Title character of 2006 mockumentary / FRI 7-20-18 / Dreamhouse resident / Food portmanteau / Hydroxyl-bearing compound / Catwoman portrayer Meriwether / Colorful seasoning that originated near Himalayas / Five-letter capitol written as two words in its native language

Friday, July 20, 2018

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:58)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: HAN characters (35A: ___ characters (Chinese script)) —
Chinese characters (simplified Chinese汉字traditional Chinese漢字pinyinhànzì; literally: "Han characters") are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write a number of other Asian languages. They remain a key component of the Japanese writing system, where they are known as Kanji. They were formerly used in the writing of Korean (where they are known as Hanja), Vietnamese (in a system known as Chữ Nôm) and Zhuang (in a system known as Sawndip). Collectively, they are known as CJK charactersVietnamese is sometimes also included, making the abbreviation CJKV. (wikipedia) (emph mine)
• • •

This is a very solid and smooth offering, for sure. Polished within an inch of its life. Near zero on the GarbageMeter. There's nothing terribly grabby in the way of fill, but when All Of It works, I am not about to complain. PINK SALT, that's pretty original, although I mainly think of it as "salt rich people will pay a lot for based on erroneous beliefs about its health benefits" salt. I also think we have some in the cupboard somewhere. Or did. We definitely use a salt mill, so that's pretty ridiculous. Where was I? Oh, this puzzle is good. NOSE-TO-TAIL is probably the most original thing here, and also the thing that gave me the most trouble. I did not realize this was a cuisine trend ... where you eat All Of The [Insert Animal Here]. I guess it's ecological or something, like farm-to-table. I am trying to eat (far) less animal. NOSE TO TAIL sounds like a kind of formation you would not want to be in. That answer was hardest for me, and helped make the SE corner the toughest corner. Not too tough. Just tougher than the rest.

Started out hot with BARBIE—my sister probably had a Dreamhouse, or wanted one; she definitely had the Corvette—but weirdly couldn't think of what the final four letters could be. Sincerely thought: "What was Barbie's last name?" DOLL. Her last name was DOLL. But just BARBIE was enough to get me going on the Downs. Went straight from there over into the NE via ERITREA. Tried to go into the SW, but somehow FIXTURES and UP NEXT just weren't going to reveal themselves from just their back ends, and so I worked the NE instead. Very fast there, with just a START SLOW hiccup before STARTS SMALL (11D: Not bite off more than one can chew). Biggest problem was figuring out what word I could make out of -ORKMA-- (31A: One might be by the water cooler). "... PORKMAIL?" Seriously, the -ORK was just so weird-looking.

Jumped over to RUBS, which quickly got me BORAT and RAISINS. Only problem in that quadrant was the HEFTS error I always make with the stupid sword handles (HAFTS). Getting into the SE was the only real problem this grid presented. I had HALF- and no idea what followed at 35D: Divided barrier. Eventually just guessed the DOOR part. Short Downs just weren't that quick in coming down there. Blanked on NRC (53D: Government org. concerned with radioactive waste). Also really struggled with both GAIN (49D: Appreciation) and LINE (50D: A cameo might have one). Had -AIN and -INE and still no idea, right at the end. Had to close them out by getting OGLE from O---E (48A: Check out, in a way). Today I was grateful to have "RUR" (24D: Play from which the word "robot" comes) and SABRA (36A: Israeli-born Jew) and ENOL (52A: Hydroxyl-bearing compound) in my big bag of crossword vocabulary (SABRA is the rarest of those, but common enough that it's worth remembering). A stupid lazy fly is buzzing in my office so I'm going to quit before I go insane like Walter in that one "Breaking Bad" episode. Bye.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Chunnel train / THU 7-19-18 / Vessel that's 1% full / 1847 novel partly set on whaler / Many ancient tombstone / Surname of three baseball brothers / First NFL player on cover of Sports Illustrated

