Republican politico Michael / SUN 1-25-15 / Embroidery loop / Did 1930s dance / WIth Reagan memoirist / Secure as sailor's rope / Cutlass model of 1980s-90s / Whirlybird source / Kiss drummer Peter / She's asked When will those clouds all disappear in 1973 #1 hit

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Twist Ending" — familiar phrases where last two letters have been switched ("twist"ed?) to create wackiness (with customary "?" cluing)

Theme answers:
  • I CANNOT TELL A LEI (23A: "Those wreaths all look the same to me!"?)
  • SCAREDY CAST (3D: Group of actors who all have stage fright?)
  • YOU'VE GOT MALI (39A: Start of an oral listing of African nations, perhaps?)
  • RAISING THE BRA (53A: Showing less cleavage?)
  • A QUARTER TO TOW (84A: Cheap roadside assistance?)
  • ILLEGAL A-LINE (99A: Knockoff dress labeled "Armani," say?)
  • ANNIE, GET YOUR GNU (116A: Caution to an orphan girl not to leave her wildebeest behind?)
  • OBTUSE ANGEL (70D: Lovely but stupid person?)

Word of the Day: LINDIED (96D: Did a 1930s dance) —
The Lindy Hop is an American dance that evolved in HarlemNew York City, in the 1920s and 1930s and originally evolved with the jazz music of that time. It was very popular during the Swing era of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Lindy was a fusion of many dances that preceded it or were popular during its development but is mainly based on jazztapbreakaway and Charleston. It is frequently described as a jazz dance and is a member of the swing dance family. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is not the kind of theme I expect to be able to pass muster anymore. Can't imagine why it was accepted. It's completely adequate, but the core concept is ancient, and not terribly imaginative, and Sunday is a marquee day. I don't understand how a theme like this deserves showcase status. This theme is (more or less) infinitely replicable. Just find any word where the "twist" thing with the last two letters works, find a phrase that ends in one of the variations, boom, theme answer (DIRTY POLO, FORD PINOT, etc.). Now, it's possible that if your answers and/or clues are truly, genuinely funny, then the tiredness of the concept won't be an issue, and this puzzle does manage to get off a couple good phrases, most notably RAISING THE BRA and ANNIE, GET YOUR GNU (which is enjoyably ridiculous). The rest are just OK, at best, and I CANNOT TELL A LEI doesn't make sense at all, even as clued. You can't tell them … apart … you mean? Right? You would never use that phrasing to mean what the clue says you mean. Never.

The fill here is often ILLY chosen. It's probably average-ish, over all. The NE and SW corners deserve some praise, but there's probably a bit too much ENERO ATEM AMENRA for my taste. This puzzle has this weird thing it's doing with both adjectival and past tense -ED suffixing. That is, stuff, that I never see with that suffix somehow has that suffix. ENCORED? PILLARED? LINDIED? All defensible, I'm sure, just like PETTER (?) is probably defensible. It's just odd. ANISES? If you say so. At least that one makes me (or my inner 8-year-old, which is just a euphemism for "me") laugh.

[Time has made this … disturbing. Moreso …]

I published a puzzle once called "Final Twists" (Penguin Classics Crossword Puzzles, ed. Ben Tausig). But there, the "twists" involved the whole word (not just the final two letters) *and* (this is key), they all involved titles of crime novels (which, of course, typically feature "final twists"). [Raymond Chandler crime novel about giant banana skins?] = THE BIG PEELS. Etc. So the theme, you know, made sense. Here, "Twist Ending" is just this random thing you're doing to totally unrelated phrases, so the theme lacks coherence. Also, A QUARTER TO TWO would never fly as a crossword answer, so it shouldn't be able to fly as a base answer for a theme phrase.

Hey, the 3rd Annual "Finger Lakes Crossword Competition" is coming up on Saturday, March 7, 2015 in Ithaca, NY. I'll be there again this year, doing a Q & A and judging. Ithaca's own Adam Perl will be constructing puzzles especially for this competition. You Northeasterners (and esp. you central NYers, you know who you are) should consider coming. Last year was a lot of fun. Proceeds benefit Tompkins Learning Partners, which supports adult literacy in the community. Click HERE to get more info.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Patrick Blindauer's "Space Puzzlefest" — 13 interconnected puzzles that lead to a final answer — is now available at his website. It's a contest, the grand prize of which is a book of poetry written by Eugene T. Maleska (who knew?). Here's the "Space Puzzlefest" description:
Patrick Blindauer's Space Puzzlefest consists of about a dozen crosswords, each of which leads to an answer (in a different way each time). All of these answers get combined at the end to form a final answer, which you can email to Patrick to be entered in the Feb. 27th drawing for the Grand Prize: a copy of "Sun & Shadows," a book of Vogonesque poetry written by former New York Times crossword editor Eugene T. Maleska. You can enroll at; for only 17 Buckazoids you'll receive an invitation to Patrick's Space Puzzlefest Google Group where you can access the PDF of puzzles. Come on a stellar puzzventure with Patrick Blindauer's "Space Puzzlefest" (oxygen not included)!


