Pause word in psalms / SUN 5-1-16 / Eyelike opening in architecture / Pirate's mate in literature film / Red giant in constellation cetus / Language descended from Old Norse / Pro-consumer ideology

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano and Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (more Easy for me, but those big open spaces might slow you down)

THEME: "Stellar Work" —theme clues look like normal clues marked with asterisks, but in order for the clues to make sense, those asterisks must be interpreted as standing for the word "STAR":

Theme answers:
  • CABLE CHANNEL (22A: *Z, for one)
  • RIGHT SIDE (38A: *Board)
  • UNITED AIRLINES (42A: *Alliance member)
  • BROKERED A SETTLEMENT (60A: *Ted talks, say) (this answers is drifting into Green Paint territory...)
  • ROMEO AND JULIET (87A: *Crossed pair)
  • ED MCMAHON (89A: *Search party)
  • ACTING CAREER (110A: *Let's hope) 
Word of the Day: MIRA (86A: Red giant in the constellation Cetus) —
Mira (/ˈmrə/, also known as Omicron Ceti, ο Ceti, ο Cet) is a red giant star estimated 200–400 light years away in the constellation Cetus. Mira is a binary star, consisting of the red giant Mira A along with Mira B. Mira A is also an oscillating variable star and was the first non-supernova variable star discovered, with the possible exception of Algol. Mira is the brightest periodic variable in the sky that is not visible to the naked eye for part of its cycle. Its distance is uncertain; pre-Hipparcos estimates centered on 220 light-years; while Hipparcos data from the 2007 reduction suggest a distance of 299 light-years, with a margin of error of 11% (wikipedia) (I have no idea what half of this means)
• • •

The theme is ... a theme. It works. It doesn't really do much, because once you catch on (this took me about 1.5 theme answers), then you just mentally add "star" to the front of the theme clues, so whatever misdirection there was supposed to be ... isn't. Isn't there. So it's pretty straightforward, bordering on ho-hum, themewise. But the grid is pretty sensational, especially considering it's a mere 130 words (compare to a NYT norm of 138-140 ... I checked with a bunch of old Sunday grids and the first eight I looked at were all 140, which is supposed to be the max, but which also appears to be close to the average). If it seemed like you were looking at a lot more white space than normal, your eyes weren't lying to you. Those are giant, open corners in the NE and SW, and big open pockets in the ESE and WNW—very challenging to fill well. Considering that there is usually a fair amount of junk even in a 140-worder, the clean, crisp quality of this 130-worder is pretty remarkable. There's some yarpy stuff here and there. Some SMEE-on-SPEE action in the NE, and the AGRO-LOMA HALIDES aren't particularly beautiful, but the grid felt very sturdy and well made overall. We're not looking at anything scintillating here. We're looking at what *should* be NYT-average, but isn't. It's above-average. NYT B.

Theme didn't register for me at first because I just figured "Z" was some CABLE CHANNEL I hadn't heard of. There are nine thousand of them, so why not? Only with the UNITED AIRLINES clue did I see what was going on. Really enjoyed OWN GOAL and PI DAY. I taught some English translations of Psalms earlier this semester, and we talked a bunch about the odd word "SELAH," so that was easy. Surprised OCULUS didn't get the OCULUS Rift clue. Do they speak FAROESE on the Faroe Islands? They do! I weirdly just ran across the Faroe Islands today in a soccer story, of all places. Seems that the coach of Leicester City (which is about to win the Premier League title) was the coach of the Greek national team last year but was fired after his team lost to ... the Faroe Islands (a country with a population < 50K). So ... there's some FAROESE-adjacent trivia for you! (Not sure why NYT is spelling the country "Faeroe Islands." Perhaps some conflation with Spenser's "Faerie Queene"? Who knows?)

Thought FORAGE might be SILAGE. Thought NAMIB was NEGEV (or NAGIV to be precise ... but the NEGEV is middle eastern, not southern African). I am now amusing myself by making rhymes and nonsense phrases out of the answers in the SW ("ADESTE HESTER, MR. MISTER!"), so I should probably go.

