Segway inventor Dean / SUN 1-12-14 / Beat poet Cassady / Lama's art that can't last / Warm mask/cap amalgams / Bygone Bombay bigwig / Black cat that packs grass chants Jah / Landmark vassal law act / Flashback halfbacks

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Constructor: Andrew Chaikin

Relative difficulty: Easy (except for one cross where, once again, I kind of had to guess)


THEME: "It's Only 'A' Game" — theme answers (and their clues) have "A" as their only vowel

Theme answers:
  • "CASABLANCA" (22A: Grand-slam drama that stars Bacall's man)
  • "FA LA LA LA LA" (24A: Half an Xmas "Halls" chant)
  • "STAR WARS" (38A: Astral saga that has a Darth part)
  • A MAN A PLAN A CANAL PANAMA (63A: Fab "backward-gram" a la "Sam, aha! Bahamas!")
  • RASTAMAN (87A: Black cat that packs grass and chants 'Jah')
  • MAGNA CARTA (106A: Landmark vassal law act)
  • BALACLAVAS (108A: Warm mask/cap amalgams)
  • ALAN ALDA (4D: "M*A*S*H" star)
  • CATCH AS CATCH CAN (28D: Haphazard)
  • BAFTA AWARDS (36D: Gala that saw "Black Swan," "Avatar" and "Ab Fab" attract claps)
  • BLACK AND TAN (37D: Bar glass that's half Bass, half dark malt)
  • SAND MANDALA (38D: Lama's art that can't last)
  • ABRACADABRA (39D: "Shazam!")
  • ANAGRAMS (81D: Flashbacks and halfbacks)

Word of the Day: SAND MANDALA (38D: *Lama's art that can't last) —
The Sand Mandala (Tibetanདཀྱིལ་འཁོར།Wyliedkyil 'khorChinese沙坛城pinyinShā Tánchéng) is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation and destruction of mandalas made from colored sand. A sand mandala is ritualistically destroyed once it has been completed and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished to symbolize the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life. (wikipedia)
• • •

Before I get to the puzzle: thank you for enduring my annual week-long fund-raising efforts. The best part of the week has been all the messages I've been getting—thoughtful, heartfelt, critical, snarky, hilarious messages. It's been a real treat to have a window into the lives and minds of my readership. I've spent most of the week responding to emails, writing thank-you postcards, and generally being grateful that I've somehow tapped into this weird world of lovely opinionated addicts. My coffee mug runneth over.

Here's one of my favorite reader notes so far—I think you'll appreciate it:
Thank you so much for your blog. I look forward to it. Since my M.A. is in geography and I taught geography, I notice you have quite a void in that discipline. It reinforces my belief that geog. hasn't been a priority in h.s. or coll. :( [Yes, she actually drew the frowny face]
So, in essence: "Dear sir, I love your blog. I notice you are ignorant. This saddens me." I like people who tell it like it is. Fantastic. Seriously, this note is currently hanging on the bulletin board next to my desk.

People who contributed early (last Sun. and Mon.) via Paypal are still waiting on thank-yous (they're coming!). All others should have them by now. And snail mail folks—I"m turning those Pantone postcard thank-yous out as fast as my pen can write them up. Many are already in the mail. So, yeah, thanks a billion for your support. I hope you continue to enjoy the blog for … well, as long as I care to write it, I guess. At this point, I've got no plans to stop.

• • •
The SUNDAY PUZZLE:

I finished the puzzle quickly, without really understanding what was going on. I figured it had something to do with "A"s, but honestly, the puzzle was so easy that I didn't have to take much time to think about it. Some part of my brain thought there was a trick … or that there would be some spectacular revealer somewhere that would explain the fantastically tortured cluing on the "*" clues (no explanation of the "*" anywhere, which is unusual—usually there's a revealer that mentions "the starred clues"). Seeing the famous palindrome across the center had me wondering if the clues were tortured for palindromic reasons … but no. Eventually, I realized that the "A-TEAM" clue (89D: TV/movie group associated with this puzzle's theme?) was simply referring to the fact of vowel exclusivity. The clues are a bonus, I guess. I found them partly humorous, partly painful. The thing is, this theme doesn't really work. Many, many answers in this puzzle have only "A" as their vowel. And the fact that "STAR WARS" is a theme answers is *especially* absurd, as AMAS, RAJA, SATAN, CARATS, etc. all have as many "A"s as "STAR WARS."


