Bluebeard's Castle librettist Balázs / SAT 2-28-15 / Linking brainstem part / Bit of headwear in British lingo / Laugh-inducing pic / Stovepipe of WWII / Classic symbol of rebellion / Holder of many diorama / Greasy spoon appliance / Occasion for goat-tying

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Constructor: Barry C. Silk

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BELA Balázs (53A: "Bluebeard's Castle" librettist Balázs) —
Béla Balázs (Hungarian: [ˈbeːlɒ ˈbɒlaːʒ]; 4 August 1884, Szeged – 17 May 1949, Budapest), born Herbert Bauer, was a Hungarian-Jewish film criticaesthete, writer and poet. […] He is perhaps best remembered as the librettist of Bluebeard's Castle which he originally wrote for his roommate Zoltán Kodály, who in turn introduced him to the eventual composer of the opera, Béla Bartók. This collaboration continued with the scenario for the ballet The Wooden Prince. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle was just OK. I was put off by a series of wonky words that were perhaps supposed to be quaint or trigger some sort of nostalgia, but that struck me as simply WEARISOME. The only thing I enjoy about TITFER (49D: Bit of headwear, in British lingo) is saying "TITFER TOT" (the two words conveniently sit next to one another). Otherwise, that strikes me not as cute but as desperate. PONS … I gotta believe PONS could've been avoided there. It's such a stupid-looking technical term. And anyway, you'd only want to use something like that to hold a great bank of longer answers together, and that's just not what PONS is doing here. It's sitting in a perfectly reworkable area. Then there's FRYOLATOR (67A: Greasy spoon appliance), which I think I'm supposed to find charming and retro. But it feels made-up. Is it a brand name. I eat in greasy spoons from time to time—never heard of it. I feel like it must be what normals call the "fryer" or "deep fryer." Is that right? [...checks…] Ha! Yes! It's listed as an alternate name under the "Deep fryer" entry at wikipedia. Even if I liked that answer, and I don't, too many of the crosses are dreary: SMELTER and SMEARER and ALERO and UTIL and SAN REMO are all zzzzzz. In fact, the only entries I truly enjoyed today were BAZOOKA (14D: "Stovepipe of W.W. II) and PHOTOBOMB (48A: Laugh-inducing pic). Everything else was adequate to dull.

[In the '80s, we didn't have BLU-RAY. We had this.]
[R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy]

My greatest solving coup today came very early, via a (normally unloved) cross-referenced clue. I read 5D: Last name on a 40-Down and decided to check 40-Down. Once I saw that 40-Down was [Holder of many a diorama], I instantly thought SHOEBOX, which instantly suggested MCAN as a possibility.  So I'd only just begun, and this is what my grid looked like:

I wasn't sure the guessing was going to pay off, but crosses (iron and otherwise) eventually confirmed I was right. This meant that I was going to be starting the grid in earnest from the SW corner—a scenario that almost never occurs. That "X" was the obvious starting point, and sure enough EXERT was easy to get, and that corner was done quickly. Soon, I was into the TITFER PONS morass:

From here, the fire of my solving prowess spread very quickly through the SE and up the east coast. I zagged back across the grid into the NW and had no trouble sweeping right through it, counterclockwise, back around to DANK. That left just the NE to attend to, and while for a second or two things looked dicey (-MAN -ERS and -OKA weren't looking promising…), I rode to victory on the most '80s answer up there:

REPO MAN! (12D: One who assumes control by default?). God bless you, Emilio Estevez, wherever you are.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


True Blood vampire Northman / FRI 2-27-15 / Prefix meaning heavens / Frequent demonstrator of doppler effect / Knot toads parliament / So-called Japanese chess / Classic 1984 film in which most dialogue was ad-libbed / Evolutionary biologist who wrote Panda's Thumb

