Classic line from the Superfans sketch on SNL / WED 10-27-21 / Overseer of Hamlet's duel with Laertes / Portable structure that's pitched / Wabbit pursuer Elmer

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Constructor: Johanna Fenimore

Relative difficulty: Easy (esp. if you are a Gen-Xer who used to watch SNL in the '90s and early '00s)


THEME: "LIVE FROM NEW YORK..." (38A: Classic opening line from an NBC sketch show)— old SNL catchphrases ... that's honestly it:

Theme answers:
  • "DAAAAA BEARS!" (17A: Classic line from the Superfans sketch on "S.N.L.")
  • "SCHWEDDY BALLS" (24A: Classic line from the Delicious Dish sketch on "S.N.L.")
  • "WE'RE NOT WORTHY!" (49A: Classic line from the Wayne's World sketch on "S.N.L.")
  • "MORE COWBELL!" (60A: Classic line from the Blue Öyster Cult sketch on "S.N.L.")
Word of the Day: Mirin (32D: Mirin and sake => RICE WINES) —
Mirin (味醂 or みりんJapanese: [miɾiɴ]) is a type of rice wine and a common ingredient in Japanese cooking. It is similar to sake, but with a lower alcohol content and higher sugar content. The sugar content is a complex carbohydrate that forms naturally during the fermentation process; no sugars are added. The alcohol content is further lowered when the liquid is heated.
• • •

"LIVE FROM NEW YORK..." is a cool 15, but this is not what you do with it. I'm baffled by how this counts as a passable theme, as they're just ... "lines." It's basically an ad for the show. Worse, it's an ad for the show's ghost—the most recent of these "lines" is 21 years old. Yes, "MORE COWBELL!" can legally drink now. Does Gen X not think that its pop culture can be "bygone"? Some bygone is fine, but this is entirely bygone, which may speak to the waning real-world impact of that show (what "classic" lines are there from the 2010s on?), but still this puzzle feels exclusionary, age-wise, and also feels like a grave. Further, "LIVE FROM NEW YORK..." line doesn't go with the others, as it's not part of a sketch. They still open the show with that line (I think). Even further, SCHWEDDY BALLS isn't really a "line"—it's a product. Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, and Alec Baldwin do say it over and over, to comical effect, but ... that's what actors do. They say words and phrases. Not all of those words and phrases count as "lines." The other themers in this puzzle are all decidedly "lines." SCHWEDDY BALLS, isn't. I think the number of "A"s in "DAAAAA BEARS" is absolutely fudged to get the symmetry with "MORE COWBELL" to work out. I know this because it has always appeared as merely "DA BEARS" in ... [checks notes] ... the New York Times Crossword Puzzle ([Chicago team in old "S.N.L." sketches], just this past May). Remembering olden catchphrases isn't unpleasant, if you're of a certain age (I am), but I'm not sure that, as a theme, it's ... worthy.


But at least it's possible to enjoy the theme. The fill ... wow, it is truly bygone and in desperate need of clean-up (I don't really get why the team of experienced editors doesn't provide more fill polishing in cases like this, but oh well). When I put in ANAÏS, very early, a little warning light went off. Obviously ANAÏS Nin is crossworthy, but she's also old-school crosswordese, and as constructing programs have gotten more common over the years, and fill has consequently improved (somewhat), ANAÏS has drifted from puzzle prominence, to the point where you hardly see her anymore. [UPDATE: bizarrely, this is untrue; it *feels* true, but there are more 2021 appearances of ANAÏS so far (four) than there were total appearances of ANAÏS in 2001 (grand total: two). How is the era of constructing software making crosswordese reliance worse?? Annnnnnyway...] I worried that a bevy of old names and terms were going to come barreling into the grid ... and I wasn't wrong. "Bevy" may be an understatement. OLA EST (both suffixes??) IIS (grim), IWO ORR OSRIC (OSRIC is the real tell ... if ANAÏS hadn't set off the alarm, OSRIC would have), SRIS plural, ININK ANO FEU INA. The SE corner is truly baffling. EENIE BAAED YALIE ... all in the same tiny corner. It's like some "how many YALIEs can we stuff in a phone booth" college stunt, only in this case YALIEs (fittingly) are moribund repeating crossword terms. No, seriously, how do you go with EENIE / BEA over ERNIE / BRA?!?! How do you *choose* EENIE? Even that tiny, effortless change immediately improves the overall quality of the section. It's like no one really thought any of this through, or cared enough to try. There's just a "well, these answers have all been in grids before, so ... we're good!" attitude here. Very disheartening. 