Some of the answers themselves are fabulous. Love the grid-spanner and its central cross, CATCH AS CATCH CAN. SAND MANDALA is a beautiful answer even though I had no idea that's what it was called (I knew of the concept, but that MANDALA / KAMEN crossing was just an educated guess) (68A: Segway inventor Dean ___). There are colorful answers here and there, and, with very few exceptions, the overall fill is decent. But conceptually, it's a bit of a train wreck. The cluing is especially weird. "Grand-slam" has nothing to do with "CASABLANCA." "Fab" has no place in a clue for a palindrome. I did smile at the clue on RASTAMAN, though. It's daring, if nothing else.

Proper noun round-up (not all of them, just some … notables):
  • NEALS (32A: Beat poet Cassady and others) — don't know this guy, but I've never been big on beats
  • CLU Gulager (43A: Gulager of TV's "The Virginian") — essential crosswordese. Know him from '64's "The Killers"
  • Susan ISAACS (93A: Best-selling novelist Susan) — no idea. Seems very successful, just not on my radar
  • PALOMA Picasso (13D: Picasso's designer daughter) — handbags, maybe? Nope, looks like jewelry design, primarily. How do I know her name? I just do. Probably because of crosswords.
  • LALO Schifrin (16D: Score creator Schifrin) — more essential crosswordese. The list of films and TV shows he has scored is staggering. Everything from "Rush Hour" to "Rush Hour 2" (seriously, though, his resumé is eternal)

Now it's time for the PUZZLE OF THE WEEK: this week, despite my deep affection for Patrick Berry's Friday themeless (NYT), the distinction this week goes to Peter A. Collins for the first Fireball Crossword of the new year: "Call It In The Air" (1/9/14). I can't say enough about Fireball Crosswords, a weekly puzzle edited by Peter Gordon. Peter is a fantastic, meticulous editor, and his puzzles are good-to-amazing, week in and week out. The new year of puzzles just started, so please do yourself a favor and go subscribe. Anyway, Peter Collins's "Call It In The Air" is tough and playful and complex and has some fantastic theme answers. I won't spoil it for potential subscribers. If you don't mind its being spoiled, you can read about it here (at crosswordfiend.com).

Fun fact about Fireball—when word got out that the NYT would (finally) be raising its rates from $200 to $300 per 15x15 puzzle (still well below what the NYT should be paying, but an improvement for sure), Peter Gordon immediately raised Fireball's rates to $301. He's completely independent, produces a superior product, and continues to pay the best. Hard not to be a fan.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

88 comments:

Anonymous 12:06 AM  

Mega meh. Fun solve, but...?

mforrest73 12:15 AM  

At least Rex got his wish for a Kris Kross reference.

Carola 12:15 AM  

Way rad - had a blast!
Thanks, A.

jae 12:19 AM  

Easy medium for me.   Liked it.  Zippy theme answers and funny twisted "theme" clues. 

ICOSA was a WOE and I probably would have put an I at the end if not for the theme. 

Knowing the PANAMA palindrome was very helpful.

@M  & A -- If you haven't already done the BEQ Thurs. you might want to give it a look.

Fun Sun.!

Pete 12:24 AM  

Hated it. I don't mean to rag on the constructor, he did as good a job as likely given the theme, but can we put a stop to theme answers all have a[n] _, as do their clues? It's neither funny nor interesting nor witty nor tricky, it just results in a boring puzzle.

retired_chemist 12:56 AM  


Easy medium for me. Liked it. Zippy theme answers and funny twisted "theme" clues.* (*cite @jae here.)

Nothing tricky,really, and the fill was mostly solid.

Last fix was changing CRop (70A) to CRAW. Never heard of BAFTA. Liked WoRDS as a partial ending 36D, and thought SNOpE was a plausible name. Took some staring but when fixed it finally made sense.

Thanks, Mr.Chaikin.

wreck 12:58 AM  

Pretty easy for me today -- seemed mostly a Tuesday/Wednesday difficulty factor.

Anonymous 1:08 AM  

Some interesting theme entries.

37-D is incorrect ... Black and Tan is a drink, not a bar glass.

Evan 1:11 AM  

I didn't understand the theme until after I finished, even with the A-TEAM reference. Rarely do I spend longer than a minute or two looking over a grid after filling in the last square just to make sure everything's right, but I had to spend some extra time checking this one. Got a good chuckle seeing how strange some of those theme clues were in retrospect.

And talk about being completely unfamiliar with and confused by an answer after getting it. I've never heard of the term MANDALA, so I parsed SAND MANDALA as SANDMAN DALA. That might look ridiculous, but I thought the clue made it even more bizarre: The artwork is called "Sandman," and it can't last.... because the Dalai Lama is missing the terminal I from Dalai?!! That was more or less my thought process. At the very least, mistaking 38-Down as SANDMAN DALA probably helped me avoid guessing an N on the cross with KAMEN.

