Quaint lodging / MON 4-30-12 / Group that includes North South East West / Chesapeake Bay delicacy / Cheese popular with crackers / Bygone Italian coins

Monday, April 30, 2012

Constructor: Susan L. Stanislawski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: B AND B (28D: Quaint lodging hinted at by the outsides of 18-, 20-, 28-, 42-, 51- or 55-Across) — theme answers are two-word phrases where first word begins with "B" and second word ends with "B"

Word of the Day: BLUE CRAB (28A: Chesapeake Bay delicacy) —
Callinectes sapidus (from the Greek calli- = "beautiful", nectes = "swimmer", and Latin sapidus = "savory"), the Chesapeake or Atlantic blue crab, is a crustacean found in the waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific coast of Central America and the Gulf of Mexico. On the Pacific coast of Central America it is largely ignored as a food source as picking the meat is considered too difficult. It is the Maryland state crustacean and the subject of an extensive fishery. (wikipedia)
• • •

Neither offensive nor remarkable. Straight over the plate. Ably but not excitingly filled. It's a Monday puzzle. It happened. And though the core theme concept isn't eye-popping, the resulting theme answers (six of them!) are at least interesting. I can verify that puppies do indeed love BELLY RUBs (42A: Activity a puppy loves). As do dogs. As do some people. I flew through this, with one notable sticking point—see, I got BILLY BOB (20A: Actor Thornton of "Sling Blade"), and then got B AND B, and so (not having read the B AND B clue thoroughly) I assumed that each word in the phrase would *start* with "B." (I must've gone through BELLY RUB by that point, but somehow that didn't disabuse me of my incorrect assumption). Anyway, imagining the Bs would start both words in the phrase meant that when I got to 18A: Group that includes North, South, East and West, I had double-trouble. First, I'd made an incorrect assumption about the theme, and second, bridge??? I know nothing about bridge. I honestly don't even know what a BRIDGE CLUB is. I know a game of bridge has ESNW positions, but I don't know how "club" fits in. Is it the normal meaning of club? And if so, isn't saying a BRIDGE CLUB includes NSEW a bit like saying a book club includes words? As you can see, I'm out of my depth with bridge. Anyway, I had BRIDGE (easy) but then put in a B for the next letter and promptly got stuck. Also, imagined answer could be BRIDGE BETS. Eventually just solved the short stuff in that NE corner and everything worked itself out. Rest of the grid was a snap.

Other theme answers:
  • 51A: Service provided at Meineke and Pep Boys (BRAKE JOB)
  • 55A: Sparring injury, perhaps (BRUISED RIB)
Sales of new vinyl are actually up in recent years, so the "Old" part of 27D: Old LPs and 45s is patently unnecessary (actually, even if sales weren't up, it would be unnecessary). Everyone has some bit of tired, short fill they find particularly irksome. I have never thought about ranking said fill in terms of how much it bugs me, but I think if I could get rid of one short answer—just abolish it from all future puzzles—it would be ENNE. I do this on two counts—first, it's a suffix, and no one (least of all the constructor) actually *wants* suffixes in a grid. They are always a last resort. So, there's that. But ENNE is particularly annoying because its most common clue (today's [Feminine suffix]), can be two things: ETTE or ENNE. So you can't just write it in, move on, and *forget* about it (which is all anyone wants to do with a suffix). You have to actually work crosses. Now, I'm not opposed to work, but I am opposed to working for *that*. For no payoff. When crud adds *any* level of difficulty, it stands out more and irks more. "We're gonna make this puzzle a little more challenging by yanking one of your hairs out at the two-minute mark, OK?" That might actually be preferable to encountering ENNE again.

Please understand that I'm not faulting this puzzle for containing ENNE. *Lots* of puzzles have contained ENNE, some of them quite fine, I'm sure. I'm just saying that if I had a magic wand, ENNE would disappear. Forever.

Clue-wise, 10D: Something always sold in mint condition? (TIC TAC) is the big winner by far (despite the fact that there are non-mint TIC TACs; I like the orange).

Oh, also, [Cheese popular with crackers]? That's pretty racist.

[emoticon indicating lack of seriousness]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Student of morality / SUN 4-29-12 / Gherman cosmonaut / Ancient Balkan region / 2009 Hilary Swank biopic / Child-care author LeShan / 1984 superpwower / Botanical beards /

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Constructor: Tracy Gray

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Infractions" — five theme answers with ordinal numbers and two theme answers with actual fractions in them have those numbers/fractions represented as fractions by having the numerator (which in very case is "ONE") take the place of the ordinal number in the answer, and then having the denominator be the answer directly below said numerator.

