1965 Shirley Ellis hit full of wordplay / THU 1-27-22 / German physicist after whom a unit of magnetism is named / Republican politico Michael / Garden produce named for an Italian city / Rodomontade / Foofaraw / What two sets of dots within double lines indicate in musical scores / Setting for 2009 film Precious / London district named for its botanic garden

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Constructor: Lewis Rothlein and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium to Medium-Challenging


THEME: REPEAT (47D: What two sets of dots within double lines indicate, in musical scores) — the clue somehow declines to add the ". . . or a hint to what's happening in [all the themers]," but that's what's going on: those answers have the musical notation in them, and you just REPEAT the letters in those sections to get the correct phrase:

Theme answers: 
  • NOWWH:EREW:E (17A: Question after a digression)
  • :GEOR:WELL (30A: Who wrote "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past")
  • NOM:ANIS:LAND (35A: Classic John Donne line)
  • R:OMAT:OES (41A: Garden produce named for an Italian city)
  • R:IDES:ADDLE (57A: Go on horseback à la Lady Godiva)
Word of the Day: GAUSS (5A: German physicist after whom a unit of magnetism is named) —
Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (/ɡs/GermanGauß [kaʁl ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈɡaʊs]; LatinCarolus Fridericus Gauss; 30 April 1777 – 23 February 1855) was a German mathematician and physicist who made significant contributions to many fields in mathematics and science. Sometimes referred to as the Princeps mathematicorum[ (Latin for '"the foremost of mathematicians"') and "the greatest mathematician since antiquity", Gauss had an exceptional influence in many fields of mathematics and science, and is ranked among history's most influential mathematicians. // The gauss, symbol G (sometimes Gs), is a unit of measurement of magnetic induction, also known as magnetic flux density. The unit is part of the Gaussian system of units, which inherited it from the older CGS-EMUsystem. It was named after the German mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss in 1936. One gauss is defined as one maxwell per square centimetre. // As the cgs system has been superseded by the International System of Units (SI), the use of the gauss has been deprecated by the standards bodies, but is still regularly used in various subfields of science. The SI unit for magnetic flux density is the tesla (symbol T), which corresponds to 10,000gauss. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well, I had to solve this on the app because of its "special feature," which turned out just to be two dots and two lines (I couldn't even really see the lines), so I had to put up with the grid telling me "you're halfway done!" and then the stupid music at the end ... but if we strip away that those annoying experiential frills, and just focus on the puzzle per se, then it's not nearly so annoying. It's also not that exciting. It's just phrases with four repeated letters, and the answer kind of doubles back on itself. Not a hard concept to grasp, and if you've had any music education then you probably got the concept before you even hit the revealer. The problem is that once you get it ... it's not like it's particularly fun to get. Maybe it makes the puzzle a little easier. It definitely made the theme answers easy to get, now that I think of it. I had a bit of trouble at first sorting out "NOW WH:EREW:E...," mostly because it looks like an *incomplete* phrase, not a doubled-back phrase (I thought maybe the answer veered off in some direction or other, but if I followed STEREO Down, that only took me to "NOW WHERE WERE O ..." so after that dead end, I remembered the musical meaning of the dots and saw what the answer was doing. A couple of times I still had trouble parsing the answers. I wrote in SIDESADDLE for the Lady Godiva one and then wondered how [Something well-placed?] could end in -SIG (it's -RIG because it's R:IDE:SADDLE, i.e. "ride sidesaddle"). The whole thing felt a little INERT to me, and the revealer was a giant let-down (just ... the word ... indicating ... what was obviously going on). But the puzzle sets out to do a thing and it does that thing, so there you go.


There were a bunch of (unintentionally?) paired answers that messed with my brainwaves. Having had KEW Gardens early in the puzzle meant that when I saw the word "Garden" at the beginning of the R:OMAT:OES clue, I kept seeing it as a noun, not an adjective, and so I was looking at first for a place, not a food. My knowledge of German things is apparently very shaky, because I faltered badly with GAUSS and then HESSE, despite having seen both before. And then there were the oil wells, the OIL RIG and the GUSHER. I probably wouldn't have had any trouble with OIL RIG if I hadn't had that whole aforementioned SIDESADDLE error. I guess the paired clues continue with that pair of famous mathematicians, NEWTON and GAUSS. So GAUSS is part of two pairs and an answer I didn't know and it sits at the very tip-top of the grid, so this is now The GAUSS Puzzle, nevermind that he has nothing to do with the theme. 


The hardest part of the puzzle, the one that took it out of the normal / Medium range a bit for me, was the NE, where UNDOSEND was an absolute ???? I didn't know you could actually undo a send, and so parsing that word was a nightmare, down (almost) to the last letter. And that trouble came on top of a brutal (if clever) clue for REMOTE (22A: It can be a show-stopper), which made that section hard to get into in the first place, and a clue on BIG TALK that I had seen before but completely forgot (12D: Rodomontade). I had the -ALK and thought "well, it's probably some kind of WALK." It really sounds like a WALK. Either a walk you do during some segment of some fancy dance, or a WALKway ... perhaps through a garden. "Have you seen Chester?" "Yes, I believe he's taking his morning constitutional on the rodomontade." "Did he have his top hat, monocle, and cane with him?" "Of course he did, he's not a barbarian! Do you think he'd risk causing a foofaraw on the rodomontade? I should think not!" I blame the word "promenade," at least a little, for my "rodomontade" = WALK confusion. 
Other things:
  • The ERMA in 60A: "Forever, ___" (1996 humor book) is ERMA Bombeck
  • ISOLDE is from Wagner's "Tristan und ISOLDE"
  • PUBS are [Round houses?] because you order rounds ... of drinks in them
  • An OIL RIG is "well-placed" because it's placed ... by a well (an oil well)
  • "THE NAME GAME" is ... well, if you don't know if, or if you do, it's a fine way to round out this write-up:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Old Toyota coupe / WED 1-26-22 / Sacred Indian plant also called the strangler fig / Minecraft block made from gunpowder and sand

