Color of the Owl and the Pussy-cat's boat / SUN 7-3-22 / Last name of the Boxcar Children in children's literature / Rathskeller decoration / Demeter's mother in myth / Anthropologist's adjective / Cocktail made with ginger beer / Brand that comes in short sleeves

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Expansion Pack" — theme answers don't appear to fit the clue; they're all two-word answers, where you have to read the first letter of the first word as *its own word*, and then take the second word normally (e.g. BOTTOM LINE = "B" LINE = BEELINE for 23A: Direct path) (there were "Puzzle Notes" that offered standard clues for the actual answers that appeared in the grid ...

... but those were an annoying distraction so I ignored them):

Theme answers:
  • BOTTOM LINE = "B" LINE = "beeline" for 23A: Direct path
  • OLDER BROTHER = "O" BROTHER = "Oh, brother!" for 29A: "Sheesh!"
  • PUTTING GREEN = "P" GREEN = "pea green" for 41A: Color of the Owl and Pussy-cat's boat
  • IN CONTACT = "I" CONTACT = "eye contact" for 63A: Something avoided during awkward situations
  • CHARLEY HORSE = "C" HORSE = "seahorse" for 84A: Fish with a prehensile tail
  • GIVING THANKS = "G" THANKS = "Gee, thanks" for 97A: "Oh, that's so nice of you to say!"
  • THIRD PARTY = "T" PARTY = "tea party" for 105A: Mad Hatter's social event
Word of the Day: CLANGOR (84D: Cacophony) —
a resounding clang or medley of clangsthe clangor of hammers (
• • •

There's gotta be a better way to execute this concept. I kind of enjoyed figuring out what the hell was going on with the theme, but being confronted with the horrible "Puzzle Notes" ahead of time really mucked everything up. Just put a lot of wordy and dull and unnecessary blather between me and the puzzle experience. It's not That unusual for tricky puzzles to contain what are essentially unclued answers, so I don't know what the Notes were necessary. The first part of the "Notes" is actually fine—the part that says, essentially, "yo, a bunch of these answers aren't gonna match their clues, you gotta figure out why." That seems like plenty of help for any solver who might wonder what the hell they've stumbled into here. But the part where "standard clues" are offered up, in no particular order (???) as if they were somehow a feature and not a bug ... I don't get. The unclued answers remain a bug. You can embrace the bug-ness and just let them be, or you can try to eliminate the bug but end up smushing the bug and making an awful mess, which is essentially what happens here. Without the "Puzzle Notes" ... I think I like this concept fine. I definitely enjoyed not having any idea what was going on for a little bit. I like tricky themes that don't reveal themselves so easily, and this one definitely delivered on that count. Didn't put the trick together until right ... here:

Before that, I was under the impression that the first word of the themers was simply ballast, and its existence would be explained at some later point in the solve. That is, I assumed the literal answer to 23A: Direct path was LINE, that the color of the Owl / Pussy-cat boat was GREEN. Both answers seemed to work fine, so the whole first-letter concept didn't register. Then, as you can see (in the incomplete grid I just posted above), I had no idea how to spell GALL-VANTS, and while the only phrase that made sense at 63A was IN CONTACT, I wasn't about to commit to that answer until I had a grasp of what the hell was going on. Then I got to OLDER BROTHER, and saw the "Oh, brother!" connection immediately. Then I looked back on those earlier three themers and they all suddenly and clearly came into focus: beeline, pea green, and eye contact. True aha moment there. That was definitely where the puzzle peaked. The rest was easier and less exciting because the mystery was gone, but conceptually I think this one holds up pretty well. The unclued answers were always going to be a problem, and I just didn't like the clumsy attempt at handling them. Otherwise, thematically, thumbs up.

