Japanese lunch box / WED 3-20-19 / 1931 boxing movie for which Wallace Beery won Best Actor Oscar / actress Joan whose last name consists of two different conveyances

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Constructor: Erik Agard, Amanda Chung and Karl Ni

Relative difficulty: Medium (4:08)

THEME: DISAPPEARING INK (56A: Liquid evidenced by the answers to this puzzle's starred clues?) — letter string "INK" disappears one letter at a time, with each successive themer:

Theme answers:
  • I CAN'T SLEEP A WINK (16A: *Insomniac's complaint)
  • KITCHEN SIN (23A: *Leaving dirty dishes on the counter, say)
  • HOT P.I. (36A: *Sexy detective)
  • MAKES YOUTH (46A: *Works like an anti-aging serum) (from "makes you think...")
Word of the Day: "THE CHAMP" (8D: 1931 boxing movie for which Wallace Beery won a Best Actor Oscar) —
The Champ is a 1931 American pre-Code film starring Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper and directed by King Vidorfrom a screenplay by Frances Marion, Leonard Praskins and Wanda Tuchock. The picture tells the story of a washed-up alcoholic boxer (Beery) attempting to put his life back together for the sake of his young son (Cooper).
Beery won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance (sharing the prize with Fredric March for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Frances Marion won the Academy Award for Best Story, and the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director. (wikipedia)

• • •

Unsurprisingly, DISAPPEARING INK has been a theme revealer a whole bunch of times over the years, but it's never been a executed in quite this way, as far as I can tell. There's one where "INK" is missing a bunch of times, and another where the clues actually proceed INK, IN, I, -, but none where the INK fades one letter at a time. Now, I don't really know how DISAPPEARING INK works, and I doubt it fades one letter at a time, but still, I like the idea of its literally disappearing as the themers progress. MAKES YOUTH is kind of rocky: you really have to screw with the base phrase to get a new phrase (dropping the INK and fusing two words together), and also MAKES YOUTH ... just isn't a meaningful phrase. "Here, this ... MAKES YOUTH!" I mean, maybe if you're not a native speaker and you are selling snake oil, this is how you would say it, but the other answers crackle just by breaking off letters, their wackiness simple and punchy. MAKES YOUTH definitely makes you think, but not really in a good way. Still, overall, theme approved.

The grid is very clean, fill-wise, but kind of unpleasant to navigate, since it's riddled with a ridiculous number of black squares (40), making the middle into a swiss cheese. This results in a ton of 3- and 4-letter answers, and a very fussy grid to navigate overall. Kudos to the constructing team for having so much short fill and very little gunk. Looks like they dropped a bunch of Downs through three themers, which really locks you in as a constructor, and the offset* 2nd and 5th themers are also unusual, and probably have something to do with the weirdly pock-marked look of the grid (*I mean "offset" here in the sense of neither centered nor flush right/left). It's structurally bizarre, which is weirdly visually distracting to me, but you do what you gotta do to get a clean grid, I guess. Overall it felt pretty easy, with all the difficulty coming in figuring out the wacky themers. Had SLIP before TRIP at 1A: What you might do if you skip a step, and that was probably the hardes thing in the grid, for me. Oh, that and "OKAY, DEAR," which is truly nonsense. It's YES, DEAR or gtfo.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the clue on 1D: Group making a reservation? (TRIBE) did not sit right with me. It's true enough, but using forced relocation of Native Americans to achieve your cutesy restaurant wordplay clue felt tone-deaf. I don't feel super-strongly about this. It just rubbed me the wrong way.

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Half of rap duo Black Star / TUE 3-19-19 / Diplomatic controversy of 1790s

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Constructor: Daniel Larsen

Relative difficulty: Medium ? (oversized 16x15) (3:45)

THEME: alphabet — theme answers contain consecutive letters of the alphabet from A to Z

Theme answers:
  • EASY AS ABC (18A: Simple, simple, simple [1,2,3])
  • MOS DEF (19A: Half of the rap duo Black Star [4,5,6])
  • WEIGH-IN (27A: Prefight ritual [7,8,9])
  • DJ KHALED (29A: Singer with the 2010 3x platinum single "All I Do Is Win" [10,11])
  • FILM NOIR (42A: Dark movie genre [12,12,14,15])
  • BACK-UP QB (53A: Substitute for Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, informally [16,17])
  • PR STUNT (55A: Silly marketing ploy designed to get attention [18,19,20])
  • UV WAVE (66A: Tiny bit of sunlight, for short [21,22,23])
  • XYZ AFFAIR (68A: Diplomatic controversy of the 1790s [24,25,26])
Word of the Day: DJ KHALED —
Khaled Mohamed Khaled (born November 26, 1975), better known by his stage name DJ Khaled, is an American DJ, songwriter, record producer, media personality, and record executive. [...] In 2015 and early 2016, Khaled gained worldwide attention as a media personality, and subsequently attained a large following on social media. This foresaw the release of his ninth studio album Major Key in 2016. The album attained wholesale critical and commercial success; it debuted atop the Billboard 200, it was certified gold, and received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. He released his tenth studio album, Grateful, in 2017, which contained the singles "I'm the One" and "Wild Thoughts", which charted at number one and number two on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, and was also certified platinum. His eleventh album, Father of Asahd, is due to be released in 2019.
Outside of music, Khaled has also gained success as a writer, with his book The Keys featuring on the New York Times Best Seller list. He has also featured as an actor, starring in Spies in Disguise (2019), and is due to appear in Bad Boys for Life (2020). (wikipedia)
• • •
So we can start with the good. Some of these themers, as stand-alone answers, regardless of theme, are just good. Whatever gets you to put DJ KHALED in a grid is good. Pretty sure that's the only "DJKH" letter string available right now. BACK-UP QB, also nice. And I'm all for FILM NOIR, whenever you wanna give it to me. But the theme itself, just ... walking through the alphabet? ... that didn't do much for me. WEIGH-IN? Not really showy enough. And what is with that extra damn "U"—the one shared by PR STUNT and UV WAVE? It's bizarre. Because UV WAVE is already not great (I know UV better as "rays," not "waves"), and you could've made that answer VW GOLF or VW BUGS and kept your damn alphabet streak perfectly intact, because there's *already* an alphabetical "U" in the answer PR STUNT. This is obvious, right? I don't know how people (any of them ... any of the people) don't see this and fix it. It's fixable. It just means a new SW corner. No big whoop. I mean, I still wouldn't have loved this theme, but at least it would've worked. With a dull routine, you *really* have to stick the landing.

The real problem with this puzzle is the fill. That's an evergreen sentence if there ever was one. Yet again, I don't know why polishing the grid is not (apparently) anyone's priority. We're falling back on ODA now? ODA? And SEISMO!? Hey kids, it's SEISMO, the Shaky Clown. No, he's supposed to be like that, kids! Oh, kids, don't cry! Why are you running away!? Come back, kids! SEISMO loves you! Seriously, though, prefixes should never ever be that long. SEISMO is the dumbest thing I've seen in a while. ASDOI? Please find your brother SODOI and then both of you go away forever. ALTI, yuck. ONAT, same. ATTWO? Now you're just throwing random phrases out there. This is not the worst puzzle I ever DIDST do, but it had me wincing a lot. More negative than positive today, I'm afraid, though, again, DJ KHALED is making the grid real hard to hate.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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