Very grateful to @hazelnym for this meme
based on my Monday puzzle write-up

And IMPULSION, wtf?! I had the first part of the word and thought "Well they clearly mean IMPULSE ... don't they? This can't be ... IMPULSION ... is it? That's not a word. It must be IMPULSSSE ... like DAAAAA BEARS but with esses..." COMPULSION is a word, IMPULSE is a word, I have no idea what IMPULSION thinks it's doing, please don't wave dictionaries at me, it's rotten. On the other hand, I loved WRAP SKIRTS and RICE WINES. I'm surprised we don't see MIRIN in the puzzle way more often. Wait ... [again, checks notes] ... we've *never* seen MIRIN in the puzzle!?!?!?! How is that even possible? MIRIN is a staple in this household. Hi there, hey, hello, constructors!? Yeah, here's a never-used (5) just waiting for you to invite it into your grid(s)! I promised you, it's good. "MIRIN: Better than EENIE!"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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"Star Wars" princess / TUES 10-25-21 / Shrek's companion in "Shrek" / Spike or Gypsy Rose / Connery who played 007 seven times

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Hi, everyone, it’s Clare for the last Tuesday of October! Happy fall — finally — or, as my sister has been trying to get me to say: Happy spooky season! I’ve been trying to get into the season (my favorite time of the year) by baking pies and reading some ~spooky~ books like “Rebecca,” “The Haunting of Hill House,” and, coincidentally, “Frankenstein,” all of which I loved. The weather has also helped — we just had a massive rainstorm in Northern California (five and half inches of rain!), which was desperately needed but which uprooted trees and caused flooding, giving everything an otherworldly vibe. 


Anywho, on to the puzzle! 

Constructor: Michael Schlossberg

Relative difficulty: Fairly easy
THEME: FRANKENSTEIN (58A: Doctor whose shopping list might include 20-, 34- and 42- Across?) — Each theme answer is something Dr. Frankenstein might use to make his monster. 

Theme answers:
  • NUTS AND BOLTS (20A: Basic, practical details
  • AN ARM AND A LEG (34A: What expensive things cost
  • LIGHTNING ROD (42A: Magnet for criticism
Word of the Day: BEE BALM (7D: Flowering plant also known as horsemint) —
Bee Balm (also commonly known by its scientific name, Monard, or bergamot, horsemint, and owego tea. It is a genus of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. The plant is endemic to North America. The genus was named for the Spanish botanist Nicolás Monardes, who wrote a book in 1574 describing plants of the New World. (Wiki)

• • •

I found the theme quite fun and amusing. It was also certainly timely with Halloween coming up this weekend. For some reason, I had a hard time getting going at the top of the puzzle, so I actually solved this puzzle from bottom-to-top in a sort of piecemeal approach. That meant I got FRANKENSTEIN before I got any of the theme answers, which took a bit of the huzzah out of the reveal for me. Still, I appreciated the clever theme. 

The rest of the puzzle was a different story. It felt like the puzzle was made up of mostly three- and four-letter words that were crosswordese or just plain annoying (III, anyone?). For example… CHEF, HOGS, ALB, BLAB, ENGRTGIF, BBC, ARS, LIE, EEO, OHO, PLO, ALDO (why do so many end in O?!). I’ve also never heard of EGO SURFS (18A: Looks for web content about oneself) before, and did we really need plural AMANAS (1D)? I will always hate words like E-CHECK (65A), where there’s just an “e” thrown in front of a word to make it “virtual.” Then, having it cross SNERT (56D: Hägar the Horrible's dog) was particularly irksome for me, because I wasn’t familiar with it. 

I suppose some of the long downs were nice enough (BEGONIA, DEMURE, ELICIT, LAOTSE)? But that’s about it! 

Misc.:
  • I remember reading FRANKENSTEIN for the first time in my 11th grade English class and being very surprised by the fact that Frankenstein is the name of the doctor — not the name of the monster. 
  • OREOs (16A: Treat with a 71%-to-29% cookie-to-cream ratio) are pretty good, but the Double Stuf OREOs — even though they apparently only have 1.86 times the cream of a regular OREO — are most definitely the best. 
  • Whenever I think of SEERS (28A: Crystal ball gazers, e.g.), I can only think of Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter and all of her shenanigans. Guess this is a perfect season for a Harry Potter movie marathon! 
  • Did I finally lose the battle I’ve been fighting with my sister over whether it’s called bubble tea or BOBA (5D: Word before tea or Fett)? Maybe you can all be the judge. I still proclaim that it’s called bubble tea and will die on this hill, while she claims that everyone instead calls it BOBA (tea). (We’ve since learned that it’s mainly called BOBA on the West Coast, where she went to school, and bubble tea on the East Coast, where I attended.) 
And that’s all! Hope everyone has a spooktacular Halloween and a great November! 

Signed, Clare Carroll, a Hocus Pocus devotee

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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