Mercenary for British in Revolutionary war / TUE 6-19-18 / Candy with comic once / Hit 2016 animated film with tagline welcome to urban jungle / Litmus paper reddener

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (3:43), though it's slightly oversized, so the actual difficulty level may be closer to Medium 

THEME: TRIGGER / WARNING (26D: With 25-Down, caution before a potentially upsetting lecture ... or a hint to 19- and 59-Across and 7-Down?) — firearms are in all the theme answers ... at least I think that's it. I don't really get the WARNING part:

Theme answers:
  • RIDES SHOTGUN (19A: Sits in the front passenger seat)
  • RIFLE THROUGH (59A: Do a hurried search in)
  • BAZOOKA BUBBLEGUM (7D: Candy with a comic, once)
Word of the Day: Henri ROUSSEAU (68A: French painter Henri known for "The Sleeping Gypsy") —
Henri Julien Félix Rousseau (French: [ɑ̃ʁi ʒyljɛ̃ feliks ʁuso]; May 21, 1844 – September 2, 1910) was a French post-impressionist painter in the Naïve or Primitive manner. He was also known as Le Douanier (the customs officer), a humorous description of his occupation as a toll and tax collector. He started painting seriously in his early forties; by age 49, he retired from his job to work on his art full-time.
Ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality. Rousseau's work exerted an extensive influence on several generations of avant-garde artists. (wikipedia)
• • •

OK, so that is *not* the Tuesday ROUSSEAU, you guys. Tuesday: Jean-Jacques. Saturday: Henri. It's pretty straightforward.

I liked how weird this puzzle was—the strange shape, the relative openness, some buzzy answers—but conceptually I'm slightly confused. I see that the theme answers all have firearms in them, and firearms have TRIGGERs, but how exactly does WARNING fit in? Is the revealer WARNING me that there are things with TRIGGERs in the theme answers? But the word "hint" in the revealer clue would appear to be doing the alerting, or "warning" ... so WARNING feels extraneous. Just hanging out there, doing nothing. Further: guns, violence, yuck. This is a personal thing, but I don't really want to participate in crossword gunfests. Guns don't "tickle" me, I guess. Too much daily slaughter in this country for me to be able to enjoy cutesy gun-related wordplay. Also, wish the grid had been flipped so TRIGGER came first. It's like a crooked picture frame, the placement of the revealer answers. I just want to fix it. First word should come first, not second. But instead the first word is 26D and the second word is 25D and the whole thing feels alop. BAZOOKA BUBBLEGUM messes everything up by being 16 letters long, which means TRIGGER and WARNING can't sit evenly on opposite sides of the grid, which would be ideal, and which they would be able to do in a grid with the normal 15 rows. And so here we are with wonky TRIGGER and WARNING. Aesthetically, it's irking me. But if I just pretend there's no theme, I actually like this grid pretty well, except for WANGLE, which is about the most off-putting word in the English language (67A: Accomplish schemingly). I really wanted WRANGLE there, as it's a good word, as opposed to WANGLE, which is like WIGGLE and DANGLE got together pretended to be a phallus. I mean, come on. It's got WANG right in the name.

That FIREPLUG clue, what the hell? (64A: Short, stocky person, figuratively). Seems to be used primarily, if not exclusively, of athletes (at least in the dictionary defs that I'm seeing). Kind of important context, in that it seems a bit like an insult otherwise. Not really sure what ALLSPICE is—if I had to name all the spices, I'm not sure I'd name ALLSPICE—and I have no idea what "ZOOTOPIA" is. SAN REMO, also tough, and PITEOUS took a lot of crosses too. I think this puzzle really was somewhat tougher than the usual Tuesday, but again, because of the colorfulness, I didn't mind. Well, ORDERER I mind :( And of course WANGLE. The goodwill that the puzzle lost by playing with guns it won back somewhat with one word: ASYLUM (69A: A political refugee might seek it). I'm tempted to leave you with pictures of children being torn from their parents or audio of distraught children being held in "camps," missing their parents and crying while U.S. border patrol agents make jokes about them, but instead I'll just express my sincere hope that your own family is safe and happy and free.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. after I finished this write-up, I noticed the following tweet ... which shows that I was not the only one to have issues with this gun theme. Not by a longshot.

