French tennis player fashion icon / SAT 8-31-19 / Classic TV character whose name is Spanish for fool / 1980s feminst coinage regarding nuclear proliferation

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Constructor: Brian Thomas

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:31, should've been even faster)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Georges PEREC (25A: French author Georges) —
Georges Perec (born George Peretz) (French: [peʁɛk, pɛʁɛk]; 7 March 1936 – 3 March 1982) was a French novelistfilmmakerdocumentalist, and essayist. He was a member of the Oulipo group. His father died as a soldier early in the Second World War and his mother was murdered in the Holocaust, and many of his works deal with absence, loss, and identity, often through word play. (wikipedia)
Oulipo (French pronunciation: ​[ulipo], short for FrenchOuvroir de littérature potentielle; roughly translated: "workshop of potential literature") is a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians who seek to create works using constrained writing techniques. It was founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais. Other notable members have included novelists Georges Perec and Italo Calvino, poets Oskar PastiorJean Lescure and poet/mathematician Jacques Roubaud.
The group defines the term littérature potentielle as (rough translation): "the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy".
Constraints are used as a means of triggering ideas and inspiration, most notably Perec's "story-making machine", which he used in the construction of Life A User's Manual. As well as established techniques, such as lipograms (Perec's novel A Void) and palindromes, the group devises new methods, often based on mathematical problems, such as the knight's tour of the chess-board and permutations. (wikipedia) 
• • •

I would not be surprised if many of you set a personal best Saturday time today. I didn't, but I probably should have. Too leisurely out of the gate, and too clumsy on the keyboard. And then, at the very end, I face-planted by totally misreading 53A: Viscous (ROPY) as [Vicious]. Ugh. Anyway, 4:31 is still very fast for a Saturday, for me. Looking back over the puzzle, it's basically a Tuesday with a few marginal proper nouns and dated phrases thrown in to act as very ineffective speed bumps. I knew PEREC, but you are very much forgiven if you didn't. I wouldn't know him if it weren't for crosswords, and I know I'm not alone in that. My proper noun downfall was TANIKA (?) Ray, co-host of "Extra," whatever that is. Is that some kind of entertainment news TV show—a form that it's hard to believe still exists. I'm not even going to check because I don't care. Anyway, all the crosses were favorable, so TANIKA didn't crush me, but she definitely held me up. The other major hold-up came from MISSILE ENVY (29A: 1980s feminst coinage regarding nuclear proliferation), which ... really? Really? Sigh. If you say so. "Feminist coinage?" What's "feminist" about it? Who is the feminist involved here? I get that it's a play on "penis envy," but ... it really doesn't sound like a term that is in common parlance, or ever was. So I needed a Ton of crosses to get it, but again, the crosses were not at all hard, so fine. I'm startled that this was a Saturday and not a Friday. Hard to fathom. It really was very, very easy (by Saturday standards).

["The Windy Apple!"]

A word about TONTO (15A: Classic TV character whose name is Spanish for "fool"). A few words, actually. First, The Lone Ranger was a radio show and a book series before it was a TV show, and TONTO was in the pre-TV stuff, yet the puzzle keeps narrowly cluing him via the TV show. Second, while "tonto" does mean "fool" in Spanish (which meant the name was changed to "Toro" or "Ponto" in Spanish-dubbed versions of the TV show), the creator had reason to believe it meant something else: "Show creator Trendle grew up in Michigan, and knew members of the local Potawatomi tribe, who told him it meant "wild one" in their language" (wikipedia). The clue kind of implies, or softly suggests, that the "fool" meaning was by design. Maybe this clue is the puzzle's way of pointing out that the character of TONTO was very much the product of white ignorance. Native Americans have long criticized the character as a form of racial caricature. Johnny Depp's portrayal of TONTO in the 2013 "Lone Ranger" caused a fairly high-profile backlash, with accusations of appropriation and racial insensitivity being leveled at the movie and its star (ironic, given that the movie was intended to offer a more authentic TONTO, rejecting earlier portrayals of the character as a mere monosyllabic sidekick). This is all to say that the character of TONTO is inextricably linked to a long history of white writers, producers, actors, etc. representing Native Americans in simplistic ways with little or any input from Native Americans themselves. I know some people who don't ever want to see TONTO in the grid again. I'm not sure I agree, but I do understand. If I felt I absolutely had to use TONTO to make a stellar grid come out right, I'd probably stick to very straightforward, factual cluing. Don't get cute.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Island of myth in Homer's Odyssey / FRI 8-30-19 / Alternative to Mountain Dew / Related to hip / Longest continuous sponsor of Olympics since 1928

