Highly successful in theaterspeak / MON 12-10-18 / Texas city seen in many westerns / We on candy heart / Old Russian royals / Sacred peak in Greek myth

Monday, December 10, 2018

Constructor: Alex Eylar

Relative difficulty: Challenging (by the clock ... 3:38, my third-slowest Monday of the timed era)

THEME: THE PLOT THICKENS (37A: "Now things are getting interesting" ... or a hint to the first words of 17-, 24-, 45- and 57-Across) — first words are DIRT ... and then foliage starts growing, leading to GRASS, then BUSH, and finally JUNGLE:

Theme answers:
  • DIRT CHEAP (17A: Extremely inexpensive)
  • GRASS ROOTS (24A: Bottom-up, as a political movement)
  • BUSH LEAGUE (45A: Amateurish)
  • JUNGLE GYM (57A: Bars that kids go to?)
Word of the Day: MT. IDA (31D: Sacred peak in Greek myth: Abbr.) —
Mount Ida, known variously as IdhaÍdhiIdiIta and now Psiloritis (GreekΨηλορείτης, "high mountain"), at 2,456 m (8,057 feet), is the highest mountain on Crete. Located in the Rethymno regional unit, it was sacred to the Greek TitanessRhea, and on its slopes lies one of the cavesIdaion Antron, in which, according to legend, Zeus was born. Its summit (Timios Stavros) has the highest topographic prominence in Greece. A natural park which includes Mt. Ida is a member of UNESCO's Global Geoparks Network. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well, the concept is pretty original, I think. It's clever, anyway, though I don't think the progression is terribly logical. I'm not sure in what sense BUSH is being used. Like, shrubbery, or the Australian BUSH, i.e. just ... the wilderness. Actually, Australian BUSH has no vegetation specifications, so that can't be right here. But shrubbery ... doesn't seem like a step between GRASS and JUNGLE. And JUNGLE .... would that ever, ever grow on a "plot," which implies property ownership, development, etc.? It's all pretty loose and wonky, conceptually. I can see how you'd want to make THE PLOT THICKENS into a revealer, seeing as how it's a tidy 15 letters and all. But this progression feels off. Also off was the forms of the long Downs. CARPOOLER. WENT ROGUE. Both fine, acceptable answers, but with -ERing and past-tensing, just tweaked enough to be trouble, especially CARPOOLER, which weirdly vexed me. I had trouble all over the east and (especially) south, where GLUEY (???) (49D: Sticky) was GOOEY (an actual word one might use) and UANDI (50D: We, on a candy heart) was ... well, nothing, really, because what kind of stupid clue is that. The whole point of writing on a candy heart is that you're using cutesy abbrevs., which, admittedly, "U" is, but ... "We" is a mere two letter, whereas UANDI is five, why on god's increasingly green earth would you use UANDI where u could use WE?!!??! This makes no sense. Also making no sense. TEATS / TAO. I'll give you five seconds to get rid of TEATS: go. Seriously, go! (I just hate the word TEATS (22D: Milk dispensers) ... all other words referring to nipples or breasts, I have no problem with; bring 'em on. But TEATS ... TEATS is my "moist"; it just makes me wince a little; totally OK if you have to use it, but if you don't have to ... I would prefer not) (I think I especially hate the clue here ... conflating a beverage dispenser at a buffet with the mammary glands of animals just seems ugh)

Five things:
  • 53A: Texas city seen in many westerns (LAREDO) — Not very iconic for me. Also, this answer went through GLUEY and UANDI, so oof
  • 44A: Bub (BUSTER) — ??? [Boxer Douglas] or [Silent film star Keaton] woulda been helpfuler
  • 33D: Equipment often transported on a car's roof (SKIS) — literally *anything* more specific than "equipment" woulda been nice here
  • 8D: Informal affirmative (YEP) — Is it YEP. YUP, it's YEP. [Affirmative in 53-Across] might've worked here
  • 33A: Pop a fly? (SWAT) — really thought the "?" here meant that "fly" was going to refer to the pants part. I was imagining busting zippers or buttons or whatever.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I had LANAI before KAUAI, which is what happens when you get a generic [One of the Hawaiian islands] clue and the letters you already have in place are just the -AI :(