Interestingly, there are by my count five additional A-only symmetrical pairs in this puzzle. THATCH is symmetrical with CARATS; as is DAHL with CRAW; CHAN with RAPS; FRANZ with SPASM; and SATAN with CLANS. The NYT could have made them theme answers too, but maybe they figured that'd be overdoing it.

Overall I found this easy, maybe easy-medium because I didn't grok the theme until I was done. I think the fill is good considering just how many themers are crammed in there, but some stuff made me cringe. That mash-up of partials SO I, ON UP, and I'D DO; long prefix ICOSA-; uncommon foreign words like ERDE and SENS; and one of my personal pet peeves, the plural first name, and this puzzle has two of them (NEALS and LOUISAS). Good thing they used a last name clue for ISAACS.

And one day....one day....the NYT will clue ARCHER as the spectacular FX TV show. It's season premiere is this Monday night, so, enjoy this!

DocRoss 1:20 AM  

One thing that's been overlooked is the clues AND the answers both only have A's. That's why some of the clues are so odd. Pretty cool!

Benko 1:28 AM  

NEAL Cassady was the basis for the character Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's On the Road. He was also the driver for Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters. His poetry is extremely minor from a literary perspective, however.

MikeM 3:04 AM  

Doc Ross. Thanks for pointing this out! How did you even notice this? That ramps up my appreciation for this puzzle immensely.

Steve J 3:37 AM  
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Steve J 3:42 AM  

Very easy here, with one of the my fastest Sunday times ever. Only really slowed down by the time it took me to discover I had a SAND MANDeLA/CAReTS crossing (while I should have known Nelson Mandela had nothing to do with Buddhist art, can't we please just settle on one spelling of carrot/caret/karat/carat?).

Played like a themeless, as I didn't pick up the fact that the starred answers had only A's as vowels, even after filling in A TEAM pretty early on. I also kept looking for some sort of trick, but there was none to the found (although RASTA MAN had me looking for a rebus for a good while, as I could only think of Rastafarian).

CATCH AS CATCH CAN was my favorite of the theme answers. Also liked BALACLAVA and (Count) CHOCULA (although my favorite of that family of cereals when I was a kid was Boo Berry).

Making the clues be all A's led to some odd things (like the CASABLANCA clue), but from what's indicated in the constructor's comments over at Xwordinfo, it could have been far, far worse.

Middle of the road in terms of enjoyment. The nice long fill definitely helped spice things up, and I don't recall much in the way of groaner fill. But I would have liked more meat on the bones to make this a little more of a challenge.

(@Evan: Agreed on ARCHER. Fantastic show, even if last season was quite inconsistent. Looking forward to the new season.)

jae 4:41 AM  

@Doc Ross & MikeM -- Over looked? Did you guys read Rex's theme description?

THEME: "It's Only 'A' Game" — theme answers (and their clues) have "A" as their only vowel

Brett Chappell 5:41 AM  

Breezed through this rather easily, but found myself completely stumped with KAMEN, ICOSA, and TUDE for some reason. Didn't really get the reason behind the A theme even at the end, but the palindromic A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL, PANAMA was a good one.

I always thought that MESCAL was written with a zee, but as I haven't had it in over twenty years, there's probably a good explanation as to why I neither remember nor drink it anymore.

loren muse smith 6:26 AM  
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loren muse smith 6:28 AM  
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Cyrus 6:28 AM  

Note that FLASHBACKS and HALFBACKS are not anagrams since FLASHBACKS has two esses.

loren muse smith 6:29 AM  

@Doc Ross – Rex did notice, but you had to read carefully to infer it – "Eventually, I realized that the "A-TEAM" clue (89D: TV/movie group associated with this puzzle's theme?) was simply referring to the fact of vowel exclusivity. The clues are a bonus, I guess."

@Lane B from yesterday – I almost spewed my green tea when I read that you had ordered picture frames with your breakfast!!!
@Numinous – I don't know if she blushed or blanched because I blacked out.
@Carola - The butter in the pond was a stitch!
@Jim Finder – "hear pasta" and "beauty parlor" – terrific!
@retired_chemist – I had to look up "geri." Oh, wow. Tell me you didn't. And thanks for asking – the water here in Wirt County is just fine. What a mess, though.

@Evan – funny – I saw the theme instantly with the ALAN ALDA/CASABLACA cross. But I'm the one who studies the title and my sole END ("aim" first) is to suss out the day's theme. And because of the plethora of other A-only entries, I, too, went and sniffed out those five other symmetrical pairs. Agreed – to have starred those clues and tried to use only A's would have been probably overkill. Still…(has overkill ever backed me down?!)