Friday, February 27, 2015

Constructor: Julian Lim

Relative difficulty: Medium (Medium-Challenging for me because Tiredness/Stupidity)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: SHOGI (22D: So-called Japanese chess) —
Shogi (将棋 shōgi?) (/ˈʃɡ/Japanese: [ɕo̞ːɡi] or [ɕo̞ːŋi]), also known as Japanese chess or the Generals' Game, is a two-player strategy board game in the same family as Western (international) chesschaturangamakrukshatranj and xiangqi, and is the most popular of a family of chess variants native to JapanShōgi means general's (shō 将) board game (gi 棋).
The earliest predecessor of the game, chaturanga, originated in India in the 6th century, and sometime in the 10th to 12th centuries xiangqi (Chinese chess) was brought to Japan where it spawned a number of variants. Shogi in its present form was played as early as the 16th century, while a direct ancestor without the "drop rule" was recorded from 1210 in a historical document Nichūreki, which is an edited copy of Shōchūreki and Kaichūreki from the late Heian period (c. 1120).
• • •

My normal strategy of throwing down all the short Downs as fast as I can, first answers that come to mind, and then looking back and seeing if I can pick out the long Acrosses with the help of pattern recognition … did not work today, despite the fact that many of my first guesses for the Downs were correct. RISE and ASIA. PEP. RONA and IF AT—all good. But any hope of seeing correct Acrosses was somehow stymied by MAKE (for COST) and ALEC (for ERIC) and a botched Mass. motto word (always sucks to trip on the worst bit of fill in the puzzle) (ENSE). Also, I couldn't remember parliament of OWLS, despite the fact that that was the name of a Batman arc only a few years back (actually, "Court of OWLS"), and despite the fact that my boy Chaucer wrote "The Parliament of FOWLS." Actually, I think it's because of the Chaucer title that I didn't get OWLS, despite the rhyming. Result was sadness and then doubt—I started pulling different little words, some of which were correct. I also forgot that "Spinal Tap" was actually called "THIS IS SPINAL TAP" (14A: Classic 1984 film in which most of the dialogue was ad-libbed), so despite thinking of that movie first, I didn't write it in because, of course, in my head, it "didn't fit." So that whole up-top experience made the puzzle tougher than average for me. But maybe not for more alert people. Here's where I (finally) got started:

Courtesy of the gimme GARP (32A: Robin Williams title role). From here, the bottom was done in under a minute. Seriously. It was the mirror image, the opposite, the world upside down, compared to the north. Probably helped that STEPHEN JAY GOULD (52A: Evolutionary biologist who wrote "The Panda's Thumb") spoke at my college when I was a senior, so I got him off the -LD. Yes, that definitely helped. But after SHALL WE went in (48A: "Ready to go?"), Every Single Short Down off of that was obvious, so the bottom was Monday for me. Ended up getting SPARE THE ROD without ever reading the clue.

From here, the west was easy, but I briefly ran into the problem I feared—not being able to get up into that top part. The problem: MELISMA (20A: Musical phrase in which a single syllable is sung over several notes). Vaguely familiar, now that I look at it, but not in my knowledge base. So I got as far as PSYCHIC and then worried a little. I had wanted TRAMP earlier for 14D: Galumph, so I tried that. Same with ROSEATE. But still … it all felt a bit dicey. But once I got PHONES, finally, this happened.

From there it was ERIC and OWLS and quickly all was done.

This was a good puzzle, I think. I would say that this is *in spite* of its design, which looks cool, but which loads up the puzzle with short answers. And while those have their share of predictable ugliness today [shakes fist at ENSE!], overall, they're pretty clean. The central chunks are chunkily varied, and the long Acrosses up top and down south are nice (nicer up top, so I was happy to end there).
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Soap star Deborah / THU 2-26-15 / Eponymous Soviet minister of foreign affairs / Tabloid nickname of '80s / Hunter of wallabies kangaroos / Coin first minted in 1964 / Azalea with 2014 #1 hit Fancy / Liberian president Peace Nobelist Johnso Sirleaf /

    Thursday, February 26, 2015

    Constructor: Caleb Emmons

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: Half words — theme answers end with "half ___," represented in the grid by only the first *half* of the missing word; thus:

    Theme answers:
    • KENNEDY DOL (for "Kennedy half-dollar") (17A: Coin first minted in 1964)
    • SUPER BOWL TI (for "Super Bowl half-time") (24D: Occasion for a much-hyped performance)
    • GOING OFF COC (for "going off half-cocked") (10D: Acting rashly)
    • FLYING AT MA (for "flying at half-mast") (54A: Signaling remembrance, in a way)
    Word of the Day: Deborah ADAIR (48A: Soap star Deborah) —
    Deborah Adair (born Deborah Adair Miller on May 23, 1952 in Lynchburg, Virginia) is an American television actress, primarily known for her roles in soap operas. […] In total, Adair has appeared in seven different projects produced by Aaron Spelling; DynastyMatt HoustonThe Love BoatFinder of Lost LovesHotel (in which she played four different roles between 1984–87), Melrose Place and the television movie Rich Men Single Women (1990). She has also appeared in a variety of other primetime series such as Murder, She WroteBlacke's Magic and MacGyver. She also played a supporting role as Kate Chase in the Emmy Award-nominated miniseries Lincoln (1988).
    • • •

    I was deep into this one before I understood the theme. Got KENNEDY DOL and thought "well, DOL is a cruddy abbr. for "dollar," so this should be interesting," forgetting that there is no such thing as a "Kennedy dollar." Got the whole center of the grid and then finished the tail end of SUPER BOWL TI and that's when the dime dropped. Ah … Half. Half-time. Half-dollar. OK then. I like the concept, though it makes for an ugly grid, with those nonsensical themers. It also just looks like the answers got lopped off.  The visual impact is poor. But the concept is solid. I wish it had been possible for all the themers to come out looking like actual phrases, a la FLYING AT MA! Maybe they could each have had their own wacky clues. FLYING AT MA could be [Like one involved in a family squabble?] GOING OFF COC is one letter shy of being fantastic. [Becoming celibate, perhaps?]. At any rate, relative ugliness of themers aside, the fill is remarkably solid, and the longer non-theme answers interesting and vibrant.

    This was a pretty easy puzzle, but I got slowed by a couple of things. First, I couldn't tell which longer answers were and weren't theme answers. Long Acrosses both are and aren't themers. Long Downs both are and aren't themers. Because both 31A: Crazy place? (FUNNY FARM) and 38A: Company with a lot of bean counters? (STARBUCKS) ended with question marks, I thought they were in on the theme wackiness (failing to note that KENNEDY DOL did not have a "?" clue…). Also, answers that could've been clued in very familiar ways were given rather obscure clues. No Red ADAIR today. No [Comedian Degeneres], either (ELLEN). Those were both super-tough for me. I also found the partials a bit rough. Who says "JUDO chop"? And what is an ANNO mundi? A year of the world? What is that? I should know, I guess, but I don't. I also didn't know bees WAGGLED, or that waggling was dancing. But I did know IGGY. I'll cling to that.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      PS here's a nice article re: the upcoming charity crossword tournament in Ithaca (where I'll be next Saturday, Mar. 7). Lots of crossword folks were interviewed for this. Check it out.


      Trevor of NBA / WED 2-25-15 / Part of rico roja / Paavo Flying Finn of 1920s Olympics / Final stanza in poem / Mythical bird with enormous wingspan

      Wednesday, February 25, 2015

      Constructor: Michael Shteyman

      Relative difficulty: Easy

      THEME: Some Midwest capitals

      Theme answers:
      • DES MOINES, IOWA (15D: Midwest capital #4)
      • LANSING, MICHIGAN (22A: Midwest capital #1)
      • LINCOLN, NEBRASKA (37A: Midwest capital #2)
      • ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA (46A: Midwest capital #3)
      [Arranged in the order in which I solved them—here's how I got into the grid:]

      Word of the Day: Trevor ARIZA (49D: Trevor of the N.B.A.) —
      Trevor Anthony Ariza (born June 30, 1985) is an American professional basketball player who currently plays for the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
      • • •

      I like this. I liked this from 1A: Part of "rico" or "roja" (ROLLED R), which I got immediately and thought was pretty original. I liked it even more after the weird trivia clue on ONE-EARED (14A: Like the praying mantis, anatomically [weird, but true]). I liked it even after figuring out that "oh, there's not really a theme, it really is just a bunch of Midwest capitals …"  Despite ITTO and -EAL and the whole blah NE. Despite ADD IN instead of ADD ON (23D: Computer extra). I just really liked the NW and SE corners, and I finished in the oddly delightful SW corner, where, perhaps because the grid was not already loaded with names, I was charmed to find Trevor ARIZA hanging out with the PAGAN and the NUTMEG. The NBA is rife with crossworthy names. Surprised we don't see AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE (15!) more—his first name, anyway. He's a six-time All-Star. Anyway, hey there, Trevor ARIZA. I like you at least as well as the Hyundai AZERA. You're welcome.

