King of Belgium during W.W. II / THU 8-16-18 / Engineering discipline for short / Spring awakening sign / Agricultural giant with mascot Bobby Banana

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (or harder, if you're not familiar with the subject's body of work) (4:49)

THEME: ROBERT / DENIRO (64A: With 65-Across, subject of this puzzle, born 8/17/1943) — a tribute puzzle honoring the actor on (or, you know, near) his 75th birthday:

Theme answers:
  • CASINO (1A: 64-/65-Across work of 1995)
  • THE FAN (7A: 64-/65-Across work of 1996)
  • GOODFELLAS (18A: 64-/65-Across work of 1990)
  • RAGING BULL (34A: 64-/65-Across work of 1980) 
  • DEER HUNTER (40A: 64-/65-Across work of 1978, with "The")
  • TAXI DRIVER (53A: 64-/65-Across work of 1976)
  • FILM STUDIO (10D: Employer of 64-/65-Across)
  • COMEDY CLUB (25D: Venue for a 64-/65-Across movie of 2016)
Word of the Day: "THE FAN" (7A) —
The Fan is a 1996 American psychological thriller film directed by Tony Scott, and starring Robert De Niro and Wesley Snipes, based on  the novel by Peter Abrahams. [...] The Fan got mixed to negative reviews from critics, as it holds a 34% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 29 reviews. // The film brought in $18,626,419 in the United States and Canada. The opening weekend brought in $6,271,406 and then dropped down 47.2% the subsequent weekend. (wikipedia)
• • •

Is this puzzle talkin' to me!?

I don't know if it's talkin' to me, but I'm talking to you, and I'm telling you this is the worst kind of tribute puzzle. DENIRO is a legend and this puzzle has some great movies in it, but a grid crammed (over-crammed) with (sometimes arbitrary) trivia is one of the least pleasurable solving experiences imaginable. Here, I'll let constructing veteran Eric Berlin explain the problem:

Suffers! I haven't seen ABIE is soooo long, what the hell? You're gonna bring him out of retirement at the same time you trot out ARNE and ENTR' and REUP and ITER (!) TRAX (!?) and three-R, non-Aaron BRRR, sir? C'mon, stop, Stop. YOW. And, hey, there's HRE! I would love it if there were 2016 campaign t-shirts with typos that said "I'M WITH HRE!" and, say, a picture of Charlemagne or something. I would wear one of those. But I digress. This puzzle has ATIT and a TEAT, and also an ASS. Fun. What's not fun: totally forced, non-movie-title trivia like FILM STUDIO (?) and COMEDY CLUB. I mean, I loved "King of Comedy" but ... wait ... what? 2016 movie??? what the hell movie is that? [goes to wikipedia] ... "The Comedian"??? What Is That? Here, I'll tell you what it is. Actually, I won't. I'll just quote this tiny bit from the wikipedia entry: 
In North America, The Comedian was released alongside Rings and The Space Between Us, and was projected to gross $1–3 million from about 800 theaters in its opening weekend. It ended up debuting to just $892,021, finishing 21st at the box office. Deadline Hollywoodattributed the film's poor opening to negative critical reception and lack of award buzz, similar to Gold the week prior.
So COMEDY CLUB is not just an arbitrary phrase, it's a phrase related to a movie that almost no one saw. Unreal. Seriously, these long Downs are just "Can I find *anything* lying around DENIRO's long career and/or the entire world of movie-making that I can shoehorn into this space?" The aesthetic decision-making here is baffling. And "THE FAN"??? LOL, what? You're gonna put iconic stuff like TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS in here and then try to sneak "THE FAN" (???) in there in the upper right, like I'm not gonna notice. Lesser pics chosen solely for their ability to fit in a grid symmetrically Do Not Belong. It diminishes the tribute.

Oh, and lastly, I leave you with the puzzle's final problem—one that is somehow as pedestrian as it is pertinent: his birthday is T O M O R R O W ...
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. today (actually today) is Madonna's 60th birthday. Tribute? (Actually, in the NYT proper, yes; worth reading)

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Brickowski protagonist of Lego Movie / WED 8-15-18 / Muscles used in Russian twist for short / When sung five times ABBA hit

    Wednesday, August 15, 2018

    Constructor: Kathy Wienberg

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (5:05)

    THEME: anagrams — answers are essentially cryptic crossword clues where one word is taken to mean "mix the other word up"

    Theme answers:
    • MAD SCRAMBLE (17A: DAM) — so "DAM" is just "MAD" SCRAMBLEd up
    • STIR FRIED (24A: FIRED) — "FRIED" has been STIRred
    Word of the Day: WEAL (2D: Prosperity) —
    a red, swollen mark left on flesh by a blow or pressure.


    an area of the skin that is temporarily raised, typically reddened, and usually accompanied by itching.


    noun: weal
    that which is best for someone or something.
    "I am holding this trial behind closed doors in the public weal"
    • • •

    This feels hackneyed. I mean, it's just a cryptic cluing technique. A common one. You look for that word that can signal anagram (e.g. "wild" "crazy" "strange" etc.) and that helps you figure out the answer (cryptic clues have a literal component as well as a wordplay component, as you probably know). I'm guessing the whole concept sprang from BIPOLAR DISORDER, a nice, grid-spanning answer. A couple of these answers (MAD SCRAMBLE, STIR FRIED) are notable for the fact that either of the words in each answer could technically be an anagram trigger word, i.e. "MAD" can mean mixed-up, and so can "FRIED" (though the latter may be a little more tenuous). I didn't like that three of these themers were noun phrases and two were verb phrases. Concept wasn't terribly hard to pick up, despite the lack of a revealer, but each one was its own little struggle. Well, MIXMASTER was a giant struggle. Could not quickly anagram STREAM into anything that made sense, and even as I got crosses, nothing looked right. Do people even know what a MIXMASTER is. I know it only as a DJ title. Is it something else? Oh, looks like it's a trademark for a food processor. I did Not know that. I know the DAILY JUMBLE as just the Jumble, so that was weird.

    Mostly I found the fill, and especially the clues, just a terrible grind. Starting with TWELVE. [Midday] is awful. There's a TWELVE midnight too. Ugh. I wrote in ATNOON at first. Imagine cluing TWELVE that way. So many ways to go and you go [Midday]. WEAL is a horrible word no one uses. LESSEE just screams "here are a bunch of common letters!" 15A: Not occurring naturally is MADE??? Lots of things occur in nature that are MADE. Animals and plants "make" a lot of stuff. Nests, webs, oxygen! Booooo to that clue. Had no idea VECTOR meant "course" (5D: Airplane course)—I think of it as a direction. But I guess that's what "course" is, too? Oof. Slog slog slog. FOTO? RRR? Paint device—had GUN, no idea about AIR. ROY is "Mr." Rogers? OK. Lots of a T Rex's skeleton seems big to me, I dunno. JAW? Sure, whatever. There was no joy here. No fun. No cleverness or playfulness. I don't mind the core theme concept, actually, though the answer set could probably be stronger. But I did mind the solve as a whole. Just unpleasant. Not made with solver enjoyment in mind. Vague or off clues everywhere. And ugh, the EMMET clue (7D: ___ Brickowski, protagonist of "The Lego Movie"). I saw that movie and still ... pick real people, or much, much more famous fictional characters for your name clues, please.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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