"____ Kafka -FRANZ
" Cramp attack" - SPASM

"Bad dastard" -SATAN
"Bands" -CLANS

"Lad's and lass' drama man" -DAHL
'Mallard's maw" -CRAW

" 'Mr. Han' part star" -CHAN
"Taps" - RAPS

"Straw shack cap" -THATCH
"Fancy glass mass brag "CARATS

Liked BALACLAVA right over ICE, OSAKA crossing ASIA, and evidence that TUDE is coming into its own as a bona-fide word.

I appreciated the four "apple" clues for IMAC, IPOD, TABLET, and STRUDEL.

Ok – so every bike at Planet Fitness has its own little TV, and boy you better believe I watch. But for the first time in years, I'm watching something I haven't recorded and am hence unable to fast-forward through the commercials. You. Have. To. Be. Kidding. Me. The ratio of ads to TV time has to be NEARing fifty/fifty. As a nation, we should rise up and boycott TV until the ridiculous commercials (c'mon – this PAINfully bad caricature of a Bavarian or Austrian boy with a pin curl pasted to his forehead?? Convincing us to start our day with processed frozen STRUDEL?) back off about 80 percent. And while I'm ranting – we immediately toss out the side effect treatises that take up all the room in that big box of the tiny little prescription nose spray bottle. So do we want to hear an actor drone on for a minute and a half warning us of all the possible side effects? Lawyers. Sheesh. And before you all get your backs up, know I'm married to one.

Steve Martin's Side Effects

@Carola –That crafty crack was apt, smart, sage, and smart! Brava! And bravo to you, Andrew. I had fun!

loren muse smith 6:33 AM  

@Cyrus - the clue read,"Flashback and halfbacks." No S on "flashback."

George Barany 6:41 AM  

Unrelated to the above discussion of today's puzzle, a just-published obituary recalled a spirited discussion in this forum about JEWISH_RYE, which was one of the entries in a Ned White puzzle last year the day after Thanksgivukkah.

Bob Kerfuffle 7:10 AM  

I know I am putting at risk my membership in @loren's Love Every Puzzle Club, but I just couldn't generate much enthusiasm for this offering. I got the theme early on, but was nagged by the thought that a Times Sunday should aspire to having the only vowel in the grid be an "A" or some such more demanding trick. Haven't we seen as much in a daily puzzle? Or was that only from one of the independents?

And while I'm being grumpy, I ask @Anonymous, 1:08 AM, have you ever heard of Metonymy?

Metonymy substitutes the contained for the container, the effect for the cause. The connection may sometimes be rather distance, as in metalepsis.

Metonymy can be used in a number of associations, for example:

Cause represents effect
Container represents the contained
A greater thing represents a smaller thing
An author represents the book
The sign represents the signified

Mohair Sam 7:16 AM  

@George Barany - thanks for the link. I'm a native of Long Island and loved Levy's and the ad campaign. RIP Judy Protas. It always amazes me how well copywriters are educated, she had an Ivy League Masters in English Lit.

We had @Evan's experience on SANDMAN DALA. And were saved from a nasty naticking on the last A by the theme.

Beyond that the puzzle played very easy, and we didn't enjoy it very much at all.

paulsfo 7:23 AM  

For some reason i liked it a lot.

At first I thought the theme was very tricky, indeed. I saw "A game", and "figured out" that a grand slam scores four runs, and CASABLANCA had *four* "A"s. But that's not all. Next came "Half an Xmas...." X is ten, so half an X is five, and there are *five* "A"s in FALALALALA! Wow, what a theme, I thought. :)

chefbea 8:17 AM  

I agree - easy puzzle but still DNF. Never heard of sand mandala and couldn't parve it. Also..what is 108 across Balaclavas??? and also 91 across icosa-hedron???

Anonymous 8:19 AM  

I took a physical geography course in college to fulfill a science general ed requirement. One of the best courses I ever had. Some geology, some climatology, some meteorology, some oceanography... Not at all like the grade school political geography, with its "principle products of [fill in a country]". very informative.
Paul Rossi

Glimmerglass 8:23 AM  

I never saw a theme until I came here. That didn't matter, as the puzzle is pretty easy, not even the usual "long Wednesday" thing. I didn't notice that all the * answers had only As for vowels until Rex told me, and so the A TEAM revealer went sailing over my head. I didn't notice that the CLUES also had only As until I read @DocRoss' comment. Thanks Rex and Doc. Today the blog was more fun than the puzzle.

Anonymous 8:49 AM  

Would someone please explain how "depicted" clues to "limn"? (115 across).
Thanks!

