Tenor part in Donizetti's Don Pasquale / SAT 12-5-20 / Comics character with pug nose / Informal name for Vespa mandarinia / Nickname for a man whose name means merciful / Squiggly musical symbols

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Constructor: Brendan Emmett Quigley

Relative difficulty: Medium to Medium-Challenging, depending on how well you know the work of John Le Carré (untimed)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Bathymetry (42D: Bathymetry measurements => DEPTHS) —
Bathymetry (/bəˈθɪmətr/) is the study of underwater depth of ocean floors or lake floors. In other words, bathymetry is the underwater equivalent to hypsometry or topography. The name comes from Greekβαθύς (bathus), "deep", and μέτρον (metron), "measure".Bathymetric (or hydrographic) charts are typically produced to support safety of surface or sub-surface navigation, and usually show seafloor relief or terrain as contour lines (called depth contours or isobaths) and selected depths (soundings), and typically also provide surface navigational information. Bathymetric maps (a more general term where navigational safety is not a concern) may also use a Digital Terrain Modeland artificial illumination techniques to illustrate the depths being portrayed. The global bathymetry is sometimes combined with topography data to yield a Global Relief ModelPaleobathymetry is the study of past underwater depths. (wikipedia)
• • •

Normally don't care for the highly-sequestered corners type of construction, but it turns out these corners were pretty easy to get into and so didn't feel like four separate puzzles, the way they can when the entry point from other parts of the grid is exceeding narrow (say, one square wide). This one kept its feeling of flow from section to section, which I like and appreciate. The NE looks like it would be the hardest to get into from the center, since you'd just have a few not very telling letters at the back ends of those long Downs to help you, but today, BARBECUE and ETAILERS were easy to pick up even with very little help from the crosses, so I just zoomed right up into that corner (although, as you can see, I "mis"spelled BARBEQUE at first pass—please note that my software is currently accepting the "wrong" spelling and redlining the "correct" spelling of this word (11D: Occasion for smoking). If I hadn't had to give into QED, no way I put a "Q" there) (30A: Letters for a proof reader) (because QED, short for quod erat demonstrandum, are letters you might see at the end of a mathematical proof). The toughest part for me was actually the entire middle of the grid. Had to work for all four of those marquee 12-letter answers that cross each other around that center black square. Frustrating. Here's a shot of the grid from the moment of peak frustration:

Felt pretty confident heading out of that NW corner, which was no trouble at all—put down MESAS (4D: Features of Hopi lands in Arizona) and then educatedly guessed GOYAS (19A: The "Black Paintings" and others), which was correct and got me IN SYNC, etc. But after that, yeesh, even getting the full front ends of those long Downs didn't help. MURDER HORNET is what happens when you make a puzzle at the peak of what turns out to be a very short-lived media phenomenon (7D: Informal name for Vespa mandarinia). Historians will be able to date the creation of this puzzle to summer 2020, is what I'm saying. I haven't thought about the MURDER HORNET since that week earlier this year when everyone (on social media) was guffawing in that "2020, amirite?" kind of way about this insect. So far had the hornet receded into my memory, that even having MURDER in place did nothing for me. The absurd Latin (I assume) taxonomical clue did nothing either. To me a Vespa is a motorbike. And GEORGE SM- ... honestly, the clue suggested totally different genres / hero types to me (21D: Long-running fictional hero who made his debut in "Call for the Dead"). I was thinking some kind of franchise-anchoring "hero," but it's just ... a spy who was in a lot of novels. This is all to say that I know very well who GEORGE SMILEY is and still did not suspect he was the answer here (at least not immediately) even when I had GEORGE SM- in place. Further, as you can see above, I had TONTO instead of TANTO (I assumed that they had found a non-Lone Ranger way to clue that word, finally). So TONTO blocked MOTHER NATURE for a bit. The other musical answer, QUARTER RESTS, I have heard of but couldn't get to from the info I had in the grid (36A: Squiggly musical symbols). So, in somewhat unexpected fashion, the puzzle was hard in the middle and easy in the corners. Weird.

Ultimately, I LIKED IT. It's very much a Saturday, and probably above average in terms of quality. Saturdays are almost always gonna feel like sloggier Fridays to me. I usually approach them with a "let's just get through this" attitude. When you put the premium on difficulty and not entertainment, the result is less enjoyable to me. Hence Friday > Saturday. But this one had more nice / original moments than most Saturdays. What's more, it had no real weak spots. Grid was solid and varied and interesting throughout. 