I also enjoyed the long Downs, particularly the fact that 3/4 of them were bouncy colloquial phrases. "LET'S GET ON WITH IT!" "WHAT'S YOUR SECRET?" and especially "ON THAT NOTE ..." were all winners. There were a few times when the fill felt a little anemic or downright ugly. That ATARUN (?) / TERCE corner (SW) is very unpretty (except for PRINCE, who is very pretty), and the "WAH!" "AH, ME" AMIGO cluster in the mideast was no looker either. "AH, ME" is always awful, and ... well, AMIGO is fine as an answer, but man do I hate that clue (46D: Broseph). Do people really talk that way? It's like a caricature of a caricature of how a "bro" talks. AMIGO is such a decent, all-purpose word, so why go and muck it up with fauxbrospeak, why? Sigh, ah me, etc. But beyond those two little sections, the weak spots appear only sporadically. My ALECTO (the one in every translation of the Aeneid I've ever read) has two "L"s, so that was weird (88A: One of the Furies of Greek myth). But I guess Virgil's spelling is anomalous. Or just a Latin variation. Dunno. No idea re: "A TO Z Mysteries" or ALDEN. I assumed the Boxcar Children were strictly a recent phenomenon, but it looks like they date back to the 1920s. Ah, I see the book series died out in the mid-70s but then got rebooted in the '90s. I missed both incarnations. The "A TO Z Mysteries" started in '97, way way past my time (they somehow missed my born-in-2000 daughter as well—weird). 

Mistakes? Sure, some. I had UNAPT at 5A: Not suited (for) (UNFIT) and that was oddly consequential for a while, since that answer contained the first letters of two Downs I didn't know (7D: The yolk's on them and 8D: ___ Malcolm, Jeff Goldblum's role in "Jurassic Park"). How is the yolk "on" FRIED EGGS any more than it's "on" any eggs? I get the pun, but it's UNAPT for the FRIED part of FRIED EGGS. I had BLAST before BEAST at 14A: Wild thing. I like that mistake. LOATHE before SCATHE at 94A: Excoriate. I like that mistake less. And CLANGOR, yeeeeesh. I wanted to write in CLAMOUR (British spelling?) and now the more I look at CLANGOR the less wordlike it looks (84D: Cacophony). It's like ... it wants to be CLAMOR, but also wants to be from BANGOR. It also sounds like an obscure "Star Trek" race, maybe one that got mentioned once, in a single episode of "TNG" in 1992, and then was never spoken of again. "Klingon" + "Borg" = CLANGOR

Taking a week off from Letters to the Editor this week. More next week. Any crossword or blog-related questions can be sent to me at rexparker at icloud dot com. Have a lovely rest of your 4th o' July weekend.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. RITZ crackers come in "sleeves" (something like OREOs) (33D: Brand that comes in short sleeves) and I guess STARs "heat" ... outer "space"? (113A: Space heater?). Oh and the [Big Bird?] is LARRY Bird because he was a big basketball star and also just big (6'9").

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South Asian toddy cats / SAT 7-2-22 / Saya for a katana / Decorative painting on an airplane fuselage / Painting that inspired an iconic "Home Alone" movie poster / Locale for a power wash / Bathing suit portmanteau / Verbal equivalent of picking up the gauntlet / Plant that symbolized purity in ancient Egypt

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Constructor: Evan Kalish

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Prix de Lausanne (57A: Competitor in the Prix de Lausanne (BALLERINA)) —
Prix de Lausanne is an international dance competition held annually in LausanneSwitzerland. The competition is for young dancers seeking to pursue a professional career in classical ballet, and many former prize winners of the competition are now leading stars with major ballet companies around the world. The competition is managed by a non-profit foundation organised by the Fondation en faveur de l'Art chorégraphique and is maintained by various sponsors, patrons and donors. [...] Entry is reserved for young student-dancers, aged 15 through 18, who have not yet been in professional employment and open to candidates of all nationalities. // Currently, participants are required to submit a 15–20 min digital file recording showing them performing a combination of barre and centre-work exercises in a studio environment and pay a non-refundable registration fee of CHF 120. Those candidates selected to participate in the competition pay a second fee of CHF 120. // Around 80 candidates from 30 or so countries compete each year, in the hope of being selected for the final, reserved for the best 20 among them. The final of the competition is broadcast live on television. (wikipedia)
• • •

Once again (I think this is a couple weeks in a row now) the Saturday is easier than the Friday for me. I mean, if you're just going to hand me 1-Across, and a long 1-Across at that, then I'll take it, but all those free first letters (for the Downs) are probably going to turn even an otherwise Saturday corner into a Tuesday or Wednesday corner. 

