Virginia city known for shipbuilding / MON 10-24-16 / Final stanze of ballad / Molars usually have four of these / Pair of cymbals operated by foot pedal

Monday, October 24, 2016

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: On the easier side of Mondayness

THEME: MORNING SHOW (58A: Breakfast-time TV fare that usually includes the ends of 17-, 28, 36- and 44-Across) — themers end with NEWS, TRAFFIC, WEATHER and SPORTS, respectively

Theme answers:
  • NEWPORT NEWS (17A: Virginia city known for its ship-building)
  • DRUG TRAFFIC (28A: Flow of narcotics)
  • UNDER THE WEATHER (36A: Not feeling so hot)
  • SPOIL SPORTS (44A: Killjoys)
Word of the Day: CUSPS (1A: Molars usually have four of these) —
A cusp is a pointed, projecting, or elevated feature. In animals, it is usually used to refer to raised points on the crowns of teeth. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a perfectly reasonable puzzle ... from 30ish years ago that has somehow found its way to 2016. The NYT is having this problem over and over and over again lately. Problem isn't (only) with the quality of the puzzle, it's with the ambition level. No, "ambition" isn't even the right word, since I don't think a puzzle has to be super-edgy or complicated or avant-garde to be good. A very simple puzzle can be good. But there's no attempt to be current or funny or, for lack of a better word, alive. We're getting a ton of by-the-book puzzles. First words do this. Last words do this. Etc. With fill and clues that are less terrible than stale. Nobody expects That much from a Monday, but I think that's actually a cruddy attitude to have towards Mondays and the people who make them well. A little zing, a little imagination, a little spark. This is all I ask of Mondays. Actually, it's all I ask of most days. I won't list all the tiresome fill here, largely because every puzzle has Some, but just look at the grid and consider how much of this stuff you see over and over and over. Even something like EMOTE or ORATE or SATED—perfectly fine words, but relentless, and today, all in the same section. A puzzle made for people who wear AFTA and watch morning TV fare, i.e. not me. And, increasingly, not a lot of solvers. If it is unreasonable of me to keep asking the NYT to be the best, then maybe they should stop calling themselves the "best." That way no fraud, no unrealistic expectations.

Turns out I don't really know what CUSPS means. I finished this puzzle in under my normal Monday time, but I think I might've set a personal Monday best if I'd had some conception of CUSPS. I know the term "bicuspid," but I think of "cusp" as meaning the edge; like ... you're on the *cusp* of something. Or in astrology, if you're on the *cusp*, you are on the edge or boundary of two different signs. Right? Anyway, the clue [Molars usually have four of these] totally stymied me. Filling in ROT at 4D: Drivel didn't help (it's PAP). Also had lots o' trouble with 5D: One often seen standing just out side a building's entrance (SMOKER), since all I wanted was some version of "doorman." So maybe it's most accurate to say this puzzle had a Challenging (for a Monday) NW corner, and a hyper-easy everything else.

  • 50A: Shoe material (LEATHER) — not that I care, but you don't usually see replicated letter strings as long as the one this answer shares with WEATHER (in UNDER THE WEATHER)
  • 8D: "___ Gotta Be Me" (Sammy Davis Jr.  song) (I'VE) — not sure why I'VE sounds too formal / grammatical to precede "Gotta," but it does. I GOTTA feels more natural. But a title's a title's a title.
  • 11D: Procedure for solving a mathematical problem (ALGORITHM) — not to be confused with the theoretical concept AL GORE RHYTHM. P.S. I have a mathematician friend, who is also a constructor friend, who teaches in NEWPORT NEWS. Here's the exciting proof.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Political columnist Matt / SUN 10-23-16 / Competitor of Sapporo Kirin / Early British actress Nell / Target customer of Yelp / Title fictional character who sprang from his Platonic conception of himself

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Constructor: Jeff Chen and Ellen Leuschner

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Over / Under" — themer clues all begin "Over the" or "Under the," followed by cross-reference to an Across clue that sits directly over or under the themer, respectively. So, figurative phrases using "Over" or "Under" are represented quasi-literally in the grid:

Theme answers:
  • NO SPRING CHICKEN (22A: Over the 27-Across [HILL])
  • FACING A DEADLINE (34A: Under the 29-Across [GUN])
  • BEYOND BELIEF (57A: Over the 62-Across [TOP])
  • ON THE DOWN LOW (76A: Under the 67-Across [TABLE])
  • IN SEVENTH HEAVEN (94A: Over the 104-Across [MOON])
  • AT THE LAST MINUTE (112A: Under the 105-Across [WIRE])
Word of the Day: BHT (69D: Food preservative abbr.) —
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), also known as dibutylhydroxytoluene, is a lipophilic organic compound, chemically a derivative of phenol, that is useful for its antioxidant properties.[4] European and U.S. regulations allow small amounts to be used as a food additive. In addition to this use, BHT is widely used to prevent oxidation in fluids (e.g. fuel, oil) and other materials where free radicals must be controlled. (wikipedia)
• • •

Theme feels very, very familiar. Which is fine. Bound to happen when you've been solving for decades, as I have. The puzzle is cute and competent and reasonable. Pleasant. Just not that much Fun to solve. It all feels pretty DAD-BLASTED, in that it feels like it came from an era when people might use that term unironically. Or from an era when people wore OPERA COATS, if that's more evocative for you. Plus the fill ... again, totally NYT-normal, but that's not saying much any more. HAH HEEHEE TNUTS OSSA etc. It's all a bit by-the-book and backward-looking. There's a few truly bad things like BOR. ONEI ARAIL DANL EDEL etc., but mostly it's just a deluge of dull and defensible. I spent most of my day alternating between previewing a forthcoming crossword project from Erik Agard and solving the alcohol-themed puzzles in Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney's new collection "Drunk Crosswords." It is hard to come back to the NYT after that. Erik and Brendan and Francis are exacting constructors whose work is always current and funny and who put a premium on solver entertainment. Despite the fact that the collections in question are actually quite different from one another (Erik's very hard and conceptually mind-bending, Brendan and Francis's somewhat easier and more conventional), they are both a joy to dip into because of the care, craft, and ambition they evince—things the NYT has too often been lacking. There is nothing really Bad about today's puzzle. But it is backward-looking. It is designed to pass time. To satisfy long-established tastes. There is obviously a reasonably-sized market for such Comfort Puzzles. But the NYT wants to be "the best" (in fact, claims it is "the best"), and you can't be the best by just resting on your laurels and playing the oldies.

My main memory of this puzzle is falling, repeatedly, into pretty deadly traps. I had GO-- at 41D: Silly billy and thought "Silly goat, billy goat ... GOAT!" But no. It's GOOF. Worse (in terms of face-falling) was 95D: Small swigs. I had -IPS so, of course, SIPS. SIPS. Gotta be SIPS. But no. NIPS. Lena says there are no small swigs. Swigs are big. Small swigs are oxymorons. Here is some evidence for her rightness.

Lastly, mistake-wise, I had WA- at 105D: Female W.W. II enlistee and wrote in WAAC, which is literally true for that clue (as much as SIPS was right for [Small swigs]). But no, it's WASP, which is something related to the Air Force, I think. Hang on ... Yep. Women Airforce Service Pilots. So that's a bunch of wrong answers that were very hard to extricate because of being so homologous to the right answers. I just checked with Lena and she said "homologous" is in fact the right word here, so send your complaint letters to her, thanks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. less than two days left to back Patrick Blindauer's "Piece of Cake Crosswords" project, which I wrote about a couple weeks back. Here's the premise:

"Piece of Cake Crosswords is a proposed yearlong series of easy-but-fun crossword puzzles, one puzzle per week. These will be daily-sized (15×15) crosswords that have fun themes with no sneaky tricks. The grids will be filled with FAMILIAR words, phrases, and names, and they'll be delivered directly to your inbox every Monday morning. Finally: something to look forward to on Monday morning! "

Good easy puzzles are hard to come by. Good for pros and novices. Get on board.

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