Word of the Day: Gherman TITOV (48D: Gherman ___, cosmonaut who was the second human to orbit the earth) —
Gherman Stepanovich Titov (RussianГерман Степанович Титов) (September 11, 1935–September 20, 2000) was a Soviet cosmonaut who, on August 6, 1961,[1] became the second human to orbit the Earth aboardVostok 2, preceded by Yuri Gagarin on Vostok 1. Titov was the fourth man in space after Gagarin and Americans Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom (the latter two made suborbital voyages). (wikipedia)
• • •

The theme simply doesn't work because of the HALF / QUARTER issue. With all the other answers, ordinal numbers are being represented as fractions, but with the HALF and QUARTER answers, fractions are being represented as fractions. Fifth in a sequence and one-fifth are totally different things. Half and 1/2 are not. That is a Major-League inconsistency.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: With 26-Across, like grandchildren ([Third] GENERATION)
  • 33A: With 44-Across, execute, in a way (DRAW AND [Quarter])
  • 45A: With 50-Across, euphoric ([Seventh] HEAVEN)
  • 71A: With 77-Across, high-end retail chain (SAKS [Fifth] AVENUE)
  • 94A: With 103-Across, 1999 Shyamalan thriller ("THE [Sixth] SENSE")
  • 105A: With 112-Across, compromise (MEET [Half] WAY)
  • 122A: With 127-Across, classical work that's the source of the European Union's anthem (BEETHOVEN'S [Ninth]) — without thinking, I put a FIVE under that ONE instead of the proper NINE. Minor stumbling ensued.
Fill on this one is subpar, with a few notable exceptions (DIXIECRATS makes a nice answer, and I really liked THANATOS, thought that may just because a. I *knew* it, and b. it's fun to say) (80A: Political party that won 39 electoral votes in 1948 + 89D: Death personified, in ancient Greece). Since this is a puzzle about fractions, let's talk fractions. Consider the longer (non-theme) answers in this grid. Now consider how many of them are made up predominantly of the Wheel of Fortune letters, RLSTNE (with S and E being the real spotlight hogs). You need these letters, obviously, but when you cram your grid full of them, you really limit how interesting your fill can be. But back to fractions—RLSTNE presence, expressed in fraction form:
  • ABSCESSES (2/3) 
  • ENLISTEES (8/9)
  • STEELIEST (8/9)
  • SOITSEEMS (2/3)
  • ATTHESTART (7/10)

Now, I can imagine a really interesting word that is RLSTNE-heavy, but that would be the exception, not the rule. When your long fill (the bang pow awesome stuff) is laden with RLSTNE, you diminish the overall interestingness of the grid considerably. Consider these grid neighbors and their RLSTNE content: TESTER, all of it; SUNUNU, just half. The latter is indisputably better. Now, I DO TOO is just 1/6 RLSTNE, and it's not exactly amazing, so the presence of these letters is by No Means the only consideration when filling a grid. But they are good letters to keep your eye on. I always tell my students to "kill linking verbs" (incl. all forms of the verb "to be"). Now, I don't mean this. I just mean, hunt them. If you find that they need to live, let them live. But be aware of them, because if they proliferate and overrun your prose, you are in a heap of trouble.

Also, no one is going to win any friends with answer like OSTEOID (95D: Bonelike), ARISTAE (75A: Botanical beards), or SEPTAL. I'm currently having a love/hate relationship with CASUIST (13A: Student of morality). It's obscure (bad), but unusual and interesting, esp. in this grid (good!).

Where's EIGHTH!?

PIXY seems like a [Var.] (70D: Sprite). Never seen it, except in the candy name PIXY Stix (which I would very much accept as a clue). OCHRE should've had some kind of [British] marker (markre?) in the clue (109D: Cousin of rust). The SW seemed to me the toughest part of the grid by a good margin. Knew ISADORA (125A: Dancer Duncan) but not how to spell her—there are Lots of variants that ceom from that basic name template—ATLASES clue was Saturday-hard (128A: They have scales), no way I was guessing TINWARE was a "service" (though I see it now) (92D: Colonial service), AREOLAS was thornily under-clued (93D: Colored parts), never heard of "AMELIA" (98D: 2009 Hilary Swank biopic) and EXP. makes sense now (111A: Abbr. on many food labels), but I can't remember seeing it clued thus and had a hard time getting it even with the "X" in place. Oh, and I misremembered EDA as IDA (121D: Child-care author LeShan). I had some trouble in the PIXY / TWP (68A: County subdivision: Abbr.) / WRIT area too (which probably spilled into the SW). Otherwise, the rest of the grid seemed of avg. Sunday difficulty (unless you've never heard of GEORDI (11D: "Star Trek: T.N.G." role)—I guess that could've been rough).

