Greek township / FRI 3-27-15 / Temple square group founded in 1847 / Quite ill in Lille / Biao Mao Zedong confederate / Title religious school in classic Crosby/Bergman film / Prairie transport / First wife of Julius Caesar / Theater reproof / Big source of blueberries

Friday, March 27, 2015

Constructor: David Kwong

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: UTAH (STATE) (31A: University suggested by this puzzle's black squares) — all the grid's black square blocks form, roughly, the shape of Utah. Two other theme answers relate to Utah:

Theme answers:
  • TABERNACLE CHOIR (19A: Temple Square group founded in 1847) [shouldn't this have "MORMON" in front of it?]
  • LATTER DAY SAINTS (47A: Young followers) [this clue is probably my favorite thing about the puzzle]
Word of the Day: ION BEAM (53A: Ray gun ray) —
[Wait, ray guns are real now? Cool.]

• • •

Take out everything but the theme answers, refill the entire grid competently, and release this on a day where somehow Utah matters, and you've got something. As is, it's yet another decent, cute idea made painful by the less-than-polished fill. I knew things would be GRIM before I made it out of the NW, with its absurd non-phrase IN LATIN and its absurd recherché Frenchism A LA MORT (16A: How zombies like their apple pie?). I was pretty well checked out by the time I got to the NEBO ITES shortly thereafter. Just … done. There's no delight, no play, no craft. There's just fill. The theme, when I got it, felt like an afterthought. I couldn't appreciate it on any level because ISS ISA ATMS SHH OAS HOI IPODS GRIM ASP etc. Worse, though, was the fact that the longer stuff (mostly) had no pop. Short junk can be overlooked when the longer answers pop. Popless, I say, was this. Not to mention the fact that the clues on this puzzle were a huge downer. All the joy of being held HOSTAGE in an ASSISTED living facility. ENCAGEd.

Remember: If you aren't up to filling a low word-count puzzle cleanly, then just don't do it. Please. The bar is just too high today. I mean … Only 62 words, *And* it's themed? No. No way. Unless you are Patrick Berry, stop. Please. I'd say "add black squares to make filling the grid easier," but I see that would ruin your whole (mysterious) Utah vibe. The theme answers aren't interesting enough to hold the puzzle together, and the theme has no topicality, and too much of the fill just doesn't work. It's either bad or dull. Editors have to help shape this stuff. Too often a good idea is DEMEd to be all that's important, and clunky execution is just given a pass. [Is that how you pronounce "DEME"? I have no idea] (49D: Greek township)

I'll give you HIPSTER and SHANKAR and HOSTAGE and PEACH PIT and BEATS ME. Maybe even CONESTOGA and TABITHA. But I will not give you TWEEDLE (one of the least "enticing" words I know) (55A: Entice with music) and I most certainly won't give you the ridiculous, enormous partial, END HOUSE (10D: Agatha Christie's "Peril at ___"). That answer is neck and neck with IN LATIN for Biggest Head-Shaker. Again, there's a clever state pride angle here, but in order for that cleverness to shine, the non-theme fill (which, today, is an enormous part of the grid) has to be, at a minimum, clean. It wasn't.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Swimmer Matt who won eight olympic gold medals / THU 3-26-15 / 1971 rock classic inspired by 12th-century Persian poem / Ziff Simpsons character voiced by Jon Lovitz / Haaretz readers / Early Pierre Cardin employer / Draco Malfoy's housemates

    Thursday, March 26, 2015

    Constructor: Byron Walden

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: RINSE CYCLE (57A: Part of washing … or what's exhibited by the circled letters from top to bottom) — letters in "RINSE" "cycle" (perfectly) through all their sequential permutations (i.e. ERINS, then move "S" to the beginning and you get SERIN, then move "N" to the beginning and you get NSERI, etc., until you get RINSE at the bottom)

    Theme answers:
    • SLYTHERINS (19A: Draco Malfoy's housemates in the Harry Potter books)
    • NOSE RINGS (27A: Some punk accessories)
    • INTENSE RIVALS (36A: Red Sox and Yankees, e.g.)
    • SPIN SERVE (43A: Tricky way to put a ball in play)
    Word of the Day: Haaretz (39D: Haaretz readers => ISRAELIS) —
    Haaretz (Hebrewהארץ‎) (lit. "The Land [of Israel]", originally Ḥadashot Ha'aretz – Hebrewחדשות הארץ‎, IPA: [χadaˈʃot haˈʔaʁets] – "News [of] the Land [of Israel]") is Israel's oldest daily newspaper. It was founded in 1918 and is now published in both Hebrew and English in Berliner format. The English edition is published and sold together with the International New York Times. Both Hebrew and English editions can be read on the Internet. In North America, it comes out as a weekly newspaper, combining articles from the Friday edition with a roundup from the rest of the week. An independent newspaper of record, some commentators state that it plays the role in Israel that The New York Times plays in the United States. It is known for its staunch left-liberal stance on domestic and foreign issues. (wikipedia)
    • • •
    My initial reactions to this weren't great. Mixing up letters over and over seemed trite, and though SLYTHERINS is of course a welcome answer, the fill in general seemed decidedly sub-Walden. I don't think I even believe that INTENSE RIVALS is a thing. Like, a stand-alone thing. So while the puzzle didn't seem terrible, it also didn't excite me, at all. Then two things happened. First, I realized that the theme wasn't just "mix up the letters in RINSE"—it was all those letters *cycling*, in order, through their various permutations, and, also, doing so in a way where all permutations are perfectly aligned, one above the next, resulting in a perfect column of circled in answers in the middle of the grid. Those two things demonstrate a high level of craftsmanship, and gave me a somewhat elevated appreciation for the puzzle as a whole. But then … then my feelings went from tepid admiration to something much more positive and much more intense … after I entered … the SW corner!

    For the fantastic / alarming visual alone, I'm going to give that SW corner the "Best SW Corner Of All Time" award. If you weren't imagining a MALE (NUDE) engaged in PHONE SEX while wearing a SANTA HAT, well… you are now, and you're welcome. The only thing I'd change about that corner is the "G" in GIMPS. I get that it's supposed to add (I think) to the overall mildly perverted feel of that corner (insofar as "GIMPS" reminds me of "The Gimp" from "Pulp Fiction"), but it's a borderline offensive word (making it a verb doesn't really change that). I'd actually prefer PIMPS there, though I somehow doubt that would fly in the NYT. LIMPS or SIMPS works too. But this is hardly that important. What's important is MALE NUDE PHONE SEX SANTA HAT. *That* is a jolly good time. It's like the rest of the puzzle barely exists...

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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