      I feel like my reaction today is slightly upside-down. I don't tend to like constructor-centric puzzles, where the trick is some structural discovery (here, that there are this many Midwest capitals that are also 15s (!) and that can be arranged in this pattern that is multiply symmetrical (rotational, axial … are there others?  arborEAL? orthogonal? petrochemical?). I like themes that focus on solver delight, not feats of construction for their own sake. But this one has the virtue of simplicity, i.e. the constructor's formal gimmick was not annoying or forced or opaque. And the fill surrounding it was frequently interesting or interestingly clued. Plus … I just love the midwest. It's adorable. I mean that sincerely, not patronizingly. I probably would've mean it patronizingly as a kid, but then I lived there for eight years. It always felt friendly and … substantial … to me. Warm. I mean, cold, but warm. I loved California, but what I remember most is sun and freeway. Maybe if I'd lived coastal, like my parents do now. Anyway, I remember some of my coastal peers in arborEAL Ann Arbor actively not enjoying the Midwestern lifestyle, but it was all right by me. From day one. "Hey, the shopkeeps are talking to me. And they're friendly … all right, Midwest, I'm not eating your weird jello-mold concoctions, but you got me. I like it here." Which is exactly how I felt about this puzzle.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Anthony's former partner in radio / TUE 2-24-15 / River that flows from Bernese Alps / Element between chromium iron on periodic table / Jay Garage car enthusiast's website / Destructive 2011 East Coast hurricane / Syllable repeated after fiddle / Resembling quiche

      Tuesday, February 24, 2015

      Constructor: Elizabeth A. Long

      Relative difficulty: Medium

      THEME: [Shades of Grey?] — this is the clue for three completely nonsensical answers:

      Theme answers:
      Word of the Day: AMBULANT (38D: Able to walk) —
      1. (of a patient) able to walk around; not confined to bed. (google)
      • • •

      This is what we in the business call "Tuesday being Tuesday." Actually, I made that up, but that *is* what's happening. This puzzle lost me fast. Had me looking at it sideways before I ever left the NW, and was dead to me almost immediately thereafter—and that was *before* I got to the icky, ridiculous theme. Here's where I parted ways for good with this thing (I actually stopped to take a picture—this never happens on early-week puzzles, but my reaction was so certain and dramatic, I thought, "Why not capture the moment!?"):


      It was bad enough when I had to change ENDOW (a reasonable word that people use) to ENDUE (ew), but then to have to see encounter its near-duplicate (UNDUE) so soon afterward? Ugh. When the next "word" I got was the loathsome, lazy DAN'L, I stopped caring right there. By the time I got the theme, I was just shaking my head wondering how this got accepted. Is it supposed to be topical? Ironic? You know EARL's not his first name, right? Right? I mean, the whole theme is broken, but at least LADY JANE'S BLINDS has "Jane" in it, to make a kind of sense. EARL'S SUNGLASSES!? Earl is a title, not a first name. I … why am I even explaining this? Fill is poor, theme is ridiculous and plays off of pop culture phenomenon that even smirking and irony can't redeem. If you wanna teehee (tehe?) over your socially acceptable fake-porn, go right ahead, but dear lord keep that crap out of my puzzle, please. The fact that I even have to hear about the existence of that stupid movie is enough. More than enough. This puzzle crosses YESES with ESSES. It's also got LENO'S (?) and ABU and ENA and both AROLL and ATIE, as well as AMBULANT (where a normal human would just use AMBULATORY). Come on. I've seen NYT rejects that look like Van Gogh next to this.