Friday, August 30, 2019

Constructor: Trent H. Evans

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (5:13)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: AEAEA (50A: Island of myth in Homer's "Odyssey") —
Aeaea or Eëa (/ˈə/ ee-EE or /əˈə/ ə-EEAncient GreekΑἰαίαAiaíā [aɪ.aí.aː]) was a  mythologicalisland said to be the home of the goddess-sorceress Circe. In Homer's OdysseyOdysseus tells Alcinousthat he stayed here for one year on his way home to Ithaca. He says that he could not resist the need to be on this island, not so much for Circe but so that he does not resist the pull. The modern Greek scholar Ioannis Kakridis insists that any attempt at realistic identification is vain, arguing that Homer vaguely located Aeaea somewhere in the eastern part of his world, perhaps near Colchis, since Circe was the sister of Aeëtes, king of Colchis, and because their paternal aunt the goddess Eos had her palace there. (wikipedia)
• • •

OK, so OFFICE WIFE (1A: Certain "work spouse") isn't *necessarily* a sexist concept (if it's playful, open, mutual, and "wife" here doesn't mean "person who does stuff for me so my life can be easier"). And the clue on "DO I LOOK FAT?" (64A: Question always best answered "no") isn't *specifically* gendered here but ... the two together give the grid a pretty bro-y, locker-roomy, "chicks, man"-type vibe that made me roll my eyes. This is very bad news for a puzzle in which those are actually two of the more interesting / original answers. And since it already has to make up for junk like ILIAL and AEAEA and EATETH, the puzzle really can't afford to be fumbling away its longer answers. There's really nothing very special or entertaining about the other marquee answers. Hard to get excited about EIGHTPM or USGRADEA. Those are acceptable answers, for sure, but they should be propping up greatness. Instead, they're posing as greatness. And not well. Again, you dig yourself a hole when, on a Friday themeless, you trot out EDDA EKE ELS STR SNO LEN GEN EOS CBER etc. Hard to come back from that.

The nerdiest thing about my reaction to this puzzle is repeated giggling when thinking about CECE living on AEAEA (you know, as opposed to "Circe" living there). I imagine she lures Odysseus there with her gospel singing, and then turns his men into, let's say, EWOKs until Odysseus agrees to sleep with her. (I was talking about The Odyssey in class earlier today, so you'll pardon my gospel / Star Wars retelling ... or you won't. SUE me, I guess) Only struggle today involved getting some of those Downs in the NW. Even though I got OFFICE WIFE first thing, ambiguous clues held me back on 2D: 101, 102 and others (FEVERS), 3D: Draw back (FLINCH), 6D: Things in orbit (EYES), and 9D: Set at a cocktail party (FLUTES). I also wrote in AEON for AGES at 18A: Years and years, so that created a minor snag as well. Bottom half of the grid didn't provide much resistance at all.

Gotta get some sleep now. Not at all adjusted to this whole "blogging late / getting up early for work" thing yet. Love writing, love teaching, but ... I dunno, getting stuck for an extended period on AEAEA also sounds pretty good to me right now. I *would* miss my (non-office) wife. And my dog. Maybe I'll just plan to rent a cabin near the Finger Lakes once the fall foliage finally comes around. Less exciting than AEAEA, probably, but it's close to home, and, you know, non-fictional.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Bean popular in East Asia / THU 8-29-19 / Biblical figure who walked with God / Teacher in une école / Cause for combatants confusion / Protein found in muscles

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (4:53)

THEME: blank OR blank — themers are familiar phrases following the pattern "___ OR ___"; clues all take the form of [Word that can complete (some all-caps word that is missing consecutive letters)]:

Theme answers:
  • GIVE OR TAKE (17A: Word that can complete CARE___R)
  • IN OR OUT (27A: Word that can complete SH___ED)
  • FRIEND OR FOE (38A: Word that can complete DE___)
  • DO OR DIE (49A: Word that can complete ___TING)
  • BOOM OR BUST (61A: Word that can complete ___ER)
Word of the Day: ENOCH (50D: Biblical figure who "walked with God") —
Enoch (/ˈnək/ (About this soundlisten)EE-nuhk) is of the Antediluvian period in the Hebrew Bible. Enoch was son of Jared and fathered Methuselah. This Enoch is not to be confused with Cain's son Enoch(Genesis 4:17). 
The text of the Book of Genesis says Enoch lived 365 years before he was taken by God. The text reads that Enoch "walked with God: and he was no more; for God took him" (Gen 5:21–24), which some Christians interpret as Enoch's entering Heaven alive
Enoch is the subject of many Jewish and Christian traditions. He was considered the author of the Book of Enoch and also called Enoch the scribe of judgment. The New Testament has three references to Enoch from the lineage of Seth (Luke 3:37, Hebrews 11:5, Jude 1:14–15). (wikipedia)
• • •

Felt like I flew through this, and my time was certainly on the fast side for me, but weirdly my Thursday times have been remarkably consistent over the past four months: all timed solves between 4:24 and 6:02. Only reason I find this weird is that I think of Thursday having a very wide-ranging level of difficulty, in that it's the gimmicky puzzle of the week and those gimmicks can sometimes be very hard to discover. Usually, once you discover them, the puzzle gets real easy, but the discovering can take an awful lot of time. Only Monday and Tuesday solving times have a narrower range—not surprising, as those are uniformly easy. OK, back to this specific puzzle. The theme answers are pretty dull, but the cluing provides an interesting twist. Narrows the field of acceptable answers considerably. Still, not sure those clues can be considered flashy or even interesting. Once you tumble to the concept here (that the "Word" is actually a pair of options), then for the rest of the themers, you don't really need the clues—just use pattern recognition from crosses to figure out common ___ OR ___ answers. I certainly never did the word math (until after I was done). Theme seems like something a constructor's gonna like more than a solver.

The fill is mostly reasonable, but it's got some subpar moments. I know the [Fittings under the sink] as traps, not U-BENDS, which is totally new to me. MAITRE is kind of a long foreign word. Had POSH for PISH because why wouldn't I? (10A: "Nonsense!") SW corner is chock full o' crosswordese. GAWP at it, why don't you? Rest of the grid has its fair share, but that corner, yikes. Starts with PRO RATA and just ... keeps going. The ENOCH / ACTIN / SOTO / SSNS area isn't terribly lovely either. My favorite answers of the day were ADZUKI (delicious), FOG OF WAR (38D: Cause for combatants' confusion), and POP OFF. I thought the [Raiders' org.] might be AFC or NFL, but having EATS in place already meant that the "F" in both those options would've resulted in a word starting TF- for 47D: Service easy to break? (TEASET), so I scrapped those and tried DEA. Bingo. Besides the PISH, U-BENDS, and ENOCH areas, I didn't have much trouble at all. Do people know SPERRY? Top-Siders were a huge fashion trend when I was in middle school. Had to have the real thing or you'd get teased. My god middle school in the '80s was a classist hellhole of viciousness. I've never been more miserable. Luckily I had MTV. A boy's best friend is his MTV. Anyway, good day.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. my wife notes (correctly, I think) that DEFRIEND (!?!) (see 38A) is not a thing people actually say. I gotta believe "unfriend" beats DEFRIEND by an enormous margin, ordinary usage-wise. As far as I can recall, I've heard "unfriend" nearly exclusively (as a term meaning "to drop someone as a Friend, particularly on the social media platform called Facebook"). Anyway, this is all to say that if you found the clue on FRIEND OR FOE confusing, you're certainly not alone.

