Part of brain believed to control emotion / TUE 1-24-17 / 1974 top 10 foreign language hit / WW II Allied landing site in Italy / Right-hand page of open book

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Constructor: John R. O'Brien

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: HIDDEN GEM (58A: Masterpiece waiting to be found ... or a hint to the words in the circled letters) — mostly non-consecutive sequential circled letters in themers spell out ... gems:

Theme answers:
  • TOLL PLAZA (17A: Place to pay the going rate?)
  • JEOPARDIZE (25A: Put at risk)
  • PAPER AIRPLANE (35A: Something that might be thrown behind a teacher's back)
  • PRESUMABLY (49A: In all probability)
Word of the Day: ANZIO (7D: W.W. II Allied landing site in Italy) —
Anzio [╦łantsjo] is a city and comune on the coast of the Lazio region of Italy, about 51 kilometres (32 mi) south of Rome. // Well known for its seaside harbour setting, it is a fishing port and a departure point for ferries and hydroplanes to the Pontine Islands of Ponza, Palmarola and Ventotene. The city bears great historical significance as the site of Operation Shingle, a crucial landing by the Allies during the Italian Campaign of World War II. (wikipedia)
• • •

Everything about this puzzle screams "bygone." This theme type—one of the weakest and most ancient—had, I thought, been quietly phased out over time. "Non-consecutive letters that "spell" things" is a fantastically unimpressive and uninspiring gimmick. Those gems aren't "hidden." If you'd strung gem names across two words in the theme answers (e.g. HOP ALONG or DROP A LINE or whatever), and you *didn't* provide the circled squares, and then hit us with HIDDEN GEM, yeah, OK, maybe. But that would be near impossible to do four times with familiar gem names. You could also do the same kind of "hiding" with the letters GEM (e.g. STAGE MANAGER etc.) and that would get you a legit HIDDEN GEM. But finding today's HIDDEN GEMs is like finding secret messages from Cleopatra in your Denny's menu. They're there if you want them to be there. But they aren't *there*. It's not hard to find the letters "RUBY" in a word or phrase. ARGUABLY. CRUMBLY. DRUG BUY. Etc. This puzzle seems like something I'd see in another venue *not* billing itself as "the greatest puzzle in the world." But it's not up to (what should be) NYT standards. And that's without even mentioning the fill, which is far too often tired old stand-bys (some real "classics" today, like the full "ERES TU" and ORA pro nobis, as well as the usual glut of OTO ACTAS DODOS OLEO etc.). The grid is also oddly built, with these huge 8-blocks in the NE / SW, but a super-choppy, black-square riddled middle. 74 words? The whole thing should probably have been rebuilt at 76 or 78 with the fill drastically improved. 

It was very easy. The big revelation for me today was that I can't spell GENTEEL (29A: Affectedly polite). I said the word to myself in my head as I read the clue, but what came out of my fingers and on to the screen was GENTILE. This and TOLL BOOTH were my big missteps for the day, though I also had ADOPT (?) for ACT AS (4A: Assume the role of) and ETS (??) for EMS (43D: Letters on many ambulances). The best part of the grid, for me is DRE DEY down at the bottom. Those aren't "good" answers, but side-by-side they form an unintentional pun that is at least amusing me.

Good dey.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Aware of in cool cat slang / MON 1-23-17 / Little shaver to Scot / 50s Ford flops / Many John Wayne film informally / Corkscrew-shaped noodles

Monday, January 23, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (2:48)

THEME: FAIRY TALE (60A: What the starts of 17-, 26-, 35- and 50-Across are) — those beginnings spell out "RUMP/EL/STILT/SKIN"

Theme answers:
  • RUMP ROAST (17A: Slow-cooked beef entree)
  • EL DORADO (26A: Fabled city of wealth sought by conquistadors)
  • STILT WALKER (35A: One with a leg up in the circus business?)
  • SKIN GAME (50A: Gambling scam)
Word of the Day: ETHAN Hawke (32D: Actor Hawke of "Boyhood") —
Ethan Green Hawke (born November 6, 1970) is an American actor, writer, and director. He has been nominated for four Academy Awards and a Tony Award. Hawke has directed two feature films, three Off-Broadway plays, and a documentary, and wrote the novels The Hottest State (1996), Ash Wednesday (2002), and Rules for a Knight (2015). // He made his film debut in 1985 with the science fiction feature Explorers, before making a breakthrough appearance in the 1989 drama Dead Poets Society. He then appeared in numerous films before taking a role in the 1994 Generation X drama Reality Bites, for which he received critical praise. In 1995, Hawke first appeared in Richard Linklater's romance trilogy, co-starring opposite Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise, and later in its sequels Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), all of which met with critical acclaim. // Hawke has been twice nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; his writing contributions to Before Sunset and Before Midnight were recognized, as were his performances in Training Day (2001) and Boyhood (2014). Hawke was further honored with SAG Award nominations for both films, along with BAFTA Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for the latter. // His other films include the science fiction drama Gattaca (1997), the contemporary adaptation of Hamlet (2000), the action thriller Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), the crime drama Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), and the horror film Sinister (2012). (wikipedia)
• • •

This may as well be a themeless, so unremarkable is the theme. There are a few nice answers, most notably in the south (MISCAST alongside ASK AWAY; and I especially like I'M A FAN), but way too much short gunk / crosswordese. And, as I say, a super-blah theme. I wasn't yet out of the NW before I knew the fill would be a problem. It's HEP TO MOO WHAP! I like LASER fine but for some reason LASE in its various verb forms irks and even ires me (if IRES were a thing, which, I maintain, it is not and never will be, sorry crosswords) (yes, I know IRES isn't in this puzzle; it's just that even thinking about it gets me so IRED, I ...). In the end, though, this was more plain old dull than bad. Musty. If your dad was HEP TO EDSELS when you were a WEE LAD, maybe this spoke to you.

Difficulty-wise, it was just a shade easier than average for me. Had some hesitation at the phrase ON MIKE (had the ON, but the second part needed crosses, since AIR came up short) (3D: Like a live radio announcer). Also needed all the crosses for WHAP because WHAP, WTF? (6D: Fly swatter sound) I don't really know the phrase SKIN GAME, but that answer must've just filled itself in via crosses. The biggest trap in the puzzle is probably the CLUMSY / KLUTZY one (38D: All thumbs), which I clumsily and / or klutzily fell into. Luckily for me I saw that that made the ending on the central themer -ALCER, and my spidey sense told me that was unnnnlikely. So change: to KLUTZY, to ZALES, to zip zap zoom ET AL. And done. Wish there were more to say. There is not.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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