Hot tub shindig / THU 8-118-22 / Proverbial assessment of whether or not an idea can be taken seriously / Prefix meaning "10" that's associated with 12 / Fitness class inspired by ballet / Cleric's closetful / 1972 Gilbert O''Sullivan hit with a melancholy title / Small oily fish / Half of the only mother/daughter duo to be nominated for acting Oscars for the same film

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Constructor: Adam Wagner

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (Easy for a rebus...)

THEME: INBOX ZERO (35D: Ambitious email goal, and a hint to four squares in this puzzle) — a rebus puzzle where some word meaning "zero" can be found "in" its own "box" four times:

Theme answers:
  • HEAVEN ON EARTH / RENO, NEVADA (18A: Paradise / 10D: Home of more than 16,000 slot machines)
  • BIKINI LINES / VANILLA (3D: Targets of some waxing / 22A: Bland)
  • LAUGH TEST / NAUGHTIER (40A: Proverbial assessment of whether or not an idea can be taken seriously / 32D: More likely to get coal, perhaps)
  • JACUZZI PARTY / MARZIPAN  (64A: Hot tub shindig / 49D: Almond confection)
Word of the Day: "poisoned pawn" (68A: Captures a "poisoned pawn" in chess, e.g.) —
The Poisoned Pawn Variation is any of several series of opening moves in chess in which a pawn is said to be "poisoned" because its capture can result in a positional loss of time or a loss of material. [...] The variation was used in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Genius". (wikipedia)


• • •

For a puzzle that started with ALBS (the crosswordesiest of priestly garments) and passed through vomit (EMETIC), this one ended up being surprisingly fresh and delightful to solve. Rebuses are minefields by design—you gotta figure out where the hidden dangers are and defuse them or detonate them safely or whatever they do to mines to keep them from harming people. But sometimes the adventure can feel ... not worth it. Boring, maybe, like you have to dutifully hunt down these boxes that all say the same thing. And sometimes the rebus squares end up making the fill feel tortured, with slightly off phrases or junky fill popping up everywhere you go. But today the rebus squares were surprises, even after I got the revealer, and much of the time they came rising to the surface inside of truly original answers, so that there was pleasure not just in finding the rebus square, but in PARSE-ing the answers that crossed it. LAUGH TEST, JACUZZI PARTY, BIKINI LINES, HEAVEN ON EARTH, one after the other, the rebus squares and the answers that contained them were surprising and enjoyable. This puzzle feels very thoughtful, very polished, and the revealer is both a lively, contemporary phrase and a genuine "aha" surprise. After ALBS, I don't think I winced once while solving this thing. And there was no time at which I was not enjoying myself. Honestly, this is kind of a model rebus puzzle. MARZIPAN JACUZZI PARTY may be my favorite crossing of the year. It's just fun to say. MARZIPAN JACUZZI PARTY! I want to go to one.

If you know ALBS (and boy do I) then this puzzle was likely very easy to open up. ALBS STEELS BAIT ABCTV CUKE all in a row, which made the BIKINI part of BIKINI LINES easy to see. And since the word I wanted to be VANILLA ended up looking like VANLA, I knew pretty quickly a. that there was a problem, and b. what the problem was—rebus alert! (pause to lament this puzzle's VANILLA slander—a good VANILLA ice cream is anything but "bland"; VANILLA malts are my favorite drinks after coffee and Manhattans). 

So I put NIL in its box and off I went, not yet knowing why NIL was in a box, but confident that I'd find out. Every subsequent rebus square involved me tiptoeing up to the square, testing the ground, and then eventually finding the target. HEAVEN... [tap tap tap ... check surrounding areas ...] ah, there it is, the NONE square! And so on. The AUGHT square was probably the hardest, just because I couldn't think of what kind of TEST was in play (I knew there was a TEST, just not which kind, at first). But NAUGHTIER fixed that (proverbially, naughty kids get coal instead of toys at Christmas, in case that clue wasn't clear). I got the revealer about halfway through:

Knowing the premise made getting that AUGHT square much easier than it would've been otherwise. That the puzzle remained interesting even after the revealer did its revealing is a real testament to its overall strength. This one has a strong premise, but more importantly, executes the premise in a way that makes the whole solve interesting and entertaining. The second half of the solve was at least as entertaining as the first half. That ... is something. And then to play me out with the world's most wonderfully depressing song!? Mwah, perfect. Thank you.