      At a bare minimum, that central answer should've been JENNIFER'S BLINDS. You already have a titled person in one of your themers. Mix. It. Up.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Gossip spreader / MON 2-23-15 / Pilgrim to Mecca / Sidling sea creature / Groundbreaking admission from Ellen in 1997 sitcom / Facility with treadmills yoga mats

      Monday, February 23, 2015

      Constructor: Joel Fagliano

      Relative difficulty: Easy

      THEME: LEAVE A BAD TASTE (53A: Not sit well … or what eating 20-, 32- or 41-Across might do) — stuff that's rotten, sour, and bitter:

      Theme answers:
      • ROTTEN TOMATOES (20A: Online aggregator of movie reviews)
      • SOUR GRAPES (32A: Fox's feeling in an Aesop fable)
      • BITTER PILL (41A: Hard-to-accept consequence)
      Word of the Day: MEGAN Fox (17A: Actress Fox of the "Transformers" movies) —
      Megan Denise Fox (born May 16, 1986) is an American actress and model. She began her acting career in 2001, with several minor television and film roles, and played a regular role on the Hope & Faith television sitcom. In 2004, she made her film debut with a role in the teen comedy Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. In 2007, she co-starred as Mikaela Banes, the love interest of Shia LaBeouf's character, in the blockbuster action film Transformers, which became her breakout role. Fox reprised her role in the 2009 sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Later in 2009, she starred as the eponymous lead in the black comedy horror film Jennifer's Body. Fox is also considered one of the modern female sex symbols and has appeared in magazines such as MaximRolling Stone and FHM. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Well you don't "eat" pills, you take them, so [sad video game death noise] Game Over. Thanks for playing. Also, presumably ROTTEN TOMATOES and SOUR GRAPES just taste bad. Like, up front. "Leaving" is irrelevant. The themers do have a few interesting things about them. They are all metaphors … well, not ROTTEN TOMATOES … so maybe I take back the "interesting" part. Actually, one interesting thing = 14s. You don't see 14s very often. They're notoriously annoying to handle, grid-construction wise. You pretty much have to do what Joel's done here: run black squares under/over the short end of the answer and/or run multiple long Downs through that same short end. That lone black square on the end of a 14 really is more of a nuisance than it seems. But, of course, as "interesting" things go, 14s qualify only if you are a constructor. It's a wonky thing to notice. Most people won't. They'll probably notice the anomalousness of BITTER PILL, or the anomalousness of ROTTEN TOMATOES, or the overall decent fill quality, or the sad semi-redundancy of ART MUSEUM, or the boringness and tenuous legitimacy of STATE DEBT, or the unexpected zippiness of short stuff like "OH, YOU" and "I'M GAY!" But 14s—unlikely.

      I did this puzzle in under 2:30 while under the considerably influence of whiskey, so … it really Really must've been easy. I have to go pretend to care about the Oscars until I fall asleep well before they're over. Enjoy your February 23rd.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Painter Uccello / SUN 2-22-15 / Four-legged orphans / Comic actress Catherine / Physicist Rutherford / Finnish outbuilding / City of Light creator at 1893 World's Fair / Greenlandic speaker / start crowding the crotch / Team with mascot named Orbit

      Sunday, February 22, 2015

      Constructor: Patrick Berry

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: "Flip-Flops" — overlapping theme answers have letter strings that sit atop one another (signified by circled squares), and they flip-flop, i.e. the top letter string goes "down" and the bottom letter string goes "up"; the letters in these strings are clued by clues appended to each theme clue, such that the letter string makes sense as a free-standing answer if you supply the "down" or the "up" (respectively). Thus SALIERI over TENDER-HEARTED becomes, in the grid, SAENDRI over TLIEER-HEARTED because END has gone "up" and LIE has gone "down"—with END [UP] and LIE [DOWN] clued by the bracketed clues at the ends of their respective theme clues (in this case [finally become] and [go to bed]). Whole thing tied together by central answer: 65A: What each group of circled words in this puzzle does (GOES UP AND DOWN)

      Theme answers:

      • SAENDRI (23A: Narrator of "Amadeus" [go to bed])
      • TLIEERHEARTED (26A: Compassionate [finally become])
      • RECATCHAS (21A: Turnpike turnoffs [intimidate, in a way])
      • PURINASTAREOW (24A: Pet food brand [recover lost ground])
      • ELACTPAD (45A: Skateboarder's safety item [salaam])
      • STALBOWITE (53A: Point at the ceiling? [misbehave])
      • ARUNUS (51A: Goodbyes [abate])
      • BDIEETTE (55A: She's not light-headed [amass])
      • WARIDEPAPER (85A: Office trash [resign])
      • STSTEPNT (90A: Loud and harsh [start crowding the crotch])
      • PRIMUSEG (83A: Activity done in front of a mirror [clearly define])
      • NAPINA (89A: Upset stomach [consume])
      • SCROPMOUNTAIN (114A: Granite dome in Georgia [moderate])
      • ATONEEOLIS (119A: Athens landmark [arise])
      • SELFRESTANTET (109A: Control of one's actions [fall in great quantities])
      • BRAINRS (117A: Converses à la Tracy and Hepburn [pay in advance])

      Word of the Day: PAOLO Uccello (17D: Painter Uccello) —
      Paolo Uccello (Italian pronunciation: [ˈpaːolo utˈtʃɛlo]; 1397 – 10 December 1475), born Paolo di Dono, was an Italian painter and a mathematician who was notable for his pioneering work on visual perspective in art. Giorgio Vasari in his book Lives of the Artistswrote that Uccello was obsessed by his interest in perspective and would stay up all night in his study trying to grasp the exact vanishing point. He used perspective in order to create a feeling of depth in his paintings and not, as his contemporaries, to narrate different or succeeding stories. His best known works are the three paintings representing the battle of San Romano (for a long time these were wrongly entitled the "Battle of Sant' Egidio of 1416").
      Paolo worked in the Late Gothic tradition, and emphasized colour and pageantry rather than the Classical realism that other artists were pioneering. His style is best described as idiosyncratic, and he left no school of followers. He has had some influence on twentieth-century art and literary criticism (e.g., in the "Vies imaginaires" by Marcel Schwob, "Uccello le poil" by Antonin Artaud and "O Mundo Como Ideia" by Bruno Tolentino). (wikipedia)
      • • •

      This was way harder to describe than it was to grasp. I could see very quickly that the letter strings had swapped places, but I didn't get the relationship to the appended, bracketed clues until I got to this point:

      Aha, STARE "down"! So … CATCH "up"! Then I looked back at the NW and there it was: END "up" / LIE "down." After that, this thing was a cake walk. I had exactly two places where I encountered resistance: in and around TWIT (which I only ever use in noun form) (38A: Ridicule) and at the DOGIES / DANA crosses (don't know DANA, forgot "motherless or neglected *calves*" were called DOGIES—was wondering who allowed this horrible perversion of "doggies" into the grid…) (80A: Four-legged orphans / 80D: Writer Richard Henry ___). Thought the relocation of those letter strings throughout the grid would at least put some speed bumps into the solving, but the themers were often long enough to give me enough information to get the right answer before I even dealt with the circled parts, and since the Downs all worked normally, I could often just drive Downs through the circles and the themers would jump right out.

      Despite the apparent presence of nonsense in the grid (i.e. BDIEETTE = !?!?), the fact that I can just look "up" or "down" where appropriate and have the answer work out means that I am not as bothered by this as I might otherwise be. My only issue with this puzzle is that the fill wasn't more interesting—there's not much great, marquee fill. I like the conceit, and the grid is Berry-clean, but I rarely went "ooh, good one" in my head. ELBOW PAD / STALACTITE was probably the nicest long pairing. The rest were just OK—they were answers that worked. This puzzle wasn't about dazzling fill; it was about a pretty neat idea, nicely executed. Wish it had more bite, but I'll take smart and clean any day. And dense. I left out dense. There's Soooo much theme here. Pretty impressive.