German-born photographer Barth / SAT 1-24-15 / Hungarian liqueur sold in green bottles / Traditional Japantown feature / Ancient Moorish palace in Granada / Meaningful language unit / Ohio university nicknamed Big Red

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Constructor: Kevin G. Der

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: UNICUM (17A: Hungarian liqueur sold in green bottles) —
Unicum is a Hungarian herbal liqueur or bitters, drunk as a digestif and apéritif. The liqueur is today produced by Zwack according to a secret formula of more than forty herbs; the drink is aged in oak casks. During Communism in Hungary, the Zwack family lived in exile in New Yorkand Chicago, and Unicum in Hungary was produced using a different formula. Before moving to the US Janos Zwack had entrusted a family friend in Milan with the production of Unicum based on the original recipe. After the fall of communism, Péter Zwack returned to Hungary and resumed production of the original Unicum.
Unicum is regarded as one of the national drinks of Hungary. The production facility offers tours which include a tasting session of the three different varieties (Unicum, Unicum Next, and Millenicum). Though Millenicum was a special edition, it can still be found at a few retailers. It is somewhat stronger than the original, with a slightly sweeter aftertaste. Zwack Frissitők is a pineapple-based version of the drink. According to the manufacturer, the original Unicum is no longer distributed in the US, having been replaced by Unicum Next (a sweeter, thinner-bodied drink with a more prominent citrus flavour), re-branded as "Zwack". (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, this one was easy. Wicked easy. I was going to track my progress through the puzzle, with periodic grid snapshots, but no interesting patterns emerged because my solve was smooth and very nearly unbroken. I can describe it very simply: start in NW and get everything but fail to move into the center because STUDIO??? and HOME … GAMES, maybe (no). So restart with ALA / AWE, and from there, just finish the whole puzzle in one big swoop—across the NE, down to the -HIRT in LOSE ONE'S SHIRT, which lets you pick up STUDIO SET (aha) and HOME MATCH (a haha), and then DETECTIVE WORK and KIDS THESE DAYS become unmistakable, then LED ASTRAY and DIVE INTO down into that SW, then SEDATIVES and SWAN'SNECK, maybe (yes), down into that SE corner, which is done in about ten seconds (not much exaggeration). Never even saw the nutso clue on UTA (42A: German-born photographer Barth). Speaking of nutso, UNICUM. In a supremely easy puzzle, that thing is a crazy outlier. Definition (as clued) didn't even show up on a straight-up google search of [UNICUM]. Apparently there are *other* definitions of UNICUM that google thinks I want to know more (including Urban Dictionary's, which … you don't want to know; let's just say it involves unicorns…). I had to add "Hungary" to the search to get this alleged "liqueur." Not great answer with obscure clue, which is weird, because a. it didn't make the puzzle much harder at all, and b. the rest of the grid is not only filled with much more familiar terms, it's just much better overall. This is a very clean, non-gunky grid. Had we ditched the UNICUM and toughened up the cluing quite a bit, we'd be in near-ideal Saturday territory.

It all starts from ALA / AWE, though. When I look back, it's that moment that propels me into the grid. Not sure where I'd've gotten into the grid if not there. Hard to imagine a path not taken. Maybe ELLY / SKYLIT. Maybe EVA / DIVE INTO. But neither of those crossings is positioned for maximum grid leverage. ALA / AWE sits at the front ends of a bunch of words in that quadrant. Got WELD and ETHEL immediately and then swoosh, off I went. Wouldn't have been able to push off with the same force if I'd started other places. My first entries were actually, as I said earlier, in the NW: HAS / YENTA, weirdly enough. That gave me MY WORD at 1A: "I swear …", which was fantastically wrong, but the "O" was right, and it gave me ON CD, which confirmed STUDDED, so MY WORD didn't mess me up for long. Only other errors I had were DEFACER for DEFILER, a misspelled VELURE ("velour"), and … yep, that's it. No, wait, I did have HOME GAMES before HOME MATCH. But IMED (one of the few less-than-great answers) set me right.

["Lithuanians and Letts [!] do it …"]

Hope those who normally struggle with Saturdays had some success today. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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