Indian state known for its tea and silk / MON 5-2-2016 / Letter between sigma and epsilon / Émile of the Dreyfus affair / Vermont skiing destination

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hi, it's me, first-Monday-of-the-month-guest-blogger Annabel, and no crossword puzzle can ever cross me! OK, that's totally not true, I got stuck on the right side for awhile on this one, and finished it in 24:43. But that's only because I took a break to get ice cream from the dining hall. We have sundaes every Sunday...good stuff.

Ahem, the point is it's another Annabel Monday!

Constructor: Paula Gamache

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: ME TOO — Theme answers are two words, both of which end in "me."

Theme answers:

  • PRIME TIME (18A: 8:00-11:00 p.m., TV-wise)
  • RHYME SCHEME (23A: ABAB in a poem, e.g.)
  • ME TOO (41A: Copycat's comment...or, phonetically, a hint to this puzzle's theme)
  • WELCOME HOME (56A: Greeting to a returning soldier, maybe)
  • BLAME GAME (62A: What a finger-pointer "plays")

Word of the Day: LYNX (29A: Wildcat with tufted ears ) —
ok yes many of us know what a lynx is but i just
wanted the excuse to put a picture of this cute kitty
lynx (/ˈlɪŋks/;[2] plural lynx or lynxes[3]) is any of the four species within the Lynx genus of cats. The name "lynx" originated in Middle English via Latin from the Greek word λύγξ,[2] derived from the Indo-European root leuk- ("light, brightness")[4] in reference to the luminescence of its reflective eyes.[4]
Neither the caracal, sometimes called the desert lynx, nor the jungle cat, called the jungle lynx, is a member of the Lynx genus.
• • •

So, despite what I said about getting stuck on the right side, this puzzle went pretty smoothly for me! (Honestly, it wouldn't have been a problem if I had remembered any Greek.) I liked how the fill featured both YOWZA and YOWIE, although I must add that a YOINK or a YIKES would be the icing on the cake. (Future Monday theme: Exclamations starting with Y?) I wasn't super impressed by the rest of the fill - didn't learn any words, am getting very tired of seeing ALTO in every single puzzle because then I have to go listen to "Alto's Lament" like five times in a row -  but it wasn't bad enough to go all Rex on. LOOIES was funny, I definitely did not know that was a word.

The theme was OK, pretty Monday-ish for sure. It wasn't a lame theme, but at the same time, the constructor missed the opportunity to make a meme reference. ("I can haz the answers?")

  • ELF (40D: Santa's little helper) — The correct clue for this is "the third funniest Will Ferrell movie after Anchorman and Talladega Nights," but I'll let it slide. Ahem. Anyway:
  • PEPSI (1A: Coke rival) — OK, so, what's the consensus on Coke v. Pepsi in the crosswording world? Personally, I say Pepsi is better in general, but Coke is better out of a glass bottle, but Diet Pepsi is better than anything else because it just is. There's just soda many possible arguments you could make about this one. 
  • SHEEN (13D: Luster) — This one just makes me nostalgic for a really weird cartoon:
Signed, Annabel Thompson, tired college student.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Pause word in psalms / SUN 5-1-16 / Eyelike opening in architecture / Pirate's mate in literature film / Red giant in constellation cetus / Language descended from Old Norse / Pro-consumer ideology

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano and Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (more Easy for me, but those big open spaces might slow you down)

THEME: "Stellar Work" —theme clues look like normal clues marked with asterisks, but in order for the clues to make sense, those asterisks must be interpreted as standing for the word "STAR":

Theme answers:
  • CABLE CHANNEL (22A: *Z, for one)
  • RIGHT SIDE (38A: *Board)
  • UNITED AIRLINES (42A: *Alliance member)
  • BROKERED A SETTLEMENT (60A: *Ted talks, say) (this answers is drifting into Green Paint territory...)
  • ROMEO AND JULIET (87A: *Crossed pair)
  • ED MCMAHON (89A: *Search party)
  • ACTING CAREER (110A: *Let's hope) 
Word of the Day: MIRA (86A: Red giant in the constellation Cetus) —
Mira (/ˈmrə/, also known as Omicron Ceti, ο Ceti, ο Cet) is a red giant star estimated 200–400 light years away in the constellation Cetus. Mira is a binary star, consisting of the red giant Mira A along with Mira B. Mira A is also an oscillating variable star and was the first non-supernova variable star discovered, with the possible exception of Algol. Mira is the brightest periodic variable in the sky that is not visible to the naked eye for part of its cycle. Its distance is uncertain; pre-Hipparcos estimates centered on 220 light-years; while Hipparcos data from the 2007 reduction suggest a distance of 299 light-years, with a margin of error of 11% (wikipedia) (I have no idea what half of this means)
• • •

The theme is ... a theme. It works. It doesn't really do much, because once you catch on (this took me about 1.5 theme answers), then you just mentally add "star" to the front of the theme clues, so whatever misdirection there was supposed to be ... isn't. Isn't there. So it's pretty straightforward, bordering on ho-hum, themewise. But the grid is pretty sensational, especially considering it's a mere 130 words (compare to a NYT norm of 138-140 ... I checked with a bunch of old Sunday grids and the first eight I looked at were all 140, which is supposed to be the max, but which also appears to be close to the average). If it seemed like you were looking at a lot more white space than normal, your eyes weren't lying to you. Those are giant, open corners in the NE and SW, and big open pockets in the ESE and WNW—very challenging to fill well. Considering that there is usually a fair amount of junk even in a 140-worder, the clean, crisp quality of this 130-worder is pretty remarkable. There's some yarpy stuff here and there. Some SMEE-on-SPEE action in the NE, and the AGRO-LOMA HALIDES aren't particularly beautiful, but the grid felt very sturdy and well made overall. We're not looking at anything scintillating here. We're looking at what *should* be NYT-average, but isn't. It's above-average. NYT B.

Theme didn't register for me at first because I just figured "Z" was some CABLE CHANNEL I hadn't heard of. There are nine thousand of them, so why not? Only with the UNITED AIRLINES clue did I see what was going on. Really enjoyed OWN GOAL and PI DAY. I taught some English translations of Psalms earlier this semester, and we talked a bunch about the odd word "SELAH," so that was easy. Surprised OCULUS didn't get the OCULUS Rift clue. Do they speak FAROESE on the Faroe Islands? They do! I weirdly just ran across the Faroe Islands today in a soccer story, of all places. Seems that the coach of Leicester City (which is about to win the Premier League title) was the coach of the Greek national team last year but was fired after his team lost to ... the Faroe Islands (a country with a population < 50K). So ... there's some FAROESE-adjacent trivia for you! (Not sure why NYT is spelling the country "Faeroe Islands." Perhaps some conflation with Spenser's "Faerie Queene"? Who knows?)

Thought FORAGE might be SILAGE. Thought NAMIB was NEGEV (or NAGIV to be precise ... but the NEGEV is middle eastern, not southern African). I am now amusing myself by making rhymes and nonsense phrases out of the answers in the SW ("ADESTE HESTER, MR. MISTER!"), so I should probably go.

ICYMI—here's the "Future of Crosswords" podcast (under 7 minutes) by Tufts University student Julia Press, featuring me, Dan Feyer and others. And here's the Ollie Roeder article about the "punishment" handed down to plagiarizing crossword editor Timothy Parker (spoiler: it's not much of a punishment). See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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