Colorists / MON 3-2-15 / "Momma" cartoonist / Sign between Cancer and Virgo / Peruvian author Mario Vargas _

Monday, March 2, 2015

Hey, everyone, it's an Annabel day and boy am I excited! Not only was this a great puzzle, but I went to my first convention this month - Katsucon - and it was loads of fun. I got to meet the creator of one of my favorite webcomics, bought a new poster print for my room, and there were so many amazing costumes! Here I am in mine.*

Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: "Triple L" — Theme words had three L's.

Theme answers:
  • STILL LIFE (17A: C├ęzanne's "The Basket of Apples," e.g.)
  • CALL LETTERS (23A: Radio station identification)
  • MELL LAZARUS (51A: "Momma" cartoonist)
  • TWO-L LLAMA (61A: "A beast," according to Ogden Nash)

Word of the Day: ECHOS (52D: Pioneering 1960s communications satellites) —
Project Echo was the first passive communications satellite experiment. Each of the two American spacecraft, launched in 1960 and 1964, was a metalizedballoon satellite acting as a passive reflector of microwave signals. Communication signals were bounced off them from one point on Earth to another. The Echo satellite program also provided the astronomical reference points required to accurately locate Moscow. This improved accuracy was sought by the US military for the purpose of targeting intercontinental ballistic missiles. (wikipedia)
• • •

Definitely one of the most fun puzzles I've solved in a while. Props to Andrea Carla Michaels for using her own NAMES  for that answer's clue (34A: Andrea, Carla and Michael)! Not to mention PHIAL's spelling;  never even saw that before. But OHGOD, am I ready for the era of ERA, especially with predictable clues like  "measure of time" or "time in history," to be over. Also, I ended up stuck on the northeast corner for a while (for some reason, that corner always trips me up?), but I loved the southwest corner with its proliferation of O's.

Not a lot to say about the theme. Typicalll, simpllle Monday.

Bullets:
  • 61A: "A beast," according to Ogden Nash (TWOLLLAMAS) — Okay, how could I see this and not address the fact that the llamas got lloose in Arizona and everyone talked about it so much that #llamadrama becomes a trending hashtag (the best ever, in my opinion) on Twitter? I mean, come on. The llamas were even crossword colors. Here, have a 26-minute long video of the llama chase...because apparently that exists.
[but the best part is that I rode on a llama at Homestead Gardens once]
    • 31A: Layered hairstyle (SHAG) — I had honestly never heard of a shag before doing this puzzle and had to guess at this one for a while. My mom was shaking her head at me because my sister was watching Scooby-Doo, with Shaggy and his shag haircut, right in front of me. Maybe she's just old. (Rex, don't tell her I said that!!) 
    • 18A: Exams for future attnys. (LSATS) — Omigod you guys, with this word bisecting EMMETT, Elle Wood's love interest, I just couldn't not post some LEGALLY BLONDE!(This is totally what college is going to be like, right?)
    ["but, first you'll need an LSAT score of more than 174" ...see...posting songs from this musical is totally relevant]
    • *9A: Ponzi scheme, e.g. (FRAUD) — Okay, so I didn't actually link to pictures, I just Rickrolled you all. Because, y'know, I'm a fraud. And also because ASTLEY (50D: Rick with the #1 hit "Never Gonna Give You Up") was one of the clues. The Katsucon part wasn't a fraud, though!! That was seriously one of the most fun things I've ever done. I cosplayed (nerd-convention slang for "dressed up as") April Ludgate from Parks and Rec, and my friend was Tom Haverford. Good times.
    Shout-out to MELL LAZARUS, the "Momma" cartoonist, because it's my "Momma" 's birthday on Thursday! I'm sure Rex will send her a BFF present.

    Signed, Annabel Thompson, tired high school student. Live long and prosper. (To Leonard Nimoy's ghost: I'm sorry about that time I put a figurine of you in my shoe.)