Sure enough, following the Munch painting, CHANT EDIT ARE got me moving, and then I could see that 15A: Sugar cubes, e.g. ended in -HEDRA, and NUT and REBUS, and with KANGAROOS off the table (probably intended as a trap answer at 17A: Certain Australian boomers (male) and flyers (female)), WALLABIES made the next most natural guess there, and so before I knew it, whoosh, that corner was done. And at that point I had the front ends of both long exit answers all cued up and reading to rocket into the center of the grid. Sadly, one of those potential rocket answers was GREAT RECESSION, an answer I don't understand wanting to build a puzzle around ever, let alone when the country is on the cusp of ... another GREAT RECESSION. It's not a "bad" answer, per se, but you make choices with your marquee answers, and I do not understand why, tonally, you'd want this one right at the heart of your puzzle. I had GREAT and wanted it to be ... something more specific, actually. More bygone. Instead it feels like when people called WWI the "Great War" or the "War to End All Wars." There's this assumption that that was *it*. That *that* was the "great" one. I feel like any minute now, God or Fate or whatever is gonna be like, "hold my beer." I tend to remember that time as "the subprime mortgage crisis," but I guess the global repercussions ballooned out from there. There's no joy in reflecting on any of this, so why is it one of your handful of marquee answers? Dunno. 

I like TRIX RABBIT, but again, as with THE SCREAM, you just hand that one over like it's Monday (29D: Commercial mascot with floppy ears). And then NETFLIX SPECIAL becomes obvious and you're well set up to get into the remaining corners and finish them off. There was a brief period in there where I had SERB and KURD (LOL) before TURK (29A: Bosporus resident), and (thus) couldn't quite get a grip on ALKENE (22D: Certain hydrocarbon), but that was more or a Wednesday struggle than a Saturday struggle. And it was the only struggle this puzzle really offered. I mean, ASTRIDE LACONIC SHEATH, bam bam bam, off their first one or two letters. The SE corner never stood a chance. And if it weren't for the "???" quality of NOSE ART, or my apparent preference for the MANKINI over the TANKINI (12D: Bathing suit portmanteau), the other corners would've been just as easy. As it was, still pretty easy.

As usual, the names were the things I didn't know, but there weren't that many of them. SAL (4D: Comedian Vulcano of "Impractical Jokers") and ALI (11D: Tony-winning actress Stroker) were unknowns, but the crosses were just plowed right through them, so I didn't have to spend any time piecing them together. And I knew Rachel DRATCH (49A: "S.N.L." alum Rachel) and DELLA Reese (49D: "And That Reminds Me" singer Reese), so no trouble there. I saw Rachel DRATCH in the market at Grand Central one time, with a child that I assume was hers. That is my Rachel DRATCH story. Oh, and one of my colleagues was at Dartmouth at the same time as her. I think I got that right. So two Rachel DRATCH stories, neither of which qualifies as a story. This is me at my raconteuriest. I'm here every night.

A few more things:
  • 53A: Taken charge (FEE) — a FEE is a "charge" that is "taken" (from you)
  • 6D: Image problem? (REBUS) — I'm so used to thinking of REBUS in crossword terms (multiple letters, sometimes representing an image, in one square) that this kind of REBUS (the picture puzzle kind) always surprises me. A very "children's placemat" kind of puzzle. Here, see if you can figure out this one:
  • 34D: Tick or tock (SEC) — Hmmm, I guess this is, literally, true. That is what the ticking (or tocking) of the clock represents: the passing of one second. I feel like I was *just* watching a documentary of some kind ... or a video online ... about how "tock" is not actually a different sound from "tick," but we talk about it as if it were ... I can't remember why this fact warranted attention. The end.

See you tomorrow,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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