Court figure, in old slang / FRI 5-17-24 / Modern TV attachment / Last thing left in Pandora's box / Long rows? / Dessert skipper's explanation / Hill's partner in publishing / Food item that's fittingly shaped like a mouse cursor

Friday, May 17, 2024

Constructor: Hemant Mehta

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TANGRAMS (40A: Seven-piece puzzles) —
The 
tangram (Chinese七巧板pinyinqīqiǎobǎnlit. 'seven boards of skill') is a dissection puzzle consisting of seven flat polygons, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. The objective is to replicate a pattern (given only an outline) generally found in a puzzle book using all seven pieces without overlap. Alternatively the tans can be used to create original minimalist designs that are either appreciated for their inherent aesthetic merits or as the basis for challenging others to replicate its outline. It is reputed to have been invented in China sometime around the late 18th century and then carried over to America and Europe by trading ships shortly after. It became very popular in Europe for a time, and then again during World War I. It is one of the most widely recognized dissection puzzles in the world and has been used for various purposes including amusement, art, and education. (wikipedia)
• • •

[What I pictured when I read
"Dessert skipper" (37D)]
Can you wavelength a constructor just by following them on X (née Twitter)? Is "wavelength" a verb now just because I want it to be? Whatever the answers to these provocative questions, I absolutely destroyed this puzzle. I don't time myself anymore, but it feels like I would've been somewhere near a record Friday time today. Hit the ground running in my NIKES (1A: Jordans, e.g.) and Did Not Stop. OK, I paused, slightly, in a couple of places, but virtually every clue just seemed transparent, even the ones that seemed to want to get tricky or vague or trickily vague on me. So there was lots and lots of whoosh today. Almost too much whoosh (not usually a problem!). The marquee answers could maybe have used a little more spice, but they're all rock solid and occasionally lovely. Except "I'M ON A DIET"—it's solid enough, but ugh, "dieting," the practice and especially the industry, boo. Much better were FELL IN LOVE (yay) and LOSING SLEEP (boo in life, yay in grid) and CHEESE WEDGE (mmm) and CTRL-ALT-DEL (esp. as clued—makes it sound hilariously profane) (53A: "Three-finger salute," to help reboot) (and it's a little poem, too; like "Be kind, Rewind," only ... longer). Laughed professionally at 56A: Outpaces the syllabus (READS AHEAD) since some small but significant portion of my students seem never even to have read the syllabus itself. "It's In The Syllabus" is maybe the longest running professor joke. Evergreen response 1/2 of all student questions. Put it on a T-shirt (pretty sure someone already has). LOL, there's an entire Etsy store dedicated to this phrase!

[from phdcomics.com]

So it was easy. This is not to say that I didn't make a few wrong moves along the way, starting with SNIDE COMMENT at 5D: Cutting lines (SNIDE REMARKS). "Lines" did not necessarily mean the answer was going to be plural, since a bunch of "lines" can be understood cumulatively as a single "comment," so COMMENT in the singular didn't faze me. But then I checked the COMMENT crosses, starting (as always) with the shortest cross, and, well, I know my Scottish islands reasonably well, especially the four-letter ones, and I don't know of one with "T" in the second position, but I do know SKYE, so in went SKYE, out went comment, and in went REMARKS ("K" is a high-value letter in both Scrabble and crosswords). Wasn't sure about the Navy answer—thought it might be NAVY or NAVAL something or other, but I wanted CADET and NAVAL CADET didn't fit so I tried NAVY CADET and whaddya know? Perfect. Eventually had the PLAN part of FALLBACK PLAN and couldn't think of anything but BACK-UP PLAN, which I guess is the same thing as a FALLBACK PLAN, just with BACK in a different place. Took a little hacking at the crosses to make the FALLBACK part come into view, but just a little hacking. Not strenuous hacking. Had the CAB- part of 28A: 1873 invention first used in San Francisco and ironically couldn't do anything with it. I say "ironically" because I was born in San Francisco and so books about the place, usually featuring CABLE CARs on the cover, figured large in my childhood.