  • 53A: Faith that celebrates both Jesus and Muhammad (BAHAI) — really wanted ISLAM here.
  • 113A: Ancient Balkan region (THRACE) — also Kara ___ (aka "Starbuck") of TV's "Battlestar Galactica"; here she is solving a puzzle (of sorts):

  • 129A: Gave, as a hot potato (TOSSED TO) — Gave : Tossed :: Gave to : TOSSED TO. He gave John the potato : he tossed John the potato :: he gave the potato to John : he tossed the potato to John. Something's screwy here.
  • 7D: "1984" superpower (EURASIA) — the great "1984" superpower conundrum for xword solvers: EURASIA or OCEANIA?
  • 58D: R&B singer Hayes (ISAAC) — musical finale!

["You socked it to me, mama!"]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Trombonist Winding / SAT 4-28-12 / Hall of Fame jockey Earle / Poem comprised of quotations / Old-time actresses Allgood Haden / Common language of Niger / Round dance officials

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Constructor: Gary J. Whitehead

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Earle SANDE (48D: Hall-of-Fame jockey Earle) —

Earl H. Sande (November 13, 1898 – August 19, 1968) was an American Hall of Fame jockey andthoroughbred horse trainer.
Born in Groton, South Dakota, Earl Sande started out as a bronco buster in the early 1900s but then became a successful American quarter horse rider before switching to thoroughbred horse racing in 1918. Sande joinedCal Shilling and Johnny Loftus as a contract rider for Commander J. K. L. Ross. In 1919, he tied an American record with six wins on a single racecard at Havre de Grace Racetrack. He went on to ride for noted owners such as Harry F. Sinclair, and Samuel D. Riddle and was the leading money-winning jockey in the United States in 1921, 1923, and again in 1927. He won both the Belmont Stakes five times and the Jockey Club Gold Cup on four occasions, the Kentucky Derby three times and the Preakness Stakes once. In 1923 he won 39 stakes races for Harry F. Sinclair's Rancocas Stable, ten of which were on ultimate Horse of the Year winnerZev, including the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and a match race against England's Epsom Derby winnerPapyrus. Sande's most famous wins came aboard Gallant Fox in 1930 when he won the U.S. Triple Crown.
Sande's fame was such that he was immortalized in a number of poems by Damon Runyon. Following his retirement in 1932, Earl Sande remained in the industry as a trainer. In 1938 he was the United States leading trainer and by the mid 1940s owned and operated his own racing stable. (wikipedia)
• • •

An usual triple-stack-laden puzzle, in that it played harder-, not easier-than-average for me. Usually, I can put a few Downs through those stacks and make them roll over pretty readily, but those Downs were a bit of a mess today (up top and below), and so I had issues. You can add triple-stacks (and quad stacks) to the list of alleged construction accomplishments I don't care for (see also pangrams). The problem is two-fold. A: the 15s are often hit-and-miss, at best, because phrases with friendly letters don't necessarily make for interesting phrases. Today, the lower stack was the only one I really cared for. The others are pretty dull. And this is a problem because in a stack-heavy puzzle, your stacks are virtually all you've got. Because B: the Downs you will need to make the stacks stick together are too often junky. Lots of short, awkward stuff. CENTO & HAUSA (our opening 1D and 2D punch) are about as ugly a pair of side-by-side answers as I've seen in any NYT puzzle, ever (1D: Poem comprised of quotations + 2D: Common language of Niger). Those are the kind of answers that would've reigned in the Maleska era, the kind that give crosswords a bad name ("I don't like crosswords because you have to know bygone Italian sausages and the Sasquatchian word for 'raccoon,' etc."). Mostly, though, it's the ordinary short stuff that clogs the bulk of the grid—that's what wears you down. This puzzle is by no means bad, as an example of its type. Its fairly typical. But it's a stale type. Most of my favorite themeless constructors will focus on making an exciting grid filled with new and/or vivid phrases and names and words. That's what I love. This was certainly a decent challenge, but the excitement just wasn't there.

