Cleopatra biter / MON 3-30-15 / Paint company whose name sounds like animal / Chicago airport code / Stone key to deciphering hieroglyphics / Literary Jane who says No net ensnares me I am free human being with independent will

Monday, March 30, 2015

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Challenging (*for a Monday*) (time: 3:36)

THEME: GOOSE (18A: Flier in a V formation) — black squares form little geese, I think, though they aren't exactly flying in "V" formation. Three theme answers sort of relate to the GOOSE theme.

Theme answers:
  • BIRDS OF A FEATHER (13A: Ones that are alike)
  • FLOCK TOGETHER (30A: Gather as a group)
  • CLEAR FOR TAKE-OFF (49A: Give the go-ahead from the control tower)
Word of the Day: CECE Winans (46A: Gospel singer Winans) —
Priscilla "CeCe" Marie Winans Love /ˈwnænz/ (born October 8, 1964) is an American gospel singer, who has won numerous awards, including ten Grammy Awards and seven Stellar Awards. She has sold twelve million records world wide. Cece is also the best selling female gospel artist of all time. (wikipedia)
• • •

I want to start by giving this a "V" for effort. I like the weirdness of it, particularly the axial-symmetry grid and the rough visual approximation of a flock of geese. Again, that is not a "V" formation, and geese do not fly in the formation pictured by the black squares, but … horseshoes and hand grenades, close enough, I think. Those long (non-theme) Downs are lovely. A nice added bonus on an early-week puzzle. The puzzle is misplaced on a Monday (it's a solid Tuesday), but that's also not a big deal. Two things that are kind of big deals. Or at least medium-sized deals. Deals of some sort. First, the theme answers … it is highly weird to split BIRDS OF A FEATHER / FLOCK TOGETHER and treat them, clue-wise, as if each were a stand-alone phrase. Neither stands alone that well, particularly FLOCK TOGETHER. If you google that phrase, you get mostly hits referring to the whole saying. When would you ever use FLOCK TOGETHER on its own? And the third themer … is related to flying, I see, but I don't see anything else about it that makes it appropriate to the whole bird formation thing.

The second deal is, of course, the fill, which is ouchy. IRED is possibly the worst crossword answer of all time. You never see it any more, because it is terrible and virtually indefensible. EASEFUL, you never see, but for good reason. And on and on. Actually those are the worst, and there's just a lot of blah stuff otherwise. So I admire the spirit of this puzzle, but once again (I want to say "for the third time in the last week…"), a decent idea is not given the execution it deserves.

Congratulations to Dan Feyer on winning his sixth straight American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. He beat five-time winner Tyler Hinman in a genuine nail-biter. As close a one-two finish as you're likely to see in any competition. Here's the video:

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Whale constellation / SUN 3-29-15 / High tech surveillance acronym / Fist bump in slang / Ancient Assyrian foe / Delphine author Madame de / Pub fixture / First name on America's Got Talent panel / Quaint letter opener / British racetrack site / Egyptian king overthrown in 1952 revolution

    Sunday, March 29, 2015

    Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: "California, Here I Come" — CA added to familiar (-ish) phrases, resulting in wacky phrases:

    Theme answers:
    • STREAMING INCA (23A: Ancient Peruvian using Netflix?) 
    • CAST ELSEWHERE (33A: "No fishing here!"?)
    • DEEP SPACE CANINE (51A: Dog whose rocket went off course?) 
    • YOU MAKE ME WANNA CASH OUT (65A: Comment to an annoying blackjack dealer?)
    • REALLY BIG CASHEW (82A: Part of a jumbo trail mix?) (for you youngsters out there, that … is an Ed Sullivan pun … here, this should make it clear:)

    • BACALL HANDLER (97A: Agent for Bogart's partner?) (for you non-sports fans, this is primarily a basketball term, used of whoever's, uh, handling the ball)
    • THE LIFE OF PICA (111A: "12-Point Type: A History"?) (there is no "The" in the title "Life of Pi," so this is an astonishing screw-up)
    Word of the Day: NYALAS (59D: Spiral-horned antelopes)
    The nyala (Nyala angasii or Tragelaphus angasii), also called inyala, is a spiral-horned antelope native to southern Africa. It is a species of the family Bovidae and genus Nyala, also considered to be in the genus Tragelaphus. It was first described in 1849 by George French Angas. The body length is 135–195 cm (53–77 in), and it weighs 55–140 kg (121–309 lb). The coat is rusty or rufous brown in females and juveniles, but grows a dark brown or slate grey, often tinged with blue, in adult males. Females and young males have ten or more white stripes on their sides. Only males have horns, 60–83 cm (24–33 in) long and yellow-tipped. It exhibits the highest sexual dimorphism among the spiral-horned antelopes. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I checked out early with this one. How early? This early.