Six things:
  • 33D: Prefix meaning "10" that's associated with 12 (DEC) — I didn't fully understand the "12" part as I was solving ... my brain was yelling something about "doDECahedron" at me, but I wasn't really listening. After I was finished, I realized that DEC. could be short for "December," i.e. the 12th month.
  • 56D: Small, oily fish (SPRAT) — weird that the guy who could eat no fat would be named after an "oily fish" but OK.
  • 59D: Stately estate (MANSE) — I had MANOR. I still want MANOR. I associate MANSEs with priests ... why is that? Perhaps because "manse (/ˈmæns/) is a clergy house inhabited by, or formerly inhabited by, a minister, usually used in the context of Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and other Christian traditions." (wikipedia). There's a MANSE, Nevada, I just found out. It's in the far southern part of the state, relatively close to Las Vegas and about 400 miles from RENO, NEVADA.
  • 15A: Google's streaming device (CHROMECAST) — weirdly never heard of this. Tried CHROMEBOOK in this space at first.
  • 2D: Half of the only mother/daughter duo to be nominated for acting Oscars for the same film (LAURA DERN) — she and her mom, Diane Ladd, were both nominated for 1991's (fabulous) "Rambling Rose"
  • 65D: Back (AGO) — not AFT!? But it's always AFT! Curses!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Video game franchise featuring Sub-Zero and Sonya Blade / WED 8-17-22 / Hairy cryptids / Aurora's Greek counterpart / Star Wars cantina patrons for short / Buffalo soldier dreadlock Bob Marley / Largish jazz combos

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Constructor: Michael Paleos

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: [SIC] (69A: [not my typo]) — Clues for famously misspelled names have "[69-Across]" after them, and 69-Across is [SIC], the notation for when you are indicating that "yes, I know the word appears misspelled, but that's how it appears in the original, don't blame me":

Theme answers:
  • FROOT LOOPS (17A: Breakfast cereal with a toucan mascot [69-Across])
  • BOSTON RED SOX (23A: Team that broke the "Curse of the Bambino" in 2004 [69-Across])
  • AMERICAN PHAROAH (39A: Triple Crown winner of 2015 [69-Across])
  • MORTAL KOMBAT (48A: Video game franchise featuring Sub-Zero and Sonya Blade [69-Across])
  • DEF LEPPARD (61A: "Pour Some Sugar on Me" rockers [69-Across])
Word of the Day: Ray LIOTTA (6D: Ray of "GoodFellas") —

Raymond Allen Liotta
 (Italian: [liˈɔtta]; December 18, 1954 – May 26, 2022) was an American actor and film producer. He was known for his roles as Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams (1989) and Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990). He was a Primetime Emmy Award winning actor and received nominations for a Golden Globe and two Screen Actors Guild Awards

Liotta first gained attention for his role as Ray Sinclair in the Jonathan Demme film Something Wild (1986), for which he received a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture nomination. He continued to star in films such as Unlawful Entry (1992), No Escape (1994), Cop Land (1997) Hannibal(2001), Blow (2001), Narc (2002), John Q (2002), Identity (2003), Killing Them Softly (2012), The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), Kill the Messenger (2014), Marriage Story (2019), and the Sopranos prequel theatrical film The Many Saints of Newark (2021).