I absolutely guessed NURSE CLINICIANS (17A: They may perform minor surgeries)— well, the NURSE part — since A: I don't really know what NURSE CLINICIANS are (are they like NURSE PRACTITIONERS, which is a thing I've heard of?), and B: CENTO and HAUSA were Martian as far as I was concerned. Had a slightly worse time in the CUERS (47D: Round dance officials) & SANDE portion of the grid. Looking at C-ERS, S-NDE, and --E (for 55A: Trucial States, today: Abbr.), I honestly thought I was dead. Started reconsidering EPICS (since I'd wanted TIKKA and not TIKKI to begin with (37D: McAloo ___ (burger at McDonald's in India)) ... but then EPICS was the only thing that made sense at 46A: Big pictures, so I left it). Eventually ran the alphabet at C-ERS and hit my mark, then stared at U-E ... and finally got it. Rest of the grid just wasn't that tough. Slow, steady progress took care of it.

  • 26A: Old-time actresses Allgood and Haden (SARAS) — another thing about this grid that made it unappealing—it was Ruthlessly "old-time." From SARAS to SANDE to KAI (62D: Trombonist Winding), there is nothing in this grid that you couldn't have found in a grid 40 years ago. Maybe the ALE (a clue I really liked; 57A: Buzzsaw Brown, e.g.). "Old-time" stuff is fine, but it's nice when puzzles bear at least some small mark indicating that they were constructed in this millennium.
  • 51A: Sycosis source, informally (STAPH) — not to be confused with the southern musicians' disease "zydecosis."
  • 7D: Literary lion (ASLAN) — took me a while, which is especially ironic given that my wife fell asleep in bed next to me, not five minutes before I started this puzzle, reading (that is, rerererererererererere-reading) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
  • 8D: 1955 sci-fi-film that was one of the first to use Technicolor ("THIS ISLAND EARTH") — the very best thing about this puzzle, both because it amazingly cuts through *all* the stacks and, at the same time, is better than every single one of the answers it crosses. I know this film mainly from the background of the comic Watchmen.
  • 11D: Killers that may go through hoops (ORCAS) — those must be big hoops. I tend to avoid animal parks of all kinds, so I wouldn't know.
  • 12D: City near Oneida Lake (UTICA) — I was bracing for something much more obscure. I've never been there, but know it well from a. "The Simpsons" (a single joke about hamburgers and Albany and Utica that I have never forgotten) and b. the fact that a friend of mine used to commute there to teach.
  • 25D: Luis in the Red Sox Hall of Fame (TIANT) — I always get him confused with Dock Ellis (they pitched in the same era). Ellis was most famous, probably, for pitching a no-hitter while high on LSD.

  • 33D: Ticket, informally (DUCAT) — I ... don't know what this means. Is it old-timey? I know DUCAT as a very old-timey coin.
  • 35D: Color-streaked playing marble (IMMIE) — another triple-stack fill casualty. Not great.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Koran memorizer / FRI 4-27-12 / Finnish architect Aalto / Pick-up sticks piece / Warp drive repairman on original Star Trek / North Pole author 1910 / Tom Detective 1896 novel

Friday, April 27, 2012

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: MARTA (35A: Commuting option in Georgia's capital) —
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority or MARTA (play /ˈmɑrtə/) is the principal rapid-transitsystem in the Atlanta metropolitan area and the ninth-largest in the United States. Formed in 1971 as strictly a bus system, MARTA operates a network of bus routes linked to a rapid transit system consisting of 48 miles (77 km) of rail track with 38 train stations. MARTA operates almost exclusively in Fulton andDeKalb counties, with bus service to two destinations in Cobb county (Six Flags Over Georgia and theCumberland Transfer Center next to the Cumberland Mall) and a single rail station in Clayton County atHartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. MARTA also operates a separate paratransit service for disabled customers. As of 2009, the average total daily ridership for the system (bus and rail) was 482,500 passengers. (wikipedia)
• • •