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    1958 space monkey / SUN 3-1-15 / Movie that opened 3/2/1965 / Figure in Sunni/Shia dispute / Culminating point that beauty has attained in sphere of music / Nicki with 2014 hit Anaconda / Crown since 1952 / 1961 Disney villainess

    Sunday, March 1, 2015

    Constructor: Finn Vigeland 

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



    THEME: "Noted Anniversary" — Get it? "Noted"? 'Cause of the notes!? It's a "(THE) SOUND OF MUSIC" puzzle with a bunch of related theme answers and a DO RE MI FA SOL LA TI DO music scale running, rebus-wise, from SW to NE

    Theme answers:
    • SALZBURG, AUSTRIA (24A: Setting of 118-Across)
    • JULIE ANDREWS (31A: Star of 118-Across)
    • "THE HILLS ARE ALIVE…" (49A: Opening lyric of 118-Across)
    • RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN (68A: Duo behind 118-Across)
    • BEST PICTURE OSCAR (91A: Honor for 118-Across)
    • THE VON TRAPPS (108A: Family upon whom 118-Across is based)
    • "THE SOUND OF MUSIC" (118A: Movie that opened 3/2/1965)
    Word of the Day: HEGIRA (88D: Flight from danger) —
    noun
    1. Muhammad's departure from Mecca to Medina in AD 622, prompted by the opposition of the merchants of Mecca and marking the consolidation of the first Muslim community.
      • the Muslim era reckoned from the Hegira.
        noun: Hegira; noun: Hejira; noun: Hijra
        "the second century of the Hegira"
      • an exodus or migration.
        noun: hegira; plural noun: hegiras (google)
    • • •

    The best part about this was going from thinking "that is the lamest title ever" to "Oh … got it." Still not sure I like the title, but it's not nearly as bad as I first thought, and that simple sensation has helped dispose me mostly favorably toward this thing, despite the fact that it's too straightforward for my taste. The rebus adds a neat wrinkle, but even that is transparent. I've seen some version of the DO RE MI rebus thing in other puzzles, so the second I figured out the "DO" square in the SW, I knew where things were going (though I initially thought the notes might not keep getting higher in the grid, but might instead form a mountain, as in climb EV'RY. That scenario would've put SOL where that "D" is in HARD C, and so forth, back down into the SE corner. But this set-up is, of course, infinitely preferable. Well, preferable. I'm oddly fond of my briefly-imagined notes-make-a-mountain scenario.


    The theme was not hard to figure out at all. I got it this fast:


    Then, while working the crosses on the movie title there, I encountered the weirdness that turned out to be the rebus square "DO" at TO[DO] / [DO]ORS. And that was pretty much that. This puzzle had that thing that I don't really like about tribute puzzles, where the answers are really just assorted trivia that happen to fit into rotationally symmetrical places. Once you grasp the theme, it's just amateur trivia night. Ho-hum. As I say, the scale-rebus added value for sure, and the grid is pretty solidly filled, but overall it was a lowercase "l" "like" for me. Hard to stay mad at a beloved picture, JULIE ANDREWS, etc., especially when one is never actually mad in the first place. I'm sure most solvers will enjoy this well-made puzzle that causes them to enjoy a classic American movie on this first (not 2nd, but close) day of March, when thoughts turn to spring, and the possibility of warmth. Good vibes.

    [124A: "Wailing" instrument]

    I didn't like the answer BEST PICTURE OSCAR, which feels contrived. It won BEST PICTURE. Yes, technically, this answer is literally true, but BEST PICTURE is a better crossword answer, just as VON TRAPPS is better than THE VON TRAPPS. This is what I mean about answers being chosen for symmetricality rather than optimality. But it's all defensible. And the constructor gets in some great answers in the line of rebus fire. Never thought I'd be thrilled by OPERA BUF[FA], but I was, and the meta-crosswordical [SOL]VING TIME also gave me a smile (60A: Important factor in a crossword tournament). THE HILLS ARE ALIVE … is a fragment. Absurd. But who cares!? I'm picturing twirling JULIE ANDREWS, so all is right with the world.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S speaking of important factors in a crossword tournament, the 3rd Annual Finger Lakes Crossword Competition is next week—Saturday, Mar. 7, in Ithaca, NY. I'll be there. If you're an upstater, you should be too. All info here.


      P.P.S. very important news for aspiring constructors and hardcore fans who want insight into the craft of crossword construction. The best constructor on the planet, Patrick Berry, is now offering his "Crossword Constructors Handbook" (formerly Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies) as a .pdf from his website for a mere $10. This deal includes 70 (*seventy*) puzzles in both .pdf and .puz format. Puzzles cover a wide range of difficulty and theme types. Patrick's "For Dummies" book has been infamously out of print (and thus prohibitively expensive) for a long time, so I'm thrilled that now, when someone asks me "Can you recommend a good book on constructing?" I can name a title that's now actually accessible. Seriously, in the world of "books about crosswords," this is the top of the heap. No lie. Get it. Give it. Love it.

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