Capital on Niger / FRI 4-18-14 / Art enabled / Blue symbol of Delaware / Add tiger's chaudron For ingredients of our cauldron

Friday, April 18, 2014

Constructor: James Mulhern

Relative difficulty: Medium (Easy-Medium for me)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BAMAKO (48D: Capital of the Niger) —
Bamako is the capital and largest city of Mali, with a population of 1.8 million (2009 Census, provisional). In 2006, it was estimated to be the fastest growing city in Africa and sixth fastest in the world. It is located on the Niger River, near the rapids that divide the upper and middle Niger valleys in the southwestern part of the country.
Bamako is the nation's administrative center. The city proper is a cercle in its own right. Bamako's river portis located in nearby Koulikoro, along with a major regional trade and conference center. Bamako is the seventh largest West African urban center after LagosAbidjanKanoIbadanDakar, and Accra. Locally manufactured goods include textiles, processed meat and metal goods. There is commercial fishing on the Niger River.
The name Bamako comes from the Bambara word meaning "crocodile river". (wikipedia)
• • •

This one just flowed for me. From beginning to end, I had only minor hitches. Looking back on it, I'm surprised how easily I got through some sections, esp. the NE. All my first guesses were correct. Wasn't sure if it was ET ALIA or ET ALII, but I decided to drop CELLI at 10D: Parts of many chamber groups, and that made all the difference. EPOCH and then APIA came easily, and I saw straight through the enigmatic cluing at 10A: Art enabled (CANST). I did not see straight through the enigmatic cluing at 18A: Moving supply (LITHE) (great clue), but all the crosses fell easily into place. The one real stick point—the answer I had to come at from both directions before I finally took it down—was BAMAKO. Had the BAM- and thought "oh … no. African capitals. Crap." Actually wanted BAMAKO (despite having no idea where it was), but the "K" looked weird wrong at that point (my first pass at the word), so I abandoned ship and went back to work where I had started, in the NW. Worked my way steadily and easily from there, clockwise, back to the SE, where it turned out BAMAKO was right all along. So I solved until I ran into BAMAKO, retreated, and then solved again until I came back to BAMAKO from the opposite side. The end.

I like this puzzle, despite some wobbly short fill, particularly in the upper center and ENE sections. FO SHIZZLE reads as hilariously dated to me, but I still enjoyed seeing it (1A: "Definitely, dawg!") ("Dawg" also reads as dated). I like that the 15s are Downs in this one. Longest answers in themelesses are usually Acrosses. But aside from that little grid oddity, it's a pretty standard grid, with solid, somewhat above-average fill. Great clues help add to the entertainment value. I already covered [Moving supply] and [Art enabled]; I also liked [Something awful] for LIKE CRAZY, which fooled me completely, despite the fact that I use "something awful" in that idiomatic way all the time. I had MAMMAL for MARMOT (54A: Woodchuck, e.g.), and disbelieved that WANS was a word (36D: Pales). Otherwise, as I say, this was an enjoyable, largely bump-free ride.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Hardy hog breed / THU 4-17-14 / Pioneer in New Criticism / Palestinian nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 2013 / Fine dandy in old slang

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (though once again, I wouldn't really know, as the NYT continues to fail to put out a readable .puz file on time so I'm using their truly terrible "Play For Fun" interface, which advances the cursor against your will to apparently random parts of the grid once you've completed an answer … it's like the Enjoyment Crushing Society over there, my god…) 

THEME: THINK / THROUGH (45A: With 61-Across, carefully consider … or a clue to this puzzle's theme) — you have to mentally supply THROUGH in intersecting phrases, as the first word in the phrase *literally* runs through the latter part of the phrase:

Theme answers:
  • WENT [thru] THE ROOF
  • PAID [thru] THE NOSE
  • SHOT [thru] THE HEART
  • ROSE [thru] THE RANKS
Word of the Day: DUROC (50A: Hardy hog breed) —
noun: Duroc; plural noun: Durocs
  1. 1.
    a pig of a reddish breed developed in North America.
early 19th cent.: from the name of a stallion that is said to have been bought by the breeder Isaac Frink on the same day as the pigs from which he developed the breed. (google)
• • •

Mixed bag. Novel grid design is a plus, and the core concept is clever. I did not, however, like the way the theme execution made for nonsense words in the Downs. I guess I'm questioning the way "THROUGH" is being used here. Intersecting conveys a better sense of THROUGH. Here, it's like THE just stepped a little to make room for the first word. THEN ROOF just looks silly. [Direction from caveman contractor following "Put up walls"!?]. Revealer oddly wasn't. I.e. I picked up on the concept reasonably early, so when I got to the "revealer" it was a gimme, not a revelation.

Fill on this one was so-so. I LOST IT and STINK AT feel barely legitimate as cohesive phrases, and I'm somewhat surprised a lot of the short fill is as mediocre as it is. DUROC, yikes (50A: Hardy hog breed). DUROC is the new ATLI (see yesterday). Lots more iffy short fill—too much to list. I've seen I AM SO DEAD before — twice — so though you may like it, it's straight out of a constructing software word list. Clue on TROT is not good, but we are subjected to it because of the perceived "need" to have three identical clues in a row (48D: Go quickly). It's telling that all the actual examples of TROT in a sentence, if you google it, refer to its slowness relative to an *actual* quick pace. "The horses trotted slowly through the night. "Our horses slowed to a trot." So, yes, it's faster than walking. But only in a fairly tortured and tenuous way would you use it to mean "go quickly."

AM NOT is a retort to a specific accusation, not a broad existential statement. How ["You know nothing about me"] works, I have no idea. [Stare with an open mouth] is GAPE. If not, it's GAWK. It is GAWP … well, never in real life, but in crossword puzzles, it's real life shmeal life. The clue on OKE is unintentionally hilarious: ["Fine and dandy," in old slang]. Old? You mean, older than "fine and dandy"? Wow, that is old. When "fine and dandy" is your "After" photo, that is … something. But again, the theme has a certain charm, and the puzzle is kind of smiling at you, so why not just focus on that. Also, this puzzle was half-written by a woman, so the three-week-long sausagefest has … well, not ended, but been slightly mitigated, at any rate. Hurray?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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