Snowman in Disney's Frozen / TUE 9-23-14 / Jazz great named after Egyptian god / Everett player of Mr Bernstein in Citizen Kane / Lawrence who co-wrote two of Star Wars films / Roone who created Nightline 20/20

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Constructor: Gerry Wildenberg

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: GOLD NUGGETS (38A: Valuable finds suggested by the circled letters) — circled letters spell out gold if you read them … well, it looks like sometimes clockwise, sometimes counterclockwise …)

Word of the Day: "AGON" (65A: Stravinsky ballet) —
Agon (1957) is a ballet for twelve dancers, with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by George Balanchine. Composition began in December 1953 but was interrupted the next year; work was resumed in 1956 and concluded on April 27, 1957; the music was first performed on June 17, 1957 in Los Angeles conducted by Robert Craft, while the first stage performance was given by the New York City Ballet on December 1, 1957 at the City Center of Music and Drama, New York (White 1979, 490). The composition's long gestation period covers an interesting juncture in Stravinsky's composing career, in which he moved from a diatonic musical language to one based ontwelve-tone technique; the music of the ballet thus demonstrates a unique symbiosis of musical idioms. The ballet has no story, but consists of a series of dance movements in which various groups of dancers interact in pairs, trios, quartets etc. A number of the movements are based on 17th-century French court dances – sarabandgalliard and bransle. It was danced as part of City Ballet's 1982 Stravinsky Centennial Celebration. (wikipedia)
• • •

Coincidentally, I was reading about Charlie Chaplin just before starting this puzzle.

There are a host of problems here. With the exception of SOBE, the puzzle feels about a million years old, with crosswordese (NLERS RIATA AAR … those are consecutive!) and olde-timey names (MAGDA, AKINS, SLOANE, etc.) and then stuff like HE-GOAT and SLIPSLOP (!?) that I just didn't know what to make of. The puzzle was not well slotted on a Tuesday—too wide-open, too tough. But the main problem was that the grid-filling was not up to the challenge posed by the ambitious theme. That NLERS RIATA AAR line alone tells you, first, that the grid was hand-filled (you can malign computers all you like, but they help keep less expert constructors out of Junk City), and second, that it was hand-filled according to OLD-LINE standards. UNSTOW? BLATS? This is very, very rough. The core concept is OK—it would've been more elegant if the nuggets all read in one direction or the other, I think, but the theme isn't the problem. It's what the theme does to the fill that's the problem. The grid is just too demanding. The limitations imposed by the nuggets coupled with dauntingly wide-open corners just set the bar too high, and the puzzle couldn't get over.

  • 28A: Jazz great named after an Egyptian god (SUN RA) — the names were just *tough* on me today. I know who SUN RA is, but off the "S" I had no idea, and that corner also has SLOANE (unknown to me) and ALDO (also, weirdly, unknown to me), and an YSER clue that I didn't find easy at all (10A: W.W. I's Battle of the ___). Proper nouns beyond my ken really gummed things up.
  • 43D: Roone who created "Nightline" and "20/20" (ARLEDGE) — a name I know, but just screwed up badly today. For some reason I wanted "ALRIDGE" … "L" before "R" at any rate. And with SLIPSLOP next door (again I say "???"), and uncertainty about whether EASES or ALL'S were even right, well, proper names strike again. I wouldn't have minded so much if the fill had been (much) better.
  • 65A: Stravinsky ballet ("AGON") — stunning to me a. that this word is even in a Tuesday puzzle, and b. that this clue is considered Tuesday-appropriate. Proper nouns here aren't just beyond me—they're dated, marginal, and (most importantly) unnecessary. I'll take "AGON" as a a Stravinsky ballet on, say, a Friday or Saturday, if it's helping hold up a lovely stack or corner. Otherwise, pass. Especially on Tuesday, pass.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Dadaist artist Jean / MON 9-22-14 / Appurtenance for Santa Sherlock Holmes / Coastal land south of Congo / Sweet rum component / Bank heist group / Company downsizings

Monday, September 22, 2014

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (**for a Monday**)

THEME: Picket line — first words are all narrow, stiff implements

Theme answers:
  • STICK-UP MEN (17A: Bank heist group)
  • CANE SUGAR (24A: Sweet rum component)
  • POLE CAR (37A: Indy 500 leader)
  • STAFF CUTS (47A: Company downsizings)
  • ROD STEWART (57A: British rocker with the 1979 #1 hit "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?")
Word of the Day: Bobby RIGGS (27D: Bobby who lost 1973's Battle of the Sexes tennis match) —
Robert Larimore "Bobby" Riggs (February 25, 1918 – October 25, 1995) was an American tennis player who was the World No. 1 or the World co-No. 1 player for three years, first as an amateur in 1939, then as a professional in 1946 and 1947. He played his first professional tennis match on December 26, 1941.
At the age of 55 he competed in a challenge match against Billie Jean King, one of the top female players in the world. "The Battle of the Sexes" match was one of the most famous tennis events of all time, with a $100,000 winner-take-all prize. (wikipedia)
• • •

So I looked up "rod" in my giant J.I. Rodale Synonym Finder, and sure enough, there were "cane," "pole," "staff," and "stick" all listed as possibilities. Still, somehow "stick" and "cane" feel like different animals to me, the former redolent with the aroma of tree-ness, the latter inseparable from its specific status as a walking aid. "Pole" and "rod" seem less organic, more generic. "Staff" seems somewhere in between—probably wooden, but not as arboreal or sculpted as "stick" and "cane," respectively. Am I over thinking this? Of course. It's not like I noticed a theme at all when I was solving. I'm just saying I've seen tighter themes. I mean, why not have a series of answers that start "alpenstock," "quirt," "crosier," "stanchion," and "caduceus"? I mean, aside from the practical consideration that there are no phrases that start with any of those words? Rodale says it's OK! Quirt! Do it!

Why was this measurably harder than your average Monday? I finished in 3:20 (about half a minute slower than average) and noticed that my time would have put me near the top of the leader board at the NYT puzzle site—not a place I should be anywhere near with that time on a Monday. Both the long Downs (the 9s, I mean) were tough for me to get, the first  ("COME GET ME") because of the unusualness of the clue phrase—11D: "I'm stranded and need a ride"—as well as the SPAM / SCAM trap I can't be the only one to have fallen into (10A: Almost any "Get rich quick!" offer); the second (PUTS ASIDE) because the clue carries the suggestion of moving something to the "back burner," and ASIDE is a fundamentally different direction than "back." I get that we're working in figurative language here, but try telling that to my brain.

Do not like the OLE-over-OLE (from POLECAR) in the middle of the grid. STAFF CUTS strikes me as a real thing, but not a very lovely, clean, or tight thing. A [Fight between late-night hosts, e.g.] is, in modern parlance, a BEEF. A FEUD involves Hatfields, McCoys, Clampitts, or Families. I have no idea what "late-night hosts" could have to do with FEUDs, since it's no longer the early '90s. Cross-referenced STATE clue slowed me down, as did the "Where's my dang globe?" quality of 54A: Coastal land south of Congo (ANGOLA). Side note, and true story: my wife bought a globe today. "I saw it at Target … it was $14." Not the strongest rationale, but countries have been invaded for flimsier reasons, so we left it there.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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