Aptly named ski town in Utah / THU 5-19-22 / Holy Roman emperor beginning in 973 / Potted ornamental / Fallopian tube traveler / City whose name is Siouan for good place to dig potatoes

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Constructor: Alex Rosen

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: phrases of omission — four pairs of answers (each pair appearing on the same line); for each pair, the first answer appears to have letters missing, and the second is a phrase describing (literally) why the letters in the first answer are missing, or "what to do as you enter the answer to the previous clue":

Theme answers:
  • DISCIPL[in]ES (17A: Punishes / CUT IN (19A: Interrupt ... or what to do as you enter the answer to the previous clue)
  • S[up]PORTED (29A: Backed financially) / SCRUB UP (31A: Prep for surgery ... or what to do etc.)
  • HOME [off]ICE (48A: Workplace with no commute / TAKE OFF (50A: Leave ... or what to do etc.)
  • FL[out]ING (64A: Brazenly disregard) / STRIKE OUT (66A: Flail at home plate ... or what to do etc.)
Word of the Day: pound cake (63A: One of the pounds in a pound cake) —
Pound cake is a type of cake traditionally made with a pound of each of four ingredients: flourbuttereggs, and sugar. Pound cakes are generally baked in either a loaf pan or a Bundt mold. They are sometimes served either dusted with powdered sugar, lightly glazed, or with a coat of icing. (wikipedia)
• • •

A very familiar gimmick. Many a puzzle has been built around a single phrase like this, which acts as a revealer with each of the theme answers conforming to the instructions. In today's case, we get a kind of speed version, with four different "revealers" instead of the more typical lone, final revealer. The same act is involved every time—dropping letters—so there's a consistency there. In typical drop-a-letter / add-a-letter (or letters)-type puzzles, though, there's some wackiness, some attempt to at least try to make the "incorrect" answers funny by having the answers be obviously, zanily wrong, and having the clues be of the loopy "?" variety. Here, we just get single words. They don't fit the clue, but that failure to fit yields zero pleasure, which I guess also means zero cringing, but I'd rather a puzzle go for the joke and fail than not go for it at all. I guess the "joke" is in the second answer to each pair, the verb phrase that explains the first answer in the pair. But there wasn't much "aha" there, since I could clearly see that "IN" was missing from what should've been DISCIPLINES. I was just waiting to find out why. Then I hit CUT IN. Pretty straightforward, not at all amusing. I'd say that HOME ICE is the one first answer of the four that has something like sufficient zaniness—the new phrase is really, really new and different and completely reoriented. But DISCIPLES is just a thud (it's etymologically closely related to DISCIPLINES, so it hardly reorients the word at all). And FLING and SPORTED are just ... there. This is like four different ideas for a puzzle all crammed into one puzzle without much thought for how fun it would be to solve. The theme isn't bad, by any means; just flat. 


With the exception, possibly, of the theme answers with omitted letters, there was nothing at all challenging about this puzzle. No Thursday heat. I had one little area of trouble because I didn't realize that SPORTED was a themer. Combine that with a brutal (but brilliant) clue on MIRROR (23A: Compact disc?), and then my only 75% certainty about David CARR, and then, oof, an extremely random Holy Roman emperor with extremely random Holy Roman numerals in his name (easily the worst thing in the grid), and you've got Stucksville, population me. But even then, not so stuck. I just went down from the top through SCRUB UP and then went back and made sense of that whole lower NW area. The other bit of "difficulty" I had was just pure idiocy, a mistake I made that amused me more than anything in the puzzle did. I had -EKA at 36A: City whose name is Siouan for "good place to dig potatoes" (TOPEKAand my brain decided to completely disregard the "Siouan" part of the clue and focus instead on "potatoes" ("hmm ... near Idaho?") and the idea that you'd be thrilled to discover said potatoes; that is, I wrote in EUREKA! (which is a city in Washington). Sadly, the etymological origins of EUREKA have nothing to do with the Sioux, or North America at all:

Eureka (Ancient Greekεὕρηκα) is an interjection used to celebrate a discovery or invention. It is a transliteration of an exclamation attributed to Ancient Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes. (wikipedia)

The result of this mistake was mostly me being very angry at this alleged "abstract expressionist" who was somehow not ROTHKO but some guy named RUT- ... RUTLIN? RUTHIE? "Who the hell has ever heard of this RUT- guy!?" Well, no one, I made him up (32D: Abstract Expressionist Mark).

Yellow Over Purple (1956)

Notes:
  • 23A: Compact disc? (MIRROR) — in case the wordplay eludes you, a "compact" is a small circular (or "disc"-shaped) case that flips open to reveal a MIRROR (as well as face powder, commonly).
  • 42D: "And ___ ..." (YET) — Had the YE- and wasn't sure I wasn't dealing with the beginning of some kind of admission. "And YES, technically, I did eat the last six brownies, but in my defense, they were delicious."
  • 63A: One of the pounds in a pound cake (EGGS) — absolutely 100% news to me that the "pound" in "pound cake" had to do with the (equal!) weight of all the ingredients. Seemed like an impossible rationale for a recipe, so I very much hesitated there.
  • 61D: Marty Feldman's role in "Young Frankenstein" (IGOR) — enjoy:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Medicinal rinse / WED 5-18-22 / Cold weather cryptid / Long loose hood / Stop texting after a first date say / Tree that's a source of salicylic acid a precursor to aspirin / Animal that wears red pajamas in a popular children's book

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Constructor: Andy Kravis

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: solving a jigsaw puzzle — familiar phrases are clued as if they were steps in the solving of a jigsaw puzzle:

