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]


    Peebles in Memphis Music Hall of Fame / TUE 8-14-18 / Noted Lakota leader

    Tuesday, August 14, 2018

    Constructor: Andy Kravis and Erik Agard

    Relative difficulty: Easy (3:01)

    THEME: wacky wardrobe — familiar phrases are clued as if their last words were articles of clothing:

    Theme answers:
    • BLASTING CAP (18A: Article of headwear for an explosives engineer?)
    • THREE-WAY TIE (35A: Article of neckwear for the Stooges?)
    • PEOPLE WATCH (42A: Wrist accessory for a celebrity magazine editor?)
    • BORSCHT BELT (60A: Waist accessory for a Russian cook?)
    Word of the Day: ANN Peebles (9D: Peebles in the Memphis Music Hall of Fame) —
    Ann Lee Peebles (born April 27, 1947) is an American singer and songwriter who gained celebrity for her Memphis soul albums of the 1970s for Hi Records. Two of her most popular songs are "I Can't Stand the Rain", which she wrote with her husband Don Bryant and radio broadcaster Bernie Miller, and "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down". In 2014, Ann Peebles was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    OSSIE's always in the grid
    Nice to see RUBY DEE here for once
    OK, now *here* is an example of an old-fashioned theme type that is executed perfectly. Last words reimagined. Get a nice thematic grouping, write some wacky "?" clues, and bam, there's your Tuesday. Just fine. You know what makes this work? Judicious Restraint! There are just four themers here. This is an acceptable amount, but not a showy amount. You know what showiness would've got you here. A forced JACKET answer and then a whole lot cruddier class of fill (because you put added strain on the grid with your dumb fifth themer). As is, the grid can Breeeeathe and so the fill is impressively smooth. Like ... look at your average early-week NYT; it just can't compare. It's not that the fill is terribly showy (though INCINERATE and CRAZY HORSE are solid entries); it's that there are no potholes, not groans, no ughs, no EWWs, except for EWW, which I despise, spelling-wise (you can't pronounce a double-W, come on). It's just glossy, this thing. I wish I hadn't *finished* on EWW—terrible way to end an otherwise lovely solve (also, between spelling that and hesitations around THREE-WAY TIE, that answer cost me a couple of seconds that would've put me under 3, grrrrr). My only non-EWW gripe is PBJ, which is not a thing. I see where the grid is trying to get all cute with its bookend [Three-letter sandwich] clues (see the first and the last Acrosses), but only BLT is truly three letters. It's PB *AND* J and will never be otherwise no matter what you say. More importantly, it's literally never BL *AND* T, and so the attempt at symmetry with those clues only highlights the asymmetry. Boo and hiss and EWW. Otherwise, hurray.

    I think that's all I have to say about this one. I'm surprised I didn't break a speed record on this one, as the only places I remember hesitating at all were 1. right away, when I put BLT in 1-Across, like a normal human; 2. with ANN Peebles, whom I did not know was one of the Peebleseses; and 3. the multiply-aforementioned EWW. Every other answer I wrote in immediately or nearly immediately after reading the clue the first time.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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