Truckers contest / WED 8-27-14 / Lightning setting / Political alliance of 1958 / Relative of cuatro informally / Do Not Call Registry org / First name of wolf in Big Bad Wolf / Bit of packaging detritus / Oil giant that's part of Tesoro Corporation

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Constructor: Gareth Bain and David Poole

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: -A to -ER — wacky phrases that are homophones of normal phrases if you are British (I think)

Theme answers:
  • CONGER LINES (17A: Libretto for "Eel Trovatore"?)
  • FRANK ZAPPER (24A: Microwave for hot dogs?)
  • CHARLIE THE TUNER (37A: Actor Sheen after starting a new career in piano maintenance?)
  • SALES QUOTER (50A: One who knows the earnings report by heart?)
  • TUBER PLAYER (60A: Actor in a Mr. Potato Head costume?)

Word of the Day: FTC (11A: Do Not Call Registry org.) —
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1914 by the Federal Trade Commission Act. Its principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anticompetitive business practices, such as coercive monopoly. The Federal Trade Commission Act was one of President Woodrow Wilson's major acts againsttrusts. Trusts and trust-busting were significant political concerns during the Progressive Era. Since its inception, the FTC has enforced the provisions of the Clayton Act, a key antitrust statute, as well as the provisions of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 41 et seq. Over time, the FTC has been delegated the enforcement of additional business regulation statutes and has promulgated a number of regulations (codified in Title 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations). (wikipedia)
• • •

Cornball puns really aren't my thing. The clues on the first couple are pretty funny, but the "humor" here kind of went over, or beside, or in some relation to my head other than the intended one. Plus QUOTER's not really a word. I mean, it is, but it isn't, so that answer really clunks. Also, I did not like the last themer, TUBER PLAYER, at all, because of its inclusion of a -ER word that did *not* conform to the theme … unless the guy on "tuba" is in fact a "playa," in which case, good for him. Seems like this theme might have been as funny, if not funnier, in reverse: -ERs to -As. [Like someone who refuses to root for the Lightning under any conditions?] => TAMPA RESISTANT. Huh? Huh? Well, maybe, maybe not. Maybe that's been done. But this didn't amuse me enough to make the mostly uninteresting trip through the rest of the puzzle seem worth it. Fill was overly common and somewhat tiresome to work through, though the long Downs (FOAM PEANUT + WHAT A LAUGH) are pretty charming (11D: Bit of packaging detritus + 29D: "That is SO stupid!").

Puzzle played hard, mostly because of some tough cluing on some short and relatively arcane stuff like ARCO (From *that* clue? No way. I had ESSO at first) (1D: Oil giant that's part of the Tesoro Corporation), and ZEKE (??) (26D: First name of the wolf in Disney's "The Big Bad Wolf") and all the 3-letter answers in the NE. I know the peanuts in question only as PACKING PEANUTS, so without FOAM up there, those short answers were in danger of not coming at all (especially as I didn't know the FTC answer, and can't remember ever seeing that abbr. in a puzzle, though I must've). In the end, there's just too much SETI ERST ERIN UAR TSAR ACHOO MOR LIU UKE EEGS EEO and not enough fun stuff.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Guitarist Kottke / TUE 8-26-14 / Traveler on silk road / 50th state's state bird / Department store founder James Cash / Tuna type on menus

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Constructor: Victor Fleming

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: MPS (56D: AWOL chasers … or a hint to the answers to the six italicized clues) —all theme answers are two-word phrases where the first word starts with "M" and the second word starts with "P"

Theme answers:
  • MAKE PEACE (5D: Sign a treaty, say)
  • MENLO PARK (56A: Edison lab site)
Word of the Day: MILK PUNCH —
Milk punch is a milk-based brandy or bourbon beverage. It consists of milk, brandy (bourbon), sugar, and vanilla extract. It is served cold, and usually hasnutmeg sprinkled on top. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't much understand the point of a puzzle like this. Unless the theme answers really bring something new and interesting to the table, then you just have a perfunctory exercise on your hands. This theme type can be done a million and one ways—just pick your initials. DAS? TAS? MDS? RNS? Why limit yourself to people? LPS, CDS, MGS, DTS, all await your entheming. This puzzle is totally serviceable, but completely unimaginative—the kind of thing I'd expect to find in many other venues, where no one expects much beyond a 5-to-10-minute diversion, but not the kind of thing I expect in the (still repeatedly alleged) Gold Standard of crosswords. There's not much to fault here, but not much to praise, either. It's just … here. It does have MISS PIGGY, I'll give it that. And it did teach me that there is such a thing as MILK PUNCH—googles at about 1/10 the strength of "eggnog," but sure, "relatives," why not? I learned a new term. And hey, the NYT says there's a MILK PUNCH "revival" afoot. So maybe you'll want to get in on that.

The only difficulty in this puzzle came at MILK PUNCH, specifically at the part where that answer leads up into the north part of the grid via BERTHS (8D: Playoff spots). Didn't know the drink, and then couldn't make sense of the playoffs clue at first, and so transitioning from one part of the grid into the other … didn't go smoothly. But I just rebooted in the north with DAM and ERA and everything was on track again. Zero hiccups. Oh, I wrote in STEAMY for SULTRY (21D: Torrid). That probably cost me some time. And I needed a few passes at AFRESH before I saw it (36D: Over again). But really, these are all terribly minor snags. Mainly this puzzle came, and this puzzle went.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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