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Ship names for ancient Roman province in Iberia / WED 8-28-19 / Singers of high notes in olden times / 1995 cyberthriller about espionage / Entertainer who popularized phrase you ain't hear nothing yet / 2004 film about group of street dancers / 2003 Christmas-themed rom-com / Hell week hellion say

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Constructor: Daniel Grinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (3:39)

THEME: TENNIS (62A: What 8-, 20-, 36- and 52-Across sound like they could be about) — movies with tennis terminology in their titles:

Theme answers:
  • "THE NET" (8A: 1995 cyberthriller about espionage)
  • "YOU GOT SERVED" (20A: 2004 film about a group of street dancers)
  • "FAULT IN OUR STARS" (36A: 2014 romance about two teens with cancer, with "The")
  • "LOVE, ACTUALLY" (52A: 2003 Christmas-themed rom-com)
Word of the Day: SATORI (55A: Religious enlightenment) —
Satori (悟り) (ChinesepinyinKorean oVietnamesengộ) is a Japanese Buddhist term for awakening, "comprehension; understanding". It is derived from the Japanese verb satoru.
In the Zen Buddhist tradition, satori refers to the experience of kenshō, "seeing into one's true nature". Ken means "seeing," shō means "nature" or "essence".
Satori and kenshō are commonly translated as enlightenment, a word that is also used to translate bodhiprajna and buddhahood. (wikipedia)
• • •

GAËL Monfils ... a name to watch out for
I was liking the puzzle OK as I was solving it, mostly because I was flying, and none of the fill made me wince much (except maybe CASTRATI ... which seems to be forming some kind of subtheme with SPAYS ...). Well, actually (!), the word SACS always makes me wince a little (a variation on the common "moist"-aversion), and AL JOLSON makes me think only of blackface, and SYN isn't great as fill, so it wasn't all smiles, but I was cruising and things were mostly fine. I couldn't figure out why there were these fairly marginal movie titles that kept coming up. I also couldn't figure out what the 8- and 9- letter Across answers (theme-length answers) had to do with the theme. Well, it turns out they had nothing to do with the theme. The revealer, when I finally got there (and I got there at the very very end) landed with a massive clunk. Turns out I'd been solving an oddly contrived variation on a very basic and kind of sad theme type—set of answers contains words that have something in common. A variation on a first-words or last-words-type theme (here, both last and first words are involved). I imagine some version of a TENNIS theme has been done many times before. This one tried to get clever and make them *movies* about TENNIS, but they don't actually sound like they're about TENNIS. I have "no they don't" written next to the revealer clue. And the grid is very choppy a *and* gunked up with these answers that look like they should be themers, that are longer than the first themer, but somehow aren't themers. It's visually confusing / displeasing. Long non-theme Downs in a puzzle with Across themers, fine; long non-theme Acrosses in the same type of puzzle tend to create an unpleasant visual interference, IMHO. Fill seemed mostly fine. Did not hate this one, but was ultimately disappointed. I appreciate the attempt to make the theme *something* besides just "tennis words," and I appreciate the attempt to publish it in a timely fashion (the U.S. Open just started). But upon review, this shot just missed.

CASTRATI itself doesn't bother me (5D: Singers of high notes in olden times), but somehow having that Italian plural but then an English plural of RISOTTOS in the symmetrical position really does bother me (37D: Italian dishes that are simmered). Actually, I don't know that RISOTTI is an actual Italian plural. I just know that I was sure as hell anticipating it. Maybe that word in the plural is just weird, period. I mostly killed this puzzle, but had some trouble down below. Had SCAD for SLEW (64A: Boatload), and BYLAW took me forever (51D: Standing rule). That revealer corner in the SW was by far the hardest, though. Forgot that CORGI herded cattle (47D: Cattle-herding canine). Couldn't figure out SALOON from first couple letters (43D: Where one might take or dodge shots). And then I misread the clue for STOOGE as [Underlying] instead of 59A: Underling. Lastly, I needed every cross to get the revealer, ha ha. True story. That's all. Have a nice day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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The O.W.L. AND N.E.W.T at Hogwarts / TUES 8-27-19 / Magnetic quality / History-making events / "I'm shocked!"

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Hello, again! I hope everyone is having a great end to their summer. It's currently already feeling more like fall weather here in DC, though, so at least that's something! I just started my 2L year of law school and am really hoping that everyone is exaggerating when they tell me that I'll basically be worked to the bone this year. Stay tuned!

Constructor: Daniel Raymon

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: The first name of a female celebrity followed by an adjective that's an anagram of the name.