Anonymous 9:27 AM  

The cluing is slightly awkward, because not only are the answers exclusively "a" containing, so are their clues. I thought this was a better devise than most I see. The clues rang of "Variety" headlines for assonance.

BTW, look limn up, I had to. It's a depiction through words or art. New one on me.

AliasZ 9:53 AM  

I remember a 15x15 puzzle some months (maybe years?) ago that had "O" as the only vowel in the entire grid.

This one fell smoothly, but the SANDMAN / KAMEN crossing was my Waukesha today. I found the theme quite funny and innovative. The starred all-"A" clues dawned on me after I read the second one, and I was surprised that some solvers didn't notice them at all.

For "Big name in faucets" I wanted Farrah. At 16D I would have preferred Édouard LALO (1823-1892). Here is his beautiful but sadly, rarely heard Rapsodie norvégienne.

SAND MANDALA is a unique, dazzling display of colors and shapes.

Alas, that adamant Bahaman maharaja Mahatma had a ragtag amalgam, Barbara, Amanda, Samantha, Cassandra and Mr. Barany, grab a banana and pasta salad at a faraway Ramada, Alaska, and play haphazard canasta at Alabama's Casablanca bazaar. Daft facts: saw shark attacks at Alcatraz, a naval attack at Trafalgar, sarcasm at Caracas cabanas and Martha Graham play balalaika. PS. Can sharks catch cataracts? Hasta manana.

Lovely puzzle and a great debut by Mr. Chaikin. Kudos.

Z 10:02 AM  

Way back when I only did the Sunday puzzle. This is exactly the kind of puzzle that makes Sundays fun and drew me in. It's not trying to prove how much esoteric trivia the constructor knows but the solver doesn't. Yet, it doesn't insult my intelligence by avoiding things like KAMEN or SAND MANDALA (hand up for parsing it SANDMAN DALA at first). There's the fun conceit of the A only themers, with the bonus of having A only clues for the themers. Fun, pure and simple.

@Bob Kerfuffle - you beat me to it, but a BLACK AND TAN is always served in a glass, otherwise the SAND MANDALA-like beauty of the "heavier" dark beer (usually Guiness Stout) floating above the Bass Ale is lost. The first time you order one should be at the bar, so that the entire ritual, including pulling the Guiness over a spoon, can be properly appreciated.

Beer-Rating - A BLACK AND TAN.

retired_chemist 10:05 AM  

@lms - I did. Ick....

@ AliasZ - you have to count the Y's as vowels, I think.

Susan McConnell 10:11 AM  

Pats fans glad, had a ball!

Sorry. Now that I have that out of my system...This was a pleasure. The title told you everything you needed to know. It was very easy, and had some extra fun spots. Who doesn't love Count CHOCULA? I chuckled at the timeliness of Kris KROSS. BALACLAVA has always been a word to cause giggles in our house, because Hubby insists on calling it "baklava". Only thing I was mildly bothered by was TUDE, but it's forgivable.

Mr. Chalkin should be proud!

ATM 10:20 AM  

"Annual fund-raising"? You mean you do this EVERY year? I'm new to your blog; hence I didn't know. (Also didn't contribute). Glad to hear other puzzle solvers are so generous.

OISK 10:26 AM  

Phooey. Not paying attention to the theme I had "carets and sand mandela," - made as much sense as sand mandala, which I never heard of. Also didn't know the comic's last name - Chu or Cho? I picked Chu, which gave me count Chucula, which makes as much sense to me as Chocula - what is that, a cereal?
On that topic, much too much product trivia in this puzzle. In addition to the mysterious (to me) chocula, there is Moen faucets, Apple IPAd, (easy, but still…) Tilex (??) Dungeons and Dragons, Girl Scout cookies, and a brand of sneakers. Adding to my personal "wha?" total are proper names Bafta, Stella McCartney, Neal Cassady, and Louisa Adams.

jburgs 10:31 AM  

Several errors for me. At 72 down I did not know the self help course. Had the ST. Put in a P guessing at Primal Scream Therapy. Left me with TUDp Across. Never would have made the association between TUDE and it's clue. Can someone please tell me what EST stands for?

At 100A put in PAyNE so had CILyA at 84D. Have never heard of that word nor
ICOSA. so the I at that crossing was a complete guess.

I also had missed that the clues only had the "a" vowel and thank those who clarified. I would miss a lot of stuff if I didn't come here.

I have had to try mant captchas. I find 99% of those smudged words undecipherable.

Anonymous 10:45 AM  

A very clever puzzle. Having clues with only A's is a pretty nifty feat and made it that much more fun.

Anonymous 11:02 AM  

@AliasZ - I'll give you a pass on the Ys, but how did that BalalaIka get in there? Did you mean "bass"? Or could you not resist giving yourself a shout-out, slipping in an "I"?

