Hogwarts fifth-year exams for short / WED 11-25-15 / Style is option clean is not sloganeer / Disney subsidiary / Disappearing conveniences / Latin word shared by mottoes of Yale Tufts

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Constructor: Duncan Kimmel and Clara Williamson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Somewhat literal TV shows — I think the deal is that theme answers reimagine famous TV show titles as (mostly) straightforward descriptions of things:

Theme answers:
  • 16A: "Mad Men"? (PSYCHOPATHS) (that one's pretty literal)
  • 22A: "House of Cards"? (HALLMARK STORE) (also pretty literal)
  • 46A: "Game of Thrones"? (MUSICAL CHAIRS) (see, this is less literal ... a "throne" is a ridiculous way to refer to a simple "chair," so ... this clue probably needs two question marks)
  • 57A: "The Walking Dead"? (PALLBEARERS) (I'm not sure I even understand this one—PALLBEARERS "walk" while also *carrying* the "dead," so ... I ... yeah, I don't see how this one works. Maybe, uh, "those walking the dead" ... like ... taking them for a walk? I want this to work, but syntax and grammar matter in crossword cluing, and you'd have to torture the English language pretty hard to get it to agree that this clue/answer pairing makes any sense.
Word of the Day: SMALL SLAM (31D: "All but one" win, in bridge) —
• • •

There's a germ of a good idea here. But the theme answers gets less precise and more figurative and by the end, the theme appears to have fallen apart entirely. I can't get PALLBEARERS to work without hiring a very talented theme lobbyist and paying her a lot of money. If I carry a dead body, I am a pallbearer. So ... I am walking, but not dead. I am walking THE dead. But the title is "The Walking Dead," so ... how is PALLBEARERS a literal answer (in a way that is parallel to "Mad Men" / PSYCHOPATHS)??? I thought maybe we had entered the realm of the super-figurative, and "The Walking Dead" were zombies, who of course "bear" a "pall," in the sense that their complexion is the opposite of ruddy, but ... then I realized I was thinking of "pallid," not "pall," and besides, that kind of a wordplay stretch just isn't in keeping with the more straightforward literalizing that is going on with the other themers. I want this theme to work, but I just don't think it does. "The Golden Girls"? (EMMY AWARDS) ... I think that works. Am I doing it right? I honestly don't know. It just seems like there must've been many, many more TV shows that you could do this with, with better results. I will say that these shows are all very recent and non-network, so they have a kind of consistency. Which is nice ... if you can stick the landing.

One of my friends just remarked on Twitter that "I've never seen 37-Across (i.e. AMUCK) spelled that way." I replied, "No one has." That's god-awful. How you get yourself stuck with AMUCK, I don't know, but you need to rethink your choices. In fact, the grid seems really oddly built. Huge gaps between theme answers in the middle, with these intervening longer Acrosses that have nothing to do with the theme but that somehow result in our getting stuck with AMUCK. And also stuck with singular SCAD, which, jeez louise, no. No no. Stop it. Back to the drawing board. SES and MEI are also yucky in a super-undemanding grid. Ditto ETUI. The puzzle felt easy, but sussing out the themers actually took some work. I forgot that HALLMARK had STOREs, so getting the STORE part took an odd lot of work. And PALLBEARERS ... well, you can see why that took work. I also struggle with GANGSTERS, largely because that seemed a very anti-climactic answer for 33D: Capone and Corleone. Those aren't just GANGSTERS. Those are crime bosses, crime lords, kingpins. So after GANG- I was looking for something signifying Big Cheeses ... but all I got was -STERS. Not inaccurate, but kind of a letdown.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Soul singer Adams / TUE 11-24-15 / 3-D image in medical diagnoses / It's thing 1981 hit by Whispers / 1978 Cheech & Chong comedy