I am getting worse and worse at puzzles. This is by far my slowest, clunkiest week in the past six weeks, and today, I can't even blame the puzzle's thorniness. I just ... don't know. I get bogged down somewhere and bump my head against a wall instead of moving on, putting answers in, taking them out. This puzzle's pretty dang normal, now that I look at it; I just got hung up on stupid things. Like ... oh, I don't know, insisting to myself that 48A: Some ruminants (DEER) must end in an "S" and therefore Not putting in SAWYER (36D: "Tom ___, Detective" (1896 novel)), which is the only answer my brain wanted (and the correct one, it turns out). Wanted "TELL ME ... something" instead of "TALK TO ME" (great answer, btw) (31D: "I want the lowdown!"), and just the wanting of TELL over TALK kept me from seeing the *easy* PACED (34A: Expended some nervous energy) for an absurd amount of time. Wanted SPINE (?) instead of SHIRT at 5A: Back cover? Could not retrieve ALVAR to save my life (11D: Finnish architect Aalto). Here is the one place I think the puzzle itself (and not just me) is actually weak: over-reliance on odd names. This is especially true in the southern half of the puzzle, which is crammed with proper nouns, many of them totally unknown to me (MARTA? KURTIS? EWELL? — I read "To Kill a Mockingbird" just last summer, and that name clearly didn't stick At All). Never would've gotten YNEZ (50A: Santa ___ Valley (winegrowing region)) if not for OYEZ (43D: Courtroom cry). Other parts of this grid, I cut right through. But a slow start and a ridiculous amount of fussing in the region in and around (esp just SW of) JACKSTRAW (26D: Pick-up sticks piece) put me over my normal time by a good margin. BEAT for DEAD (41D: Utterly exhausted) was kind of a backbreaker too. Weak, weak work on my part. Embarrassing. I don't even know what a JACKSTRAW is. Maybe that would've helped.

Love the long answers here. "THREE TIMES A LADY!" (20A: First #1 hit for the Commodores) Not my favorite Commodores song, but good. And 15! They mostly make up for the not-great name-i-ness of the grid.

[The best Commodores song]

I think I resent KURTIS (40A: Former "CBS Morning News" co-anchor Bill) (seriously, who?) so much because a. you already forced me to remember ALVAR (!), and b. the clue wasn't this guy (the world's greatest KURTIS):

  • 8D: Like a town that used to be a ghost town (REPEOPLED) — because of SPINE (ugh), I had this starting "NEW-" for a while.
  • 5D: Warp drive repairman on the original "Star Trek" (SCOTTY) — one of the few things I had in the grid early on. Sadly, also the answer (along with IMAM ([Koran reciter])) that convinced me that SPINE was right at 5A.  
  • 6D: Koran memorizer (HAFIZ) — youch. Neverheardofit. Probably should've been my WOTD. According to wikipedia, this is "a term used by modern Muslims for someone who has completely memorized the Qur'an."
  • 18D: "The North Pole" author, 1910 (PEARY) — Admiral, I presume. I didn't know if it was PERRY or PEARY, so I just waited (for ERSATZ—one of the language's greatest words).
  • 9D: Schooner features (TOPSAILS) — any time the clue goes nautical, I'm pretty much doomed. I was also thinking maybe "schooner" was a kind of beer glass. Hey, look, something I'm not wrong about. For once.
  • 27D: English physician James who gave his name to a disease (PARKINSON) — So the disease is his 4D
  • 42D: Literary governess's surname (EYRE) — this and MARLA and MERKEL were my flat-out gimmes in the South. If I'd moved out of the SW and found them earlier, this thing would've been wrapped up much more quickly. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Capital city on Daugava River / THU 4-26-12 / Oto neighbors / Hebdomodally / Doggie old cartoon pooch / 1970 Hugo Award-winning novel by Larry Niven / Indian sauce with coriander cumin / Group making billion-dollar loans /

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Constructor: Julian Lim

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "IT'S / A SMALL [WORLD] AFTER ALL" (1A: With 40-Across, a chorus line ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme) — a [WORLD] rebus, with 5 [WORLD] squares

Word of the Day: "RING[WORLD]" (50D: 1970 Hugo Award-winning novel by Larry Niven) —
Ringworld is a 1970 science fiction novel by Larry Niven, set in his Known Space universe and considered a classic of science fiction literature. It is followed by three sequels, and preceded by four prequels, and ties into numerous other books set in Known Space. Ringworld won the Hugo Award in 1970,[1] as well as both the Nebula Award and Locus Award in 1971. (wikipedia)
• • •

Over the past six weeks, my Tuesdays are a minute slower than Mondays, Wednesdays a minute slower than Tuesdays, Thursdays *three minutes* slower than Wednesdays, and Fridays just 13 seconds slower than Thursdays, and Saturdays just six seconds slower than Fridays. This means that there is hardly any difference between my average Thursday and Saturday solving times of late: 19 seconds. Zero difficulty gradation. I don't think I like this. And yet, I do like challenging puzzles. It just seems like Saturdays should be appreciably harder than Thursdays, and they just haven't been, of late. Today, I had a rebus in a grid that didn't look like a rebus grid (i.e. it has a bunch of longish Acrosses that looked like typical theme answers). There was the initial difficulty of turning up the theme, and then the added difficulty of Fri/Sat-style cluing, all over the place. By far the toughest parts were the NE and SW. I say this having taken my first stab at the NE w/o knowing the theme. After I figured that out, that corner got easier. But I knew the theme when solving the SW, and it didn't help as much as it should have. Or, that is, it did, eventually. Who knows where the damned [WORLD]s are gonna be? I had to remind myself of the theme in order to pick up (finally) OLD [WORLD]. Never heard of "RING[WORLD]". Did not know THIRD had anything to do with yellow ribbons (49D: Place for a yellow ribbon), which I associate with oak trees.

