Administrative regions in Russia / MON 1-22-18 / Stoic politician of ancient Rome / Wallace co-founder of Reader's Digest / Fish typically split before cooking

Monday, January 22, 2018

Constructor: Paolo Pasco

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (slightly tougher than normal, for a Monday)



THEME: EROSION (46D: Natural process illustrated by the last words of 18-, 24-, 37-, 534- and 61-Across) — Final word of first themer undergoes process of EROSION in successive themers, with one letter disappearing each time, until we go from STONE to O:

Theme answers:
  • EMMA STONE (18A: 2016 Best Actress Oscar winner for "La La Land")
  • QUARTER TONE (24A: Half of a half step in music)
  • METRIC TON (37A: Weight unit equal to about 2,205 pounds)
  • "I MEAN, COME ON!" (54A: "Puh-LEEZE!")
  • STANDING O (61A: Enthusiastic audience response)
Word of the Day: OBLASTS (40D: Administrative regions in Russia) —
noun
plural noun: oblasts
  1. an administrative division or region in Russia and the former Soviet Union, and in some of its former constituent republics. (google)
• • •

STAN
Would've liked this better on Tuesday—both because this was more in line with Tuesday difficulty, and because Tuesdays often suh-uck and this did not. I feel like I've done a version of this theme before, somewhere ... but that doesn't diminish the way it's done here, with remarkably fresh and clean answers. Just lose OBLASTS (not really a Monday-level answer) and make the clues *slightly* easier, and you have a perfect Monday puzzle. As it is, you have a very good one. Once again, the puzzle's heavy reliance on colloquialisms made it tough for me to move quickly. Just the simple "OH, FUN" required many crosses, as it really could've been "OH, a lot of things" (GEE, WOW ... RAD?). Same thing with the I MEAN part of "I MEAN, COME ON!" It's a great expression, but I had the "COME ON" part and ... ??? Just wanted "Oh." I was also slowed by not considering CHALUPA a real food (I've never heard of it anywhere but in Taco Bell commercials—I figured they just made it up), and by repeatedly misparsing words. STANDINGO in particular was a disaster, as I solved it from the back end and kept wondering what was going to happen to the DINGO.


S answers that gave me trouble:

  • 28A: Abbr. in an office address (STE) — seems a hardish clue for STE (here, an abbr. for "suite")
  • 35D: Look down on (SCORN) — I just couldn't find the handle here, no idea why. SNORT and SNEER and various condescending faces were coming to mind, but not SCORN.
  • 68A: Fish typically split before cooking (SCROD) — me: "Uh ... all of them?" This seems like kind of a deep cut, SCROD-knowledge-wise. [this answer appears to have a different clue in the app: [Fish often used in fish fingers] — not sure if it was always this way, or if they changed it, or what. Seems to be a lot of last-minute clue tinkering across formats lately...]
  • 45D: Bond film after "Skyfall" ("SPECTRE") — Me: "Uh ... SKYFALL? No wait, that's in the clue. Uh ... SKYFALL?" Total blank.
  • 19D: Sailor's patron ("ST. ELMO") — Had "STEL-" and wanted STELLA ... because it means "stars" ... and sailors ... navigate ... by those? STELLA!!!!!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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1941 siege target / SUN 1-21-18 / Old Parlophone parent / Fan publications informally / Trickster of Navajo mythology / Chemical source of fruit flavor / Colorful toys with symbols on their bellies / Make out at Hogwarts / Pagtron of Archdiocese of New York briefly / Shoulderless sleeveless garment

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Constructor: Victor Barocas and Andy Kravis

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: "Substitutes" — theme answers up top are ordinary phrases following the pattern [___ FOR ___]; in the bottom half, theme clues ask you to "remember" one of the theme answers from the top half, and then you're supposed to make a substitution in the bottom-half theme clue by taking the "remembered" theme answers literally, i.e. swapping out the first word for the second. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • PLAY FOR TIME (23A: Stall) // ELIZABETHAN ERA (95A: Play Time of Shakespeare (remember 23-Across)) {when you "remember 23-Across," you "remember" to substitute the word PLAY for the word TIME in this clue}
  • NOT SAFE FOR WORK (33A: At risk of being offensive) // TELECOMMUTE (111A: Not safe Work at home (remember 33-Across))
  • CRY FOR HELP (43A: Subtle sign from the distressed) // TEMPORARY EMPLOYEE (73A: Seasonal cry help (remember 43-Across)) 
  • RECIPE FOR DISASTER (56A: Very bad plan) // EARTHQUAKE (87A: Recipe Disaster that entails a lot of shaking (remember 56-Across)) 
Word of the Day: ELIS (45D: Ancient land where the Olympics began) —
Elis /ˈɛlɪs/ or Eleia /ɛˈl.ə/ (Greek, Modern: Ήλιδα Ilida, Ancient: Ἦλις ĒlisDoricἎλιςAlisEleanϜαλις Walisethnonym: Ϝαλειοι) is an ancient district that corresponds to the modern Elis regional unit. Elis is in southern Greece on the Peloponnesos peninsula, bounded on the north by Achaea, east by Arcadia, south by Messenia, and west by the Ionian Sea. Over the course of the archaic and classical periods, the polis of Elis controlled much of the region of Elis, most probably through unequal treaties with other cities, which acquired perioikic status. Thus the city-state of Elis was formed.(wikipedia)
• • •

This grid is lovely, but this theme didn't work for me at all. Any theme that is tough to explain clearly and succinctly has a good likelihood of being problematic. It's not that this one was tough to figure out, it's just that it only really affected four theme answer (i.e. the first four are just straightforward answers to straightforward clues), so it was barely there—so much so that I never bothered to "remember" anything. And who "remembers" clues? That's a weird word choice. There are something like 140 answers in this grid. Asking me to "remember" some number clue is absurd. I just ended up getting those answers from crosses / by inference. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't be bothered to figure out what. Only after I was done did I go back and try to find out what all this "remembering" was about. So it's a half-theme that doesn't even need figuring out. Even the title of the puzzle feels like it's not really trying. "Substitutes"? That's it? As I said, the grid itself is clean and lively, which is always nice. But the theme was super-off to me, and theme is kind of important on a Sunday.


GAYBORHOODS! I knew those were gay areas or districts or ... some word, but I did not see this particular neologism (!) coming. SHEDFUL made me laugh because come on, that is not a meaningful quantity (65D: Quantity of garden tools). Probably the hardest answer for me to get in this puzzle was 1A: Enjoy some rays? (SCUBA). Couldn't decide if the dog was going GRR or ARF (5D: Terrier's warning), so I needed most of the other crosses to see SCUBA (a "?" clue which, it turns out, we are getting only for the "joy" of encountering the repeat clue at 61A: Enjoys some rays (BASKS)). How is a CRY FOR HELP "subtle"? If it's a cry, it's ... by definition ... not subtle. Baffling. I had just a couple of initial mistakes today: TBONDS for TNOTES (man, that's a boring mistake) (93D: They take 2-10 yrs. to mature) and POOH BEARS / SHE-GOAT for CARE BEARS (21A: Colorful toys with symbols on their bellies) / PET (?) GOAT (14D: Nanny around the house?). I wish I had more to say about this puzzle, but I don't. Hope you enjoyed the theme more than I did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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