What "waftaroms" represent in the comics / FRI 7-19-24 / Physiologist whose namesake exercise is part of an Army fitness test / Final Fantasy and others, for short

Friday, July 19, 2024

Constructor: Jacob McDermott

Relative difficulty: Hard (19:06 with a couple "Check Puzzle"s)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ODOR (What "waftaroms" represent in the comics) —
The Lexicon of Comicana is a 1980 book by the American cartoonist Mort Walker. It was intended as a tongue-in-cheek look at the devices used by comics cartoonists. In it, Walker invented an international set of symbols called symbolia after researching cartoons around the world (described by the term comicana).   
• • •

Hey squad, Malaika here! What a treat to review a themeless puzzle for once! I like my puzzles easy and themeless, and this one hit one of the marks. I really struggled to get a start on this-- absolutely fell into the [It might turn red or blue] trap, and dropped in "litmus test." (I also, slightly more embarrassingly, initially had "rizz" instead of GAME for [Flirting ability, in slang].) I was able to make consistent progress for about fifteen minutes and then I majorly stalled with everything filled but the two lower corners. It took some guessing and checking down there to get me to the end.

Also-- there were two places where I had to fully guess. The crossing of WON / LAW took me a second because I couldn't crack that fiendishly clever clue [Appealing subject?], and while I guessed that "jeon" was Korean, I totally blanked on the currency. I also didn't know the crossing of SIENA / CANA, although I guessed correct on my first try.

Looking over the grid, nothing stands out as particularly hard (I was able to plop in some of the non-ideal stuff like IN OT and YER just because I've done lots of puzzles), so I'm trying to figure out why I got such a slow start. I think it's because the cluing was trivia-heavy.

To me, trivia, more than anything else, can stretch the range of a puzzle's difficulty. Trivia is the thing that makes a puzzle a breeze to some and a struggle to others. ("What about proper nouns??" you might ask. And to you I say-- those are often a subset of trivia!) Obviously sometimes trivia is fully necessary, but here we got trivia clues for entries that could have been clued otherwise, like OPERA (Setting of a date for Edward and Vivian in "Pretty Woman") and SIENA (New York college known for opinion polling) and ODOR (What "waftaroms" represent in the comics) (Did the grammar feel weird on that to anyone else? I really wanted a plural.) and BURPEE (Physiologist whose namesake exercise is part of an Army fitness test) and NILE (River traveled by passenger boats known as dahabeahs) and NORTH POLE (Locale with the ZIP code 88888) and even BALI (Neighbor of Java) and YAM (Sub-Saharan crop). That seemed like a lot to me!!

There were also some puns that worked and others that didn't. I already mentioned [Appealing subject?] as a win. On the other end of things was [Things that are head and shoulders above the rest?] for PROFILE PICS, whose wordplay just didn't land-- I've had plenty of profile pics which feature below my shoulders... or aren't even a picture of me at all. Spinning 180 again, I'll devote several sentences to [What might prompt you to flip the bird?] for OVEN TIMER, which is one of the best clues I can remember in a long time. Changing the meaning of both "flip" and "bird" is so genius, and the "Aha!" moment was incredibly delightful and satisfying. I'll be keeping this one in my back pocket the next time I'm teaching someone how to write the perfect Question Mark Clue.

I'm running out of room in this review, so I'll close by flagging my two favorite entries-- LOVE POTION and IM ON A ROLL. The former is just so evocative and almost poetic; the latter selfishly reminds me of a puzzle I wrote from a couple months ago.