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: SPIN CYCLE (60A: Washer action ... or a hint to four consecutive letters inside 18-, 23-, 38- and 49-Across) — SPIN "cycles" through four different formations within the theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • UP IN SMOKE (18A: 1978 Cheech & Chong comedy)
  • KEVIN SPACEY (23A: Academy Award winner for "American Beauty")
  • STEVEN SPIELBERG (38A: Besides Charlie Chaplin, only film director on Time's list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century)
  • HMS PINAFORE (49A: Gilbert and Sullivan operetta set on a ship)
Word of the Day: OLETA Adams (14A: Soul singer Adams) —
Oleta Adams (born May 4, 1953, Seattle, Washington) is an American soul, jazz, and gospel singer and pianist. [...] // In 1985, Adams was discovered by Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, founders of the English band Tears for Fears, while she was performing in a hotel bar in Kansas City, Missouri whilst they were on a US tour. Two years later, they contacted her to invite her to join their band as a singer and pianist on their next album, The Seeds of Love. // In 1989, the album was released and the single "Woman in Chains"—sung as a duet by Adams and Orzabal and with Phil Collins on drums—became her first hit.
Adams embarked on a world tour with Tears For Fears in 1990, performing by herself as the supporting artist at the start of each show, and remaining onstage throughout the Tears For Fears set where she would provide piano and vocals. // Following her work with Tears For Fears, Adams was offered a recording contract by their label Fontana Records and restarted her solo career in 1990, assisted by Orzabal who co-produced her new album, Circle of One. The album received much critical acclaim and (after a slow start) eventually peaked at no.1 in the UK in 1991 after she scored her biggest hit to date with her Grammy nominated cover of Brenda Russell's "Get Here". The song reached the UK and US Top 5 and became popular during the 1991 Gulf War conflict as families of deployed troops in the region embraced the tune as a theme song. 1991 also saw Adams sign to independent music publisher Fairwood Music (UK) Ltd. and contribute to the Elton John/Bernie Taupin tribute album, Two Rooms, on which appeared her version of John's 1974 hit "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me". Adams' version became another top 40 hit in the UK.// Her next album, Evolution (1993), was also a commercial success, making the UK top 10. It also featured her self-penned adult contemporary single "Window of Hope". Her 1995 release, Moving On, saw Adams move more in the direction of R&B, and she also reunited with Roland Orzabal for the duet "Me and my Big Ideas" on the Tears For Fears album Raoul and the Kings of Spain the same year. Two years later she released the Christian themed album Come Walk with Me. (wikipedia)
• • •

This theme feels like it must've been done a million times, but I could find just one. Sadly, it was very recent (2013) and had 3/4 of the same theme answers:


There's no way anyone could've expected today's constructor to know about this puzzle, as it's (somehow?) not in the (poorly updated) cruciverb database, and it was an LAT puzzle, not an NYT. You can see how a. SPIN CYCLE might lead you to just this idea, and b. this idea would lead you to these exact theme answers. Once SPIN CYCLE clicks in as a possible revealer, the number of roads and possibilities narrows considerable. Thus two constructors working completely independently arrive at virtually the same place with their themers. It happens. As for the puzzle's quality: fine. Mildly entertaining. The fill is decidedly OLD TIMES (59A: Days of yore), a bit stale. That NW corner for sure should've been redone, as the POTOK (1D: Chaim who wrote "The Chosen") / OLETA (14A: Soul singer Adams) crossing is something only a constructor's mother could love, and will Natick at least a small handful of people who have not been doing crossword puzzles every day for 20 years. ASSAI OMANI ESTEE ASSES ASPS NOES YSL ... none of it terrible, but when you pile up the over-familiar like that, it gets a bit suffocating.

MASH NOTE (5D: Love letter) and OVER HERE! (20A: Helpful cry during a rescue mission) are wonderful, as is SLURPS (6D: Eats noisily). Embarrassingly, I barely remember what a PET SCAN is (45A: 3-D image in medical diagnoses), and my father was a radiologist (sorry, dad). The scans that leap most readily to mind are CAT and MRI. But PET came back to me, eventually. It stands for "Positron Emission Tomography," only one word of which I can actually define. Sigh. I was only a mildly APT science pupil (36D: Perceptive, as a pupil) (meanwhile—non-humble brag—my daughter's report card just arrived and she got 115 in AP Physics. 115!? I am both proud and mildly embarrassed by the goofy fictional inflated "weighted" numbers they give students these days) (Oh, and let me undo the non-humble brag somewhat by telling you that her lowest grade, by far, was in ... English. [... crickets ...] If this is what passes for teen rebellion, I guess I'll take it.). Please give at least a smattering of polite applause for the TOKE / SMOKE crossing, which is adorable.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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