Theme answers:
  • MELISSA'S AIMLESS (17A: Actress McCarthy is wandering)
  • STELLA'S ALL SET (33A: Designer McCartney is prepared)
  • LAUREN'S UNREAL (42A: Supermodel Hutton is incredible)
  • DARLENE'S LEARNED (60A: Singer Love is erudite)
Word of the Day: LAUREN Hutton (42A: Supermodel Hutton is incredible)
Mary Laurence "Lauren" Hutton is an American model and actress. Raised in the southern United States, Hutton relocated to New York City in her early adulthood to begin a modeling career. Though she was initially dismissed by agents for a signature gap in her teeth, Hutton signed a modeling contract with Revlon in 1973, which at the time was the biggest contract in the history of the modeling industry. (Wiki)
• • •
Overall, I thought the puzzle was alright. I was quite perplexed by the theme until about 20 minutes after I solved it and realized that the second part of each theme answer was an anagram of the first part of the answer. It's a clever enough bit of constructing, and I like the parallelism in each theme answer. Still, the adjectives in the theme answers seem pretty random to be. It's not clear to me why MELISSA McCarthy would be aimless, why DARLENE Love is learned, and so on. Also, this wasn't a big deal, but it was a bit off to have the second part of three of the four theme answers be a one-word adjective and then have 42A end with a two-word adjective: ALL SET.

There were some clever clues/answers in the puzzle and not too much crossword-y fill. I struggled some in the northeast corner, mostly because I really wanted "assign" to work for 13D: Put into different classes instead of ASSORT. And, although it seems like it's a relatively common expression to have a case AT BAR (26A), I'm in law school, and I've never heard anyone — student, professor, or judge — talk about being before a sitting judge in that way.

I do have a bone to pick with 48A: Tennis point just before a win, maybe. I watch a lot of tennis (side note: Federer is the best player of all time; don't @ me), and it took me ages to get to FORTY. I suppose it's technically correct that one person is at FORTY before they win a game, set, or match, but I still don't think the clue/answer really make logical sense. It was a leap to get there, and it could've been clued in a myriad of other ways. I'm not entirely sure what to make of having STEMS  (35D: Things florists cut) and SEPALS (51A: Flower parts) both in the crossword — and crossing each other. It's possibly a clever bit of constructing to have related answers cross; or it's redundant; or it's challenging because I don't know much about flowers, and now I'm supposed to answer two clues about them. I also took a bit of time to get 68A: Likely to zone out because I've always thought SPACY was spelled "spacey." I Googled it, and it seems like "spacey" is the preferred spelling.

All that being said, I did like 2D: Most common commercial name in New York Times crosswords — OREO. It was maybe a bit too on-the-nose, but I thought it was fun. I also liked the clue for LAPEL (65A: Pin point?) quite a bit and enjoyed 52D: POLLY "want a cracker." Likewise, 54A: Contents of hangars as PLANES was nice.

  • I am all about Harry Potter being in a crossword (69A)! For those who haven't read (and reread... and reread) the series, O.W.L. stands for Ordinary Wizarding Level, and N.E.W.T. stands for Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test.
  • I would've paid big bucks to have REX at 63D: "Toy Story" dinosaur instead be clued as "__ Parker, a crossword puzzle blogger."
  • 6A: Hit 2003-07 teen drama on Fox — THE OC. Finally a TV show that's more in my wheelhouse, and I've never even watched it!
  • I was recently back in Lake Tahoe in California, and I got to hike up a mountain on my bucket list, and I certainly saw some VISTAS from up there!
  • 9D: Home to Xenia and Zanesville, the most populous U.S. cities starting with "X" and "Z" has got to be the weirdest way I've ever seen OHIO clued. But, hey, points for originality! And, I learned something from the solve!
All done! In other words: CLARESCLEAR :)

Signed, Clare Carroll, a slightly nervous 2L

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One-named queen of Tejano music / MON 8-26-19 / Pork dish of southern cuisine / Bow-tie wearing cub in Jellystone park / NBA phenom Jayson

Monday, August 26, 2019

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Easy (2:49 on oversized 16x15 grid)

THEME: B- B- — themers start with repeated syllables starting w/ "B":