He was also known for his television work in ER for which he received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2004. He starred as Frank Sinatra in the television film The Rat Pack (1998) and Lorca and Tom Mitchell in Texas Rising (2015) for which he earned Screen Actors Guild Award nominations. He starred in the drama series Shades of Blue (2016–2018) with Jennifer Lopez and had a prominent voice acting role as Tommy Vercetti in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002). (wikipedia)

• • •

So this one was weird primarily because no one would write [SIC] after any of these names except maybe AMERICAN PHAROAH, whose fame was very short-lived and whose name really might seem like a typo to an ordinary reader (an ordinary reader who knows how to spell "pharaoh"). Actually, it kinda feels like the only reason people remember AMERICAN PHAROAH at all (outside the ever-decreasing ranks of horse-racing fandom) is precisely because of that misspelling. Whereas with BOSTON RED SOX ... that name is so long-established that I, a fan of baseball for coming up on half a century, never really think of the name as a misspelling of "socks." That is, it doesn't even register as a misspelling, the way that DEF LEPPARD and FROOT LOOPS at least do—I know how to spell the band and the cereal, but those names at least register as wacky intentional misspellings, whereas SOX does not. The idea that you'd write SIC after the horse, I can buy, but after BOSTON RED SOX? Preposterous. I doubt anyone out there is going to think "don't you mean Deaf Leopard?" either. Anyway, these are famously "mis"-spelled names, so that's an interesting theme premise ... I just don't know if the SIC thing is really the best way to go about bringing it all together. I'm sure the use of SIC as a revealer here is supposed to be jokey / facetious, so the fact that you wouldn't *actually* use it for these names is (maybe) supposed to be beside the point. Still, the fact that I might in fact use it for some (horse) but never for others (baseball team) makes the theme set feel weirdly uneven, and the revealer feel like a punch line that doesn't quite land.

["One lump or two!"]

Speaking of misspellings, I was happy to see WHOA spelled correctly, but then I realized that the encroaching WOAH spelling (shudder) is not for this particular meaning of WHOA (3D: "Easy there!"), but for the exclamation you might make if you are surprised or left speechless by something. Today's WHOA is horse WHOA, not omg/wow WHOA. I think the move from WHOA to WOAH for the "omg/wow" exclamation is generational, but I don't know. Surely someone has written on this (... googling ...) yeah, looks like exceedingly-online folks are more apt to use WOAH (a misspelling that started as a message board phenomenon in the '80s, per this article). To me, WOAH is always gonna look like a chemical formula, and my brain is always gonna pronounce it like NOAH, e.g. "Noah's Ark contained a pair of every animal on earth, whereas WOAH's Ark contained only AMERICAN PHAROAH and hasn't been seen or heard from since 2015."

Some more notes:
  • 13D: Big name in shapewear (SPANX) — there's a SPANX store in the relatively small Delta terminal at LAX. Crummy restaurants, a couple of those candy / snack / sad-small-rack-of-books-and-magazines stores, and ... a SPANX store. It seemed odd. But I guess shapewear emergencies might arise anywhere. 
  • 41D: Supermodel Wek (ALEK) — correct on the first guess! This is the first time I've landed ALEK's name with no problem! I am supermodelly challenged, but I'm working on it! I took this picture in one of those aforementioned candy / snack / sad-small-rack-of-books-and-magazines stores at the Delta terminal, just so that I could remember a name I feel sure is coming to a grid near me very soon:
  • 7D: "Not true what you say about me!" ("I DO SO!") — wrote in "I DON'T!" and did Not want to remove it.
  • 14A: "Nasty!" ("UGH!") — wrote in "ICK!" which says "nasty!" to me far more than "UGH!" does.  "UGH!" indicates a kind of resigned / exasperated revulsion, whereas "ICK!" feels more truly grossed out. (This may only apply in writing about crosswords, I don't know.)
  • 59D: Like many of Horace's works (ODIC) — I didn't go on about the weak short fill today because sometimes I just get weary of saying the same thing day after day, but I wanted to say something about ODIC because it is an entirely self-inflicted wound. ODIC is pretty pure crosswordese. Not gonna find a lot of defenders for that never-seen-outside-crosswords, use-only-in-case-of-emergency fill. But today, the constructor has made it so that there aren't really any other options there. When you lock yourself into -D-C with your themers ... well, maybe consider a different solution. Swap FROOT LOOPS and DEF LEPPARD, move SIC ... something. -D-C leaves you with nowhere to go but ODIC. Why build crosswordese into your grid like this if you don't have to?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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