Mentalist Geller / TUE 12-10-19 / Last O.G. network / Dippable snack item / Lizard in insurance ads / Savory quality as from MSG

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Constructor: Eric Berlin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (3:46)

THEME: the big brawl — All theme clues begin, "At the big brawl..." and then, well, the clue and answers basically indulge in boxing puns:

Theme answers:
  • CAME OUT SWINGING (16A: At the big brawl, the jazz musician ...)
  • BOBBED AND WEAVED (36A: At the big brawl, the hairstylist ...)
  • PUT UP THEIR DUKES (55A: At the big brawl, the king and queen ...)
Word of the Day: UPI (58D: News letters) —
United Press International (UPI) is an international news agency whose newswiresphoto, news film, and audio services provided news material to thousands of newspapersmagazinesradio and television stations for most of the 20th century. At its peak, it had more than 6,000 media subscribers. Since the first of several sales and staff cutbacks in 1982, and the 1999 sale of its broadcast client list to its rival, the Associated Press, UPI has concentrated on smaller information-market niches. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was a middle-of-the-road puzzle from the 20th century. The gag is corny and kind of forced—"At the big brawl..."?? You say that like it's a normal kind of event. Like ... what? *The* big brawl? What? When? Where? I can imagine. Big party, big race, big sporting event ... I can imagine hypothetical theme answers taking place at the big a lot of things, but brawl? No. The very premise of this theme is hard for me to imagine. And anyway, these are specifically *boxing* puns. And did the king and queen ... like, get their dukes (their? possessive?) to fight in their stead, is that the joke. I mean, obviously the joke is king and queen are titles of nobility, and so is duke, but again, the situational premise is unclear and/or preposterous. Also old-fashioned (in a not-bad way) is the use of just three themers. That used to be much more common, but themes are usually at least a little denser these days. I have no problem with thinner themes if a. they are fantastic, and b. the fill is great. Thin themes should equal fantastic fill, and this ain't it. A bunch of longer answers, but they're just wasted. I mean, ABREASTOF is nothing anyone's gonna cheer for. NACHOCHIP ... is a different from a tortilla chip how? Everything just felt ... unflavored. Plain.

The thing that really killed it for me, though, was ACNED (29D: Benefiting from benzoyl peroxide say). I'm sure it's a word, it's just ... not a good one. I'm actually stunned to see that it has now appeared seven (7) times since I started blogging. I must've blocked all those others out. I think of that word as a joke because Raymond Chandler went after Ross Macdonald for using it once in a very memorable letter to mystery critic James Sandoe, and then Macdonald found out Chandler was trashing him behind his back and spent the rest of his life seething in resentment. Here's a passage from the letter:
A car is "acned with rust", not spotted [...] "The seconds piled up
precariously like a tower of poker chips", etc. The simile that does
not quite come off because it doesn't understand what the purpose of
the simile is [...] When you say "spotted with rust" (or pitted, and
I'd almost but not quite go for"pimpled") you convey at once a
simple visual image. But when you say "acned with rust" the
attention of the reader is instantly jerked away from the thing
described to the pose of the writer. This is of course a very simple
example of the stylistic misuse of language, and I think that
certain writers are under a compulsion to write in recherche phrases
as a compensation for a lack of some kind of natural animal emotion.
They feel nothing, they are literary eunuchs, and therefore
they fall back on an oblique terminology to prove their
Ever since I read this letter (in the course of writing an article on the Macdonald/Chandler relationship) I've never been able to take the word ACNED seriously, as all it makes me think of is cruddy, amateurish writing. Chandler was undeniably a jerk much of the time. But man he could write. I know Macdonald has his devotees, but ... find me the absolute best sentence in any Macdonald novel, and I'll open to a *random* page of The Long Goodbye and find a better one. People say Chandler couldn't plot to save his life. Knopf himself once wrote of Chandler: "He just can't build a plot: in fact, I don't think he even tries." To which I say, when you write that beautifully, who cares? I don't read Chandler for the intricacies of plot or to find out who "done it." I read him to live in a beautiful sad fallen world, one where I can smell the cigarettes, taste the whiskey, hear the surf, and feel the disillusionment. . . . aaaaaanyway, I didn't care for ACNED, is what I'm saying. The whole thing just was not for me. Again, not bad. I'd call it very competent last-century work.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. LOL the clue on DIDO (37D: Aeneas' love). Lavinia's gonna be so mad when she hears ...