Theme answers:
  • BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP (18A: Start of a nursery rhyme on a farm)
  • BOO-BOO BEAR (29A: Bow-tie-wearing cub in Jellystone Park)
  • BYE BYE, BIRDIE (54A: 1963 musical that was Dick Van Dyke's film debut)
Word of the Day: TESSA Thompson (71A: Actress Thompson of "Sorry to Bother You")
Tessa Lynn Thompson (born October 3, 1983) is an American actress, singer, and songwriter. Her breakthrough role was in Tina Mabry's independent filmMississippi Damned (2009). She gained further recognition for her starring roles as Nyla Adrose in the drama film For Colored Girls (2010), civil rights activist Diane Nash in the historical drama film Selma (2014), Bianca Taylor in the sports drama film Creed (2015) and its sequel Creed II (2018), Valkyrie in the superhero films Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Avengers: Endgame (2019), Josie Radek in the science-fiction horror film Annihilation (2018), and Detroit in the science-fiction comedy film Sorry to Bother You (2018).
On television, Thompson has starred as Jackie Cook in the mystery drama Veronica Mars (2005–2006), Sara Freeman in the period crime drama Copper(2012–2013), and Charlotte Hale in the HBO science-fiction thriller Westworld(2016–present). (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle was fun. The theme is just riffing on sounds, and doesn't really care about set completion, or vowel progression, which is fine. On Monday, give me a loose, silly theme with three lively themers and (consequently) a grid not burdened by junk, and I am a very happy solver. I will admit that my happiness today was probably augmented by the fact that I solved this in under 2:50, which would be a fast time for me even on a normal 15x15 grid. On a 16x15, that time, for me, is smoking. Predictably, the moments where I teetered the most came with the contemporary proper nouns: had the -TUM, so Jayson TATUM was a reasonable guess (and rang a bell, despite my not being a big NBA fan) (67A: N.B.A. phenom Jayson), and TESSA also rang a bell, sorta kinda, but in both cases my speed slowed way down as I carefully checked crosses, or built the answers from crosses. It would probably be a good idea to store this TESSA away in your brain—that is a very favorable letter combination, and there just aren't that many famous TESSAs, so even marginally famous ones are likely to recur. I think there's an actress, TESSA Hadley (I can picture her, but can't remember what she's been in ... hang on ... LOL, whoops, she does exist, but on my bookshelf, not on TV—I've got "Late in the Day" on my bookshelf just waiting for me to read it. Now I want to know who this actress is that I thought was TESSA Hadley ... Oh *&$%#, it's Glenne Headley. Nevermind.).

[Glenne Headley, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel (!?) ... wow, 1991 was weird]

I spelled NICKI right on the first pass! (38A: Singer Minaj). Part of me always thinks it's gonna be NIKKI (like NIKKI Sixx or, I just found out, NIKKI Haley). I screwed up the term of endearment, though, and wrote in BABY when the crossword just wanted BABE (6D: Term of endearment). I like that YOGI(S) is in here to support BOO-BOO BEAR. And look, he's even DROOLing (over a pick-a-nick basket, no doubt), and there's RANGEr Smith right there in the same section, hot on his trail. Man, I miss being 6 years old sometimes.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Jack who co-starred with Charlie Chaplin in "The Great Dictator" / SUN 8-25-19 / Mumbai royal / Donizetti's "Pour mon âme," e.g. / French greeting

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Constructor: Matt Ginsberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: NOW YOU SEE ME / NOW YOU DON'T — Across answers have an extra "C" added to normal phrases to create wacky phrases. Down answers have a "C" subtracted from normal phrases to create wacky phrases. So wacky!