Click here to read the editor's whole write-up, complete with amazingly gratuitous and insensitive photograph (a very specific kind of RIFLE, being fired in ... Florida). Thanks to my friend Erin for passing along this little tidbit:

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Actress Raymonde of Lost / MON 6-18-18 / Trendy much used lingo / Hawaiian surfing mecca / Candy suckers in form of jewelry

Monday, June 18, 2018

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:10)

THEME: BUZZ WORDS (59A: Trendy, much-used lingo ... or a hint to the starts of 16-, 23-, 35- and 48-Across) — "starts" of those answers are synonyms for "BUZZ" (as in "contact via telephone"):

Theme answers:
  • PHONE JACK (16A: Wall fixture for a landline)
  • DIAL SOAP (23A: Bathroom bar offering so-called "round-the-clock" protection)
  • CALL TO ORDER (35A: Start, as a meeting)
  • RING POPS (48A: Candy suckers in the form of jewelry)
Word of the Day: TANIA Raymonde (15A: Actress Raymonde of "Lost") —
Tania Raymonde (born Tania Raymonde Helen Katz; March 22, 1988) is an American actress. She began her career in the recurring character of Cynthia Sanders in TV series Malcolm in the Middle between 2000 and 2002, followed by the role of Alex Rousseau in the ABC series Lost from 2006 to 2010. She has since played Carla Rinaldi on MTV's Death Valley(2011), starred in the horror film Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) and portrayed Jodi Arias, the title role in the TV movie Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret (2013). In April 2015, she joined the cast of the TNT series The Last Ship. She is a star of the current Amazon Video series Goliath. (wikipedia)
• • •

First-words-type puzzle. Very old-school. This one has a kicky little revealer, which is probably the nicest answer in the grid, but it's still just a ... first-words-type puzzle. Also, the "phone" in PHONE JACK refers directly to the telephone, whereas the other first words all go another direction (different DIAL, different CALL, different RING). That's a ding. Another ding: the weird grid shape that gives us non-themers (specifically MACADMIA and SNAIL MAIL) right alongside themers of exactly the same length. That alone is awkward, and it's especially awkward when those non-themers are *longer* than some themers in the grid  (i.e. MACADAMIA is longer than DIAL SOAP or RING POPS). The grid has weird big corners and a badly black square-riddled middle. It's structurally all kind of a mess, and conceptually ... it's just plain. Old-fashioned. TAJ is a name part. AMAT is crosswordese. EKING, APING, NOS ... there's just too much that needs improving. Monday is usually pretty reliable, and while this one is by no means terrible, it's just not up to par. Also, UNICOLOR? Come on, no one says that.

["I hope he's talking to a he not a she..." LOL, OK...]
[from the "Sixteen Candles" soundtrack]

AS SOON is obviously terrible fill—it's long *and* it's partial, and if you have to use it (which you shouldn't) why in the world, why why why would you do the incredibly annoying thing of writing a *cross-reference* clue to yet another not-great answer (1A: ASAP). Do not call attention to the worst answers in your grid by giving them grievous, convoluted clues that require the solver to stop and think about how bad the whole situation is. Just write a simple clue, minimize damage, and move on. If your puzzle is good, the solver will forget the badness. AS SOON ... that's not an answer, that's a wind instrument typo. My biggest struggles today were TANIA (who?) and the horrible dumb crosswordese CZAR, which is a spelling that I only associate with political titles like "Drug CZAR" or whatever. The actual Russian rulers (54D: Ruler until 1917) are almost always spelled TSAR, which is how I spelled this answer first time out. I also wrote in NIL for ZIP (60D: Nada), so seeing BUZZ WORDS was oddly hard. Yet another way this puzzle found to be mildly annoying. Lastly, CANNED IT in the past tense is hilarious. You say "can it!" to get someone to shut up, but "he CANNED IT...."????  If you google ["Canned it"] you will get a host of sites related to canning, as in the process of putting things into cans. Past tense of the colloquial CANNED IT is implausible. Again, as with UNICOLOR, I just can't hear it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. thanks very much to Oliver Roeder for filling in for me yesterday. Ollie is a senior writer for Check out his weekly puzzle column, "The Riddler," if you like math, logic, and probability challenges.

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