"). I had BELOW ZERO and PARALLELED and FOWL and (tentatively) BOLES, and (more tentatively) NOLA, but ... nope. Stuck. N--ZE-- was staring at me and all I could think of was NETZERO, which seemed unlikely to have had a slogan about "taking it all off." Kept plugging in *correct* answers (MEGA, FORTY, e.g.) but still not seeing things. Turns out I did that thing where I don't look at all the damned clues before behaving as if I'm stuck. Once I looked at 52A: "Love is not ___" ("Tears on My Pillow" lyric), I found I could sing the song (is it in "Grease" somewhere? Not sure how I know it), and so my brain started to sing it ("Love is not a gadget...") and bam, A TOY went in. Then DAY at the end of DAY-TO-DAY; then MEGA. Finally "got it," but "it" was ... NOCZEMA. Which left me with BOCSET for 41A: It might contain a discography). Oy. Another minute or so of befuddlement followed. Then completion.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Baby animal in parable in II Samuel / FRI 6-23-17 / Subject of 1984 mockumentary / Edible seed of pumpkin squash / Verdi opera set in fifth century

Friday, June 23, 2017

Constructor: James Mulhern and Ashton Anderson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PERCALE (20D: Bedsheet material) —
noun: percale
  1. a closely woven fine cotton or polyester fabric used especially for sheets. (google)
• • •

Expected something a little showier here, but all in all it's decent and clean. The long Acrosses don't really sing, though I do like the juxtaposition in the north, i.e. the idea of someone (I assume drunkenly) twirling in SWEAT PANTS while asking "HOW DO I LOOK?" I finished in just over 6. I don't know if the puzzle was easier or harder or exactly as hard as I rated it because I was aided somewhat in the NW, and mightily in the SE, by that niche knowledge I have only because I solve a ton of crosswords, i.e. by crosswordese. I got a superfast start by guessing AMMO right out of the box (1A: They may make the rounds) and then confirming it with (drum roll) ARNESS! (crosswordese the first) (1D: "Gunsmoke" actor James). And then at the end, in the SE corner, I just had blank space below SPINAL TAP, and got a little panicky. Then I tried ATTILA (42D: Verdi opera set in the fifth century). Now I know squat about opera, and I know zero about ATTILA, but something about the clue jogged the answer loose. I didn't trust it At All, but after stumbling with PHOTON instead of PHASER at 43D: Particle beam weapon, I could see it was all going to work out. Shoulda been able to get GARTH from just the "G"; shoulda been able to get PEPITA from the "PE-" ... but shoulda woulda coulda didn't. ATTILA to the rescue.

Other trouble spots:
  • Wanted MU SHU at 2D: Kind of pork, but saw the number of squares and wrote in MOO ... SHO :(
  • Had the "B" at the end of 7D: Baby animal in a parable in II Samuel and wrote in BEAR CUB
  • Wanted THE KEYS instead of CAR KEYS for some reason (35A: Request to Dad, perhaps)
  • Could remember only ASNER and ZOOEY DESCHANEL as Ferrell co-stars in "Elf" 
  • Could picture SLUGGO perfectly in my head (I own two fat volumes of "Nancy" comics) but for some reason his name eluded me and it came out BLUTTO (39D: Nancy's friend in the comics). 
  • TEST SCORES is boring and annoying because when I had ___ SCORES, I expected something specific. I wrote in PSAT, knowing full well no one puts those on their actual applications (do they?)
  • 34D: Arm that's tucked away (COVE) — just brutal. Way harder than anything else in the puzzle.
  • DRAT for CRUD (48A: "Oh, darn!")
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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