Screenwriting guru Field / SUN 2-16-14 / TV actress Graff / Roman ruler before Caesar / Hip-hop artist with 2013 #1 album Born Sinner
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Constructor: Yaakov Bendavid
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
THEME: "Passing Grades" — Fs are changed (raised?) to Ds in familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style
- 23A: One who turned Cinderella's pumpkin into pumpkin cheesecake? (DAIRY GODMOTHER)
- 49A: Snorkeling bargain? (TWO DIVES FOR A TEN)
- 77A: Transportation company that skimps on safety? (NO-DRILLS AIRLINE)
- 105A: Stephen Hawking's computer-generated voice? (SCIENCE DICTION)
- 15D: Two things seen beside James Bond at a casino? (DISH AND CHIPS)
- 58D: "Oh yeah? Let's see you hold your breath for TWO minutes!," e.g.? (DARE INCREASE)
Word of the Day: SULLA (74A: Roman ruler before Caesar) —
Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (c. 138 BC – 78 BC), known commonly as Sulla, was a Roman general andstatesman. He had the distinction of holding the office of consul twice, as well as reviving the dictatorship. Sulla was awarded a grass crown, the most prestigious and rarest Roman military honor, during the Social War. His life was habitually included in the ancient biographical collections of leading generals and politicians, originating in the biographical compendium of famous Romans, published by Marcus Terentius Varro. In Plutarch's Parallel Lives Sulla is paired with the Spartan general and strategist Lysander.Sulla's dictatorship came during a high point in the struggle between optimates and populares. The former sought a conservative approach to maintain the traditional oligarchic structure of power in the Republic, while the latter challenged the existing order with the avowed aim of increasing the influence of the plebs. Sulla was a gifted and skilful general and won many victories against barbarians as well as fellow Romans and Italians. One of his rivals, Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, described Sulla as having the cunning of a fox and the courage of a lion.In a series of constitutional crises, Sulla used his armies to march on Rome twice, and after the second time he revived the office of dictator, which had not been used since the Second Punic War over a century before. He used his powers to enact a series of reforms to the Roman constitution, meant to restore the balance of power between the Senate and the tribunes. Already in poor health, he stunned the world (and posterity) by resigning his near-absolute powers, restoring constitutional government in late 81 BC. After seeking election to and holding a second consulship, he retired to private life and died shortly after. (wikipedia)
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TWO DIVES FOR A TEN. As a general rule, you want your core theme concept to be not just consistent, but executed to squeaky clean perfection. If you're changing Fs to Ds, you just can't leave Fs on the table. One can shrug and say "who cares? the puns still work," or whatever, and that's true, but how low are we putting the bar for the alleged best puzzle in America, for the editor who has said out loud that he believes he's "the best in the world at what I do." There are literally infinite (plus or minus) potential theme answers for something like this. Surely there was one more out there that didn't have a stray "F."
So the theme gets a D. But the overall construction is much better, I think. Low word count means lots and lots of interesting long answers, especially in the Downs. I see lots of stuff I don't remember ever seeing before—ordinary phrases like JOB SEARCH to more exotic stuff like ORANGE OIL. The grid is very light on junk, which is nicely spread out and has next-to-no impact on the pleasure of solving (though I'll admit to groaning audibly at the very beginning, when ADES was the first thing I encountered, *and* it was crossed with a plural name: ALDAS). Difficulty-wise, there wasn't much. I think the preponderance of long answers slowed me down some (always hard to tear through lots of open white space), but there were times when I was entering answers lightning-fast. Wasn't anywhere near my record time, but at just over 10 min., I'd say the puzzle tilts a little toward the easy side.
Let's look at a few folks from today's cast of characters, since proper nouns are often the thorniest part of any given solve. Here are a few of the noteworthy names:
- ELISHA (22A: Actress Cuthbert of "24") — memorize this one, because you will see it again and again. Or at least again. I've seen it many times. She played Jack Bauer's daughter.
- J COLE (52A: Hip-hop artist with the 2013 #1 album "Born Sinner") — that #1 album thing, plus the attractive letter combo, means you're assured of seeing this name again. I think this is the second time I've seen him this year.
- BIG E (5D: Former 6'9" N.B.A.'er Hayes, to fans) — Elgin? No, that's Elgin Baylor. Who is Hayes? Well I was close: it's Elvin. Hall-of-Famer. I really should know him.
- SYD (20D: Screenwriting guru Field) — never heard of him. Never seen this SYD clue (I'm used to Barrett or Hoff). The clue appears to be yet another Wikipedia-lift. Constructors: come on. At least give the phrasing your own twist. Wikipedia is a great resource, but it's not an excuse to be lazy in your cluing. I have no idea how this guy is famous enough to be in the NYT puzzle, as I can't see as he's actually written any screenplays (though he has written books about writing them … but then I'm not doing any research beyond Wikipedia. See: lazy. It's annoying, right?)
- ILENE (91D: TV actress Graff) — sometimes hard to keep the IRENEs, ILENEs, IRINAs, ILONAs, and ELENAs straight. She was the mom on "Mr. Belvedere."
Puzzle of the Week this week was a pretty easy decision. It was kind of a slow week, and then Thursday rolled around and I did a very good puzzle by Ben Tausig (his Inkwell/Chicago Reader puzzle) called "Outsourcing" (get it here free) followed immediately by a Great puzzle by Byron Walden (this week's American Values Club puzzle) called "For ABBA Fans" (get it here for a buck, though you should really already be a subscriber). No idea how Byron got so much hilarity and fun out of such a seemingly simple concept, but he did. Aces. He wins the week.
For information on the upcoming ACPT (Mar. 7-9), see the program at the tournament website, here. For information on the "Cru" dinner at the Marriott on that Friday night (Mar. 7), please visit "Diary of a Crossword Fiend."