Hyperrealist sculptor Hanson / SAT 3-28-15 / composer of opera fiesque / He worked with illustrator phiz / Jeweler of kings king of jewelers / Spring-blooming bush / Musandam Peninsula populace / Modern lead-in to cat

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: SNAPCHAT (34D: Disappearing communication system?) —
Snapchat is a photo messaging application developed by Evan SpiegelBobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown, then Stanford University students. Using the application, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. These sent photographs and videos are known as "Snaps". Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps (as of April 2014, the range is from 1 to 10 seconds), after which they will be hidden from the recipient's device and deleted from Snapchat's servers.
According to Snapchat in May 2014, the app's users were sending 700 million photos and videos per day, while Snapchat Stories content was being viewed 500 million times per day. The company has a valuation of $10–$20 billion depending on various sources. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, this is just ridiculously good. I think Steinberg is quickly turning himself into one of the great themeless constructors. Heir apparent to Patrick Berry. This puzzle doesn't have many weak spots at all, and its strong spots are everywhere. All over. All the stacks. All the columns. They are chock full of life and wit and (LEMON) ZEST. Let's see ... SCARUM—that, I don't like. But holy moly you'd need like six more SCARUMs (scara?) to make this thing less than good. I want to scream to all themeless constructs and would-be themeless constructors: aim for This. It's not just good in places; it's good Everywhere. The NYT has become somewhat schizophrenic of late, serving up mediocre fare better than half the time, but then dropping GEMs here and there by the great constructors who still regularly submit to them. I've said it before, and I'm saying it again now: Steinberg is one of a handful of constructors keeping the NYT's overall quality passable. A lot of talent has been syphoned off to other places. Speaking of, you should really check out David Steinberg's *other* current puzzle—the latest American Values Club Crossword. It's called "Inside Dope," which, as I told editor Ben Tausig, is the Same Title as a crossword puzzle I once made, and with a very similar theme. But, as I also told him, David's is better. Get it here for a $1, or just become a AVCX subscriber already: they're thick with constructing talent over there.

I knew I was in for a fun ride pretty quickly when NOH IMSET WITSEND and XER gave me BIKINI WAX. That was the first answer in a killer 3-stack: BIKINI WAX / ECONOMIZE / DEATH STAR. Conjures images of Vader having some personal grooming done, because, well, he had a coupon, so why not? Calling a BIKINI WAX "hair-raising" seems a bit tenuous, but it allows for a clever misdirection, so I'll allow it.

[Kid who had an original Rubik's cube, e.g.] => REXPARKER

The cluing was pretty tough throughout, with lots of initially annoying but ultimately mostly pretty good "?" clues. Also, some clues were vague enough to throw me off, at least for a bit. NE was pretty tough, with two not-terribly-famous names one over the other (DUANE Hanson / ERICA Hill). Luckily, after getting ODEON, I pulled the trigger on both names, with just their first letters in place. I figured that starting "E" in five letters, that name was gonna be ERICA (or ERIKA). Also, I know the name DIANE Hanson, so I just went with that. Fortuitous! Turns out Dian Hanson spells her name without an "E." She's a porn editor and historian. She's done a lot of Taschen books on pin-up / girly mag art. She was interviewed in the (great) film "Crumb." So of course her name was in my head. Anyway, DIANE to DUANE, not a big leap. As you can see here, I got into that corner and down YEAR ZERO, with just a little error there are the top (later fixed, obviously):

As someone with a vendetta against the Charmin Bears (they're the only animal I want hunted to extinction), I wasn't exactly excited about 57A: They're taken to go (LAXATIVES), but it's nice to see the NYT … I'm gonna say "loosen up" a little. Yes, I'm gonna say it, alright. The exclamation point on this thing, for me, was SNAPCHAT. Gives the grid a nice, youthful glow. Nobody who uses SNAPCHAT would say "CRIPES!" but that's what I love about crosswords—words that normally wouldn't have anything to do with each other get to hang out, mix it up. Diversity! It's a legitimate value.

OK then, see you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Greek township / FRI 3-27-15 / Temple square group founded in 1847 / Quite ill in Lille / Biao Mao Zedong confederate / Title religious school in classic Crosby/Bergman film / Prairie transport / First wife of Julius Caesar / Theater reproof / Big source of blueberries

Friday, March 27, 2015

Constructor: David Kwong

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: UTAH (STATE) (31A: University suggested by this puzzle's black squares) — all the grid's black square blocks form, roughly, the shape of Utah. Two other theme answers relate to Utah:

Theme answers:
  • TABERNACLE CHOIR (19A: Temple Square group founded in 1847) [shouldn't this have "MORMON" in front of it?]
  • LATTER DAY SAINTS (47A: Young followers) [this clue is probably my favorite thing about the puzzle]
Word of the Day: ION BEAM (53A: Ray gun ray) —
[Wait, ray guns are real now? Cool.]

• • •

Take out everything but the theme answers, refill the entire grid competently, and release this on a day where somehow Utah matters, and you've got something. As is, it's yet another decent, cute idea made painful by the less-than-polished fill. I knew things would be GRIM before I made it out of the NW, with its absurd non-phrase IN LATIN and its absurd recherch√© Frenchism A LA MORT (16A: How zombies like their apple pie?). I was pretty well checked out by the time I got to the NEBO ITES shortly thereafter. Just … done. There's no delight, no play, no craft. There's just fill. The theme, when I got it, felt like an afterthought. I couldn't appreciate it on any level because ISS ISA ATMS SHH OAS HOI IPODS GRIM ASP etc. Worse, though, was the fact that the longer stuff (mostly) had no pop. Short junk can be overlooked when the longer answers pop. Popless, I say, was this. Not to mention the fact that the clues on this puzzle were a huge downer. All the joy of being held HOSTAGE in an ASSISTED living facility. ENCAGEd.

Remember: If you aren't up to filling a low word-count puzzle cleanly, then just don't do it. Please. The bar is just too high today. I mean … Only 62 words, *And* it's themed? No. No way. Unless you are Patrick Berry, stop. Please. I'd say "add black squares to make filling the grid easier," but I see that would ruin your whole (mysterious) Utah vibe. The theme answers aren't interesting enough to hold the puzzle together, and the theme has no topicality, and too much of the fill just doesn't work. It's either bad or dull. Editors have to help shape this stuff. Too often a good idea is DEMEd to be all that's important, and clunky execution is just given a pass. [Is that how you pronounce "DEME"? I have no idea] (49D: Greek township)

I'll give you HIPSTER and SHANKAR and HOSTAGE and PEACH PIT and BEATS ME. Maybe even CONESTOGA and TABITHA. But I will not give you TWEEDLE (one of the least "enticing" words I know) (55A: Entice with music) and I most certainly won't give you the ridiculous, enormous partial, END HOUSE (10D: Agatha Christie's "Peril at ___"). That answer is neck and neck with IN LATIN for Biggest Head-Shaker. Again, there's a clever state pride angle here, but in order for that cleverness to shine, the non-theme fill (which, today, is an enormous part of the grid) has to be, at a minimum, clean. It wasn't.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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