Five more things:
  • 5D: Dashes (off) (JETS) — wrote this in first, only ... I thought the answer was JOTS (like when you "dash (off)" a note?? Weird to have the totally wrong answer get me three correct letters including a "J"
  • 6D: Start of some thoughts shared on social media (IMO) — wrote in IDK. I virtually never see IMO ... except in crosswords, obviously
  • 50A: Dive (SWOOP) — off the SW-, wrote in SWOON. This left me with DENTHS for the [Bathymetry measurements]. I was very much prepared not to question it; figured it must be some horrible technical term I'd never heard of. Then I thought "no, it's *too* awful," and then I rethought the crosses and SWOOP presented itself
  • 24D: Heebie-jeebies (JITTERS) — As you can see in the partially filled grid, above, I had JI- and still no idea this was JITTERS. To me, "heebie jeebies" is the creeps, whereas JITTERS are the shakes. The former comes more from fear of something threatening, ghostly, monstrous, Lovecraftian, the latter from, say, coffee, or anxiety / nervousness about something more quotidian. Shudder with fear, heebie-jeebies; shake with anxiety, JITTERS. That is how my brain taxonomizes this stuff, it seems.
  • 39A: Tenor part in Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" (ERNESTO) — clue may as well have been [Some guy's name]. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Los Angeles suburb bordering Griffith Park / FRI 12-4-20 / 6-9 months / 1986 sci-fi film sequel / Trees symbolizing death in Celtic culture / Survivor at the end of Hamlet / Brand for determining if you're expecting

Friday, December 4, 2020

Constructor: Patti Varol and Doug Peterson

Relative difficulty: Easy or Easy-Medium, maybe (solved methodically, early in the morning, and still came in only a shade over 5)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Donald FAGEN (11D: Steely Dan singer Donald) —
Donald Jay Fagen (born January 10, 1948) is an American musician best known as the co-founder, lead singer, co-songwriter, and keyboardist of the band Steely Dan, formed in the early 1970s. He has also released four albums as a solo artist and in 2001 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The 2017 death of Steely Dan's co-founder Walter Beckerleft Fagen as the only remaining original member. (wikipedia)
• • •

These two! I know and love them both, and know they are friends, but I don't think I've ever seen them on the same byline, which seems bizarre. They are both veteran puzzle-makers (and editors), and they both live in the L.A. area (hence, I assume, the little GLENDALE wink in this puzzle) (36D: Los Angeles suburb bordering Griffith Park). Anyway, they are delightful and this puzzle was delightful. Friday, best day, so happy. Patti and Doug are both roughly my age (uh ... grownup age) so I'm not too surprised that I was right on this puzzle's cultural wavelength, right from the beginning. Best of all, the proper names gave me almost no trouble—it is a little name-heavy, which is the only (admittedly mild) criticism I have. Maybe FAGEN crossing NEAL might've roughed some solvers up? I don't know how that box could be anything but an "N," but still, when you cross names like that, you gotta make sure the cross is at least inferrable. Me, I own three of Donald FAGEN's solo albums and one of my good friends (mystery writer and former student of mine, Libby Cudmore) is a Steely Dan superfan. She actually gave me one of my Donald FAGEN albums—his most recent one, Sunken Condos (2012). My sister loves Steely Dan and FAGEN's solo albums too. And they say Steely Dan is just for dudes. Shrug. So FAGEN's name, easy for me, and NEAL Stephenson, same, as I just read the gigantic and slightly harrowing Fall; or Dodge in Hell last summer. I also read Snow Crash back in grad school (aka the '90s). Hey, Stephenson wrote Snow Crash, and Donald FAGEN has a song on Kamakiriad (1993) called "Snowbound," so ... Snow Crash crossing "Snowbound." This pleases me. 

Grew up listening to Jim Croce (one of my dad's favorites) so "I GOT A NAME," also a piece of cake. GRETA GERWIG! Nice one. Just watched her Little Women for the first time a couple months ago. Basically everything was coming up Rex today. Some days, you get lucky.

The one name that did give me trouble was NATALIE COLE, and only because NAT KING COLE fits in the same number of boxes (56A: "Unforgettable ... With Love" Grammy recipient). I know she sang "Unforgettable" as a duet with her father, who had been dead well over two decades at that point. So because he made the song famous, and I had NAT- in place, I just automatically dropped in KING COLE. But then KING started chafing (as wrong answers will), and the "K" in particular became impossible, and then click, oh yeah, NATALIE! ("Unforgettable ... With Love" is actually the name of a Grammy-winning *album*). Only other thing I struggled at all with was CAMPY, actually (1D: Absurdly exaggerated). Needed every cross. The clue is accurate enough, it's just ... without proper context, I couldn't find my way from the clue to the answer. These things happen. I'm glad I already had the "C" in place by the time I saw the clue for MARCO (45D: One of the racing Andrettis) because I would definitely have dropped in MARIO and it would've felt *very* right ... until it wasn't. I didn't even know there *was* a MARCO, but the "C" was solid and MARCO was the only name I could make there. Again, lucky. It was a good day.

Just in case the logic escaped you:
  • 37A: 6-9 months (SUMMER) — because 6 = June, 7= July, 8 = August
  • 42A: Pair of skivvies? (VEES) — because there are a "pair" of VEES in the word "skivvies" 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Happy Birthday to Jay-Z, who turns 51 today. 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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