Wild Duck dramatist / WED 3-4-15 / Bow-toter on seasonal cards / Title woman of 1957 #1 Paul Anka hit / Popular Japanese pizza topping / Walrus mustache feature

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Constructor: Jeff Stillman

Relative difficulty: Medium



THEME: puns involving male movie roles  — familiar phrases are clued as if they have some relation to roles played by famous actors

Theme answers:
  • BOND TRADERS (17A: Connery and Lazenby, between 1967 and 1971?)
  • ROCKY START (11D: 1976, for Stallone's rise to stardom?)
  • TRIPLE AXEL (29D: Eddie Murphy, after 1984, 1987 and 1994?)
  • PLAYING SOLO (64A: What Harrison Ford was doing in 1977, 1980 and 1983?)
Word of the Day: SERIN (44A: European finch) —
noun
  1. a small Eurasian and North African finch related to the canary, with a short bill and typically streaky plumage. (google)
• • •

Inconsistent. Off. Wonky. I just couldn't get into this one. The fill skews old and stale, too (SE is particularly gunky), so there wasn't much for me here, except CETOLOGY (big Moby-Dick fan) (27A: Study of whales). So what, exactly, was wrong? BOND TRADERS was OK. A little thinky (i.e. you have to know that the role of Bond went from Connery in 1967 to Lazenby in 1969 and then *back* to Connery in 1971 …). Even then, the answer's a little forced, but I could roll with it. But both the answer, ROCKY START, and its clue (11D: 1976, for Stallone's rise to stardom?) felt off. It's *Stallone's* rise to stardom. But it's the franchise "Rocky"'s start. Stallone got his start (stardom-wise) playing Rocky, but ROCKY START does not capture that. Also, ROCKY START … isn't the tightest phrase. No tighter than "rough start," which means roughly the equivalent. Then there's the role-outlier, AXEL (Foley), which belongs in this puzzle not at all. Those movies did big business, but compared to James Bond, Rocky Balboa, and Han Solo, the name "Axel" just doesn't rate, fame-wise. Worst of all is PLAYING SOLO,  which isn't a phrase. Or, it is, but it's weak. GOING SOLO or, better, FLYING SOLO, are better, more solid, more real things. PLAYING SOLO … meh. Also confusing that the three years quoted in the clue for TRIPLE AXEL mattered (i.e. three years relates to "TRIPLE"), but the three years quoted in the PLAYING SOLO clue … didn't. So lots of little junky things about the cluing and answer quality just kept this from being that entertaining to me.

[FALTERMEYER]

Bullets:
  • 56A: ___-watch (BINGE) — by far the hardest thing for me to get. Not knowing the [Title woman of a 1957 #1 Paul Anka hit] (told you the fill skewed old…) I figured it must be something uncommon like DEANA, so I had BENGE-watch and stared at it and had no idea what part could be wrong. This is especially weird, considering I had just finished watching Season 1 Episode 3 of "Mad Men," which I am semi-BINGE-(re-)watching in its totality, leading up to the series finale this April 5.
  • 55A: Cy Young candidates's stats (ERAS) — ??? … They're every pitcher's stats. The worst pitchers have ERAS. This clue is ridiculous.
  • 34A: Walrus mustache feature (DROOP) — ??? … I see that the wikipedia entry for "walrus mustache" says they have a DROOP (because the lip hair "droops" over the mouth…), but … man, that is a weird direction to go for this clue. If I had to list ten features of a "walrus mustache," that word wouldn't come up.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Physicist Mach / TUE 3-3-15 / Flagmaker Ross / 1982 double-platinum Duran Duran album / Treat similar to Yodel / Neighbor of Ricardos / Foot for Greek god Pan / Space station that crashed in 1979 / Likable prez / Event featuring motocross snocross /

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Constructor: Kristian House

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: HUNTER S. THOMPSON (35A: Author of 50-/55-Across) — some answers related to the late writer

Theme answers:
  • JOHNNY DEPP (18A: He played one of the lead roles in the film version of 50-/55-Across)
  • GONZO JOURNALISM (23A: Writing style popularized by 35-Across)
  • "FEAR AND LOATHING / IN LAS VEGAS" (50A: See 35-Across)
Word of the Day: SKYLAB (9D: Space station that crashed in 1979) —
Skylab was a space station launched and operated by NASA and was the United States' first space station. Skylab orbited the Earth from 1973 to 1979, and included a workshop, a solar observatory, and other systems. It was launched unmanned by a modified Saturn V rocket, with a weight of 169,950 pounds (77 t). Three manned missions to the station, conducted between 1973 and 1974 using the Apollo Command/Service Module (CSM) atop the smaller Saturn IB, each delivered a three-astronaut crew. On the last two manned missions, an additional Apollo / Saturn IB stood by ready to rescue the crew in orbit if it was needed. […] Plans were made to refurbish and reuse Skylab, using the Space Shuttle to boost its orbit and repair it. However, development of the Shuttle was delayed, and Skylab reentered Earth's atmosphere and disintegrated in 1979, with debris striking portions of Western Australia. (wikipedia)
• • •

Straight-up info puzzle. Just as I enjoyed remembering "The Sound of Music" on Sunday, I enjoyed remembering HUNTER S. THOMPSON today, but as puzzle themes go, this type always feels blah to me. (And, to be fair to Sunday, that had the whole musical scale thing going on, even though, as a very experienced puzzle-maker friend of mine pointed out, SOL should not have been the rebused note in that puzzle, since the lyric is not, obviously, "SOL, a needle pulling thread…" But I really, really digress) Nothing here elevates this theme above the literal plane: this is a man, he did this, he wrote this, this actor played him. The fill is pretty smooth, and there are lots of zingy little answers (HAD A GO, HELL NO, CUDDLE UP, X GAMES), so solving it was in no way an unpleasant experience, but themewise, it's a bit flat. Luckily, the themers themselves are inherently lively, so the puzzle doesn't feel as boring as it might. It's worth noting, also, that, though Kristian House (today's constructor) has published many puzzles in the NYT, this was the first one he ever had accepted (!), way back in 2008 (!?). He actually asked for it back about a year ago so he could clean up the fill some. Good for him for taking that initiative. And as for the editor's holding a puzzle for that long … I don't know, man. I just don't know.


Bullets:
  • 1D: Tried (HAD A GO) — this answer, and my initial answer of SEALAB (!?!?) for SKYLAB, and my balking at MERTZ because I thought the clue suggested a plural (it doesn't) (41D: Neighbor of the Ricardos on "I Love Lucy"), meant that my time came out relatively average, rather than well below average, which is what I thought was going to happen. When with only minimal initial help from some crosses, you can fill in the entire set of theme answers without thinking, that puzzle falls under the "Easy" category, no matter what my time says. 
  • 1A: Treat similar to a Yodel (HO-HO) — Wasn't entirely sure. Brain got stuck in between and wanted YOHO initially. 
  • 8D: Aristocrats (GENTRY) — this answer may also have added slightly to my time, as it was a plural clue with a non-"S"-ending answer. Throwing "S" down quickly ended up being the wrong move there, obviously. See the flip problem at 33A: Fragrant neckwear (LEIS), where an apparently singular clue has a plural (and "S"-ending) answer.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. please enjoy this ironic picture I took of my television screen last night:


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