ICYMI—here's the "Future of Crosswords" podcast (under 7 minutes) by Tufts University student Julia Press, featuring me, Dan Feyer and others. And here's the Ollie Roeder article about the "punishment" handed down to plagiarizing crossword editor Timothy Parker (spoiler: it's not much of a punishment). See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Game also called Five in a Row / SAT 4-30-16 / Herbal stress reliever from Polynesia / Bone-boring tool / Alternators in some combustion engines / Royal name in ancient Egypt / Woodworker's device informally / City across border from Eilat

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Constructor: Mark Diehl

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: GO BANG (48A: Game also called Fine in a Row) —
Gomoku is an abstract strategy board game. Also called Gobang or Five in a Row, it is traditionally played with Go pieces (black and white stones) on a go board with 19x19 (15x15) intersections; however, because once placed, pieces are not moved or removed from the board; gomoku may also be played as a paper and pencil game. This game is known in several countries under different names. // Black plays first if white did not just win, and players alternate in placing a stone of their color on an empty intersection. The winner is the first player to get an unbroken row of five stones horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. (wikipedia)
• • •

What was I saying about wanting the puzzles to have teeth? Yikes. This was the hardest puzzle I've done all year, or close to it. Mostly it was just a tough Saturday, but down south things got slightly hairy in the SW (SLAPJACK / JOCKO!?!) and then very, very hairy in the SE. Hirsute, even. Names and technical terms just did me in, or almost did. Let's back up, though, to the NW, where very quickly I could tell it was going to be one of the Those puzzle—a good old-fashioned crocodile-wrestling puzzle. I'm still not sure what 1D: Key that oxymoronic at school? is even supposed to mean. Is it F SHARP because if you get an "F" in school you're not "SHARP"? But ... what? The whole "at school" part feels really forced, like ... you've taken a music clue and shoved it into a non-musical context just so you can make your oxymoron point. Trying too hard (TTH™), I think. But I generally liked that corner once it came together, especially FACE PLANT (1A: Result of a bad trip), which I wanted to be DRUG something something. I've never heard of AMENHOTEP (19A: Royal name in ancient Egypt). IMHOTEP, yes. AMEN-, no. So again, names make things hard. My opening gambit looked super weird:

[auspicious beginnings!]

You'd think that if I could go traipsing across the grid effortlessly like that, I'd be well on my way to success. But not so much. AMENHOTEP, the awkward CAGE IN, and the (for me) elusive TREPAN made that NW truly Saturdayish. NE corner was more like a Wednesday for me (back on familiar name-ground with LL Cool J and "HEY LOVER"), and once I worked the puzzle down to KAREN and LAURYN (the latter of which was a pure gimme), and *especially* once I dropped KNAVERY off just the "K" (39D: Acts of a scalawag), I was sure I had this. But first there was the SLAPJACK / JOCKO thing ... never heard of that game (I'll be saying this again soon...), and didn't know chimps were "common"ly named anything except maybe ENOS or BONZO. I wasn't at all sure that the "J" in that crossing was right, but it felt rightest of all the options, so ... onward. Or not. Couldn't round the corner. 48A: Game also called Five in a Row sounded a lot like GO (or maybe PENTE, which was a variation I feel existed when I was growing up? YES!). GOBANG can go to hell. No hope in hell, and considering it was crossing the equally hope-in-hell-less MAGNETOS (!?!), I was well and truly screwed. Just. Stuck. Oh, and had GONG for GANG (41A: Ring). And DYSPEPTIC for DYSPEPSIA (61A: Upset). Full-on disaster. Looked like this:

Weirdly, once I came to terms with EROSIONAL's being an actual word (ugh), I saw ANGELA (Merkel) immediately, and (go) bang! that corner snapped into place quickly. AQABA got me the very terrible name partial JOHN Q (29D: Public figure?)—putting that junk in a "?" clue is just sadism—and then I changed Dick LUGAR's name from the gun spelling to the actual spelling and done. At least a third of my total time was spent just staring and poking at the SE. Enjoyed the challenge. Can't say the grid was great, but it wasn't bad. And after a string of overly easy themelesses, I'm just grateful for the workout.

Two items you might find interesting:

1. This short (6:41) podcast put together by Tufts University student Julia Press, called "The Future of Crosswords." It contains interviews with me, 6-time ACPT champion Dan Feyer, and several other constructors and solvers. I was really impressed with how it came out. So was Oliver Roeder, who (segue!) wrote...

2. This article, a follow-up to his piece about Timothy Parker's crossword puzzle plagiarism a couple months back. Looks like one of the syndicators of Parker's puzzles, Universal Uclick, has handed down its punishment, and it is *severe*! Just kidding, it's a tiny wrist-slap and he'll be back at work very soon. Read about this pathetic response to serial fraud here.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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