Anonymous 11:04 AM  

Oops! Capitalizing that "i" in balalaika was a mistake!

Also, sorry, forgot to add the appropriate emoticon:

;)

chefbea 11:13 AM  

I think that someone we know and love should do a puzzle using only U's…not naming any names

Gill I. P. 11:18 AM  

This was fun!
Knew SAND MANDALA only because the Sacramento Bee had a recent article about Tibetan Monks visiting our area on their annual U.S. tour. It showed them meticulously picking up a grain of sand to form a design. Talk about having patience...
@Brett Chappell. MESCAL can be spelled both ways. MEzCAL is the way you would see it in Oaxaca where the wormy agave is distilled. Its nom de aaack is "elixir of the Gods"!!!
While I did enjoy this puzzle it did take me almost to the end to get the IT'S ONLY "A" GAME theme...I mean really, it's right there in big print on the top of the page...I need me some serious worm drink.
Thank you Andrew Chaikin I nominate you for a BAFTA AWARD..
GO NINERS.....

Anonymous 11:25 AM  

"Chocula"?
"Cho"?
An annoying and not inferable cross.

Tita 11:30 AM  

42 comments already? Late already to see mom, bake cookies and do jigsaw puzzles with her.

This was fun, and a medium for me.
DNFd with 1 wrong square...
Since I first thought the art that can't last was SANDcAstles, finally finished with SANDMAN DALi...a Dali work owned by the SANDMAN?

Thanks Mr. Chaiken - a cleverly clued Sunday.

Anonymous 11:49 AM  

Pretty easy and fun for me. It took me about 25 minutes which is fast for me for a Sunday.

But wait: only a "black cat" can be a RASTA MAN?

How many trustafarians are wandering disconsolate around the quad this morning, their dreams shattered? Or am I aging myself? Is that still even a thing?

gpo

Questinia 12:03 PM  

Like a balaclava in alpaca by Prada!

AliasZ 12:11 PM  

@retired chemist - only sometimes. In my little monologue all the Y's are consonants. [Bárány is a Hungarian two-syllable word meaning "lamb"; the "ny" is a single consonant, a soft "n" as in "new"]

@anonymous 11:02 & :04 AM - the balalaika was on purpose. First, the "i" is so thin, it could hide between the A and K unnoticed. Second, I wanted to see if anyone reads it carefully enough to notice. But I still couldn't pass on this beautiful sounding 4-A word.

David Glasser 12:20 PM  

I was all ready to be angry about the IPAD/EDINA crossing (since EDINO seemed equally likely). But 34a (which I got to later) saved it for me.

mac 12:53 PM  

Easy but a lot to fun to do. I have learned to read the title on Sundays, and that was a lot of help.

Toughest area was the Count Chocula/the pits crossing.

Also, too bad A-team has an E. I had ASCAP first. Needed all the crosses except the A for Icosa.

Nice job!

Maskad and Ananamaas 12:53 PM  

Themer clues coulda been worse. Much worse. The truly warped constructioneer (not namin any of my names, mind U) woulda did it this way:

CASABLANCA = "Bagart flack fram tha faartaas".
FALALALALA = "Wards ansparad ba strang agg nag".
STARWARS = "Tha Farca franchasa",
etc.

Thanx, @jae. It's on my potential nominees list.

@chefbea: Somebody unnamed like me will no doubt get right on yer puz idea, as soon as he/she can come up with an all-U's pallindrome for the central themer.

Primo write-up, @4-Oh.

M&A

jazzmanchgo 12:56 PM  

ERROR: Cassady was not a poet.

Anonymous 1:05 PM  

Metonym does not apply at the 37-D
clue. Pure and simple, the clue is off. (IMO, of course.)

Benko 1:45 PM  

@jazzmanchgo: Cassady wrote poetry. It just wasn't very popular compared to his contemporaries, nor as interesting.

Steve J 1:56 PM  

@jazzmanchgo: Cassady had at least one published book that included, in part, poems. He also cowrote "Pull My Daisy", which is a poem coauthored by Cassady, Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg.

@Anon 1:05: I think the clue for BLACK AND TAN works within the conceit of the puzzle. But it is another example of how the only-vowels-are-A's cluing led to a good deal of awkwardness (note that a stout is not a "dark malt", as clued).

I do think it's a bit of a flaw of the puzzle that the all-A's approach leads to several clues that are a bit odd and not entirely accurate, but I'm willing to forgive it within the puzzle's conceit. Consider it poetic license.

chefwen 2:27 PM  

I was breezing along just fine until I landed in south east. Had eats for puts away at 112A and I had NO CLUE what a BALACLAVA was. That little corner had me stymied for a long time. Somebody should have been selling BALACLAVAS at last weeks Packer game, they would have made a fortune.