    Thursday, July 19, 2018

    Constructor: Mike Knobler

    Relative difficulty: Medium (6:30)

    THEME: SECRET CODE (17A: What the answers to the six starred clues follow, as hinted at by 66-Across) (66-Across = NEXT PLEASE) — for starred clues, you have to move each of the letters in the correct answers one step up in the alphabet to get the letters that need to go into the grid—these new stepped-up letters spell real words, although those words have nothing to do with anything:

    Theme answers:
    • DUD -> EVE
    • ETSY -> FUTZ
    • SNEER -> TOFFS
    • TANKS -> UBOLT
    • OHMS -> PINT
    • HAL -> IBM (this has been the subject of some "2001: A Space Odyssey" speculation...)
    Word of the Day: Y.A. TITTLE (5D: First N.F.L. player on the cover of Sports Illustrated)
    Yelberton Abraham Tittle Jr. (October 24, 1926 – October 8, 2017), better known as Y. A. Tittle, was a professional American football quarterback. He played in the National Football League (NFL) for the San Francisco 49ersNew York Giants, and Baltimore Colts, after spending two seasons with the Colts in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC).[b] Known for his competitiveness, leadership, and striking profile, Tittle was the centerpiece of several prolific offenses throughout his seventeen-year professional career from 1948 to 1964. (wikipedia)
    • • •
    I am laughing so hard at the non-sports types among you (and that's a lot of you, including my wife, currently solving in the next room) trying to make any kind of sense of YATITTLE. "Who would name their kid YA!? Or is it YAT?!" Someone should try to put YELBERTON (his actual given name) in a grid and see what happens. Me, I was thrilled to get that clue, because though I didn't know it straight off, I got it with only a few crosses, and it felt like I got a secret EZ PASS or something. Sadly, I'd struggle a bunch later, and my time wouldn't be any better than normal. For me, this was like solving a themeless with six mystery answers. Six answers I had to get almost entirely from crosses—for a couple, like UBOLT, I could see from the letter pattern what words they were going to make, so I didn't need *every* cross. But most, I needed. So it was slow going in parts. But ... hey, wait, what are TOFFS? My brains was cool with it, but now my brain is realizing it was thinking of DOFFS. Are TOFFS like ... fops? Huh, British informal derogatory. Interesting choice. "Rich or upper-class person." Well OK then.

    As for the code, I couldn't make ETSY into anything so I just jumped to 66-Across, which I hate doing, but I needed a hint. Got NEXT easy enough, but thought maybe it was NEXT IN LINE! (which fits). Later, I looked at NEXT PLEASE trying to see what code was embedded therein—maybe some hint at a letter equivalency or letter swap or something ... but no. It's just NEXT. That's the clue word. PLEASE is superfluous. Why is there a superfluous word in your revealer? In the end, this is just six short words that can be changed to other words via ROT-1. That's the official name of your (not really) SECRET CODE. It's just a code. And you crack it with NEXT. Maybe if I had a BLOODY MARY, one SIDE EFFECT would be enjoying this whole premise. Alas, I'm not drinking this month.

    High word-count grid with lots of short stuff, though there's six longer (8+) non-theme answers here, all of them at least solid. I guess I don't have much to say about the overall fill. Seemed fine, if a bit stale in parts (ALOU OMOO ERIES CTA PDAS etc.). I made some dumb mistakes along the way, mostly by misreading clues. Wrote in TREE at 1A: Christmastime purchases because I didn't see the plural (FIRS). Considered SPELL at 72A: Participated in a bee because I missed the verb tense (SEWED). Nothing was terribly hard. Just a matter of navigating around six totally (from my perspective) unclued words. Did you know that by today's SECRET CODE, ANNA would become BOOB. Oh, what fun. ANTS would become BOUT. STAR would become TUBS. ADDER -> BEEFS. Sigh. Good night.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. That clue on YACHT is pretty clever (5A: Vessel that's 1% full?) (i.e. full of "the 1%," i.e. the very rich)

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