PC Key / FRI 9-22-17 / PC Key

Friday, September 22, 2017

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Difficult

THEME: No theme

Word of the Day: TAPIOCA (35D: Thickening agent) —
Tapioca (/ˌtæpɪˈkə/; Portuguese pronunciation: [tapiˈɔkɐ]) is a starch extracted from cassava root (Manihot esculenta). This species is native to the northeast region of Brazil, but its use spread throughout South America. The plant was carried by Portuguese and Spanish explorers to most of the West Indies and Africa and Asia. It is a tropical, perennial shrub that is less commonly cultivated in temperate climate zones. Cassava thrives better in poor soils than many other food plants.
Although tapioca is a staple food for millions of people in tropical countries, it is devoid of nutrition and low in food energy. In developed countries, it is used as a thickening agent in various manufactured foods. (Wikipedia)
• • •
TAPIOCA is great. It's the boba in BOBA TEA ((7) yet to appear in a NYT crossword puzzle) and it's in the pudding that you perhaps instinctively avoided as a child. I say let's bring it back, elevate TAPIOCA pudding, "Chef's Table" style. Hi, it's Lena filling in for Rex today.

Well I have to say it was weird having to jump out of the nest with barely any feathers into a tri-stack of 14s. I had to treat this like a downs only puzzle for a bit there and that put it on the challenging side for me. I hung around in the middle and then it was SARDINE (8D: Fish typically preserved in olive oil) that got me up to the North, followed by SEEN (5D: Not overlooked) and CERAMIC (3D: Kind of tile). Speaking of chefs and their tables, there is a nice restaurant here in Boston called haley.henry and they focus on tinned fish-- SARDINEs, anchovies, EEL-- and exceptional wines. And chips.

Anyway, are those would-be marquees ultimately worth not being able to get started in the across direction right away? Sure. ROMANTIC PERIOD (49A: Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron wrote in it) is kinda boring but the rest, especially ICING ON THE CAKE (54A: An additional plus) and MI CASA ES SU CASA (1A: Welcoming words), are fun-- and all except THREE CAR GARAGE (16A: Roomy storage space) are debut entries.

I had ROUTS for ROMPS (44A: Humiliating defeats) because, well, of course that's what I'm going to put there-- I look up ROUT and get "disastrous defeat" whereas ROMP's main definitions have nothing to do with either humiliation or losing. We will, we will ROMP you <stomp stomp clap>

The short fill caused by the stacks isn't too bad but I was aware of the presence of both CTR (NFL Position: Abbr.) and CTRL (11D: PC Key). SIGURD (9D: Brynhild's beloved, in Norse legend) certainly did not spring out of the brain easily, and I hadn't heard of conductor ESA-Pekka Salonen-- so overall I would say the North gave me the most trouble. In the South, I enjoyed the tricky clue for DOCTOR (41D: One who's gotten the third degree?) but didn't feel similarly about the one for TIME INC (36D: Life preserver?). Then I started getting cranky about both of them. "What if you didn't get your Masters in between undergrad and grad school? Do you count your high school diploma?"

Overall though there are lots of clever clues in this puzzle (ONE (39D: Small square)!) and I liked INHERES (2D: Exists naturally) because now I have a deeper understanding of the word "inherent." Ta-da! So even though it was slow-going for me at times it was satisfying in the end, and an interesting grid with those 14s-- cheater marquees?

Signed, Lena Webb, Court Jester of CrossWorld

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1927 automotive debut / THU 9-21-17 / Formula One racer Prost / Operative villains often / Vacuum tube innovation of 1946 / Ragtime legend Blake / Helmer of Doll's House

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Constructor: Matt Ginsberg

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: UEY (57D: Often-illegal maneuver that is key to answering the asterisked clues) —answers double back on the subsequent Across line (once they hit the black square):

Theme answers:
  • TWO-TIM / EL OSER (1A: *Adlai Stevenson as a presidential candidate, e.g.)
  • SALAR / Y CAPS (21A: *Limits on team payrolls)
  • STRIK / ES A BA / LANCE (31A: **Doesn't go to either extreme)
  • TATTL / ETALE (47A: *Snitch)
  • PRIVAT / E LINES (60A: *Individual telephone connections)
Word of the Day: GIVE EAR (25A: Listen (to)) —
Verb1.give ear - give heed (to); "The children in the audience attended the recital quietly"; "She hung on his every word"; "They attended to everything he said" (thefreedictionary.com)
• • •

So the basic concept is solid—answers do a U-turn, and the comeback portion of the answer is itself a viable word in the Across. The double-UEY in the middle of the grid is a nice twist. The fill is just OK, but the theme is pretty demanding, so no strong complains there. What I dislike, to the point of resenting, is the deliberate trap set in the west. Now traps are fine, but when you set them where your Stupidest answers are, then falling into them is deeply unpleasant. A good trap should make you go "Ah, right, good one." But GIVE EAR (?!) is a phenomenally stupid thing, and crossing VEEPSTAKES ... ? Is VEEPSTAKES the thing where candidates decide on VP candidates? We gave that a name? The clue makes it sound like an official thing. It's not. There is not necessarily a "stakes" involved. Just pick a running mate. Anyway, back to the trap. 25D: A whole bunch (_O_S) ... crossing 36A: Social gathering (_E_). The latter was what really got me. I wrote in TEA and then that gave me LOTS for [A whole bunch]. And that was pretty much that. Had LI_EEAR and _EAPSTAKES and couldn't see how any answers I had were wrong. Because they weren't wrong. They were just wrong for This Grid because stupid GIVE EAR and stupid VEEPSTAKES thought they'd have a stupid party for ugly answers. Luckily at some point my "tear it all out" instinct kicked in, and somehow I was able to get to GIVE / GOBS / BEE / VEEP. Again, theme was solid, but not solid enough to absorb the blow from the GIVE EAR train wreck.

MISCALL is superdumb (28D: Poker blunder). What the hell is that? Where you call but shouldn't have? How is there a name for that kind of stupidity? What is an ALAIN Prost? (48D: Formula One racer Prost) People know that? People know Formula One racers? Talk about niche sports. Worst mistake I made all day wasn't the LOTS / TEA thing (that was a very reasonable mistake). No, it was reading "Scoville scale" (40D: Topping the Scoville scale) but thinking "Beaufort scale." So I could see the answer wanted to be HOTTEST, but ... winds aren't measure by hotness.

My favorite clue in this thing is probably 43A: George I or V? (SOFT G). Clever. Take it from an erstwhile medievalist, a knight does not "need" a LANCE, no way, no how, no. NOSED IN is almost as dumb as GIVE EAR. But again, most of the fill (though oldish and awkward at times) holds up, and the theme is fine.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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