I think the revealer is a winner. Otherwise, it's just a rebus, like any other. Well, better/tougher, in that the [WORLD]s are not symmetrical, but there was an utter haphazardness about the [WORLD] placement here that was actually a little annoying. Three of the five long Acrosses have them, but their symmetrical counterparts don't. The fill is pretty strained in many places. I would've gutted the whole grid from NROTC (29A: Campus org. for ensigns-in-training) all the way east (theme matter excepted). That Down sequence of CRT / RAITA (37D: Indian sauce with coriander and cumin) / OL' MAN / PLEUT is particularly unlovely. One or two of those answers, fine; jammed together like that, suffocating. ROOT CROP made me wince (35A: Turnips, e.g.), as ROOT VEGETABLE is the far more common phrase—but it's validish, so no big problem. But having TOSS DOWN instead of TOSS BACK was a huge letdown. It always sucks when an answer is defensible, OK, but not really the mot (or phrase) juste. It's like soy cheese. Maybe passable, but just ... not right.

UNHINGE is a fantastic word (55A: Drive mad). HAB ... isn't (60D: Old Testament book before Zephaniah: Abbr.).

Theme answers:
Also, "a chorus line" for the revealer? Vague to the point of absurdity. Yes, the line is from the chorus ... of a song. Something a little more specific/vivid would've been nice.

  • 19A: Capital city on the Daugava River (RIGA) — total lucky guess. Four-letter capitals FTW!
  • 27A: Hebdomadally (A WEEK) — kind of an ostentatious clue for not-so-great fill. Still, that is a good (insane) word.
  • 7D: Result of rampant inflation? (POP) — cute
  • 12D: ___ Doggie (old cartoon pooch) (AUGIE) — just not happening today. No idea where this name disappeared to, but I had a lot of trouble getting it back. Deputy Dawg, sure, but AUGIE Doggie was nowhere to be found.

  • 22D: Arizona and Arizona State joined it in '78 (PAC-TEN) — a most welcome gimme.
  • 34D: Plum look-alike (SLOE) — this helped me change TOSS BACK to TOSS DOWN (an answer I had to choke down ... while I choked back tears ... not really, but it's interesting that "back" and "down" can (it seems) follow both "toss" and "choke")

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Catchphrase of announcer Harry Caray / WED 4-25-12 / Football club that plays at San Siro / Baggy pants popularizer in 1980s / Bygone sports org for which Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura was TV analyst / Locale in 1964 Stan Getz hit

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SEVEN Cs (61A: Punny title for this puzzle that's a hint to the answers to the starred clues) — DESCRIPTION

Word of the Day: COLETTE (68A: "Gigi" novelist) —
Colette (pronounced: [kɔ.lɛt]) was the surname of the French novelist and performer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette(28 January 1873 – 3 August 1954). She is best known for her novel Gigi, upon which Lerner and Loewe based the stage and film musical comedies of the same title. (wikipedia)
• • •

OK, I'm gonna tell you why this theme doesn't quite work. Don't freak out, OK? OK.