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Inspector Gadget antagonist / SUN 12-9-18 / Barbie's strawberry blond sister / Asian territory in Risk / Kids tv character who speaks in falsetto / Weather-controlling Xmen character / Certain product of pyrolysis / Massimo who wrote Goodbye Kiss

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Easy (8:24)

THEME: FANTASTIC BEASTS / AND / WHERE TO FIND THEM (62A: With 68- and 74-Across, J.K. Rowling's first screenplay, with a hint to three pairs of answers in this puzzle) — three fantastic beasts and also ... where to find them

Theme answers:
  • ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, cryptid of the HIMALAYAS (91A: Creation after the Indian and Eurasian plates collided)
  • LOCH NESS MONSTER, cryptid of the SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS (115A: Gaelic's home)
  • THE KRAKEN, cryptid of THE NORWEGIAN SEA (105A: It borders Iceland's eastern coast)
Word of the Day: NEROLI (84A: Perfumery oil) —
  1. an essential oil distilled from the flowers of the Seville orange, used in perfumery. (google)
• • •

The story of this crossword is: the revealer was an enormous gimme. So many people will be able to fill it right in, even without any crosses. On top of that, the rest of the puzzle is not very challenging at all. My orange trouble marker (the felt-tip pen I use to mark the trouble spots on my printed-out grid) is not getting much action. Some symmetricalish trouble in the DRCLAW / ASTANA areas, and then holy hell what is NEROLI (?) ... but the lone real trouble spot, for me, took the form of a kind of fault line located (aptly) in the California section of the puzzle, running from SHALE OIL down through CARLOTTO (??!?!?!?!?!) (86D: Massimo who wrote "The Goodbye Kiss"). Where those two plates meet (i.e. OZS and STACIE ?!), there was some shaking, rumbling, and mild property damage. Else, smooth sailing. Grid seemed pretty clean and interesting. The themers play pretty fast and loose with definite articles (including THE here, excluding it there), but conceptually it was consistent. I liked solving this one just fine. I think the gimme revealer is a bit of a problem, but no one but me is going to complain about getting that much help. Many personal speed records will be set today. I was only 40 seconds off my own.

Half of constructing is noticing when words or phrases can be arranged symmetrically or broken down into symmetrical segments, so good catch on the Rowling screenplay title. Honestly, that title seems built for crosswords—fits symmetrically and seems to be dictating the theme concept straight to you. "Yeah, it's not a complicated concept," it seems to be saying, "but it's sturdy and straightforward, not to mention whimsical, and people love whimsy, mate." It's like finding a recipe for a crossword. But ... you can't find it if you're not paying attention, so all credit to the constructor.

Five things:
  • 112D: Angle (FISH) — oy that was hard. Had the FI- and still nothing. So many possible meanings for "angle," but this one really Really didn't occur to me.
  • 123A: Capital of Kazakhstan (ASTANA) — why do I want this to be ASHTANA? It's very much not, not even by pronunciation, but ... I wish I could think of why I want that "SH" sound in there... I did a puzzle recently that contained QAZAQSTAN. That was fun.
  • 127A: What old army buddies might discuss (THE WAR) — uh ... no. Let's just pretend this non-phrase is not even here, shall we? I'd actually like THE BAR better here. Maybe with a clue about raising or lowering or draining
  • 106D: Value system (ETHIC) — one of my least favorite solving issues is ETHIC v. ETHOS. I don't know the difference and even if the difference were explained to me, I would promptly forget it and end up writing this same comment again on a later puzzle. I'm not convinced I haven't written this same comment before. The infinite recursion of ETHICOS!
  • 4A: "Inspector Gadget" antagonist (DR. CLAW) — just realized, just this second, that I had this guy confused in my mind with the antagonist from "The Smurfs" ... argh, what's his name ... had a cat ... wore some kind of ankle-length black dress ... Megulore ... Melmadar ... aargh, GARGAMEL! His cat was AZRAEL! I'm not sure I can even picture DR. CLAW. So here's a picture of DR. CLAW (who also has a cat!):

NOTE: They Might Be Giants have a song called  "Mr. Klaw" *and* a song called "Dr. Worm"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

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