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Actor who played Andy Bernard on Office / MON 12-9-19 / Cheap in commercial names / Hit 1980s cop show / Sweet citrus fruits from Southern California / Weather phenomena from Pacific / Like Lindbergh's 1927 flight to Paris

Monday, December 9, 2019

Constructor: Ellis Hay

Relative difficulty: Easy (2:48)

THEME: plural colors — 15-letter phrases that end with a plural color (if there's more to it, I clearly don't know what it is):

Theme answers:
  • VALENCIA ORANGES (17A: Sweet citrus fruits from Southern California)
  • CLEVELAND BROWNS (26A: Only N.F.L. team that doesn't have a logo on its helmets)
  • RHODE ISLAND REDS (47A: Some chickens)
  • "HILL STREET BLUES" (61A: Hit 1980s cop show)
Word of the Day: Abba EBAN (25A: Abba of Israel) —
Abba Eban ([...] born Aubrey Solomon Meir Eban; later adopted Abba Solomon Meir Eban; 2 February 1915 – 17 November 2002) was an Israeli diplomat and politician, and a scholar of the Arabic and Hebrew languages.
In his career, he was Israeli Foreign Affairs MinisterEducation MinisterDeputy Prime Minister, and ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations. He was also Vice President of the United Nations General Assembly and President of the Weizmann Institute of Science. (wikipedia)
• • •

Another day, another "Is that it?" It's hard to imagine why "phrases that end in plural colors" would be an NYT-worthy theme. There is the structural / architectural fact of the answers all being 15 letters long, but so what? I don't see how that is terribly remarkable or how it adds any kind of enjoyment to the solve. I expect a theme like this out of a ... let's say "lesser daily" puzzle. Much lesser, actually. And I'd have to say the same thing about the fill. There's not much in the grid to make you wince, but its over-reliant on the hoary and familiar, for sure. Mainly it's just dull. And two ugly partials? (IASK, ACAR). In a grid this easy to fill? I just don't see how this is up to snuff. And if your theme is going to revolve around colors, you probably shouldn't have any colors anywhere else in the grid. Makes things cleaner and more elegant that way (lookin' at you, WHITE) (30D: "___ Christmas" (holiday song)). Attention to details matters!

There's really nothing to say here. This is the second time I'm seeing NILS Lofgren in a puzzle in the past few days, though the last time I saw him (and I already forget where ... one of those puzzles I solve Downs-Only, like the LAT or Newsday) he appeared in full-name form. I feel like I haven't seen him in forever, and that his fame is maybe not what it was 20-40 years ago. But he's been a crossword MAINSTAY forever, so current fame be damned! Most constant solvers will know him and the youths can just catch up, I guess. See also Abba EBAN, whose name elements I continue to transpose / not know the proper order of. EBAN Abba sounds perfectly fine to me. I tore through this puzzle, for the most part. I hesitated some at 3D: Like Lindbergh's 1927 flight to Paris (speaking of erstwhile fame) (SOLO), and then dumbly tried to write in EDHARRIS when I saw the EDH- at the front of 43D: Actor who played Andy Bernard on "The Office" (ED HELMS). This is why you should read *all* of the clue and not just the first word before starting to fill in the answer. Still, none of these hesitations set me back much—I'm back in the 2:40s for the second week in a row (after having what felt like months of sluggish-for-me Mondays). But breeziness is not enough. The theme should have a solid hook, something to make it cohere more than just the last words belonging to the same very general category of thing. More than identical lengths. More.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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