Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Constructor: Michael Black
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "Organization Men" — Four guys with an apt initialism/acronym ensconced in their names
Word of the Day: SABO [1988 N.L. Rookie of the Year Chris] —
Christopher Andrew (Chris) Sabo (born January 19, 1962, in Detroit, Michigan) is a former third baseman in Major League Baseball who played for the Cincinnati Reds (1988–93, 1996), Baltimore Orioles (1994), Chicago White Sox (1995) and St. Louis Cardinals (1995). At 6'0" and 180 lb (82 kg), he batted and threw right-handed. He attended Detroit Catholic Central High School. [Wikipedia]
• • •
20-Across [A general and his country] = ULYSSES S GRANT
37-Across [A hoops great and his league] = ELGIN BAYLOR
44-Across [A comic and his former show] = ADAM SANDLER
59-Across [A president and his conflict] = WOODROW WILSON
This is a good theme that could've been an excellent theme. Notice how cool it is that Elgin Baylor (on the NBA's All-Time 50 Best Players list, if you didn't recognize his name) hides NBA and that Woodrow Wilson hides WWI. Those are perfect. If the constructor had found two more that hide their acronym intact like those two do, I'd be giving this theme a 10. But scattering them amid the whole name in Ulysses S. Grant and Adam Sandler robs the theme of a big chunk of its tightness. For example, of the 139 cast members in SNL history, three others also contain SNL in their names (Christine Ebersole, Siobhan Fallon, Chris Parnell). Sandler is the most famous, of course, but I'm making the point that the constraints are seriously loosened if you don't require the three letters to be consecutive.
I don't have suggestions off the top of my head -- a famous athlete from a three-letter college would be a good start, for instance -- but if the constructor had found two more this would've been a beautiful theme. As it is, I'll give it a mild thumbs-up. (Put suggestions in comments -- two winners get a set of crossword stationery from me. Surprise contest!) Note to budding constructors: tighten those themes up as much as possible, especially when you've got a very nice core idea.
I've been whining for the past two days about the musty vibe of the the week's first two puzzles, but the windows have been opened and a tide of fresh clues has cleared my sinuses. We get a Jennifer LOPEZ shout-out, a RAZR phone, even a JPEG and a SKORT. Combined with the usual (and welcome) classical references (RODIN, NIOBE, AQUA / VITAE) I'd say this is a nice mix that won't leave younger solvers feeling, like, totally alienated, you know?
|JPEG of a SKORT|
The fill, though -- oof. This really needed some TLC from the editor. SALA, AMOLE, OAST, ENOL crossing ENA, ISOLA, AGIN, OME (ugh), A-TESTS, WEIR clued as [Small dam] instead of Bob of the Grateful Dead or Peter who's been nominated for Best Director four times. That's some harsh wordage. Again, unnecessary suboptimal fill seems to be an unsolvable problem for NY Times puzzles; you just don't see this level of dreck in other top-level crosswords. Like a golfer who's good from the tee and the fairway but loses tournaments because his putting is shaky -- that's what we've got here. The NYX needs to up its short game. (But the constructor did do well from the fairway: SHADOWBOX and PAY-TO-PLAY are excellent).
In the NE and SE corners we have examples of what foul-mouthed crossword constructors call "Scrabble-f!@#king." You heard me complain yesterday that Tuesday's puzzle didn't have any of the rare letters in it (X, Q, Z or J). That's not a crime, but you do like to work those into the mix when you can lest your grid fall into a torrent of RSTNLE and not much else. But the key is to work them into the mix elegantly, without paying a price in fill. That Q at the corner of ESQ and AQUA isn't so bad, for example.
But in the NE the price for the nice JPEG is the awful OAST, and in the SE the price for the nice LOPEZ/RAZR crossing is the icky ISOLA. This -- going too far for your expensive Scrabble letters -- is Scrabble-f!@#king. Constructors, avoid this! Go for the lay-up if you're not sure about the slam dunk. If you've got the dunk, though, by all means, go for it. While wearing a skort.
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for five more days of CrossWorld