Youngest Downton Abbey daughter / MON 1-19-15 / Skype necessity / Shellfish hors d'oeuvres / Mystic's device with letters numbers
Monday, January 19, 2015
Constructor: Jean O'Conor
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a Monday*) (Solving time: 3:06)
THEME: SNOW-CAPPED (31D: Like alpine peaks … or what each half of 3-, 7-, 9-, 37- and 44-Down can be?) — themers (which all run Down) are two-word phrases or two-part compound words, each part of which can be preceded by SNOW to make a familiar term:
- WHITEBOARD (3D: Surface for a dry-erase marker)
- BANK JOB (44D: Heist of a sort)
- BUNNY SUIT (37D: Easter costume)
- CRAB BALLS (7D: Shellfish hors d'oeuvres)
- PLOWMAN (9D: Farmer with oxen)
[I don't know … they appear to be just like crab cakes, except in ball form. More ball than cake. Else, same. Here's some recipes.]
• • •
CRAB BALLS (which I've literally never seen anywhere). Every damn restaurant has CRAB CAKES on the menu. So that's a pretty significant potential pitfall right there. Easy enough to climb out of, because, after all, it's Monday, but still. Not getting BALLS meant increased trouble picking up both WEBCAM (I kept wanting WIFI … WI-something) and SYBIL (that show got old Fast and I'd totally forgotten the youngest daughter's name, though we just saw that actress in something recently … hmm … oh, "Black Mirror," which you should totally watch. She's in the second episode of that.). So this one was eelier than the average Monday, but not annoyingly so. Spellcheck is angrily underlining "eelier" in red ("you must mean, 'eerier,' you idiot"), but I stand by my comparative adjective.
While this puzzle has a very good theme, for a Monday, it botches the fill in several areas because, like an addict, it can't seem to lay off the high-value Scrabble tiles, and each one of them creates a mess. Actually, not true. The constructor contains the "J" in BANK JOB very nicely, with very little fallout—but that's a necessarily letter, a theme answer letter. The others are just gratuitous, and we all pay a price. EXGI is not good fill. EZEK and NOTER, really not good. ZOO and ZAHN are fine, but they cause the collateral damage of ANA and ONEA—yuck. When you're already testing your ick limit with TOPER and ACNES (plural!), and when your theme is already golden, your goal should be smoothness, not 8- and 10-point tiles. We know the editor really only cares about the theme, and fill shmill, and in this case, I think good theme beats less-than-good fill, but there's no reason it had to be this close.
I would've preferred a Chaucer clue for PLOWMAN (9D: Farmer with oxen) and a Sally Field clue for SYBIL (36A: Youngest "Downton Abbey" daughter). I watched "Maximum Overdrive" (1986) earlier this evening and it was fantastically terrible. I mention this because Marla Maples is in it (briefly), and for some reason Paula ZAHN reminds me of her (34D: Newswoman Paula). Why is that? It makes no sense. I think I'm confusing Paula ZAHN with the woman who took Jane Pauley's place on The Today Show … ugh, what's her name? Oh, Deborah Norville ... though why *she* should make me think of Marla Maples, I also don't know. Anyway, the moral of this story is, don't see "Maximum Overdrive." Or do—it's pretty hilarious. Giancarlo Esposito ("Gus" on "Breaking Bad") gets killed by an arcade. There are no typos in that last sentence.
Joan asks: "Will you do a column answering questions someday?"Short, sweet, informative!
Rex answers: Maybe!
You all have some pretty great observations and anecdotes about puzzles (and other things). It's been a joy opening the mail this past week. Thanks. Keep 'em coming.