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Constructor: Michael Schlossberg

Relative difficulty: Medium (only because of the made-up, completely improbable "message"; otherwise, Easy)


THEME: "CONGRATULATIONS / ON PASSING YOUR / EYE TEST" (17A / 28A / 47A: "a message suggested by this puzzle's circled letters") — circled squares contain and are arranged like the letters found on a standard eye exam chart. That's it, that's the theme.

Word of the Day: OLAF Scholz (5D: German chancellor Scholz) —
Olaf Scholz (German: [ˈoːlaf ˈʃɔlts] [...] ; born 14 June 1958) is a German politician serving as chancellor of Germany since 8 December 2021. A member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), he previously served as Vice Chancellor of Germany under Angela Merkel and as Federal Minister of Finance from 2018 to 2021. He was also First Mayor of Hamburg from 2011 to 2018 and deputy leader of the SPD from 2009 to 2019. Following the 2021 German federal election, Scholz's federal government is a traffic light coalition composed of his SPD, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP). (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't understand making a puzzle like this, mainly because once you conceive of making the eye chart pattern with the letters ... well, there's nowhere to go. You can't use wordplay to get to those letters—they don't function as letters, they spell nothing, they just sit in a fairly arbitrary (if widely standardized) pattern. So what you're left with is this completely absurd message that neither your optometrist nor the person working at the DMV nor anyone would ever say. At an actual eye exam, you don't "pass," so that's out. At the DMV they just make you read a line on the chart, and trust me, they are not so excited about it that they would bother to congratulate you. In any case, solving this puzzle doesn't feel like passing anything, let alone an EYE TEST. I didn't pass that. I just solved a puzzle and some of its letters happened to be arranged in the pattern of an EYE TEST, a pattern that helped me precisely zero because who the hell knows the letters of the EYE TEST chart after that top "E"?! Now, PASSING YOUR / EYE TEST / UNADORNED (as in "naked"), that, that would be something worthy of congratulations! [this is another way of saying putting a long non-theme Across answer directly under your final theme answer is really visually distracting; it overwhelms the shorter answer and takes some of the punch out of it. Better to turn UNADORNED into a 4 and a 4, with the central square made black—if the theme is everything (and in this case, sadly, it is) then design the grid in a way that really sets off the theme. UNADORNED visually smothers the "punchline" of the "message"]

[14A: Blend of black tea, honey, spices and milk]

The puzzle feels a little bit like it was designed for anyone old enough to have driven a PASEO (36A: Old Toyota coupe) or seen "Bedtime for BONZO" in the theater (27D: "Bedtime for ___"). Except for ALTPOP, it stays in pretty familiar, slightly olden crossword territory, though some of the cluing keeps us reasonably up to date: e.g. OLAF Scholz only just took office, and TOBY Keith is ... still alive, presumably. Speaking of OLAF, I made a specific note to remember that there was a new OLAF on the crossword clue horizon and I *still* forgot his name today. Or, rather, I thought, "well it can't be OLAF, that's a Scandinavian name..." Wrong. Well, right, it is a Norwegian name, but apparently it's a name in lots of countries, so ... welcome, New OLAF. I'm guessing you'll be with us for a Very long time. Aside from the hesitation around OLAF, the only other slower-downer I hit today was BANYAN TREE, and only because I figured I didn't know what it was (3D: Sacred Indian plant also called the strangler fig)—I thought "plant" was going to refer to some kind of herb or spice. I don't usually think of trees as plants, though, of course, they are. I left that side of the grid alone, but while I was solving the *other* side of the grid, some background program running in my brain went "psst, buddy—it's BANYAN TREE." And *that*, I've heard of. Seen BANYAN in crosswords. May actually have *learned* BANYAN from crosswords. After that, the only challenge was piecing together the ridiculous theme "message," and that was not, ultimately, that difficult. 


I realized I'm never going to like SPITS clued as a verb (25D: Barely rains). Give me the roasting sticks or give me ... well, nothing. Cluing it in reference to rain doesn't de-salivate the answer, so, no, pass. Not sure why the PROM QUEENS clue (11D: These women "rule" the dance) wasn't something more playful and question-marky like [Women who rule the dance floor?] (that way, the phrasing is more natural and there's no need for the glaring quotation marks around "rule") Also, I think a. increasingly you are seeing PROM QUEENS who are not women (nonbinary and genderfluid people have "won" these "titles" in recent years), and b. schools are starting to do away with the heterosexist king/queen paradigm entirely. Still, I think PROM QUEENS is a good answer. It's a bright, original phrase, and it brings much needed pop to this otherwise fairly plain grid.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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