New Hampshire's Gate City / SAT 10-24-20 / Engage in rodomontade / HAL's earthbound twin in 2010 Odyssey Two / Muralla de Spanish landmark / Going from petticoats to pants once / Certain liberal of 21st century

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Constructor: Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Medium (8:08, first thing in the morning) (felt way faster, ??)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Sazerac (21A: Sazerac cocktail ingredient => RYE) —
The Sazerac is a local New Orleans variation of a cognac or whiskey cocktail, named for the Sazerac de Forge et Fils brand of cognac brandy that served as its original main ingredient. The drink is most traditionally a combination of cognac or rye whiskeyabsinthePeychaud's Bitters, and sugar, although bourbon whiskey is sometimes substituted for the rye and Herbsaint is sometimes substituted for the absinthe. Some claim it is the oldest known American cocktail, with origins in pre-Civil War New Orleans, although drink historian David Wondrich is among those who dispute this, and American instances of published usage of the word cocktail to describe a mixture of spirits, bitters, and sugar can be traced to the dawn of the 19th century. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this was an adventure. A little menacing, at first, when I couldn't get anything going very easily in the NW, and then harrowing, briefly, in the SW, when BREECHING (?) (52A: Going from petticoats to pants, once) and AGE TO AGE (??) (57A: Eternally, in religious parlance) crossing a word (BRAG) clued via "rodomontade" (???) got me stuck in a hole for a bit. But despite the many challenges, there were enough GIMMEs lying around that I managed to make really steady and consistent progress overall, and ended up with a very normal time. I'm actually surprised, given how many GIMMEs there were, that my time wasn't faster. The thing with GIMMEs, though, I find, is that you have to, uh, see them. So often, I find that I'm flailing around, and that if I just looked, you know, up ... or over ... I'd see a nice juicy handout that would break the section I'm struggling in wide open. Usually I have this revelation in "D'oh!" retrospect, after much time has been wasted. Good to be methodical about looking at all the clues in your stuck area, even when you are in the midst of frustration. Still, in a puzzle that just handed me RYE CREME RARE ABBA GOLDA KSU TREF SOUCI TRON and EDU, I shoulda been faster. I'll blame it on the early-morning solving time, but I won't feel good about it.

Some observations:
  • 16A: Categorized by district / 5D: HAL's earthbound "twin," in Arthur C. Clarke's "2010: Odyssey Two" (ZONAL / SAL) — the first things I wrote in the grid. Unfortunately, when I wrote them in the grid, they were ZONED and SID
  • 15D: Tesla, for one (UNIT) — had the "-IT" and thought, "he ... he wasn't a BRIT! ... wait, was he?" (A: no, no he was not)
  • 8D: The Hokies of the A.C.C. for short (VA TECH) — briefly mad at this answer, as a written-out thing, as it just looked weird, but then immediately thereafter heard in in my head (pronounced "Vah tech") and recognized that it was totally common in the college sports world as a said-out-loud thing. Kinda cruel to the "don't care about college sports" folks to put two college sports abbrs. in the same grid (see also KSU). Good for me, though. I don't care at all about college sports any more, but younger me sure did, and all that info is still there, woo hoo. And you get EDU in the bargain (its clue refers to KSU) (33D: Extension for 54-Down).
  • 11D: "This is prophetic" in "Nixon in China," e.g. (ARIA) — yikes, the non-capital title words were a real curveball. I should've recognized "Nixon in China" as an opera, but in my head I think it was just "some kind of staged production, like maybe a play or a movie..." so I needed crosses to see ARIA for sure. 
  • 18A: Function with no limits? (ORGY) — OK, I'm going to shock you all when I tell you I've never been to an ORGY, but ... I imagine that "no limits" is an exaggeration. I get that the clue is a math pun, but still. Surely there are ORGY no-nos. Ground rules. Something. Feel free to weigh in here. OR NOT.
Overall, toughish, solid, and fun. Good "?" clues (rare) are always a plus, and we got at least two today: 2D: Intellectual property? (IVORY TOWER) and 37A: Takes a ride? (REPOS). I don't know how original the latter is, but it's kind of perfect in its misdirective simplicity. Hope you had good success with this one. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Highland slope / FRI 10-23-20 / Pieces of pomegranate / Former Bulgarian monarch / Fairy tale patriarch / Singer actor who narrated 1964's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Friday, October 23, 2020

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Medium (slow, for me, for a R.W. puzzle, but still right around 6)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: CPI (35A: Cost-of-living fig.)

consumer price index measures changes in the price level of a weighted average market basket of consumer goods and services purchased by households.