The revealer is SEVEN CS. This is true about no aspect of this puzzle. There are more than 7 Cs in the grid. The perfect puzzle would've had Just Seven. But, let's give some leeway and say "look, you know what it means ... it's referring to the *theme*." Well, OK. It's just that ... there are more than 7 Cs in the theme answers too. See RC COLAS and DC COMICS. That takes you to 10 Cs, by my count, and I might have missed one—I'm really not paying that close attention. "But ... come on, you're nitpicking. You knooooow what SEVEN CS is getting at — it's those "C"s in the second position, the ones that you actually pronounce as "SEA"—those!" At that point, I guess, I would say, "you got me." I can't argue with that. I can say, however, that the (at least) three different answers beginning "AC" that are *not* theme answers are a distraction, esp. as two of them are Acrosses exactly the same length as other theme answers. "Can't you just let things go!?" Clearly, I can't. I actually enjoyed parts of this puzzle. I made a whole puzzle about MC HAMMER a couple weeks back for his 50th birthday. It is always enjoyable to remember MC HAMMER. FACE OF EVIL (32D: Villainy personified) was hard and a little off-the-beaten path, but once I got it, I kind of liked it. DACTYL (also hard) (45D: "Innocent," but not "guilty") was cleverly clued. AC MILAN brought a nice Euroflair. I didn't know "CUBS WIN!" was a "catchphrase" (sounds more like a simple declaration of fact) (1A: Catchphrase of announcer harry Caray), but I love it at 1-Across. But the theme has issues. And if, as So Many Insist, the theme is everything, then the theme oughta be air tight. Fill here is decent. Sadly, I finished up in the very worst part of the grid (the ATLAS / LUNES / ANENT part) (35A: Space launch vehicle / 36D: Crescent shapes / 37D: Regarding), so I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, but looking back, I think the state of the fill is not bad overall.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: *Football club that plays at San Siro (AC MILAN)
  • 18A: *First soft drinks sold in cans (RC COLAS)
  • 19A: *Green Lantern company (DC COMICS)
  • 33A: *He said "Start every day off with a smile and get it over with (W.C. FIELDS)
  • 43A: *Big clothing retailer (JC PENNEY)
  • 56A: *Baggy pants popularizer in the 1980s (MC HAMMER)
  • 59A: *The Wolfpack, informally (N.C. STATE)
  • 8A: Early French settler (ACADIAN) — or A.C. ADIAN, I'm not sure. I always think of ACADIA as a mythical place.
  • 15A: Locale in a 1964 Stan Getz hit (IPANEMA) — Off the "IP" it was easy. I don't think I associate the song with Getz, though that is, in fact, who made it famous. I was thinking Herb Alpert for some reason.
  • 31A: Bygone sports org. for which Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura was a TV analyst (XFL) — Had the "X," so ... easy. I miss that (insane) league. Mainly I miss He Hate Me.
  • 56D: Figure in a crèche (MARY) — really, really thought this would be a French word. The whole RESTYLE / DACTYL / MARY nexus gave me (small) fits.
  • 48D: "Jane Eyre" locale (MANOR) — I wrote in MOORS. I think I confused it with "Wuthering Heights." I can't be the first.

So earlier today I was having a busy, cruddy day—too many encounters with too many pathetic, dishonest, or otherwise insufferable people (both in real life and online)—but once work was over, I had yoga (always good), and then, right after, I had "An Evening With Neil DeGrasse Tyson" awaiting me (and my family) at the university. So: yay. Only ... when I got to the Tyson talk, as I'm waiting in line to get in, a young woman from the BU Student Association pulls me aside and says "so... they were expecting you backstage." I just stared at her. Then said: "What? WHAT?" Now, I should back up a bit here: a friend of mine (you may have heard of her ... xword constructor ... initials ACM) is friends with Dr. Tyson and I knew she had asked him about any possibility of my daughter being able to meet him during his visit here ... but that was weeks and weeks ago and I never heard anything definitive back, so I figured it was a no-go. So to hear that I was expected (!) and missed it (!!!!) was exceedingly deflating. How was I expected, but no one told me!? So, I felt slightly sick. But then the young woman said, she'd go back and ask if maybe we could still get back and see him; this is about 20 min. before start time. So we're like "cool!" But then she Never comes back, so we figure she's forgotten about us, or it just wasn't possible, or whatever. THEN, right before start time, she comes up to us and says "I'll take you to see him after the talk. I know where you're sitting. I'll come get you." So we're like "Yay, game back on!" (keep in mind there is an 11-yr-old Tyson fan next to me clutching her copy of Dr. Tyson's "The Pluto Files" this whole time). Then the talk (brilliant, 2.25 hrs) ends, and ... the young woman never comes back. Place empties out and we're just ... standing there. We wander out ... nothing. Just people milling, buying books, etc. Then it's announced that there won't be a signing. So—hopes dashed. We linger a while, but no sign of my Student Association contact. So we start to exit the building by the back way, and there are three kids lingering in a hallway, and I'm half wondering what they're doing just standing there, and then I can hear what sounds like a small party on the other side of a nearby door, and I recognize Tyson's voice very clearly among all the other voices. As I approach the door, the kids all say "the door's locked." Aargh. So close ... yet so far. So I'm thinking about maybe knocking, but then I see that my wife has moved down an adjacent hallway and is standing in front of an *open* door and motioning me over. I come over and bam, there he is, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, surrounded by Adoring students who are handing him all manner of things to sign. (He did not, however, want to sign a blank piece of paper this one kid gave him: "A blank piece of paper? I can't ... this is just too sad ... do you guys have a leftover program or something ... I mean, a blank piece of paper!? We gotta do better than this." I said "Maybe you can sign his boob," but I don't think anyone heard). When we first come in the room, one official-looking Student Assoc. person looks at me like he's wondering "who the hell are you?" but then I see the young lady from earlier, as well as a former student of mine, and I'm in. And, more importantly, my daughter is in.

