Very high trumpet note / WED 4-23-14 / Keyboardist Saunders / River of Hesse / Unstable subatomic particle / "Luck Be a Lady" composer/lyricist /

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: MERCURY / SEVEN (71A: With 1-Down, first American astronauts) — last names of all seven astronauts populate the grid, clued by their first names, which are in all caps FOR SOME REASON. There are a couple random extra theme answers: SPACE RACE (12D: Old U.S./Soviet rivalry) and ROCKET (9D: NASA vehicle).

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: KAON (38D: Unstable subatomic particle) —
In particle physics, a kaon /ˈk.ɑːn/, also called a K meson and denoted K, is any of a group of four mesonsdistinguished by a quantum number called strangeness. In the quark model they are understood to be bound states of a strange quark (or antiquark) and an up or down antiquark (or quark).
Kaons have proved to be a copious source of information on the nature of fundamental interactions since their discovery in cosmic rays in 1947. They were essential in establishing the foundations of the Standard Model of particle physics, such as the quark model of hadrons and the theory of quark mixing (the latter was acknowledged by a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2008). Kaons have played a distinguished role in our understanding of fundamental conservation lawsCP violation, a phenomenon generating the observed matter-antimatter asymmetry of the universe, was discovered in the kaon system in 1964 (which was acknowledged by a Nobel prize in 1980). Moreover, direct CP violation was also discovered in the kaon decays in the early 2000s. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't really understand why this puzzle exists. It does nothing. It lists a bunch of names, only a handful of which are legitimately famous. There is no anniversary here. The theme is dense, but so what? The fill is consequently Tortured. This is just baffling. What is the point? Why are the theme clues (the astronaut names, anyway) in all caps? That makes no sense and follows no crossword convention that I know of. When I got SCHIRRA for 1A: WALLY I was like "… ??? … is there some wordplay involved here? Do I have the answer wrong? What is a SCHIRRA?" Later I hit an astronaut name I recognized, so I had to just go on faith that SCHIRRA was a name (see also CARPENTER, COOPER, SLAYTON (?); I knew SHEPARD, GRISSOM and GLENN. Good thing GLENN is famous, because that SE corner was threatening to be undoable for a bit there. A ridiculous obscure Dickinson for WHEREON? Even with WHEREO-, I wasn't entirely sure of the last letter. Thank god I remembered MERL Saunders (*not* in everyone's crossword bag o' tricks, I assure you). That at least kept me in the game down there (62A: Keyboardist Saunders).

Never heard of SUPER C (48A: Very high trumpet note). Again, *thank god* -OOPER was inferable as COOPER, because that letter after SUPER could've been anything, as far as I was concerned. Figured C > H, since C, unlike H, is a note. So C. LOESSER … (69A: "Luck Be a Lady" composer/lyricist) … again, pure crossword muscle memory there. Ugh. I stared at NOTO- / -AON for many seconds before deciding on what letter could possibly go there. THE DIE is a terrible partial. I've never seen ACETALS, or maybe I have, but it looks like a ton of other acetyl / acetate / acetone answers I've filled in over the years (18A: Volatile solvents). DOODLER I like (26D: School desk drawer?); also ATROPHIED (21D: Weakened due to inactivity). The rest is just an absurd exercise in symmetry. Baffling.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS same theme published in NYT in 1998:


Music critic Nat / TUE 4-22-14 / 1963 John Wayne comedy western / Onetime SNL-type show / Smoky-voiced Eartha / Insurer with duck mascot /

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Tick Tock — circles in theme answers spell out TICK on left side and TOCK on right

Theme answers:
  • TICKLED (17A: ___ pink)
  • COMMON STOCK (23A: It's not preferred for investors)
  • TICKED OFF (32A: Peeved)
  • "MCLINTOCK" (42A: 1963 John Wayne comedy western)
  • TICKET BOOTH (48A: Spot at the front of a theater)
  • BUTTOCK (62A: Half moon?)
Word of the Day: "MCLINTOCK" —
McLintock! is a 1963 comedy Western directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and starring John Wayne, with co-stars including Maureen O'HaraYvonne De Carlo, and Wayne's son Patrick Wayne. The film, produced by Wayne's company Batjac Productions, was loosely based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. (wikipedia)
• • •

Less than enjoyable solve for me, though this was not entirely the puzzle's fault. For some reason, the .puz file I downloaded had a glitch that turned all apostrophes and quotation marks into "â". This added an annoying interesting level of difficulty to the solve. But then there was the puzzle, which had a somewhat dull theme, the execution of which resulted in a highly unpleasant, radically segmented grid. God, those 4-long black blocks (two on each side) are deathly. They create these mini-puzzles which can't help but be dull and tragically crosswordesey. See the eastern block in particular, with its RATA AROO EEKS (!?) and AOKS (!?!?). Who pluralizes those!?! Theme answers were not special or interesting—except BUTTOCK. Thumbs up there … so to speak. Why not go with TICKETS and TICKLED PINK? Or … I don't know, something different? Concept here is mildly interesting, but the grid design is fatally flawed, and the execution slightly awkward. This grid really should've been rebuilt, or the theme answers reconceived entirely.

Never heard (or barely heard) of COMMON STOCK, so that took a lot of crosses to bring down. Everything else was reasonably familiar. I did blank on KAMPALA right out of the gate, though. Had to go immediately to crosses, but even with the "K" I was like "… ? … KINSHASA doesn't fit … where is KINSHASA? … gah!" I put it together pretty fast, but I'm highly self-disappointed at not getting that answer straight off. Thought Tony Soprano might be a MOB BOSS (42D: Tony Soprano, for one) … I mean, he was, just not in this puzzle. HENTOFF, however, was a gimme (8D: Music critic Nat). I've been reading a lot of old Cosmo magazines lately (don't ask) and was stunned to see that he was actually Cosmo's music critic back in '79. He covered some pop and rock, but also a whole lot of other music I didn't expect to find in a late-'70s mainstream women's magazine: jazz, blues, classical, reggae. His columns are an interesting window into the music of that era—beyond the pop charts.

["Love I Need" from the 1978 album Give Thankx … seriously: Thankx!]

OK, gotta go finish watching the horrifying documentary on the Hillsborough disaster (the 25th anniversary of which was last week). See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS BEQ's site has been down due to some sort of Typepad meltdown. Here are the .puz and .pdf of his latest puzzles if you want them.


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