Actress Fox of Transformers / MON 5-2-11 / Love Song band 1989 / Greek goddess of strife / Country-pop star 2008 six-time platinum album Fearless
Monday, May 2, 2011
Constructor: Caleb Madison
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: -IFT endings — seven (!) phrases ending with -IFT
Word of the Day: THE CURE (29A: "Love Song" band, 1989) —
The Cure is an English rock band formed in Crawley, West Sussex in 1976. The band has experienced several line-up changes, with frontman, vocalist, guitarist and principal songwriterRobert Smith being the only constant member. The Cure first began releasing music in the late 1970s with its debut album Three Imaginary Boys (1979); this, along with several early singles, placed the band as part of the post-punk and New Wave movements that had sprung up in the wake of the punk rock revolution in the United Kingdom. During the early 1980s, the band's increasingly dark and tormented music helped form the gothic rock genre. (wikipedia)
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Pretty distracted right now. It's been a pretty big day. Started with a beautiful Sunday morning in sunny Santa Monica, where I had to say goodbye to a friend I rarely see. Then off to the Crosswords L.A. tournament at Loyola-Marymount University, where I had a blast meeting new people, seeing old friends, and spending most of the day in a windowless room scoring puzzles with Tyler Hinman, Alex Boisvert, Doug Peterson, and Todd McClary. Then off to dinner at a Persian restaurant in Marina Del Rey with Andrea Carla Michaels, her friends Paul Clay and Eric Seale, and blog reader Jacqueline Valentine (er... that may not be the right last name), who comments here as "JaxinLA." It was while we were sitting in the restaurant, toward the end of the loooooong meal (we waited for 30 min. before finding out that our order was Never Put In at the kitchen...), that Eric got a text from his daughter that read: "Osama bin Laden esta muerto" (they text each other in Spanish—I don't know why). It was such a terse, direct pronouncement, with no qualifying statement, no context, that we weren't sure what to make of it. But when I got in the car, my satellite radio station *cut in* on my Love Songs ("Islands in the Stream," to be exact) to tell me that there was Breaking News to be had on other stations. Got into hotel, turned on TV, and oh my god. Newsgasm. So ... a lot to take in. I'll try to stick to the puzzle.
Caleb! This is a wonderful puzzle. The theme is slight—mere end rhymes holding the whole thing together—but seven (!) long theme answers? The two Downs of which intersect the grid-traversing center answer? That's pretty great. And the theme answers themselves are bright and snappy, especially GOD'S GIFT, my favorite. But the weird thing is that it didn't feel "Monday." The pop culture answers (esp. THE CURE) (29A: "Love Song" band, 1989) and the relative openness of the NW and SE (double-barrel long Downs) add a potential level of difficulty that Mondays often lack. I sat down with Andrea (a seasoned Monday constructor in her own right, as you probably know) to talk about this puzzle, and Monday puzzles in general. Part of me wants simply to cut-and-paste my notes on our conversation into this write-up; they're pretty funny in their own right. But instead I'll try to put them into some kind of coherent form...
"7 is the new 3" and "There are no Mondays any more." These are the two most interesting (if slightly enigmatic) statements Andrea made in the course of talking about this puzzle. She loved the puzzle, but was pointing out how the showiness of later-week puzzles (dense themes valued over grid smoothness, pop culture-y answers) was becoming a staple of early-weekers as well. You used to be able to build a puzzle around 3 solid, long theme answers. That hardly happens any more. Four is close to bare minimum, five is typical, and six+ reasonably common. Most folks I know would celebrate rather than lament this development, but her underlying concern is valid. For her, Mondays have a duty to be not just snappy and entertaining and clever, but smooth, with as little crosswordese and as few groaners as possible. Caleb's puzzle is admirably junk-free *for a puzzle of this theme density*. OWS, EXTS, INE, ITE, ERIS, AAAS, TOR, AONE: in a less thematically dense puzzle (esp. one at the max 78 words, as this one is), these short answers would grate much more than they do here, where they are propping up a good amount of gorgeousness. I mean, HI-FALUTIN'? Come on. That's gold. Just fantastic. So ... less boring, or less staid, but less smooth overall—this is the way of the world, Monday-wise.
Other highlights of our conversation:
- Andrea: "Where's SIFT? Or RIFT? Also, this puzzle isn't a pangram. Epic fail."
- Both Andrea and I went PRO instead of FOR at 19A: In favor of. Small trap, but significant if you are a speedy solver.
- On the consecutive clues [20%] and [10%]—Andrea: "That even makes DII look good." Me: "Ouch. Backhanded."
- Andrea was particularly MIFT at ON THE ("That's allowable?"), which is, indeed, an "icky way to end the puzzle." But love for the FIFTH/TITHE sequence (in that same corner) ameliorated any sour feelings.
- Andrea wanted THE CULT instead of THE CURE. "Is there a band called 'THE CULT?'" Yes. Yes there is.
Andrea also noted that DOWNSHIFT is going Down, as is the SNOW in SNOWDRIFT. Nice touch.
There was a lot of other banter about MONTGOMERY CLIFT, whether he was a JEW (no), who he was or was not GAYER than, what he had to do with Elizabeth TAYLOR (SWIFT), etc. But I think I've covered the most relevant parts of our conversation.
- 17A: Country-pop star with the 2008 six-time platinum album "Fearless" (TAYLOR SWIFT)
- 24A: Vehicle moving items in a warehouse (FORKLIFT)
- 36A: "From Here to Eternity" Best Actor nominee (MONTGOMERY CLIFT)
- 50A: What a Don Juan thinks he is to women (GOD'S GIFT)
- 58A: Opposite of a tightwad (SPENDTHRIFT)
- 11D: Road blocker after a winter storm (SNOW DRIFT)
- 32D: Move to a lower gear (DOWNSHIFT)
- 1A: Actress Fox of "Transformers" (MEGAN) — more pop culture. Not shocking that this clue comes from a young man.
- 54A: Charlie of "Two and a Half Men" (SHEEN) — Not anymore.
- 9D: Entree from Swanson or Banquet (POTPIE) — haven't had one of these (the frozen food variety, anyway) since I was a child. Used to looooove them.
- 40D: Where inhaled air goes (LUNG) — Me: "Just one?"
P.S. some photos from Crosswords L.A. 2011
Cake of the grid for Tyler Hinman's brutal Puzzle #4
And later ... (this portion went to a very, very happy security crew, who hauled it away with smiles on their faces):
Andrea and Paul Clay in front of the tournament venue:
Eric Seale, JaxinLA, Doug Peterson:
Tyler Hinman and tourney organizer Elissa Grossman, just before Tyler's puzzle was unleashed on scores of innocent solvers:
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