Theme answers:
  • NOW YOU SEE ME (113A: Illusionist's phrase illustrated by seven Across answers in this puzzle?)
  • NOW YOU DON'T (73D: Illusionist's phrase illustrated by three Down answers in this puzzle?)
Across themers (+C):
  • ANY COLD TIME (23A: When you can ice skate outside?)
  • DEAD CHEAT (25A: Poker player in the Old West after being caught with a card up his sleeve?)
  • WINCE MAKER (50A: Bad pun?)
  • PAGE CRANK (58A: Manual part of a printing press?) 
  • SPARE CRIB (77A: Need for parents who weren't expecting twins?)
  • CROW HOUSES (85A: Rookeries?)
  • CREST AREA (111A: Toothpaste aisle?)
Down themers (-C):
  • MODERN DANE (5D: Queen Margrethe II, e.g.?)
  • FREE RADIAL (15D: Arrangement in which you buy three times but get a whole set?)
  • MAGI MOMENT (70D: Visit to baby Jesus?)
Word of the Day: KLEIN (55A: ____ bottle (topological curiosity))
In topology, a branch of mathematics, the Klein bottle /ˈkln/ is an example of a non-orientable surface; it is a two-dimensional manifold against which a system for determining a normal vector cannot be consistently defined. Informally, it is a one-sided surface which, if traveled upon, could be followed back to the point of origin while flipping the traveler upside down. Other related non-orientable objects include the Möbius strip and the real projective plane. Whereas a Möbius strip is a surface with boundary, a Klein bottle has no boundary (for comparison, a sphere is an orientable surface with no boundary).
• • •
Hi all, Rachel Fabi in for Rex today, which under most circumstances would be a good thing for a constructor; I tend to say nice things about puzzles, while Rex is (in)famously cranky about many of them. Today's puzzle, however, is unfortunately going to be a challenge for me to glow about, as I have objections to the fill, the theme, and (some of) the cluing.

As a general rule, if the answer at 1A is a variant of a very common piece of crosswordese, you have already lost me. By the time I realized the puzzle was looking for AMIR instead of EMIR, I had already wasted an annoying amount of time trying to decipher that corner and moved on *twice*, and only managed to crack it by virtue of having written about OONA Chaplin on a previous review for Rex. The fill throughout the rest of the puzzle is not significantly better (see IDYL [also a variant!], RANEE [variant!!!!], ANAS [what?]).

I did not see this movie, now or otherwise
Despite the fill, my primary gripe is actually with the theme. NOW YOU SEE ME, when a magician (sorry, "illusionist") says it, does not mean "Now there is a C!". This theme would have made far more sense if the thing that was added to or subtracted from the "normal" phrases was the word ME, rather than the letter C. "Now you see ME. Now you don't." Almost as strange was the imbalance between the +C phrases (7) and the -C phrases (3). Why not have 5 of each, if you're determined to pack that many themers into this puzzle? The grid was pretty tortured by the theme density, and the fact that more Cs were appearing than disappearing feels inelegant. The iffy fill just wasn't worth the payoff.

a Klein bottle, apparently
I didn't really connect with a lot of the clues, but I generally don't blame constructors for that--sometimes you're just on a different wavelength. I will say that it seemed like the clues skewed harder when they didn't need to-- there are plenty of ways to clue KLEIN, for instance, and I suspect that the "topological curiosity" (pictured here) is beyond not just my wheelhouse, but that of 95% of solvers. In general, I am thrilled to learn new ways to clue common words, but when it's crossing UTILE and the aforementioned variant RANEE, I think it's better to stick with tried-and-true clues, especially on a Sunday. I won't bore you with the laundry list of clues I had similar objections to, but let's just say there were several. Ok, one more: 28A: Lamb offering? for ESSAY. Just, what? I have googled, and apparently there is a 19th century essayist by the name of Charles Lamb, but this is not an answer that needed that kind of clue. Contrast this with OAKIE, which was clued as an actor who is unfamiliar to me, but which is also not cluable in many other ways. In cases like that, a tricky/trivia-name type of clue is reasonable. But for LAMB and KLEIN and several other clues, it seems like they went hard when the Sundayness of this puzzle called for easy-medium.

I do have a few positive things to say! I lol'd at the clue on TIDAL (46A: Like the motion of the ocean) because it reminded me of a lyric from the Bloodhound Gang song "Bad Touch." I also enjoyed the inclusion of CHARO, whose "cuchi-cuchi" tagline I learned through RuPaul's Drag Race. And even though I don't think the theme was executed well, I did enjoy some of the puns that came out of it (specifically MAGI MOMENT, MODERN DANE, and SPARE CRIB).

Overall, I did not click with this puzzle, but there were enough bright spots that I can say that I also didn't hate it!