Sandy K 3:11 PM  

Amazing construction and CLUing!

Fun to solve and tho I had no idea about BALACLAVAS and SAND MANDALAS, the answers were inferable from the KROSSes and the theme.

A MAN, A PLAN, A grAnd 'A' GAME-
ThAnks to Andrew ChAikin!

Anonymous 3:15 PM  

It's disheartening to have such an easy puzzle and still not be able to finish it. All because of the completely uninferable CLU/CHO crossing at 43 and having DRACULA for 54-A.I couldn't straighten out the mess that resulted in DHAN for 54-D and TREPITS for 48-D. Pop culture kills me nearly all the time.

jae 3:18 PM  

@jburgs - EST = Erhard Seminars Training. A '70s fad for folks trying to find themeselves.

Anonymous 3:19 PM  

Just a typo in Rex's write up - the puzzle clue has "flashback", singular.

Brookboy 4:54 PM  

Pretty sure this was my fastest Sunday time ever, probably because I guessed A MAN A PLAN A CANAL PANAMA almost at the beginning. Enjoyed working the puzzle very much, felt like I was on the constructor's wave length. I'd rate the puzzle mostly medium, shading a little to easy.

I thought the theme (the letter A) was a little weak, but that was before I came here and realized that the relevant clues also contained only A's as their vowel. Really ratcheted up my appreciation of constructing this puzzle.

Thanks for an enjoyable challenge.

quilter1 5:14 PM  

I came here late as we had a double birthday party at the nursing home for my mom and brother who both have birthdays this week. It was nice. I enjoyed the puzzle and sussed everything out even when "puzzled" by the curious clues. Very enjoyable.

quilter1 5:27 PM  

BALACLAVA: ski mask style winter hat
LIMN: to draw a picture

The Tibetan monks were also in Des Moines and made their SAND MANDALAS at a mall and were on TV, in the paper and even on IPR.

Seth Christenfeld 6:00 PM  

Rex--I would imagine that the "grand slam" referred to in 22A would be the film's winning of Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay at the Oscars.

mac 6:45 PM  

Beautiful word, Balaclava. Still, I'm always surprised when people in England use it as if it's a normal name for a ski mask.

Benko 6:49 PM  

@mac-- Yeah, in the UK "balaclava" has a lot of criminal/terrorist connotations.

thatssojacob 7:26 PM  

Did it online for a change, and did so in 19 minutes...personal best! Final clues: 80-across, "stone figures?" (CARATS), intersecting with 66-down, "most handy (NEAREST). Well, grab me the nearest diamond because I want to marry this awesome puzzle. Check my blog on crosswords, thoughts, and other things at http://www.thatssojacob.wordpress.com

Anonymous 7:44 PM  

So... one might now suppose that ol' Will Shortz is now allowing allusions to substances now legal in Colorado to appease the Aspen solvers?

Heh heh

Anonymous 10:30 PM  

What am I missing? There were no "starred" clues:

"...explain the fantastically tortured cluing on the "*" clues (no explanation of the "*" anywhere, which is unusual—usually there's a revealer that mentions "the starred clues")"

There were clues in italics but no stars.

Z 11:02 PM  

@Anon10:30 - Some solve electronically, some solve in the magazine, hence the difference.

paulsfo 11:14 PM  

@Anon10:30 & Z: I solve electronically, but still use Across Lite, and it does have "*"d clues, extra notes (when there are some), etc.

Anonymous 11:28 PM  

Monday is yummy!!

Z 11:48 PM  

@paulsfo - the mag has italics instead of the "starred clues" mentioned by Rex.

LaneB 11:51 PM  

Finally finished after doing today's Acrostic and watching both playoff games. I never did quite get the "theme" and had to read Rex before realizing that the italicized clues called for answers containing only the A vowel. But the clues themselves were often mysterious to me and I plodded on despite them. My biggest problem was RASTAMAN since I hade MARINe instead of MARINA.. And what clue 106a has to do with the MAGNACARTA I just now figured out. A reasonably successful Sunday, particularly with the 49er win. Bring on the Hawks!!

oldbizmark 10:33 AM  

i thought this was very hard... again, interesting how people's brains all work differently...

Anonymous 12:08 PM  

I think it was far too easy for a Sunday puzzle. There was no challenge figuring out the theme. The theme answers were automatic fill ins for me. I want more from a Sumday puzzle!

