Native-born Israeli / THU 1-19-17 / Leader targeted in 1989's Operation Nifty Package / Bill Haley's backup band

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: CHECKERED PAST (36A: Liability for a political candidate ... as depicted four times in this puzzle?) — PAST is depicted, in unchecked-letter / checkerboard patterns, four times in the grid.

Word of the Day: ROBBY Mook (37D: ___ Mook, Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign manager)
Robert E. "Robby" Mook (/mʊk/; born December 3, 1979) is an American political campaign strategist and campaign manager. He was the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, which lost to Donald Trump. // Mook worked on state campaigns, leading up to Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. Mook then joined the Democratic National Committee, and worked for Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign as a state director in three states. // Mook managed Senator Jeanne Shaheen's campaign as she ran in New Hampshire for election to the U.S. Senate in the fall of 2008, served as the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2012, and as the campaign manager for Terry McAuliffe's successful 2013 gubernatorial campaign. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle must've been constructed a while a go. At least a couple years ago. Because it's basic premise is manifestly false—a point that would be more glaring only if this puzzle ran *tomorrow*.

But let's pretend it's still the 20th century and grant the puzzle the truth of its essential claim. It's a neat concept, though it doesn't really pop, visually, the way a pattern-based theme ought to. Looks *very* cool in the thumbnail (i.e. tiny icon) version of the grid on my desktop. But full-sized, the effect isn't as great, and it's weirdly at its greatest when the grid is completely empty. As you solve (or as I solve, on screen), the filling in of white space dilutes the checkered effect by marring B/W contrast. I didn't see checks so much as these little spits of land (unchecked letters) sticking out from the mainland of letters. Still, conceptually, cool, especially as the PAST rotates clockwise a tick at a time if you move clockwise from NW to SW (i.e. P starts in the N position and ends up in the W position).

["I won't let you down / I will not give you up"]

I'd like to thank George MICHAEL for getting me going today (30A: George who sang "I Want Your 7-Down"). He was the first answer (besides the incidentals KEEP, SES, and OFA) that I got, and he gave me SEX (!), which (along with MATT Groening) opened the NE up quickly. Mostly I found the puzzle tough, though the clock says my time was quite normal. Botany and fabric and other topics I'm bad at seemed to keep coming up, and those southern corners are horribly sequestered. Teeny tiny narrow entry points. I actually needed the theme to get going in the SE (felt like cheating), because the only thing I knew cold down there was NORIEGA (61A: Leader targeted in 1989's Operation Nifty Package). The long Downs down the middle were great (STEEPLE CHASES / TOP O' THE MORNIN') (14D: They present hurdles / 15D: Cork opener?)—interesting phrases, cleverly clued—which somewhat offset / distracted from a little roughness in the short stuff. Worst cross for me was SHOCKS / CPI. The latter (4D: Economic benchmark, briefly) I can now infer (Consumer Price Index)—now that I guessed SHOCKS, which is super hard to get to from [Blows]. Yikes. But I guessed right, my time was normal, the theme works pretty well, so I'm calling it a good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Bard of Gaelic legend / WED 1-18-17 / Boyfriend after breakup perhaps / Inept boxers in slang

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Constructor: Matthew Sewell

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: FAST BREAK (57A: Dynamic basketball sequence represented by the starts of 17-, 23-, 30-, 40- and 49-Across) —just what it says:

Theme answers:
  • BLOCK HEEL (17A: Platform sandal feature)
  • REBOUND GUY (23A: Boyfriend after a breakup, perhaps)
  • PASS JUDGMENT (30A: Render a verdict)
  • DRIBBLE GLASS (40A: Novelty shop buy)
  • SHOOT 'EM UPS (49A: Space Invaders and Asteroids, for two)
Word of the Day: SHOOT 'EM UPS (49A) —
Shoot 'em up (also known as shmup or STG) is a subgenre of the shooter genre of video games. In a shoot 'em up, the player character engages in a lone assault, often in a spacecraft or aircraft, shooting large numbers of enemies while dodging their attacks. There is no consensus as to which design elements compose a shoot 'em up. Some restrict the definition to games featuring spacecraft and certain types of character movement; others allow a broader definition including characters on foot and a variety of perspectives. Shoot 'em ups call for fast reactions and for the player to memorize levels and enemy attack patterns. "Bullet hell" games feature overwhelming numbers of enemy projectiles. (wikipedia)
• • •
I had to look up whether recovered BLOCKs were actually scored as REBOUNDs, and they are, so play on, I guess. As first-words-sequence themes go, I like this one fine. The theme answers themselves are also lively / unusual. I'd never heard of a BLOCK HEEL, though the HEEL part was easy enough to infer. The concept of the "rebound" in dating is familiar enough to me, but the phrase REBOUND GUY felt slightly off, like there was another "rebound" phrase more commonly used ... and yet I can't come up with it. I think of SHOOT 'EM UPS as westerns, and I played Space Invaders and Asteroids as a kid and literally never heard anyone call 'em SHOOT 'EM UPS. Love the phrase, but to this Gen X'er's ears, the '70s/'80s video game clue seemed INAPT. But again, basic theme concept here is sound and the answers generally pleasing. The fill on this one is a mixed bag. Excellent pair of Downs in the NW corner (I'm partial to olde-timey sports slang, and PALOOKAS definitely fits the bill) (2D: Inept boxers, in slang). Most of the rest is just OK, but there are several pretty awful parts. I consider SECADA (21A: Jon with the 1992 hit "Just Another Day") and OSSIAN (35A: Bard of Gaelic legend) desperation fill, and there shouldn't have been any need for desperation today. And I consider SURETÉ beyond desperation (21D: ___ du Québec (police force)). You've fallen into the foreign word vat and can't get out. Not at all a commonly known word, even for someone like me who had many years of French in school. It *is* crossed fairly, but that SURETÉ / TEACUP cross held me up more than anything by far (36A: ___ Chihuahua (tiny dog)) . SECADA could easily have tripped me (his brief period of fame quite behind us now) but as I said: Gen X'er. Still listened to radio / watched MTV a lot in 1992. I know SECADA. Guiltily.

So, yeah, OK puzzle. If there hadn't been all this dumb Scrabble-f***ing around the margins of the puzzle, maybe the fill could've been stronger, but maybe not. Except SURETÉ, none of it was particularly egregious. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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