BEDIM before GO DIM (34A: Fade out) and LEGAL before LEGIT (25D: Not sketchy) and STOP before DROP (57A: Not keep hanging on). Wow, that last one is pretty literal, and potentially painful! (note: I misread the clue: It's [Not keep harping on] ... that's better, and less grim]


Was prepared to be mad at the clue for CMAS for including the word "Award," which I thought was what the "A" stood for (23A: Awards won by George Strait in three separate decades, familiarly). But no, the "A" stands for "Association," as in "Country Music Association," so having "Award" in the clue doesn't violate any cluing rules (namely, the rule where you can't clue an initialism using any of the words represented by the initials in question). Not much to explain today. ROKU is a popular streaming service with set-top boxes that attach to your TV (11D: Modern TV attachment). The "rows" in 21A: Long rows? are "arguments," "fights," i.e. FEUDS. We don't really say "row" (rhymes with "cow") on this side of the pond, but that's OK, it's not exactly obscure. CAGER is holy-cow-old slang for a basketball player. Like, it was old when I was young. I am no longer young. It was one of the first bits of crossword slang I learned back when I started solving in the early '90s. Me: "Wait ... how is this basketball slang? I've been following basketball for most of my life and I have never, never ever, heard anyone use this term?" Crossword: "Welcome to crosswords, buddy! We've got all kinds of stupid words! You're gonna love it!"  

[I learned about this (great) song from Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) when she played it on one of the episodes of her Apple Radio program "St. Vincent's Mixtape Delivery Service"]

See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Repetitive clicking sound? / THU 5-16-24 / "Shirt Front and Fork" sculptor, 1922 / Michael Jackson's first concert tour after the Jackson 5 / Craft measured in cubits

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Constructor: Sara Muchnick

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: "ALL FOR ONE" (and "one for all") (63A: When read forward and then backward, motto that suggests how to interpret this puzzle's starred clues) — in the starred clues, you have to change "all" to "one" (or vice versa) in order to make sense of the answer:

Theme answers:
  • "SOME NERVE!" (17A: *Gone) (=> Gall)
  • TOILET BRUSH (24A: *Stone tool) (=> Stall tool)
  • ICE CREAM (36A: *Scoop received in a call) (=> Scoop received in a cone)
  • SPARKLED (43A: *Shall) (=> Shone)
  • ROTARY JOINT (52A: *It gets the ball rolling) (=> It gets the bone rolling) (also known as a "pivot joint")
Word of the Day: BAD (31D: Michael Jackson's first concert tour after the Jackson 5) —

Bad is the seventh studio album by the American singer-songwriter Michael Jackson. It was released on August 31, 1987, by Epic Records. Written and recorded between 1985 and 1987, Bad was Jackson's third and final collaboration with the producer Quincy Jones. Jackson co-produced and composed all but two tracks, and adopted an edgier image and sound, departing from his signature groove-based style and falsetto. Bad incorporates poprockfunkR&Bdancesoul, and hard rock styles, and incorporated new recording technology, including digital synthesizers. The lyrical themes include media biasparanoiaracial profilingromanceself-improvement, and world peace. The album features appearances from Siedah Garrett and Stevie Wonder.

Nine singles were released, including a record-breaking five number ones: "I Just Can't Stop Loving You", "Bad", "The Way You Make Me Feel", "Man in the Mirror" and "Dirty Diana". Bad was promoted with the film Moonwalker (1988), which included the music videos for several Bad songs. The Bad tour, Jackson's first solo world tour, grossed $125 million (equivalent to $322 million in 2023), making it the highest-grossing solo concert tour of the 1980s. Jackson performed 123 concerts in 15 countries to an audience of 4.4 million. (wikipedia)

• • •

[20A: "Shirt Front and Fork" sculptor, 1922
(Jean ARP)]
This is a cute, simple, and reasonably elegant trick. I can't believe some constructor didn't think of it before. "ALL FOR ONE and one for all!" is the kind of expression that's just begging to be used as a revealer. It's the kind of thing you build a theme around. And ... yeah, that is exactly what has happened here. The trick is to get your swapped clues to sound like real clues. For instance, [*Tone tale] wouldn't work because what the hell is that? Yes, a swap would get you [Tall tale], and that might get you, say, FISH STORY, but the surface level of the clue has to make sense, and [*Tone tale] absolutely doesn't. If you used something like [*Tone tale], you'd give the game away fast, in that the solver would know instantly that there's some trickery happening with the clue words themselves, some swapping or rearranging that's going to have to happen to make things make sense. As it is, the only way you know trickery is afoot is that you can't get an answer that makes sense for the clue as written, and so you have to reason backward from the answer you do get, and that ... doesn't make sense. Not until you get to the revealer, anyway. Today's theme clues all seem like very normal clues—except for the stars (*) of course, which tell you something is going on. I don't like to jump to the revealer in a puzzle like this—feels like cheating. But when I couldn't figure out the gimmick after working through the first two themers, I sped down to the bottom, found the revealer, worked it out in very short order, and that was that—the trick was revealed (aha!), and the magic gall, I mean gone. At least it was a genuine aha. 


