Ladder's counterpart / SAT 7-30-2016 / Writer Sedaris / Pet name meaning "faithful"

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Constructor: Lily Silverstein

Relative difficulty: 11:36, slightly tough for Saturday (not a humblebrag, just telling you my time)


Word of the Day: ALSTON (29A: Charles who created murals for Harlem Hospital and the American Museum of Natural History)
Charles Henry Alston (November 28, 1907 – April 27, 1977) was an African-American painter, sculptor, illustrator, muralist and teacher who lived and worked in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. Alston was active in the Harlem Renaissance; Alston was the first African-American supervisor for the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project. Alston designed and painted murals at the Harlem Hospital and the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building. In 1990 Alston's bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. became the first image of an African American displayed at the White House. --                   Wikipedia
• • •
Eerily similar to yesterday's puzzle: competently written, very clean, perfectly pleasant to solve...but lacking much punch, noticeably un-Scrabbly, and highly compartmentalized. The clues were more interesting than yesterday's, though, so this is safely a B instead of on the line between B and B-.

The three showcase answers are fine but not more: CHANCE MEETING (32A: Start of many a romantic comedy), A HUNGER ARTIST (34A: 1922 Kafka short story), and PLATELET COUNT (35A: Hematologist's measure).

That 34-A is a nasty trap; raise your hand if you plunked METAMORPHOSIS down there like I aaaaalmost did until I hesitated since my hazy memory was that that's a novella or novel. I vaguely recalled the right answer, but even at ?HUN?ERARTIST I wasn't sure. THUNDER ARTIST? Finally the A fell into place. But not a story I recall reading and 11 of 13 letters are Scrabble 1-pointers, so kinda meh. 11 for 13 also on PLATELET COUNT.

Once you had the center nailed down it was a matter of knocking out the four peripheral sections one by one. As with yesterday, not good grid flow since it plays like a series of mini-puzzles.  All four are pretty snappy, though, and feature pleasantly wicked cluing, especially the SW corner, where FISTS was (Sparring partners?), AMOEBAS are (Slide presentations?) and BIT PART is (It doesn't have much to say). Nice.

To illustrate the cleanliness of the grid let's apply a five-worst-entries test: ITAL, ENG, ALBA, SIM, ABA. So that's good. Best fill was CHALK UP TO (32D: Attribute as the cause of), amusing TINA FEY (18A: "Mean Girls" screenwriter), AEROSOL CAN, RIGHT ANGLE, and PAPER THIN. Which are all good, but as a best-of list in a themeless, a little underwhelming; none is really a marquee answer.

Letter grade of B

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 1 more day and then Rex is coming back and we're all gonna be in trouble! Let's clean the house really fast and nobody tell him about the lawn parties.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Match Makeup / FRI 7-29-2016 / Doughnutlike / Catacomb component

Friday, July 29, 2016

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Took me 8:46, so good for a Friday


Word of the Day: SPY KIDS (20A: 2001 fantasy/adventure film with three sequels )
Gregorio and Ingrid are the two greatest secret agents the world has ever known: masters of disguise, mavens of invention, able to stop wars before they even start. Working for separate countries, they are sent to eliminate their most dangerous enemy...each other. But in an exotic corner of the world when they finally come face to face, they fall in love instead and embark on the most dangerous mission they have ever faced: raising a family. Now nine years later, after their retirement, having exchanged the adventure of espionage for parenthood, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez are called back in to action. When their former colleagues, the world's most formidable spies, start disappearing one by one, the Cortez's are forced to take on techno-wizard Fegan Floop and his evil, egg-headed sidekick, Minion. But when the unthinkable happens and they too disappear, unfortunately there are only two people in the world who can rescue them...their kids. -- IMDb
• • •

Not today's constructor's fault, but I've been binge-solving a bunch of old New York Sun themelesses by Byron Walden this week and those things pack a punch. Crazy letter combinations everywhere, unexpected Z's and K's and J's all over, wicked cluing. Just kills it. So while this is a competently written themeless, I didn't get the same kick from it.

The two long 15s are good, TEACHABLE MOMENT (17A: Teen's fender bender, maybe) and BIOLOGICAL CLOCK (54A: Concern in family planning). But then there are a lot of dullish longs like INTERSECTS, ANGLOPHONE, COGITATING, STRENGTHS, and ONE PERCENT. Even the better ones seem a little old-fashioned (GRAY MATTER, CHEST HAIR, THE BEE GEES).

The grid itself is rather compartmentalized, so it felt a bit like solving three different crosswords. If not for the T's in THOUGH and NICEST it would've felt extremely compartmentalized. So not great grid flow. Not very Scrabbly, either -- the Q feels cheap because of QAID (52D: Muslim judge of North Africa) and the only other rare letter is an X tucked away in a corner. Buncha K's and H's, though, at least.

Some good stuff among the middle-length entries: QUICHES, INK BLOT, BAUBLES, CHURCHY, SPY KIDS. But overall this didn't amuse me like the best themelesses do. The only time I had one of those "How can this possibly be right? Do I have an error somewhere?" moment was briefly with SP?KI??. Thought "Nothing fits there, I must have an error," but then the penny dropped (see our Word of the Day). 

Grid was very clean, too, as the three worst entries test shows: TORIC, QAID, and maybe BRASI? So not much there to object to.

Wavering between B and B-; let's go with a letter grade of B since it's not the constructor's fault that I stumbled upon this book earlier in the week in a box in my house (we're moving, so lots of boxes around). 


Before I sign off for the evening, here's a note from puzzle friend Mike Selinker about a charity puzzle project he's created. Very successful so far -- over 4,000 puzzle bundles sold!:

This week, my team at Lone Shark Games and Humble Bundle launched a major feel-good puzzle project: the Humble Puzzle Bundle. It’s a collection of puzzle books by Patrick Berry, Francis Heaney, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Patrick Merrell, and many other legendary puzzle makers—and you can get them for whatever you want to pay, even a dollar. My book The Maze of Games (electronic and hardback) is in there too, with an all-new hint book called The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze. A lot of the books are brand new, never seen before. Best of all, a big chunk of your contribution goes to charities like Worldbuilders, the It Gets Better Project, and Child’s Play. We wanted to do something fun and positive for the puzzle community, which has been through a lot this year. So if you’d like to get about a zillion puzzles and contribute money to cool charities, head on over to the Humble Puzzle Bundle. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 2 more days

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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