      • 33D: "Taxi" character Elaine (NARDO) — at first I just saw "Elaine" and thought "… well, it's BENES … why don't these crosses work?" Then I thought PARDO. You could pretty much feel the hamsters in my brain spinning away.
      • 11D: Physicist Rutherford after whom rutherfordium is named (ERNEST) — oh, *that* physicist Rutherford. Gotcha. 
      • 37D: Estrangement (RIFT) — have we seen "Oculus RIFT" yet? If not, we will… 

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Italian city near Slovenian border / SAT 2-21-15 / Allegorical painting from Picasso's Blue Period / Animated character who's five apples tall / Truth in engineering sloganeer / Former Miss America who ran for US Senate in 1980 / New Year's Eve ball-drop commentator / Ark finder familiarly / Widen as gun barrel / Power has to be insecure to be responsive

      Saturday, February 21, 2015

      Constructor: Doug Peterson and Brad Wilber

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: UDINE (46D: Italian city near the Slovenian border) —
      Udine […] FriulianUdinSloveneVidemGermanWeidenLatinUtinum) is a city and comune in northeastern Italy, in the middle of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, between the Adriatic Sea and the Alps (Alpi Carniche), less than 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Slovenianborder. Its population was 100,514 in 2012, and that of its urban area was 176,000. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      This is pretty high-grade stuff from my favorite co-constructing team, but I struggled more than I normally do with their puzzles, and while most of this struggle had a good payoff, there were some rough edges, and perhaps somewhat more pure trivia than I normally like—which is, I guess, another way of saying there were a lot of proper nouns from the realm of entertainment that were clued in either a straight trivia sort of way (see KAREL, 58A: Reisz who directed "The French Lieutenant's Woman") or were clued in a way that made no real sense even after the answer became clear (see HELLO KITTY, 39A: Animated character who's five apples tall). In this group I'd also throw Anastasia STEELE, Jule STYNE, Carson DALY, and "I'M TOO SEXY" and Bess MYERSON—that "Y" was the last thing into the grid, despite the fact that Ms. MYERSON (21D: Former Miss America who ran for the U.S. Senate in 1980) died recently and I'd read the obit and everything… her name just did not come to me at all. And that clue for SYN! (24A: Loads, for many: Abbr.) Great, great stuff; saved me from being annoyed at not having remembered MYERSON. I don't include INDY or RALPH NADER or ROSA PARKS in the list of trivia answers because there's at least some misdirection / cleverness w/ the INDY clue, and the RALPH NADER clue gives us a quote from which we can infer the answer (I actually got it off just the -PH-), and the ROSA PARKS clue was the closest thing to a flat-out gimme this puzzle had (31D: She wouldn't take an affront sitting down).

      The RHOMB / KAREL / STYNE stack made me frown a bit. But I realize now I'm most just annoyed at KAREL. Which is a name. One might have. The name-on-name action there is mildly annoying. But it's holding all the beautiful Downs in place, and all crosses are more than fair. Less pretty, I thought, was the UDINE section. Well, just UDINE. I mean, an UDINE-free puzzle would've made me very happy. U-DINE sounds like some latter day automat. That city is not big enough to be puzzle-worthy. It's "urban area" is half as populous as my "urban area," and if you could see my "urban area," you'd see how nuts it is that something that small and noteworthy primarily for its Slovenia-adjacentness is allowed to be in the grid. Throw in the fact that I wanted HYPERLINK—not HYPERTEXT (61A: It connects two pages)—and then LESE and SCH and DALY/DALE, and that SE corner made me something less than happy.

      Tough start in the NW because back ends of Acrosses were easy, but they were no help with the front ends. Eventually figured out it was LATE TEENS for Nancy Drew, and that + CIA got me CLOCK, and I came out of there semi-triumphant:

      Went from there into the SW, and then into the center where I got stalled. Had to reboot in SE. Wanted PSALTER for 40D: Prie-dieu feature (KNEELER). Pretty sure I'm the only one in the country who wanted that. Totally guessed LESE (what else was it going to be?), and ATOP, and finally DALY came to me (after I'd been through "… who's that guy? … Gloria Vanderbilt's son … Anderson Cooper! Nope, it's not him. What about the generic guy who hosts everything, from "American Idol" … Seacrest! Nope. Damn it. Oh, oh, it's the guy who used to do "TRL" on MTV and then got his own late-night show for a bit … o man … what is his name!? …"). And then once I worked out that UDINE nonsense, I was good.

