Baseball great Buck / THU 6-30-16 / 1956 jazz/blues album with exclamation point / Heavy drinkers informally / Caligula's love / Tout's stock in trade

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Constructor: Jonathan M. Kaye

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TOP / OFF (38A: With 39-Across, refill to capacity ... or a hint to interpreting the clues at 17-, 27-, 46- and 61-Across) — if you literally take the top off of each letter in the theme clues (i.e. block out / discard the upper half of the clue), you get a new clue appropriate to the answer:

Theme answers:
  • 17A: B0B (i.e. DUD) -> DEFECTIVE BULLET
  •  27A: TB8L (i.e. IDOL) -> ADORED SUPERSTAR
  • 46A: 8V8TB (i.e. OVOID) -> SHAPED LIKE AN EGG
[If you still don't get it, try this: A. draw a horizontal line straight through the clue; B. erase / block everything above the line; C. the remaining letter parts (everything beneath the line) is the clue]

Word of the Day: ERIKA Christensen (20A: Christensen of "Parenthood") —
Erika Jane Christensen (born August 19, 1982) is an American actress and singer whose filmography includes roles in Traffic (2000), Swimfan (2002), The Banger Sisters (2002), The Perfect Score (2004), Flightplan (2005), How to Rob a Bank (2007), and The Tortured (2010). For her performance in Traffic, she won the MTV Movie Award for Breakthrough Female Performance and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture along with her co-stars. // In 2006, she starred on the short-lived drama series Six Degrees on ABC. From 2010 until its ending in 2015, Christensen starred as Julia Braverman-Graham on the NBC family drama series Parenthood. In 2014, she won a Gracie Award for her performance in the role. Christensen portrayed Betty Beaumontaine on ABC's short-lived crime drama series Wicked City. (wikipedia)
• • •
I've seen variations on this theme before. Well, at least one, so maybe not variations, plural, but I've definitely seen the divide-a-letter gimmick before. I'm guessing many will finish and not really understand what is going on. It took me a little bit to put it all together, especially considering I had DEFECTIVE BULLET well before the revealer and couldn't make any sense of it. When in doubt, get Very Literal ... so I did, and voila. I am not a big fan of definitions-as-answers, and these answers have been particularly ... let's say, massaged (since it's a nice word) ... to get them into 15 form. So not only do I get definitions as answers, I get some pretty iffy ones at that. I would never get to DEFECTIVE BULLET from "Dud" unless absolutely forced to. The ADORED in ADORED SUPERSTAR is at least semi-redundant. SHAPED LIKE AN EGG ... well, that one's so ridiculous it makes me laugh, so I actually kind of like it. BRIGHTLY COLORED seems just right. Fill is smooth—it's a 78-worder, so it oughta be. The APER / REFI / EPEE / ERIKA is the only densely yucky part of the grid. SILLY ME and PRE-NUP give the grid a little colloquial zazz. This is not a type of puzzle I particularly enjoy, but it's reasonably well done for what it is.

Difficulty lay (aside from the obvious theme-figuring-out stuff) in a few misdirective / ambiguous clues. I was so proud of myself for dropping EMU and LARGEST, bam bam. And then the "A" in LARGEST worked for MAUVE so I knew I'd nailed it. Until I couldn't finish the corner. The hole I dug wasn't too deep, but it was ... interesting. Most notably, I convinced myself that "old-time cookie recipes" contained an ingredient called GERM (as in "wheat germ," duh). Other mistakes weren't nearly as costly. I knew "Tout" related to gambling, but for some reason I decided his stock-in-trade was ODDS (?). ID NO. was really hard for 24D: Prisoner's assignment, Abbr. And then the highly ambiguous 45D: Pen made getting into the SE a little tricky. If this were my puzzle, I'd probably have changed SORE (66A) to SAND, thereby getting rid of the always-terrible ADES and picking up the Flock of Seagulls song "I RAN" at 58D. But SORE works too. Different strokes etc.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Worker at Omnicrom Group / WED 6-29-16 / Fodder's place but not mudder's / 100 points to jeweler / Despised figure in Fiddler on Roof / Natty neckwear / bisschen not much Ger /

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Constructor: John Lampkin

Relative difficulty: Medium (felt Easy, but clock said otherwise)

THEME: gratis — clues (which all follow the pattern [It ___]) suggest something for which you don't have to pay, but answers take the clues in other, unexpected directions:

Theme answers:
  • WEATHERVANE (19A: It's on the house)
  • DEAD BATTERY (53A: It carries no charge) 
  • EMPTY CHAIR (27D: It's free)
  • RAVE REVIEW (10D: It's complimentary) 
Word of the Day: GELÉE (31D: Hair goop) —

a jellied substance, especially a cosmetic gel or a jellied food. (
• • •

Not much to say here. This seems highly adequate: it's this, it's that, but not what you think, aha, I see, the end. Honestly, I had no idea what the theme was until I was done and went looking. Answers themselves told me nothing. Only after examining the clues for the longest answer did I see the pattern. Interestingly unobtrusive, this theme. Why wouldn't you say [It's free of charge] for DEAD BATTERY? Seems a much more natural phrase, and still literally applies to a DEAD BATTERY. Oh, right, I see. You've got [It's free] as one of your other theme clues. OK then. I guess "carries no charge" will have to do. Inelegant, but acceptable/necessary. Didn't mind the double [Pub offering] but the triple was irksome. Pubs don't offer SUDS. ALE and BREW are not slang, so the non-slang clue fits. SUDS needs slang in the clue to fly. Felt similarly about GELÉE, but in reverse. That's a formal word—one used way way less than simple GEL—so "goop" hardly seems appropriate. For GEL, sure, "goop." But GELÉE needs a less downscale word.

Not sure why you clue ARI as an abbr. except for the sole purpose of getting people to guess STL first (9D: Cardinals, in stats). "In stats" is a ridiculous phrase. It's not anything "in stats." It *is* something "in football stats," but then no one would step into your little trap. Traps should be clever! Speaking of clever, that COLLEGE clue (29A: Emerson or Dickinson). Now that's a trap. Or, rather, an incredible misdirection. Needed many crosses before I stopped looking for something to do with 19th-century American literature. Had HAM IT (a la PIG IT!) instead of HAM UP (26D: Overplay), IVORY before CAMAY (33A: Brand once billed as "the soap of beautiful women"), I LOSE before I LOST (24D: "You beat me"), and DIG DOWN before DIG DEEP (41D: Try one's utmost). Else ... you know, a puzzle. It's a puzzle. It's nice.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. here a little something on yesterday's HAREM clue and the broader problem it represents.

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