A CPI is a statistical estimate constructed using the prices of a sample of representative items whose prices are collected periodically. Sub-indices and sub-sub-indices can be computed for different categories and sub-categories of goods and services, being combined to produce the overall index with weights reflecting their shares in the total of the consumer expenditures covered by the index. It is one of several price indices calculated by most national statistical agencies. The annual percentage change in a CPI is used as a measure of inflation. A CPI can be used to index (i.e. adjust for the effect of inflation) the real value of wagessalaries, and pensions; to regulate prices; and to deflate monetary magnitudes to show changes in real values. In most countries, the CPI, along with the population census, is one of the most closely watched national economic statistics. (wikipedia)

• • •

This was one of the toughest Robyn Weintraub puzzles I've ever done, and that still put me in totally normal Friday time territory, which tells you (me) that her puzzles are always very much on my wavelength, which is at least part of why I enjoy them so much. Today's effort looks really good, for the most part. She gets a lot of colorful longer answers into a grid that does not look at all daunting—no big blocks of white space, no gaping and largely cut-off-corners. Instead, there's shorter stuff crossing pairs of longer answers (in every corner), which lets you get a number of toeholds and make progress (relatively) easily. The puzzle felt harder than usual today, for me, first because, again, I'm solving straight out of bed in the morning, which always slows things down. But beyond that, there's the convergence of a lot of longer answers toward the middle of the grid—fewer short crosses = fewer toeholds = harder to pick things up. There also seemed to be a lot more vague / trick cluing. Lots of ambiguity. Take 1D: Mark (PATSY), which I couldn't make anything out of even after I got the "Y." Or 9D: Put out (IRK). I had wrong ideas about the meanings of both those clues at first, and without enough gimmes to really make headway in those early sections (N, and NW), I sputtered a lot in the beginning. Tough getting started. The BLOOD TYPEs (18D: B+ or A-) look like grade types, and I had -OOD- in there and thought briefly the answer was gonna be A GOOD MARK. I had to go clear over to the NE to get on solid initial footing (STE LSAT LONE ALLOT and off we go).

But two answers killed me more than any others, and I'm mad at the puzzle in one case and myself in the other. Let's start with the puzzle—I really don't like the clue on SHORT LIST (20A: Most promising slate of candidates). The problem for me is "slate," which is the word for the list of candidates *voters* have to choose from, whereas a SHORT LIST is something (most famously) a presidential candidate chooses his veep from. Now I *know* that you can read the clue totally apolitically, i.e. to mean "most promising set of choices, so the prez/veep context is not a given, but when you run a clue with not one but two political terms in it, and the answer itself is very much a political term, it's galling that those political terms don't match up. "SHORT LIST" and "slate" just clank. Without the "S" from PATSY, I couldn't see this answer for a long time. But the more upsetting D'oh moment was a failure that was all mine. Just as yesterday I couldn't think of any words that began DUVE-, today I could not think of any words that began ANCE- (24D: Tree toppers = ANCESTORS). This is likely because I was thinking of fir trees and not family trees. and my brain was probably only scanning botanical terms. Still! Ugh! I felt like such a PATSY

There was slightly weaker short fill than I'm used to seeing in R.W. puzzles, but when I say that I'm really only talking about CPI, BRAE, and EDER (blanked on, got immediately, wasn't sure about the first letter, respectively). All the other short stuff failed to IRK, and was in every case propping up the very nice longer stuff, which is all you're likely to remember. Hope you enjoyed it, and fell on your face somewhat less often than I did. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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