Villainess Vanderwaal of TV's Pretty Little Liars / SAT 7-4-15 / Actress Cadranel of TV's Lost Girl / Married supersleuths of 1970s-80s TV / musical set on island of Kalokairi / Musician who's great-great-grandnephew of Herman Melville / Treat with polar bear in logo

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TYSON GAY (19A: He became the fastest sprinter in the U.S. ) —
Tyson Gay (born August 9, 1982) is an American track and field sprinter, who competes in the 100 and 200 meters dash. His 100 m personal best of 9.69 seconds is the American record and makes him tied for second fastest athlete ever, after Usain Bolt. His 200 m time of 19.58 makes him the fifth fastest athlete in that event. He has since received a 1-year ban for doping. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle was what I would call "aggressively youthful." Right on the edge of Trying Too Hard. But Sam is in fact aggressively youthful, so the puzzle probably felt just right to him. The difference between an aggressively youthful and an aggressively olde-timey puzzle is that we all have access to the present, so even though the contemporary TV clues here are almost laughable in their obscurity, historical flimsiness, and almost certain ephemerality (I don't even know what "Lost Girl" is), I generally liked the poppy and sassy nature of this puzzle, and prefer a puzzle like this to one that prefers to live in a world where time stopped right about the time Reagan was first elected. I can't get that mad at the pop culture today, anyway, since it was the source of most of my outright gimmes. After flailing around in the NW for a bit, I finally ran into a no-brainer (for me) in the east: "MIAMI INK" (27A: Former TLC reality show set in a Florida tattoo parlor). Pretty sure I just had a conversation with some constructors about whether this show, or its companion "L.A. INK," was a viable answer, and for how long. Anyway, here's what my first bit of traction in the grid looked like:

That TOMS was a total guess (12D: ___ River, N.J.). Not generally fond of puzzles that force me to rely on total guesses, but the crosses *seemed* (and ultimately were) solid, so I moved on. "MIAMI INK" + NICKI Minaj + AT THE ZOO were all gimmes, so I went right through the middle of the grid, and then down JEDI MIND TRICK into the SE, where KLONDIKE BAR (another gimme) opened everything right up. Surprised by NIRO—that's a name partial that I was once asked (by the editor of a "lesser" puzzle) to edit out of one of my grids (many years ago). This led me to believe that nobody puts NIRO in a corner ... I mean grid. Nobody puts NIRO in a grid. DENIRO, sure, NIRO, no. But here we are. Good thing NIRO is one of the few ICKY things about the grid (I'd add MOR to that list, and that might be all that I'd add).

["Nobody puts BBS in a corner!" That was the joke. Just sitting there. Oh, well. Next time.]

So, out of the south I rode the GLOW-IN-THE-DARK express up into the NW.

Or, rather, I threw that answer up there, but then moved over and dealt with the SW first. I weirdly mildly enjoyed being forced to remember "HART to HART" (46D: Either of two married supersleuths of 1970s-'80s TV) ("When they met ... it was murder!"). No real trouble down there. That just left the NW, which ... well, thank god for that terminal "J" at 13A: Staple of Mediterranean cuisine, because I never heard of TYSON GAY until [looks at watch] 15 minutes ago. I thought USAIN BOLT was the fastest, and he is, but, crucially, he's not from the U.S. So BABA GHANOUJ to the rescue. But dear lord I just guessed on the spelling. And nailed it. Dumb luck.

Once that went in, none of the answers up there had a chance. Clues on MOBY and INGA were virtually impossible without all the crosses, but luckily those crosses weren't hard to come by. Oh ... MOBY. I just got that (8D: Musician who's a great-great-grandnephew of Herman Melville). I've known who MOBY is for 20 years but the connection to "MOBY-Dick" never occurred to me. Weird.

Finished at WHIMS / HANGS. And ... scene.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Wood painted to look like cannon / FRI 7-3-15 / Eyeless in Gaza novelist 1936 / Sir Lancelot portrayer of 1975 / Purchases that are puffed slangily / School head in best-selling series of novels / Rock star's nickname derived from his jewelry / Charlotte cream-filled dessert / Poe gaily bedight gallant knight

Friday, July 3, 2015

Constructor: Brandon Hensley

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: QUAKER GUN (30D: Wood painted to look like a cannon) —
A Quaker Gun is a deception tactic that was commonly used in warfare during the 18th and 19th centuries. Although resembling an actual cannon, the Quaker Gun was simply a wooden log, usually painted black, used to deceive an enemy. Misleading the enemy as to the strength of an emplacement was an effective delaying tactic. The name derives from the Religious Society of Friends or "Quakers", who have traditionally held a religious opposition to war and violence in the Peace Testimony.
• • •

Why would you paint wood to look like a cannon? What kind of absurd art trend is that? There is no way Quakers did that? — this was my reaction to QUAKER GUN, by far the strangest thing in the grid, and, I'd bet my antique hosiery collection, the thing in this grid that the fewest solvers will have heard of. So, the most obscure thing in the grid, I guess. I enjoyed learning about it, though, after I finished and looked it up, so I'm not mad at it. It imparted an odd and curious and not altogether unpleasant flavor to this uneven but mostly decent themeless puzzle. 70-worder really shouldn't have this much dreck in it, but the nice parts are nice. Opened with a couple of proper noun gimmes in the NW:

HUXLEY was the true gimme; SYD was one of those "I think so, but let's see..." answers. When you get a big fat "X" in the middle of your big fat themeless corner, well, advantage you. That corner was done before it knew what hit it. Helped that EARP CIGS and ASA were all gimmes too. Clean corner, nicely done.

Things got a little rougher after THAT. Right around THAT, actually. THAT is a fine answer. But HALEN's a partial and TRAC is junk and ALECS only looks good when you compare it to VERAS (?), which is easily the worst thing in the grid, insofar as ... well, at least several things. LIB is semi-derogatory and "IME" is "IME." No time for "IME" have I (or me). I always thought it was "END SCENE!" Or, rather, I thought it was "AND SCENE," but then thought I must be hearing it wrong (14D: Director's cry with a pause in the middle). ALBUS DUMBLEDORE was too much of a gimme for a central 15 (it's a nice 15, but make me work for it, at least a little) (34A: School head in a best-selling series of novels).  And so, with my joy somewhat diminished after the nice NW opening, I arrived midway on my solving journey at ... this place:

The INCUS EVOKER lay in wait ... (cue scary music)

Very easy to get into the SE corner, since ANTES and AGAPE were hand-outs. Had trouble finishing EPIC VERSE because we usually just call those EPICs. I enjoyed remembering "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and then I was done. Speaking of Holy Grail, or Arthurian literature, at any rate, I learned things today about Marion Zimmer Bradley (whose "Mists of Avalon" I quite admire) that I wish I could unknow. Gonna have to rewatch "Monty Python" a dozen times before I shake the ickiness off. Luckily, rewatching "Monty Python" a dozen times—not a problem.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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