Theme answers:
  • LAY IT ALL OUT THERE (18A: Confess one's true feelings ... or Step 1 for solving a jigsaw puzzle?)
  • PICK UP THE PIECES (28A: Recover after a heartbreak ... or Step 2 for solving a jigsaw puzzle?)
  • FIND THE RIGHT FIT (50A: Look for an ideal partner ... or Step 3 for solving a jigsaw puzzle?)
  • SEE THE BIG PICTURE (65A: Get some perspective ... or what you do once you've solved a jigsaw puzzle?)
Word of the Day: "THE WIRE" (47D: TV series named second-best of all time by Rolling Stone, but which never won an Emmy) —

The Wire is an American crime drama television series created and primarily written by author and former police reporter David Simon. The series was broadcast by the cable network HBO in the United States. The Wire premiered on June 2, 2002, and ended on March 9, 2008, comprising 60 episodes over five seasons. The idea for the show started out as a police drama loosely based on the experiences of his writing partner Ed Burns, a former homicide detective and public school teacher.

Set and produced in BaltimoreMarylandThe Wire introduces a different institution of the city and its relationship to law enforcement in each season, while retaining characters and advancing storylines from previous seasons. The five subjects are, in chronological order: the illegal drug trade, the port system, the city government and bureaucracy, education and schools, and the print news medium. Simon chose to set the show in Baltimore because of his familiarity with the city.

The large cast consists mainly of actors who are little known for their other roles, as well as numerous real-life Baltimore and Maryland figures in guest and recurring roles. Simon has said that despite its framing as a crime drama, the show is "really about the American city, and about how we live together. It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals. Whether one is a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge or a lawyer, all are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution to which they are committed."

The Wire is lauded for its literary themes, its uncommonly accurate exploration of society and politics, and its realistic portrayal of urban life. During its original run, the series received only average ratings and never won any major television awards, but is now often cited as one of the greatest television series of all time. (wikipedia)

• • •

This is the kind of puzzle that can go very wrong. The potential for forced-corny-pun-haha-get-it!? is always high when you try to force familiar phrases in another direction, and especially when you try to do it in bulk like this. A bunch of puns is one thing, a bunch of puns compelled by brute force to march in the same direction, that is (or can be) another. And YET(I)! And yet somehow this theme works very well. There's an aptness to every "step" in the jigsaw process, and an overall lightness of touch that, because it didn't feel like somebody elbowing in me in the side going "har har, good one, amirite?!," made me appreciate the way the theme answers just ... fit. The whole thing was very smooth and low-key. Subtle. No clowns honking horns. Nothing jarring. Every phrase has a strong non-jigsaw meaning, but with a little push, they all slide right into their respective jigsaw meanings, no problem. The steps are in order, everything's symmetrical (again, without any forcing). It's the kind of puzzle I can feel myself instinctively resisting on some primal level, but it's so well executed, and, again, so unhammy, that it won me over. It also made me remember that I love solving ("solving?") jigsaw puzzles but don't solve them in non-vacation contexts any more for two reasons: cats. Well, just the one cat, really. Alfie cannot lay off. The pieces are all just so many toys for him to run off with. He does the same thing with broccoli florets. He's a weird boy. Olive would probably leave a puzzle alone, but we're never gonna find out because ... Alfie. 

[Alfie]

This was a very, very easy puzzle. If you time yourself, you probably didn't break any records, but that's due in part to the fact that the grid is oversized (16 wide, to accommodate the first and last themers). It's one of those puzzles where everything is riding on the theme, so it's a good thing the theme comes together, because the rest of the solve was a bit on the ho-hum side. Lots of overfamiliar, repeater-type stuff. Like, lots and lots. I won't enumerate it all, but the fact that we get LLAMA *and* LLANO should begin to give you some idea. I really don't understand the decision to put DOUCHE in the puzzle. This is literally the first appearance of the word in the NYTXW, ever, a fact which will surprise almost no one. What's most annoying about DOUCHE is that the clue is so coy. Like, you put DOUCHE in the puzzle, you should own that fact by cluing it as the thing that everyone is thinking of when they see DOUCHE. It's a "feminine hygiene product," or else it's an insult for a really annoying man (an insult whose insultingness surely comes from the feminine-hygiene meaning). Trying to hide from these meanings behind a general [Medicinal rinse] clue is, I don't know, a bit bizarre. It's like you're trying to avoid anatomical specificity, and yet the answer is virtually screaming anatomical specificity, whether you like it or not, so ... better to just go with it rather than retreat into vagueness. The wikipedia entry for DOUCHE is 99% about the vagina. If you can put DOUCHE in the grid, you can say "vagina." It won't hurt you. Or at least make the clue more women-specific. You know this answer is going to jar people, so I don't really get the point of including it in the first place, but if you're going to do it, Do It.


Notes:
  • 41D: Sluggish (LOGY) — you ever have words that you just can't stand the sight/sound of. Well, LOGY is definitely one of mine. LOGY makes MOIST seem positively comforting. LOGY's main problem is it looks/sounds like "loogie." It's truly awful. Top Ten Repulsive Word.
  • 60D: Brand originally called Froffles (EGGO) — two things. First, Froffles is better, please go back to Froffles. And second, I wrote in EDY'S.
  • 35A: Plethora (SLEW) — I wrote in SOME.
  • 20D: Evil clown in a horror film, e.g. (TROPE— I wrote in TROLL. You can see a pattern developing here.
  • 26A: Stop texting after a first date, say (GHOST) — big thumbs-up to this bit of clue modernization. I like the "old" meanings of GHOST just fine, too, but it's nice to see ordinary words get pushed slangward (especially when that slang now feels like a permanent part of the cultural landscape). Don't GHOST people. It's mean. Unless they're awful. Then definitely GHOST them. OK bye.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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