The puzzle was way, way too easy for a Thursday; this made the revealer very easy to get, and once the trick was revealed, there was nothing left to puzzle out. Everything got very straightforward. Sometimes you get the revealer but there's still work to be done, even when you know the trick—rebus squares you still gotta track down, or other mental gymnastics left to perform. But not today. Do the swap and poof, mystery puzzle becomes ordinary puzzle. Carriage back into pumpkin. But it was an impressive transformation, and fun while it lasted.


I had some issues with the cluing here and there, most notably on the first themer ("SOME NERVE!"), which only works as a spoken expression, right? I guess you could swap out "gall" and "SOME NERVE" in a hypothetical sentence ... OK ... "You've got SOME NERVE coming in here and telling me, Chef Luigi, how to cook lasagna!" I guess you could put "gall" in there and have it work. But "SOME NERVE!" feels more equivalent with "The gall!" They feel like equivalent standalone expressions, expressing shock that someone could be as rude or shameless as they're being. Actually maybe "the nerve!" is the standalone expression I'm hearing in my head the loudest. Anyway, something about the "SOME" in "SOME NERVE" is making me not like the answer as a one-to-one equivalency for mere "gall." Also didn't like SUIT as a singular "item" considering it's only the jacket part of the SUIT that has "tails," right? (28A: Tailored item that can have tails). The BAD clue is ... not good, in the sense that it's written without parallelism: the clue references his former group, but the answer is the name of a tour. His last tour (before BAD) was the Victory tour. Maybe "after leaving the Jackson 5" would've made things clearer, but "concert tour after the Jackson 5" makes it seem like "Jackson 5" is, itself, a tour. And it's not. The writing just seems sloppy here. I also balked at DOEST because isn't it DOST? Looks like both are archaic second person singulars of the verb "to do." DOEST is one of the few times the grid wanders into less than lovely territory with the fill (ENE, SMS, TOAT, etc.). Overall, it's reasonably clean. Not thrilled by the ISSA / ARP cross, but if you don't know one of those, then have you ever solved a crossword before? Olds are gonna nail ARP, and any recent solver's gonna know ISSA. Crosswordese generations collide!


Bullets:
  • 1A: Seabird's nesting spot (ISLE) — I had MAST. Pretty sure I read "nesting" as "resting."
  • 47A: Vegetable that's a letter off from an Ivy (KALE) — the lengths to which the NYTXW will go to mention Yale are hilarious. "Emergency! This puzzle doesn't yet mention Yale, what're we gonna do!?" "Uh ... well, KALE rhymes with Yale, so ..." "Genius! Yes! Run with it! Phew, crisis averted."
  • 67A: Where to find a very wet sponge (REEF) — my theory is that things that live their entire lives under water are not, in fact, wet. You can only be wet on land. In the ocean, you just ... are. This clue is speciesism, is what I'm saying.
  • 2D: Repetitive clicking sound? (SHORT I) — a letteral clue! (where the clue points at itself, specifically at a single letter in the clue—today, both the "I"s in "clicking"). This may be the only clue in the whole puzzle that rises to Thursday difficulty standards. Is the "I" in "ing" "short" though? Those two "I"s in "clicking" sound very different from one another, but I guess they both fall under the general category of "SHORT I." The two "I"s in "Repetitive" are actually more fitting examples. (More on the specifics of vowel length here)
  • 37D: Head of lettuce? (CFO) — the only thing the NYTXW likes more than Yale is trying to convince you that people still refer to money as "lettuce" (or KALE, actually, LOL)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. TOAT = “to a T

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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