    I'm not kidding. I didn't have good feelings about this one even before starting (title telegraphed the theme, for one thing…) and then, yeah, 1-Across. It's so … something. It's a word. It's a non-terrible word. It's just … dusty, crosswordwise. Today, it's a tone-setter. It made me worry about what this solving experience was going to be like, and my worry was not unjustified. I was not wrong about how I would ultimately feel about the puzzle. Prediction was: humor would be groan-worthy, and fill would be crusty. And I was right and right. I can't even take the time to enumerate all the issues. Too depressing. But the main ones are: theme ridiculously basic and obvious and infinitely replicable, with mostly flat or bizarre theme answers; lots of stale fill; and a cultural center of gravity way way before my time (the last issue being a matter of taste more than quality, admittedly).

    Add-a-letter? Really? Again? Man. I mean, yeah, technically it's two letters, but still. The "Funny" bar has to be Very High if the theme's going to be this slight, and today's "Funny" bar doesn't even clear my knees.

    Grimace fill:
    • EOLITH
    • TIRO—Wow. Just wow. I literally LOL'd at 26A: Newbie: Var. Putting "Var." on "Newbie" is like putting a gray wig and mustache on a baby, only much less funny
    • SAD CASE—Ugh x a million. I had SAD SACK, which is an actual, better, phrase. 
    • LETITIA—A spelling adventure!
    • ETYPE
    • AWACS (34D: High-tech surveillance acronym)
    • INB
    • EPSOM
    • AREEL
    • ETNAS
    • NYALAS
    • STAEL
    • BALTO
    • CETUS
    That's not even *close* to a full accounting of the mediocre / subpar stuff. Just the "high" lights. CORNIER puzzles, I've rarely seen. Is the Sunday submission pile this shallow? My kingdom for an EDITOR. Etc. Last night, I asked my Twitter followers to tell me what to say about this puzzle, but apparently not everyone does their puzzle at 6:30pm on Saturday night, so I got only a few responses.
    "[H]ad to put it away because I was bored silly. Unlike me, but jeez." 
    "I am starting to wonder if I am having a stroke while trying to do the puzzle today." 
    "Non-slog Sundays are a dying breed." 
    "It stopped being interesting, so I stopped solving it."
    "Four unforgivable answers in top two rows, including lame themer based on random phrase. Never got better. What's not to like?" 
    "Who says BALTO?"
    Then Erik Agard told me to play this:

    Couple more things:

    Brendan Emmett Quigley (named "Constructor of the Year" for 2014 over at "Diary of a Crossword Fiend") is now offering up a subscription to his "Marching Bands" puzzles. 26 puzzles over the course of a year, all fresh, hot and new. To read more about this (awesome) puzzle type and support the project, Go Here.

    Lastly, here's a letter to the editor that the NYT didn't publish. I told its author I'd run it, since it's about language use in puzzles (specifically, an acrostic puzzle from a couple weeks back). (Note: my printing the letter does not necessarily indicate my endorsement of the ideas contained therein)
    Dear Sir,

    I was disappointed to see the offensive acrostic puzzle clues “Kook, Psycho, Lunatic” and answer “Nutcase” in the March 8, 2015, Sunday Magazine. These words are no different than using a similarly demeaning epithet to describe a racial or cultural characteristic. Why then is it acceptable to use such derogatory language to describe a spectrum of brain disorders? Mental illness is a disease, not a joke.

    The words we use to describe things inform our perception of them. Even in the seemingly benign guise of a word puzzle they are powerful tools. Will Shortz has devoted his career to using them with flair and style but unfortunately last week his editing missed the mark.
    As the mother of someone with schizophrenia I am sensitive to the stigma embedded in the language used to describe it. People suffering from mental illness deserve our compassion and respect, not being reduced to pejorative stereotypes. You can do better. It is time for a more enlightened approach to idle entertainment.

    Creighton Taylor
    National Alliance on Mental Illness – Maine chapter member
    Maine Behavioral Healthcare Board of Trustee
    Chairperson of Maine Behavioral Healthcare Advisory Committee
    Member of Spring Harbor Hospital “Linking Families” Committee 
      That's all. See you tomorrow.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. This:
      "Coining a term: Nor'wester: n., a Sunday NYT xword where you solve the NW corner, see the lame gimmick, sadly go away. Today's, for example."—Gene Weingarten


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