Actress Strahovski of 2000s TV / SUN 12-21-14 / Computerdom informally / Roy Rogers's real last name / Risky chess move / Zion National park material / Tree whose pods have sweet pulp

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium



THEME: "Season's Greetings" — add "HO" sound for wackiness:

Theme answers:
  • HO HUM DINGER (22A: Homer that leaves people yawning?)
  • HOKEY WORD (24A: "Shucks!" or "Pshaw!"?)
  • BLACK-EYED HOPIS (42A: Southwest tribe after a fistfight?)
  • DESPICABLE HOMIE (67A: Backstabbing pal?)
  • NO-MONEY HOEDOWN (91A: Barn dance that's free to attend?)
  • CROSS HOBO (114A: Vagrant after getting kicked off a train, say?)
  • HOKUM TO PAPA (117A: Stuff your dad finds ridiculous?)
Word of the Day: MARA Liasson (111D: ___ Liasson, NPR political correspondent) —
Mara Liasson (/ˈmɑrə ˈl.əsən/; born June 13, 1955) is an American journalist and political pundit. She is the national political correspondent for National Public Radio[1] and also a contributor at Fox News Channel. (wikipedia) (I will never not make public radio correspondents my WOTD … I'm coming for you, Ira Flatow …)
• • •

If you never solved a Christmas-themed puzzle in your life before today, this one likely seemed cute to you. And it is, without a doubt, a well-made puzzle, with a consistent theme and very good, fresh fill. If Joel (who works for W.S.) is being groomed for Will's job, well, fine by me. He's super-talented and lives in the 21st century, so thumbs-up. But back to the theme—I knew what it was before I started. Or, rather, I said to myself, "It's not just adding 'hos' to things, is it?" And then that's exactly what it was. Very good HO-adding, for sure, but very predictable HO-adding nonetheless. Either I am some kind of psychic *or* I've seen this theme before at least once. I mean, seriously, it was the most obvious / cliché theme I could think of off the top of my head, so it must've been done more than once. Still, though, these answers are new to me, and pretty funny on the whole. And you'll struggle to find bad fill here. The future looks bright. Here's to more careful editing, better attention to detail, and cleaner fresher fill in 2015. Not sure why I'm making the New Year's speech now, but I am.


My coup of the day was remembering SLYE (14D: Roy Rogers's real last name). Took me just 25 short years to commit that old-school GEM to memory. Yay me. TIM COOK (5D: Steve Jobs's successor at Apple) and EBOLA VIRUS (16D: Cause for quarantine) give the puzzle a very up-to-the-minute feel, while YOGA POSE and SOY LATTE show that the NYT *knows* its demographics. KUDOS also to BAR SCENE and its clue (11A: Likely feature of a college town). Took me a lot of crosses too see it, but when I did: your prototypical "aha" moment.


PUZZLE NEWS: Matt Gaffney's (amazing) Weekly Crossword Contest is going to a subscription-only basis in 2015 (and good for him—good puzzles are worth paying for). 52 top-tier meta-puzzles for just $26. All the details here. For aficionados and aficionados-in-the-making. Get some.

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. SOY LATTE anagrams to SLYE TO A T. Like, when you describe a young Roy Rogers perfectly. "That's SLYE TO A T!" she said, delightedly.

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Literary/film critic Janet / SAT 12-20-14 / Plato portrayer in Rebel without Cause / Flying female fighters in WWII / Dr archenemy of Fantastic Four / Jazz/funk fusion genre / Faddish food regimen / Practice with Book of Shadows

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Constructor: Kevin G. Der and Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: none

Word of the Day: Dock ELLIS (50D: Dock ___, Pirate who claimed to have thrown a no-hitter on LSD) —
Dock Phillip Ellis, Jr. (March 11, 1945 – December 19, 2008) was an American professional baseball player. A pitcher, Ellis played in Major League Baseball from 1968 through 1979 for the Pittsburgh PiratesNew York YankeesOakland AthleticsTexas Rangers, and New York Mets. In his MLB career, he had a 138–119 win–loss record, a 3.46 earned run average, and 1,136 strikeouts.
Ellis threw a no-hitter on June 12, 1970. He later stated that he accomplished the feat under the influence of LSD. Reporters at the game say they do not believe the claim. Ellis was the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game in 1971. That year, the Pirates were World Series champions. Joining the Yankees in 1976, he helped lead the team to the 1976 World Series, and was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year in the process.
Ellis was an outspoken individual who advocated for the rights of players and African Americans. He also had a substance abuse problem, and he acknowledged after his retirement that he never pitched without the use of drugs. After going into treatment Ellis remained sober and devoted the remainder of his life to counseling drug addicts in treatment centers and prisons. He died of a liver ailment in 2008 at the age of 63. (wikipedia)

• • •

Wow, Christmas is coming early this year. Or maybe it's the eight great puzzles of Hanukkah. Just a crazy Friday/Saturday themeless constructor line-up this weekend. Wilber/Peterson yesterday, Der/Livengood today. Makes me want to ask "Where the hell have y'all been lately?" But let's focus on the wondrous bounties of the present moment. I found yesterday's a snappier puzzle than this one here, but this one here is still lovely. A little sturdier, a little more inside-the-box, but still packing a decent wallop, and hiding a few real surprises. Biggest surprise (the one that came closes to knocking me flat on my ass) was UNO DUE TRE (13D: Italian count?). Try parsing that **** from the back end. Me: "What the hell ends in -UETRE!?" Had me doubting DEA and everything. Didn't help that the Italian answer was abutted by the highly questionable MANSLAYER. I mean, really, what is that? Murderer = slayer. MANSLAYER is redundant, at best. What, is it supposed to remind me that I'm not dealing w/ Fenimore Cooper's "The Deerslayer"? Manslaughter, I've heard of. Maneater, same (watch out boy, she'll chew you up). But MANSLAYER, choke yuck ack. I had the -SLAYER part and still struggled to get that. I teach crime fiction: no MANSLAYERs up in there.


Still, there's great answers APLENTY here. REAL GOOD stuff. Speaking of APLENTY, not so easy to see when you have decided 36D: Caterwaul is HOWL. Had 35A: In abundance ending in -ENTH for too long. Also went for NINJA over WICCA (9D: Practice with the Book of Shadows). Even in retrospect, seems plausible. The only thing I'd really never heard of was "NED'S Declassified" (54D: "___ Declassified" (old Nickelodeon show)). But then I never even saw the clue. That corner, and its symmetrical opposite, were pretty easy. It was the other corners that smacked me around a bit. 6x9s somehow way harder to piece together than the 5x8s. Puzzle started out very easy with a gimme at 1D: Tagliatelle, e.g. (PASTA), with the "P" then confirming my suspicions that 1A: Where much grass grows was POT-related. There were a sizable number of Gimmes today: PASTA, MOLIERE, SERAPE, novel-ETTE, Dr. DOOM, Janet MASLIN. Still, puzzle clocked in only slightly faster than usual. I think the clue on ABBA (5D: Ones repeating "I do" in 1976?) was my favorite, though I don't think it needs a "?", actually. Clue is pretty damn literal.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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