Screenwriter Sorkin / TUE-22-JUL / Making a bundle / Many Snapchat users

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: on point for a Tuesday



THEME:  — "either way, it makes sense" -- seven pairs of words cross in the grid and are clued to the two words/phrases they form

Word of the Day:  STOA (44D: Ancient Greek colonnade)  

  Stoa is a term defining, in ancient Greek architecture, covered walkways or porticos, commonly for public usage. Early stoas were open at the entrance with columns, usually of the Doric order, lining the side of the building; they created a safe, enveloping, protective atmosphere.

The name of the Stoic school of philosophy derives from "stoa". -- Wikipedia

Took me until almost the very end to catch this snappy and original theme. Seven pairs of words cross in the grid, and form a familiar word or phrase no matter which word you start with. They are:

(6D: With 8-Down, lime shade) = LIGHT GREEN; (8D: With 6-Across, approve) = GREENLIGHT
(16A: With 12-Down, not natural) = MAN-MADE; (12D: With 16-Across, mob inductee) = MADE MAN
(23A: With 33-Across, fan of the N.F.L.'s Packers) = CHEESEHEAD; (33A: With 23-Down, deli product) = HEAD CHEESE (disgusting phrase and thing)
(38A: With 38-Down, place to drop a coin) = WISHING WELL; (38D: With 38-Across, desiring happiness for someone = WELL WISHING
(40A: With 31-Down, jazz legend) = ARMSTRONG; (31D: With 40-Across, coerce) = STRONGARM
(58A: With 54-Down, waffle alternative) = PANCAKE; (54D: With 58-Across, bakery container = CAKE PAN
(59A:  With 57-Down, part of a morning routine) = BREAKFAST; (57A: With 59-Across, basketball tactic) = FAST BREAK




About halfway through the grid I got an eerie "it's too quiet in here" feeling, like in a horror movie: where were this puzzle's theme entries? I'd noticed a large number of cross-referenced clues but it wasn't until about 80% of the way through that it all clicked.

Notice the elegant touches: there are seven word pairs in the grid, which is a lot, and they're placed as close to symmetrically as could be hoped; they're all well-chosen and familiar; all the word pairs cross each other, logically since they're "cross-referenced," and aesthetically because it tightens the theme (and doesn't make you hunt all over the grid for a cross-ref answer).

That's an excellent crossword. In contrast to Sunday's puzzle, which was elegantly constructed but played somewhat dull, this one is both elegant and a fun solve since finding each pair of words isn't tedious and it's inherently interesting that two phrases comprised of the same two words take on radically different meanings if you reverse the order of those words.

I chided yesterday's puzzle for some weak fill, but if you read closely I actually chided it for "easily avoidable" weak fill. There are some crosswordy words in here -- STOA and ISERE especially -- but with a grid this tightly packed and no tough crossings on those two so it's just a small ding.

Best fill: BEATEN DOWN, BANDLEADER, IN-CROWD, SPIED ON, DIRT BIKES, LASERDISC and DRONE BEE.



Clues are a little jazzier than yesterday's. No barn-burners but (45A: Try to improve a Yahtzee turn) is good for RE-ROLL and (44D: Watched through binoculars, maybe) is good for SPIED ON.

It's grading week, and this one gets an A. Original and amusing theme, clean grid despite many theme entries, nice aha moment when I finally grokked the theme idea, and the cleverness of crossing cross-referenced entries. No wonder Will Shortz hired the author as his crossword intern.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for three more days of CrossWorld

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New England cookout / MON-JUL-21 / Dumb ox / Delhi dress

Monday, July 21, 2014

Constructor: Matt Fuchs

Relative difficulty: So Easy



THEME: PRIVATE PARTS -- theme entries begin with a word meaning "private"

Word of the Day: CREOLE (Louisiana language) —
Louisiana Creole (Kréyol La Lwizyàn; French: créole louisianais) is a French-based creole language spoken by some of the Creole people of the state of Louisiana. The language largely consists of elements of French and African languages, with some influence from other sources, notably Native American languages. -- wikipedia
• • •
I'm predisposed to like this crossword because I'm told it's written by someone named Matt who comes from my hometown of Bethesda, Maryland, which he even worked into a clue (48D: Bethesda, Md., is in it). So if you sense any rose-colored glasses, that's why. On the other hand I'm 41 and he's 16, so there might be some middle-aged vs. youth bitterness mixed in as well. I guess in the end I'll just have to judge the puzzle on its merits. Where's the fun in that?


Theme answers:
  • (20A: Big name in ranch dressing) = HIDDEN VALLEY. I thought the brand was "Hidden Valley Ranch," rather than the brand being "Hidden Valley" and the only dressing of theirs you've ever heard of happens to be Ranch? Let me check. OK, this is legit. But Hidden Valley is totally coasting thru life on the strength of their ranch dressing. Looking at their website, they're all in on Ranch. Ride that wave.

  • (27A: Classic of English children's literature, with "The") = SECRET GARDEN. I'm pretty hardcore Anglophile but I've never heard of this. I would probably have clued it in reference to this song, released before today's constructor was born.

  • (44A: Small paid item in the back of a newspaper) = CLASSIFIED AD. Now known as a "craigslist ad." 
  • And then the reveal entry: (What unmentionables cover ... or what 20-, 27- and 44-Across all begin with?) = PRIVATE PARTS. "Unmentionables" is a great word.
So this is a decent theme, but we see the Achilles' heel of the NYT over the past few years painfully swollen yet again: easily avoidable lousy fill, early in the week. A little polishing could surely have relieved this Monday grid of EDUCE crossing ERG and ENS at both extremities,TOILE crossing ETD and EIRE (and EIRE crossing RES clued to the Latin word for "thing"), RIAS and ARHAT. The last two have unmissable crossings, but still, and for the hundredth time: it's Monday, you're supposed to be the gold standard, somebody spend ten minutes and polish the grid. Or schedule it for Tuesday or Wednesday at least. I write crosswords for a living and still don't know what EDUCE means without looking it up, and neither do solvers.

Good fill: PICASSO, FIVE AM, CLAMBAKE, WEBSITES, BARHOP, ESPYS, IS IT ME?

So I'm looking for a "best clue" candidate, and...well, there's nothing. There isn't a single clue I can say any real effort has been put into. Can you imagine unleashing Bob Klahn or Ben Tausig on evocative entries like BARHOP, PICASSO, USSR, CREWCUT, CLAMBAKE and CLASSIFIED AD? They'd be punning you into next week, and you'd love every cheesy syllable. Here, nothing at all to sink your teeth into. I can't even award a "best clue" designation since there's nada that stands out. You tell me in comments what the best clue is and the point will be emphasized.

If we're doing grades this week, I'll go C+ on this one. Adequate but not much more. Did dig the chunky NW and SE corners, though -- that shows some nice flash.
 
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for four more days of CrossWorld

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