Wrath of Titans antagonist / FRI 2-12-16 / Naval hero with five US counties named for him / Baby one is called cria / Cetacean's closest relative / Presenter of many listicles / Bega with hit Mambo No 5 / scholarly Everst / Conservation org with panda logo / sci-fi fole for Zoe Saldana / Region around star just right for habitable planets

Friday, February 12, 2016

Constructor: Brandon Hensley

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Anita O'DAY (6D: Jazz singer whose surname came from pig Latin) —
Anita O'Day (October 18, 1919 – November 23, 2006) was an American jazz singer.
Born Anita Belle Colton, O'Day was admired for her sense of rhythm and dynamics, and her early big band appearances shattered the traditional image of the "girl singer". Refusing to pander to any female stereotype, O'Day presented herself as a "hip" jazz musician, wearing a band jacket and skirt as opposed to an evening gown. She changed her surname from Colton to O'Day, pig Latin for "dough," slang for money. (wikipedia)
• • •

I remember thinking GOLDILOCKS ZONE would make a nice crossword answer the first time I heard it, five years or so ago (25A: Region around a star "just right" for habitable planets). It's a 14, and you don't see 14s very often (they are pains in the ass to construct grids around unless you really plan for them, for reasons I won't get into here; just trust me). I think 14s should be the new 15—constructors should hoard them and bring them out more often as marquee answers. They're really under-utilized. *Any*way, this puzzle might've been easier for me than it was for others because GOLDILOCKS ZONE came so readily. I have no idea how commonly known that phrase is. Of course everyone today is obsessed with this gravitational waves news (look for LIGO—Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory—coming to a grid near you, soon ... or not). But as for GOLDILOCKS ZONE, I'm not sure where I first heard it—probably from Neil deGrasse Tyson on "NOVA Science Now," which my daughter used to watch a lot. At any rate, it's the star (!) answer in this grid. CRY YOUR EYES OUT, also pretty wonderful. Most everything else is solid but unremarkable. Have we had BUZZFEED in a grid before? (64A: Presenter of many listicles) Feels ... not new, but that may just be because I solve the BUZZFEED crossword regularly and so the name has lost all 'zazz and novelty for me. Still looks nice in the grid. (PS, you should probably do today's BUZZFEED crossword—I haven't actually solved it yet, and I don't know what time of day it'll be up, but I know it's by Doug Peterson and Neville Fogarty, who are reliably fantastic) (Update: here it is)


This puzzle was very close to "Easy," but I got slowed down considerably in the final (SW) quadrant, and so while I still ended up on the easy side of things, I wasn't close to breaking any personal records. Always helpful when 1-Across is both long and a total gimme, as it was today (1A: One inclined to patronize a farmer's market => LOCAVORE).


After that my second through sixth answers into the grid were 4- through 8-Down, all in a row, bam bam bam (bam bam). After that, moved easily into the center of the grid and then NE and SW quadrants. Ended up not having an easy time entering the SW. DECATUR took some guessing (52A: Naval hero with five US counties named for him), and DYNASTY was very well hidden (some solvers affiliated with BUZZFEED were so eager to show off that their employer was in the puzzle that they tweeted spoilers just minutes after the puzzle went live ... which was partially annoying, but partially funny, in that the grid image I saw had some pretty important errors, one of which was WHISKEYS for 40D: Bourbons, e.g.; the other was GO FOR IT instead of GO CRAZY (20D: "Knock yourself out")). The classical lit dork in me loved the AENEID crossing ODYSSEYS crossing both GODDESS and ARES. That is one insane mythological party going on up there. Approved.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1968 Heineken acquisition / THU 2-11-16 / Fair-hiring watchdog for short / Secret identity of Dick Grayson / Reddit Q&A session briefly / Dweller on upper Mississippi / Gifting someone with clock in China / Perfect Elements maker

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: Famous people, initially  — seemingly random words are actually meant to be read as two initials + a noun meaning "guy" or "woman"—so answers are famous men / women who fit the profile:

Theme answers:
  • MARIE ANTOINETTE (17A: Malady?) [her initials are "M.A." and she's a "lady"]
  • TOM ARNOLD (22A: Tamale?)
  • LINDA EVANS (30D: Legal?)
  • ROY ORBISON (27D: Roman?)
Word of the Day: LOLA (29A: Popular fragrance that's a girl's name) —

• • •

This is a clever idea, and I can't think of any other viable clues, i.e. word that can be reimagined as two letters + word meaning "man" or "woman." It's a pretty random assortment of people—would've been nice if there'd been a way to add more, I don't know, coherence to the whole thing. It wasn't that entertaining or exciting, as Thursday themes go, but it's consistent, and the core cluing trick is a good one. The constructor also worked out how to get her theme answers symmetrical, going with mirror symmetry over the usual rotational symmetry. I don't know if this was *necessary*, as I haven't taken / won't take the time to scroll through all the "ta males" I can think of (Tim Allen, Thomas Aquinas, etc.) or any of the other clue name possibilities to see if other theme answer arrangements were possible. I think TOM ARNOLD and LINDA EVANS date this puzzle terribly, as they were relevant 20 and 30 years ago, respectively, and have not been relevant since. MARIE ANTOINETTE and ROY ORBISON are both timeless, so no problem there. My general feeling is that, with so many options available (in theory), the names you go with should be either legendary or current. TOM ARNOLD and LINDA EVANS are neither. Perfectly good crossword answers, just ... when you have options, it's harder to justify them as your choices.

[Legal?]

Fill-wise, fine. Weak points, strong points. SPIT TAKE, always good (4D: "You did WHAT?" reaction). I had TIME SUCKS for TIME SINKS, so that cost me (34D: Mindless but addictive app games, e.g.).


The wikipedia definition of TIME SINK(S) focuses on games, though not on the games themselves, but on certain features in the games that encourage / force players to spend more time in the game without making progress. "Players may use the term disparagingly to describe a simplistic and time-consuming aspect of gameplay, possibly designed to keep players playing longer without significant benefit." TIME SUCK(S) googles better, but only slightly. I use TIME SUCK. I will never use TIME SINK(S). That said, I think it's a reasonable answer, even as clued, and certainly the most interesting answer in this grid.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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