Lots of bullets today:
  • [Upon which a dragonfly frequently lays its eggs] for POND — This phrasing was bonkers to me!! I have never seen phrasing for a clue like this before, and for a moment I thought this was going to be a themed puzzle.
  • [Boyfriend of Nancy Drew] for NED — I was a huge reader but I never read these! In terms of mysteries, I preferred The Boxcar Children. If you're trying to buy a mystery for a kid you know, I highly recommend the Truly Devious series.
  • [Farmers business: Abbr.] for INS — Please, someone, tell me what this means
  • [Holiday time, informally] for VACAY — Does anyone else spell this "vaycay"? Actually, as I'm typing it, that looks dumb. Never mind.
xoxo Malaika

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Name on a AAdvantage credit card / THU 7-18-24 / An "e-" one was first developed in 2003, for short / Oldest major TV network in the U.S. / "___ is long, life is short" (Greek aphorism)

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Constructor: Kareem Ayas

Relative difficulty: EASY-MEDIUM - I suppose it could play harder if you don't get the theme, but this seems like a pretty gettable gimmick.

THEME: WORMHOLES — Three astronomically themed answers in the top row continue from one circled square to another to form a longer answer because... I honestly don't know.

Word of the Day: PARAMUS (50A: New Jersey borough known for its shopping malls) —
Paramus (/pəˈræməs/ pə-RAM-əs[20]) is a borough in the central portion of Bergen County, in the U.S. state of New Jersey. A suburban bedroom community of New York City, Paramus is located 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 km) northwest of Midtown Manhattan and approximately 8 miles (13 km) west of Upper Manhattan. The Wall Street Journal characterized Paramus as "quintessentially suburban".[21] The borough is also a major commercial hub for North Jersey (home to Garden State Plaza and various corporate headquarters).
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Hi Crossworld, it's Eli again! I usually look froward to Thursday puzzles. I like a good gimmick theme and seeing what constructors can throw my way that I'm not expecting. Today was... not for me. Like, I see that the starts of the theme phrases are space-related, but why these phrases? Is there any reasoning behind which circled square goes to the next? Why are the "receiving" wormholes isolated squares? Why, if you remove that wormhole square, do two of the answers make readable (if incomplete) phrases but the third one doesn't? I sincerely hope I'm missing something here because this feels both flimsy and frankly, boring. 

Theme answers:
  • STAR***T YOUR ENGINES (1A: Indy 500 directive / 23D: ---)
  • COMET***O JESUS MOMENT (5A: Epiphany that precedes a major change / 21D: ---)
  • NOVA***CANCY (10A: Neon sign outside a motel / 55D: ---)
  • WORMHOLE (39D: Portal represented by each pair of circled letters in this puzzle) 
You also have ASTRONAUT (33A: One on a mission) hanging out around the middle there, but it's more theme-adjacent than actually a part of anything. Also, sitting there above UVA (40A: Charlottesville sch.) instead of EVA (which is a space-related acronym - Extravehicluar Activity) without too much reworking feels like a missed opportunity. When the theme is this thin, why not pad it out some? Oh, I see SAGAN (71A: Carl who wrote "Cosmos") hanging out down in that bottom corner. More theme-adjacency. 

25A, from Marvel's Inhumans
I'm honestly struggling to think of much to say about this one. It's theme-light, but the fill doesn't take advantage of the extra space. OR IS IT (11A: Question that casts doubt) looks interesting in the grid, visually, but I think you could find a flashier clue there. I like Anita ODAY (38D) and I enjoy an ALPACA (3D: Domesticated relative of the vicuña), but neither is terribly exciting. Hey, a Muppet! (ERNIE (68A: Muppet with a distinctive snickering laugh)). I'll never complain about the presence of a Muppet. Here's a video of a Bert and Ernie outtake. Watching Muppeteers improvise with each other is one of my favorite things.

  • ARLEN (66A: Harold who composed "Over the Rainbow") — Nothing against the composer or the song, but Arlen always means one thing to me:
  • MAUL (7D: Badly rough up) and ANI (62A: Small change in party parity?) — Both of these could have been clued as Star Wars (Darth Maul and Anakin Skywalker, respectively). I don't think Star Wars uses wormholes extensively, but I still see them there.
  • UVA (40A: Charlottesville sch.) and OVA (35D: Products of oogenesis)  — I wonder what it would be like if you introduced them? Do I get to use this clip in 2 blogs in one month? You bet I do!

That's all I've got for today. I need to STOP (44D: "Enough!").

Signed, Eli Selzer, False Dauphin of CrossWorld

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