      Since I was blocked at the SYN / MYERSON intersection, I was worried I wasn't going to get into the NE very easily, as I'd have to come at it from underneath. But I guessed OGRE (34A: Brute) and SICS (30A: Unleashes (on)) and that was really all it took. I went from this:

      … to done in like 20 seconds.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        Glassmaker's oven / FRI 2-20-15 / Orphan in Byron's Don Juan / Island due south of Livorno / Sporter of eagle insignia / Cousin of contrabass / Man's name meaning manly / Story of building in France / Dagger of yore / Mysterious figure in I am walrus

        Friday, February 20, 2015

        Constructor: David Woolf

        Relative difficulty: Medium


        Word of the Day: LEHR (55A: Glassmaker's oven) —
        lehr is a temperature-controlled kiln for annealing objects made of glass. The name derives from the German verb lehren meaning to teach and is cognate with the English lere also meaning to learn or acquire knowledge of (something).
        Rapid cooling of molten glass generates an uneven temperature distribution in the body of the glass which results in mechanical stress sufficient to cause cracking before the object has reached ambient temperature, or to result in susceptibility to cracking in later use, often resulting from thermal shock. To prevent this, objects manufactured from molten glass are annealed by cooling gradually in a lehr from a temperature just below the solidification point of the glass. Anneal cooling rate depends on the thickness of the glass, and can range from several tens of degrees Celsius per hour for thin sections to a fraction of a degree Celsius per hour for thick slabs or castings.
        In glass manufacture, a lehr is typically a long kiln with a temperature gradient from end to end, through which newly made glass objects such as glasses or vases are transported on a conveyor belt. However, the same effect can be obtained in a small kiln by controlling the cooling rate with an electronic temperature controller. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Overall quality of the grid is not bad but I do not understand, and I mean do Not understand, how you do this pseudo-theme thing where you link two long answers in the NW … and the SE … and the SW … and … that's it. You just leave the NE hanging? What the hell is that? Are you doing the Thing or are you not doing the Thing? What a weird, oddly maimed concept. I also don't understand how you go to press with -EOUS in your grid. That is quite possibly the single worst suffix in the history of crossword answers. Look at it. Go on. Jeez louise. Wow. It hurts. It makes ADES look like ZYZZYVA, that answer. Horrific. Most of the other terrible fill is neatly contained and harmless. SNEE and OLIOS cause very little discomfort. ETAGE is mostly BENI(g)N. And I had a pretty good (toughish) time puzzling out the double-stacked answers in the NW and SE. I'd say that overall I actually enjoyed this. It's just flawed in slightly maddening ways. Between BIG-BREASTED (1A: Buxom) and the Bond girl (ANYA), the puzzle feels slightly leering . . . and I'm almost 100% certain the original clue on 13D was different. In a way that relates to the leeringness I'm talking about. But it's certainly not offensive so I'll try to ACT NORMAL.

        I like APPLEID (45A: Need for an iTunes Store account) even though it looks like a typo of "applied." I forgot LEHR was a thing, so that was awkward. Four-letter ovens … let's see, I've got KILN, and … OAST and … I'm out. My giggles sound more HEEHEE or TEEHEE than HEHE (?), but I think that's some kind of industry-accepted variation. Considered TEHE but LETR seemed pretty wrong. I had Steve Jobs at YALE and BARD before I placed him correctly at REED. I also had [HuffPo's parent] as NYT (?) before AOL. I am having a hard time accepting SAME-AGE as an adjective (that is, as it is clued) (40A: Like George W. Bush vis-à-vis Sylvester Stallone). But they really are the same age—exactly, not just roughly (7/6/46). It's weird to me how confident I was in IDAHO as the answer to 51D: Home to Shoshone Falls. My mom grew up in IDAHO, and my grandma still lives there, so maybe the name just sunk in somewhere along the line—I can't tell you where it is, or what it's near, or anything. But at five letters, I plunked IDAHO down immediately.  If you don't know the word PELOTA you should learn the word PELOTA because that thing will come back at you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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