William Shatner sci-fi novel / SAT 12-16-17 / Creatures captured in Herclues 10th labor / De manera elsewise

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: "Marcus WELBY, M.D." (35D: TV M.D.) —
Marcus Welby, M.D. is an American medical drama television program that aired Tuesdays at 10:00–11:00 p.m. (EST) on ABC from September 23, 1969, to July 29, 1976. It starred Robert Young as the title character, a family practitioner with a kind bedside manner, who was on a first name basis with many of his patients (and who also made house-calls), James Brolin, as Steve Kiley, M.D, a younger doctor who played Welby's partner, and Elena Verdugo, who played Welby and Kiley's dedicated and loving nurse and office manager, Consuelo Lopez. Marcus Welby, M.D., was produced by David Victor and David J. O'Connell. The pilot, A Matter of Humanities, had aired as an ABC Movie of the Week on March 26, 1969. (wikipedia)
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Now this is my kind of *Friday* puzzle. Even in blurry, just-woke-up mode, I was able to cruise through this thing in just over 6 minutes. In fact, it was so entertaining, so unfull of garbage, and so doable, that it woke me up in a gentle, pleasant way. In that sense, it functioned a bit like my morning coffee (which I haven't made yet). Easy Saturdays (that are also *good* Saturdays) are delightful things. I have often invoked the 1-Across Rule, which states that if 1-Across is a gimme, the likelihood that the puzzle will play Easy shoots way up. Today, I discovered the 1-Down Rule variant. With nothing in the grid, 1A: Extra-special delivery? was no help (nothing about that clue screams OCTO-!), but 1D: De ___ manera (elsewise: Sp.) (OTRA) was a gimme, even for this Spanish non-speaker, and then boom ANKA! And ANKA gave me two more Downs (TEAK! CHEN!) and zoooom, buh bye. Felt like no time before I went RAW FOOTAGE to PING to ZAPPA, 1, 2, 3. After a brief struggle with TEE UP (28D: Do some course prep?) and SEDGE (29D: Papyrus, e.g.), and a predictable RIP-for-RAP mistake, I was halfway done.

In poetry, there is a term for a strong pause in the middle of a line—it's called a "caesura." Well today, for me, this puzzle *definitely* had a caesura. In fact, the strong pause highlighted the grid's architecture—there are two halves (N/NE and S/SW) joined only by two relatively tiny passageways (roughly, the "P" in UVLAMP and the "T" in TAMALE). I moved quite freely through the N/NE half but then could not squeeze through either aperture into the S/SW. Seemed like every Mexican food item I knew started with "T" (46D: Taqueria offering), so no help there, and I thought bazaars would have TENTS (23A: Bazaar parts), so stuck there too. So I went from a sprint to a dead stop. But then I just inferred the "S" at the end of SHOPS and went from "no idea" to "ohh, right!" at 22D: Start of a fitness motto ("USE IT ..."). Then there was something about a mantis's EAR, and I was back in business. Zoom to the end.

PLEASE STAY doesn't sound like anything a "Courteous host" would say (11D: Courteous host's request). It sounds like something a desperate host, or potentially creepy date, would say. I can imagine contexts where a host might say that, I guess, but that clue still feels off. My only real objection, though, is to the YA in "WHERE ARE YA?" (47A: Informal question to someone who's late). That is baloney. If you're allowing that, you're allowing "YA" to sub for "YOU" in any phrase, anywhere, at any time. In fact, this incarnation of the YOU-to-YA thing feels particularly awkward. Formal sentence structure ... but then just "YA" thrown in there. "WHERE YOU AT!?" That's informal. "WHERE ARE YA?" does not have enough stand-alone cred to warrant that ridiculous spelling change. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Blithe Spirit role / FRI 12-15-17 / Jason of Harry Potter films / Corporate trademark inspired by Ivy League mascot / Laundry whitener oddly enough / Old-time actress Irene / Last of Mohicans daughter

Friday, December 15, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: no 

Word of the Day: "Blithe Spirit" (13D: "Blithe Spirit" role => ELVIRA) (!?) —
Blithe Spirit is a comic play by Noël Coward. The play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles's marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not really into the 16-wide thing here. Themed puzzle can break the rules if the theme answers really necessitate it, but themelesses better have a Dang good reason, and there isn't one here. Actually, there's only one "good" reason to go super-wide like this on a Friday or Saturday—to give us a 16-letter answer (which we would never otherwise see, except possibly on a Sunday, I guess). No 16s here. The stagger stack in the middle is fine, but nothing earth-shattering. The rest of the grid is fine, but dry, and those open corners just feel .... taxed. Like, they're straining to keep it together. The most problematic thing, though, is an irritating over-reliance on proper nouns of dubious fame. Two different fictional character names!? (CORA, ELVIRA) Some guy named Jason ISAACS (?) (he played Lucius Malfoy ... [crickets]) (20A: Jason of the Harry Potter films).. And.a Mark Twain short story I've Never heard of. I think I know exactly one Twain short story: the jumping frog one. "A DOG'S TALE"?! Ha ha no. I guess the clue gave you some hints. I had TALE and no idea. That NE corner was brutal for that reason. REROOT, dear lord (14D: Take hold again, as a plant). I have no idea how I (correctly) guessed SAUL, but if I hadn't, I'd've been in major trouble (12D: Anointed one in the Book of Samuel). Clue on MGMLION was brutal (21A: Corporate trademark inspired by an Ivy League mascot). Anyway, this is adequate but uninspiring. Not enough emphasis on entertainment, too much obscure proper noun stuff (handle your names, constructors!). Oh, and ENTREPRENEURS is perhaps my least favorite word, so that didn't help.

LET IT GO > LET IT PASS (18A: Advice for touchy types). I didn't know "drift" was a kind of "rock," so GLACIAL DRIFT was rough for me (7D: Rock moved by ice). Even rougher was MIRROR SHADES. I had MIRROR- and still had no idea what could follow (21D: Reflective pair). I really have no occasion to think about mirrored sunglasses, so the term ... never occurred to me. If I never see KEBAB(S) again, it'll be too soon. I never have any clue how the puzzle is going to spell it. Incredibly irritating to have to go to the crosses for the vowels. I think the best thing in this grid is METABOLIC RATE and its clue (30A: Burning figure). I am looking side-eyed at NAPAS, which feels like a non-term (6D: Certain California wines). NAPA is a region, not a grape. I'd buy ZINS or MERLOTS or PINOTS but NAPAS?! NAPAS are cabbages. And that RISE clue, yikes. I had to look it up afterwards:
Rise is the distance from the middle of the crotch seam (right between your legs) to the top of the waistband. It usually ranges from 7 inches to 12 inches. (Primer)
I realize now that I have heard it, but only in the term "low-rise jeans." It's very clear that this puzzle and I just have very different ideas of what "fun" clues look like.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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