Gulf of Aqaba resort city / FRI 11-28-14 / Trading insider Boesky / Space blanket material / Italian port on the Tyrrhenian Sea / Theater magnate Marcus / Mother of the Freedom Movement, to friends / Tolkien protagonist

Friday, November 28, 2014

Constructor: Tracy Gray

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: BLACK FRIDAY (56A: Time of annual madness … or a hint to four squares in this puzzle) — rebus in which "SALE" appears in four different squares.

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: ESALEN (64A: Big Sur institute) —
The Esalen Institute, commonly just called Esalen, is a retreat center and intentional community in Big Sur, California, which focuses upon humanistic alternative education. Esalen is a nonprofit organization devoted to activities such as personal growth, meditation, massage, Gestalt, yoga, psychology, ecology, spirituality, and organic food. The institute offers more than 500 public workshops a year, in addition to conferences, research initiatives, residential work-study programs, and internships.
Esalen was founded by Michael Murphy and Dick Price in 1962. Their goal was to explore work in the humanities and sciences, in order to fully realize what Aldous Huxley had called the "human potentialities".
Esalen is located about 45 miles (72 km) south of Monterey and nine miles (14 km) north of Lucia. Esalen is situated on 120 acres of Big Sur coast. The grounds were once home to a Native American tribe known as the Esselen, from which the institute got its name. (wikipedia)
• • •

A puzzle to celebrate idiotic consumerism. Great. Fantastic.

Even if I didn't find the "madness" this puzzle is celebrating slightly repugnant, even if I was a huge love of BLACK FRIDAY shopping, I would still have found this puzzle wanting. There were a couple big reasons for this:

  1. It's just a SALE rebus. I mean, that's it. Straight. Basic. Kind of dull. If you're going to have a revealer like BLACK FRIDAY, it seems like you could exploit black squares or the letters FRI or something, anything interesting. That's certainly what a Fireball or American Values Club or other high-end independent outlet would've done. Something truly creative. This is simply a SALE rebus. Four SALEs. I do not see how this is an adequate way to represent a self-described "Time of annual madness." Four SALEs is not madness. It's barely Presidents' Day weekend.
  2. While the theme does get us a couple nice rebus-containing answers (SALEM'S LOT, and, especially, NEWS ALERT), it also gets us dreadful old crosswordy answers like the ADAM'S ALE / ESALEN crossing, and the improbable and utterly uncrossworthy middle-name version of Rosa Parks's name. Also, SALEM and JERUSALEM are too related to inhabit the same grid. Salem, in the bible, is the "royal city of Melchizedek, traditionally identified with Jerusalem." This is where other SALEMs get their name. I consider JERUSALEM and SALEM dupes. Bad form.

Fill overall is middling, with EILAT and SHMO being the most irksome stuff (though that ALOHAS MESON SYST bank is pretty rough, too). Most of the rest is solid, but none of the non-theme stuff really shines. The main difficulties in this puzzle were a. figuring out that there was a theme at all (who's looking for it on Friday?), and b. just finding out where those four squares were. I didn't know until quite late that there was a theme. I had almost all the N and NE worked out. But I had SPRINGS A - (crossing NEWS RT, which I didn't blink at). So I thought there was a rebus of some kind, but from where I was sitting, it looked like the rebus was "LEAK." Then I scanned the clues to see if there was a revealer, and found it, and then things got much easier from there. The cluing is really uninspired on this one. I'm looking around for clues to single out for praise, and honestly don't see any. Seems like your big blow-out BLACK FRIDAY puzzle should be bolder and more creative than this. So many people will be working the puzzle today—what the hell else are you gonna do, stuck at home with the family you've already spent so much time with? Why not give solvers something daring, bold, and truly tricky?
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Statistician Silver / THU 11-27-14 / Second-largest moon of Saturn / Highest paid TV star of 2014 / State south of Veracruz / Sister of grand duchess Anastasia / Upwards of 170 beats per minute / Eastern terminus of Erie Canal / Actual first name of Tom Seaver Orson Welles

    Thursday, November 27, 2014

    Constructor: Stanley Newman

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME:  [Thanksgiving phrase] — "Thanks a lot" (roughly) in three different languages

    Theme answers:
    Word of the Day: COO (53D: Corp. manager) —
    chief operating officer (COO), also called the chief operations officerdirector of operations, or operations director, is a position that can be one of the highest-ranking executive positions in an organization, comprising part of the "C-Suite". The COO is responsible for the daily operation of the company, and routinely reports to the highest ranking executive, usually the chief executive officer (CEO). The COO may also carry the title of President which makes that person the second in command at the firm, especially if the highest ranking executive is the Chairman and CEO. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    This was a reasonably solid themeless—yes, I see the theme there, but … I don't know. Those countries don't celebrate Thanksgiving, so while it's literally true that those are all "thanksgiving phrases" , the whole conceit seems rather thin. Also, the theme is just thin generally—just 35 squares total. So its feel is mostly that of a themeless. The most interesting thing about the theme is the way the clues exploit the first-letter-capitalized cluing convention to get you to think that the clues relate to capital-T Thanksgiving, when really they're related only to lowercase-T thanksgiving. The foreign angle … I don't really get. I guess those three phrases just fit nicely/symmetrically into the grid.

    Solved this one slow-fast-stopped … then done. Got AAH and SCAM but nothing else in the NW. Then PECS and PSI got me going in the NE, though it still took me a while to throw MUCHAS GRACIAS back across the grid and into that NW corner. I had -RACIA- at the end of that answer, and I was like "… how is a [Thanksgiving phrase] going to end in 'RACIAL'???" After that top themer went in, the puzzle went down fast, until I put in MERCI BEAUCOUP. I thought with LAGS, AUEL, and BEAUCOUP going for me down there in the SE, I'd be set, but Nuh-o. Got TSP and PAST … still nothing. I just sat. I put the blame entirely on COO. Nobody expects a perfectly good word to be clued as an abbr. I will add that nobody *wants* it, either. Why you decide to clue a word as an abbr., I will not know. I guess just to f*** with solvers. Mission accomplished. Without GEORGE, I had no hope down there. No way I was getting RETORT from [Counter with a sharp edge] (clever) or SERAPES from [Clothing items with fringes] without much help from crosses, but those just wouldn't come. I just couldn't pick up any of those short Acrosses from their final letters. Somehow, finally, my brain managed to see through T---U-H to THROUGH, and only then did I realize, "Oh … COO." And then I was done.

    I had no idea JUDGE JUDY was still on the air. Seriously. [Highest-paid TV star of 2014, by far]?? Wow.

    Happy capital-T Thanksgiving,
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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