Signed, Rachel Fabi, Queen-for-a-Day of CrossWorld
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Intense craving for particular food / SAT 8-24-19 / Rhyming toy / Spot to buy tix in NYC / Royal Navy stronghold during WW II / 2001 best seller with tiger on its cover / Symbols seen in comic strip cursing / Crossbow-wielding creature of sci-fi

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (8:48)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: OPSOMANIA (46A: Intense craving for a particular food) —
[it's not in Webster's 3rd Intl, so here is a wikipedia entry on opson (Gr.)]: Opson (Greek: ὄψον) is an important category in Ancient Greek foodways. First and foremost opson refers to a major division of ancient Greek food: the 'relish' that complements the sitos (σίτος) the staple part of the meal, i.e. wheat or barley.
Opson is therefore equivalent to  Banchan in Korean cuisine and Okazu in Japanese cuisine. Because it was considered the more pleasurable part of any meal, opson was the subject of some anxiety among ancient Greek moralists, who coined the term opsophagia to describe the vice of those who took too much opson with their sitos.
Although any kind of complement to the staple, even salt, could be categorized as opson, the term was also commonly used to refer to the most esteemed kind of relish: fish. Hence a diminutive of opsonopsarion (ὀψάριον), provides the modern Greek word for fish:  psari (ψάρι), and the term opsophagos, literally 'opson-eater', is almost always used by classical authors to refer to men who are fanatical about seafood, e.g. Philoxenus of Leucas.
Finally, opson can be used to mean a 'prepared dish' (plural opsa). Plato, probably mistakenly, derived the word from the verb ἕψω - 'to boil'.
The central focus of Greek personal morality on self-control made opsophagia a matter of concern for moralists and satirists in the classical period. The complicated semantics of the word opson and its derivatives made the word a matter of concern for Atticists during the Second Sophistic. (wikipedia)
• • •

There were some definite highlights here, most notably the clue on TECH SAVVY (65A: E-sharp?), which, as my friend Rebecca Falcon said to me just now, beats every damn e-joke in the e-puzzle this past Wednesday. And it's oddly impressive to get two longish V-ending entries (!!!) to stand side-by-side like that at the bottom of the grid. Clue on CROP CIRCLE, also solid in its misdirectionality (35A: Unbelievable discovery in one's field). Much of this, though, felt weird, off, or hard for bad/dumb reasons. Weird: well, that's a polite word for the ridiculous inclusion of NRA in yet another puzzle (42A: Org. with magazines on magazines). Hahaha what cute wordplay I almost forgot all the mass shootings by white supremacist terrorist who easily got their hands on weapons of war because of the NRA. Tee hee. It's fun! Change C'MON to CLOT, and we're done. Nobody's gonna like TRA, but nobody's gonna like ATS or OID, and they're in here, so ... I guess I should be happy that they managed to lay off the right-wing cluing at 12D: Take precedence over (TRUMP). Tone deaf and amoral is the kind of cluing I've come to expect from the current regime. So that sucked.

Also sucking: HALFA (!?!?!) [space] LOAF (52D: With 38-Down, amount to make do with). First of all, what? Second of all, ugh, bad enough to split a phrase, but to have to resort to cross-reference for a phrase this weak and lumpy?! Terrible. The TO in ACTODC is making my eye twitch. WET NOODLE is not a thing people say, and certainly not a thing people say to describe a [Wimp]. It's too close to WET BLANKET. I think I know the phrase only from an idiom ... something's being "better than 50 lashes with a WET NOODLE"—did I make that up? Dream it? Hang on ... HA, no, I'm *right*—though the number of lashes seems to vary widely. Here's a NYT headline that uses 50, so I feel vindicated. But [Wimp]? That ain't it. (side note: don't ask urban dictionary what WET NOODLE means ... just don't).

Then there's OPSOMANIA, which, oof. Yes, I do love to learn new words, blah blah blah, but this is someone's wordlist run amok. It's difficulty for difficulty's sake. Nothing very edifying about it. Also, the "W" in SLOW-MO???? (7D: Highlight reel effect). That was jarring to me. I've only ever seen SLO-MO. The "MO" is already abbreviated, and surely that's the harder part to figure out. You gotta go SLO. That "W" feels entirely unnecessary. Looking around the internet, I see that some folks are using the "W" version, so maybe it's more common than I imagined, but yuck and no. The NYTXW itself says: SLOMO 39, SLOWMO ... 1. Just one. Today's entry. Yes, six-letter entries are as a rule going to be much less prevalent than five-letter entries, but still, 39-0 before today ... should tell you something. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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