Patroness of Québec / SAT 6-29-13 / Rocker with the 1973 #1 hit "Frankenstein" / Arrangement of atoms in a crystal structure / Muscle that rotates a part outward / Member of an ancient people known for warfare with chariots / Speed Stick brand / Sedimentary rocks resembling cemented fish roe
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Constructor: Joe Krozel
Relative difficulty: Easy
Word of the Day: OOLITES (27D: Sedimentary rocks resembling cemented fish roe) —
Oolite (egg stone) is a sedimentary rock formed from ooids, spherical grains composed of concentric layers. The name derives from the Hellenic word òoion for egg. Strictly, oolites consist of ooids of diameter 0.25–2 mm; rocks composed of ooids larger than 2 mm are called pisolites. The term oolith can refer to oolite or individual ooids. (Wikipedia)
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Hello, CrossWorld. Evan Birnholz again. I'm now proud to say that I just completed the Rex Parker Blog Cycle™, meaning I've filled in for him on every single day of the week at least once. Here's what I said to congratulate myself upon accomplishing my goal:
Alright, today's puzzle. While I appreciate the fact that Joe Krozel tries to push the boundaries of crossword construction, I'm not really a fan of record-setting stunt puzzles like this one. I'll get to why in a little bit, but first, a little bit of background. Joe is well-known for building grids that set records for standard-size New York Times puzzles. Pick any particular constructing feat --for instance, fewest black squares, most black squares, quintuple stacks -- and Joe has likely done it, or come close. This puzzle breaks the NYT record for fewest answers in a 15x15 puzzle (50 words) and ties Joe's previously held record for most black square clusters resembling someone giving you the finger (4 birds flipped). Well what else are they, I ask you?
In all seriousness, you might recall that today's puzzle bears a strong resemblance to one of Joe's puzzles from June 2012. That puzzle forced together a lot of rather unexciting filler answers to accommodate the four wide open corners. I actually like today's puzzle better than the 2012 one, but ultimately I have the same problem with both of them: Way too many compromises in the fill for my taste to make it all work. I have no doubt that this kind of puzzle will appeal to many different solvers, but I vastly prefer 68- or 72-word themeless puzzles to this variety because the fill often suffers too much when the word count gets too low.
Let's start in the northwest corner. ACTS MAD (3D: Pretends to be sore) and OUTSKIP (16A: Defeat in a jump-rope competition, say) both feel completely contrived as phrases. Act up, act out, act natural, yes, but ACT MAD? When would you even say that? (Steven Seagal, I'd love for you to act mad in this scene, could you do that for me?) And OUTSKIP? Yeah, I guess that's a word. It's the bizarro version of the more commonly used "skip out." My gut tells me that you're just as likely to hear or use OUTSKIP as you are other [Out + random verb] words like OUTSIT or OUTPUNCH or OUTFROWN. Strangely, OUTSKIP is only one letter off from OUTSLIP, which I'm sure could just as easily be clued as [Be defeated in a jump-rope competition, say].
Plenty of other answers just weren't doing it for me either. Among the long ones, STAND TO REASON (20A: Make sense) is okay, but it feels like it's missing an S at the end of "stand" -- you say "it stands to reason," not "I stand to reason." OOLITES and SNEERER (29D: Elvis Presley, notably) and DETERGE (38A: Wash) and RETEAM (40A: Join up for another collaboration) are all jammed together in the southeast corner. Ugh. NO SEATS doesn't strike me as an in-the-language phrase. AD SITES (19A: Craigslist and others) feels like a stretch too: You post ads on Craigslist, but do people commonly call it an AD SITE? You post videos on YouTube, but it doesn't mean VIDEO SITE would make for a great crossword entry. My two least favorite entries in the grid have to be HAVOCS (30D: Post-hurricane scenes, e.g.) and EVERTOR (35A: Muscle that rotates a part outward). Have you ever seen HAVOC become a plural in any other context besides the Chaos Space Marine squads from the game Warhammer 40k? (and hey, have you even heard of HAVOCS in that context? I sure as hell didn't). And as for EVERTOR.....well, just look at it. The clue is literally copied word-for-word from Merriam-Webster's dictionary. You know you're dealing with a pretty obscure answer when its clue on a Saturday is its most straightforward definition.
The upshot of solving this puzzle (for me anyway, and perhaps for many others) is that I absolutely blazed through it. I'm not a super-solver on Rex's level by any means; the fastest solvers at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament could eat my brain like a zombie coming off of a hunger strike. But I took this whole thing down in less than 10 minutes on paper. For a Saturday, that's lightning-fast for me. I don't know if that's because the clues were right in my wheelhouse, or if the puzzle was genuinely easier than normal. Some of those long answers, like STAND TO REASON and CPR TRAINERS (14D: Some E.M.T. personnel), just filled themselves in with the first few letters in place.
Like I said, I thought this puzzle was better than the corresponding June 2012 puzzle that I mentioned earlier. STUDENT DRIVER (11D: Sign over a car) and EDGAR WINTER (22A: Rocker with the 1973 #1 hit "Frankenstein) are both strong entries, as are HANGING AROUND (30A: Loitering) and DRIED APRICOTS (10D: Little orange snacks). I also liked the clue for EVIL EYE (36A: Definitely not a good looker?). I just wish I didn't have so many "Seriously?" reactions while solving the rest of the grid, especially for one that went by so quickly.
- 6D: "It is through Art, and through Art only, that we can ___ our perfection": Oscar Wilde (REALISE) — Whoa, this is weird. I submitted a puzzle of my own just yesterday with a clue using a very similar Oscar Wilde quotation, but for a different answer. I want the record to show that I sent the puzzle away first before ever seeing this one. I'm glad we cleared this up.
- 9D: Certain YouTube posting (VLOG) — Now this, I like. Feels fresh. I've always thought this episode about how to be the Best Buddhist Ever is hilarious. (Fair warning: R-rated language)
- 15D: Living like husband and wife (SHARING A BED) — This gave me some strange trouble even when I had it mostly figured out. Because I mistakenly put down CURLING instead of the correct HURLING at 17A: It's said to be the world's fastest field sport, I was looking at SCARING A BED. I really don't want to spend too much time thinking about what "scaring a bed" could possibly mean for one's marriage.
- 30A: Helpers for the deaf (HEARING DOGS) — I had the first word down and instinctively threw down HEARING AIDS. Good misdirection.
- 32A: Arrangement of atoms in a crystal structure (LATTICE) — In a former life I was a chemistry major, so I got this with no trouble.
- 32D: One side of a famous NBC feud (LENO) — The one who turned out way, way worse in the end. As Conan put it when he was on his way out of NBC, "Hosting 'The Tonight Show' has been the fulfillment of a life-long dream for me. And I just want to say to the kids out there watching, you can do anything you want in life. Unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too."