Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Constructor: Jeff Stillman
Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: "You don't know -BO" -- base phrases take a -BO ending (with spelling changes) to make wacky new phrases.
Word of the Day: PARAKEET. Parakeet is a name for any one of a large number of unrelated small to medium sized species of parrot, that generally have long tail feathers. Older spellings still sometimes encountered are paroquet or paraquet. [Wikipedia]
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Matt Gaffney here again, filling in for Rex all week. Theme answers take a -BO sound:
20-Across [Celebration dance after a goal?] = SOCCER MAMBO
57-Across [Punched out a Disney elephant?] = STRUCK DUMBO
11-Down [Aerobics done to Chubby Checker music?] = TWIST TAE-BO
29-Down [Give a hobbit a ring?] = PHONE BILBO
I saw the -BO entries emerge and kept trying to guess what the revealer would be. And then...there's just no revealer. We're just adding -BO to phrases for no reason. Sort of a downer, since a solver at this point in the evolution of the add-a-letter/letters/sound idea is going to be looking for a revealer, which would ideally add a unifying and humorous flourish, but here -- we got nothin'. Not optimal.
I was also unable to find any of the four theme entries very humorous. Punching an elephant isn't funny, and neither is dancing after a soccer goal or doing aerobics to music, which are very common activities. I guess phoning a character from The Hobbit is slightly wacky, but if that's the go-to theme entry then we're probably not bringing down the house.
The fill had 78 entries in it, normally the max in a daily puzzle, and the grid is not at all taxing with just four 10/11-letter themers. But there's little sizzle in it; the best entries are PARAKEET, DUBAI...what else? SPLIT UP? Maybe INFRA-RED? There's not a single marquee piece of fill, and a grid with just four medium-size themers (and no revealer) should have been full of them. If Brendan Quigley had filled this thing there'd be six or eight pieces of stellar longish fill that no reviewer could fail to mention; here there's not really a single one. None of the four rare letters make an appearance, either.
On the positive side we can say that the fill is clean: there aren't any awful entries, though I think the abbreviation for Baptist wants to be BAPT instead of BAP, and URGER and OBI are a little less than good. But not a big deal. Overall, the fill is clean but unexciting.
The clues have more of the same musty vibe I noted in yesterday's puzzle, where not a single clue couldn't have been written 10 years ago. In today's puzzle we have exactly one clue less than a decade old, [Home of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building] for DUBAI. But that's your daily dose of modernity; check out the SE corner, where BART is [Former baseball commissioner Giamatti], HART is [Politico Gary], and OTTO is [Comics canine]. If I were Rex I would write "1987 called and it wants its corner back," but I'm not so I won't. But it did and it does.
Any one of these clues is OK in a vacuum, but when you have zero or one clues per day referencing anything that happened in the previous decade? I hope we've just hit a musty patch and that clues later in the week will have more zip. Again, the NYX doesn't need to become a hipster puzzle, but an occasional reminder that we're solving a puzzle in the 21st century would help enormously.
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for six more days of CrossWorld