I have never seen her starstruck before, but she literally lost her ability to speak and answer questions like a human being. It was pretty adorable. He was gracious and generous and warm to everyone, and he signed my daughter's book with an elaborate drawing and dedication. I told him I was ACM's friend and he said "oh, *you're* the guy we've been expecting." Yes. Yes I am. And I was *that* close to missing the experience entirely. So thanks ACM. And Dr. Tyson, of course.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. if you have time / inclination, you really should check out the epic thread about "bad fill" at Tyler Hinman's blog (with contributions by many constructors and bloggers, as well as a certain xword editor whose name you may know). Very interesting debate, though kind of insidery. Maybe you can bring some perspective.


1906 Massenet opera based on Greek myth / TUE 4-24-12 / TV doctor Sanjay / 1940s Bikini blasts / Public place in Athens / Number of Los Lonely Boys

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Constructor: Adam G. Perl

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "The GIRL WITH The Dragon Tattoo" (1A: With 10-Across and the circled letters, a best-selling novel, with "The") — puzzle also contains the "heroine" (LISBETH SALANDER) and "hero" (MIKAEL BLOMKVIST) of the novel

Word of the Day: "ARIANE" (43D: 1906 Massenet opera based on Greek myth) —
Ariane is an opera in five acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Catulle Mendès after Greek mythology (the tale of Ariadne). It was first performed at the Palais Garnier in Paris on October 31, 1906, with Lucienne Bréval in the title role. (wikipedia)
• • •

There is only one reason this puzzle exists—because the constructor noticed that the two heroes of the "Dragon Tattoo" have 15-letter names. I know "everyone" has read these books, but I haven't, and filling in random Swedish names does absolutely nothing for me. I'm guessing the circles have some relation to the book—maybe the dragon tattoo is in a shape roughly approximating the stripe on Charlie Brown's shirt?—but if so, I don't know what that relation is. I got the title easily, actually, and filled in all the circles very quickly. I also vaguely remembered LISBETH SALANDER because Rooney Mara was nominated for an Oscar for playing her, so her name must have crossed my path a few times this year. But MIKAEL BLOMKVIST!? Forget about it. I thought that SW corner was going to stop me completely, and in fact if my (real) name weren't "Michael," it might have taken me even longer than it did for me to come up with that "A" at MIKAEL / "ARIANE" (43D: 1906 Massenet opera based on Greek myth).

Speaking of "ARIANE," !?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Wow. Now, come on, I know "obscurity" is relative, but *that* is obscure. I actually wanted ARIADNE there, but, obviously, it didn't fit. Between the "hero"'s name, "ARIANE," and the insane clue on GLIDE (40D: Dance movement—really? With that clue, I was looking for something like GLISSÉ or ... I don't know, something not ordinary), and the other not-totally-obvious stuff down there, I was in trouble. Was over my normal Tuesday time by a full minute. Times at the NYT site are quite high for a Tuesday. As with yesterday, this puzzle feels misplaced by a day. I found it mostly annoying, but my opinion is that of someone who hasn't read the book. Maybe "Dragon Tattoo" lovers will love it. Who knows?

Strangest moment of the solve came right away, when I got "GIRL" and thought "GIRL ... Interrupted?," then figured out the actual answer, and *then* ran into WINONA Ryder (10D: Actress Ryder), who was, of course, in the movie version of "Girl, Interrupted." Freaky. Stunned to see G-SPOT make such a quick return (34D: "The ___ and Other Recent Discoveries About Human Sexuality" (1982 best seller)). I'm sure there's a joke in there about G-SPOT coming multiple times, but I'm too tired. The non-theme, non-SW-corner parts of the grid all seem normal. Not exceptional, not terrible. Onward and upward.

  • 29A: Zero personality? (OPERATOR) — great clue, but Hard clue. Another answer that added to the later-in-the-week feel, difficulty-wise. 
  • 42A: Silicon Valley city (LOS ALTOS) — familiar to me, but I'm from California. This seems like it might be tough for some.

  • 40A: TV doctor Sanjay (GUPTA) — was wondering when I'd see him in a grid. Maybe I already have and am forgetting.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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