Anonymous 10:43 PM  

This felt like an airplane magazine puzzle. Definite meh.

spacecraft 12:11 PM  

The byline was left out of my copy; it just read "By/edited by Will Shortz." So all the while I'm doing this, I'm thinking it's the brainchild of the Shortzmeister himself. I gotta admit, the theme density here is awesome. And it wasn't all THAT easy; I'd call it easy-medium.

What in the world is BAFTAAWARDS? I mean, geez, we have the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the People's Choice...how many do we need?

I did not know eyelashes were CILIA. I thought these were ultra-fine hairs lining human internal tubing. Did I miss a question on the A&P test?

METRICAL? Is that real? Shouldn't METRIC take care of that thought?

Finally, thanks to Mr. Chaikin for the great earworm: ABRACADABRA, by one of the most underrated bands of the rock era, the Steve Miller Band.

Final grade: (wait for it) "A."

Scraped together the lowest possible boat, 22233.

Nomad UK 2:49 PM  

BAFTA Awards = British Academy of Film and Television awards.
Did not love this puzzle even though it was on the easy side. Have never heard the expression 'catch as catch can' nor the palindrome across the center even though I managed to get it. Not too much fun wioth no 'aha' moments

I've never heard the word TUDE and it is not in any of my dictionaries. Could it possibly be the3 new 'cool' abbreviation of attiTUDE?

Solving in Seattle 3:34 PM  

Actually a fun solve this morning. Got CATCHASCATCHCAN pretty early. And didn't know the middle palindrome, but it came easily. (BTW, if you haven't read David McCullough's "The Path Between the Seas" do yourself a favor. Terrific read.)

Off to watch football. Go Pats and Go Hawks!

Anonymous 4:20 PM  

1/19/14: Amazing construction and dense with theme answers! There are four theme answers in a row: 36D, 37D, 38D and 39D. The central across answer is crossed by five down answers. The puzzle has two squares (one NE and and one SW) due to two across answers crossing two down answers.

Dirigonzo 4:53 PM  

The theme saved me with SANDMANDALA - the term was unfamiliar to me so I just put an "A" wherever a vowel seemed indicated. The cross with KAMEN was a total guess.

In a weird bit of synchronicity, both CILIA and OSAKA appeared in today's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo. The former was clued as "Paramecium propellers" ad the latter as "Honshu hub".

@Nomad UK - I believe that's exactly what 'TUDE is, and Merriam-Webster confirms it.

Anonymous 6:11 PM  

hung up for a long time in the west simply because of a bad grammar clue, trying to stay in theme.

A black cat that ........ makes it a thing; not a person.

A black cat who ...... makes it a person.

Dirigonzo 8:00 PM  

@Anony 6:11pm - of course you're right, gramatically speaking, but I think a little lee way in deference to the theme (All As in the clues and the answers) is in order. And you got the answer despite the bad grammar, no?

rain forest 11:45 PM  

Liked this one, except for the sense that whenever I was stuck, I just put in an 'A'. CATCHASCATCHCAN, and the Napolean thing eased things condiderably. Very little crap in the puzzle. Nice Sunday.

OK. The Pats are out, dammit. Go like crazy 'Hawks! Marshawn forever.

Ginger 12:09 AM  

Late to the party, been watching football. Wow.

Interesting puzzle, not my favorite. The cluing just seemed odd IMO, even with the all 'a' gimmick. Liked the 2 long themers KRISKROSSING in the center. Learned SANDMANDALA, knew the SAND part, but wanted painting or something of that nature. Got KAMAN totally from crosses.

I've seen the very funny Margaret CHO. The PANAMA CANAL is an engineering marvel. They are currently building another waterway to accommodate larger vessels. Went through it a couple of years ago, fascinating!

The Hawks/Niners game was way too close for comfort. They did finally pull it out. Go HAWKS

Cary in Boulder 9:57 PM  

Way late due to football yesterday and technical difficulties today. But how 'bout them BRONCOS!

@Rex is apparently ignorant of not only Beat but psychedelic history. Cassady is referenced in the Grateful Dead's "That's It for the Other One": "It was cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus to never-ever land." (aka Kesey's prankster bus Furthur) I guess it's because he spends too much time listening to Bananarama and Radiohead.

No *s or italics in my paper. I noticed all the A's but, as per usual, didn't catch the full theme.

Margaret 10:05 PM  

Rex, I had heard of Paloma Picasso because of her famous designer perfume. It's quite an unusual fragrance, very pleasant.

Anne Nonymous 11:11 PM  

the fantastically tortured cluing on the "*" clues (no explanation of the "*" anywhere, which is unusual—usually there's a revealer that mentions "the starred clues")


What star clues? None in my magazine.

Now to wrestle with the dang Captcha
letters. : /

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