Intermediate in law / THU 8-21-14 / Cryptozoological beast / bag of shells Ralph Kramden malapropism / 1948 Literature Nobelist

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Constructor: Jules P. Markey

Relative difficulty: Medium



THEME: POST OFFICE BOXES (39A: Mail conveniences … or a hint to eight squares in this puzzle) — eight PO boxes, one at the beginning of each word in four two-word theme phrases:

Theme answers:
  • POWER POLITICS
  • POLE POSITION
  • POISON POWDER
  • POPCORN POPPER
Word of the Day: MESNE (47A: Intermediate, in law) —
adj
1. (Law) intermediate or intervening: used esp of any assignment of property before the last: a mesneassignment.
2. (Law) mesne profits rents or profits accruing during the rightful owner's exclusion from his land
[C15: from legal French meien in the middle, mean³]
• • •

Very easy, as rebus puzzles go. Once you grok the concept, you can sail through this thing pretty easily. There is a certain elegance to the execution here, as the "PO" boxes follow a pattern. More often (I think … I may be making this up, but I feel like it's more often) rebus boxes are more haphazardly arranged in the grid, balanced in terms of overall dispersal, but not perfectly regular and predictable, as they are today. As a solver, I tend to like the unpredictable arrangement better, but there' something to be said for tying your one little letter pattern ("PO") tightly to the longer "theme" answers. I can't decide  today if the predictable positioning makes the puzzle more or less dull. There's a certain repetitiveness that sets in once you figure out the rebus pattern you're searching for. Once you realize you're just hunting "PO"s … yeah. Then that's what you're doing. At least the four longer answers give you some kind of additional structural integrity. You're not just playing "find the PO"—you actually get results at the end where "PO" matters. Still, there was something workmanlike about this. Maybe it's that the puzzle was just too easy, or the answers weren't interesting or the clues clever enough. There just wasn't any "ooh" moment.


Biggest problem here was probably the fill, which is below average in too many places. I can take an ITER on the chin now and then, but when you give me an ITER / MESNE combo, I'm gonna get a little PO'd (20A: Roman road + 47A: Intermediate, in law). I think AMERE is one of the worst partials (5 letters) I've ever seen (7D: "___ bag of shells" (Ralph Kramden malapropism)). ALAW is a pretty strong contender in the 4-letter category (14A: Is ___ unto oneself). Actually, now that I really look at it, the rest of the grid is solid enough—it's just dull. SOPORIFIC (ironically, the most exciting answer in the grid, along with MAKE A FIST) (8D: Sleep-inducing + 3D: Prepare to give blood). The whole thing was a walk around the block—nice, but insufficient exercise, and I'll have forgotten about it 15 minutes after it's done.


I don't think POISON POWDER is a thing. Or, rather, I know that it *is* a thing, as I googled it. But if the first (entire) page of results is any indication, it's exclusively a Pokémon thing. According to pokemondb.net, "Poison Powder causes the target to become poisoned. Poisoned Pokémon lose 1/8 of their maximum HP each turn." Whatever that means.



I really wish this theme had been tied to the police. I mean, POPO describes this theme a helluva lot better than POST OFFICE BOXES does. Hmm, there appears to be a Mr. Popo in the Dragon Ball universe. Before I explain what Dragon Ball is and how it does and does not relate to Pokémon, I'm just gonna sign off.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Start to grunt / WED 8-20-14 / Runoff conduit / Game in which pieces can be forked / Name that's Old Norse for young man / Wasabi bar snack / Autograph seeker's encl / Start of magic incantation

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: The FREE "Wheel of Fortune" letters (55D: Like the initial letters of the answers to the six starred clues, on "Wheel of Fortune") — initial letters of the six starred clues are a stand-alone R, S, T, L, N, and E, respectively

Theme answers:
  • R RATED MOVIE (17A: *Fare for those 17 and up)
  • S STAR (22A: *Astronomical red giant)
  • T ROWE PRICE (28A: *"Invest With Confidence" firm)
  • L FRANK BAUM (48A: *Best-selling novelist who wrote the children's poetry volume "Father Goose")
  • N*SYNC (54A: *"It's Gonna Be Me" group)
  • E STREET BAND (60A: *The Boss's backup musicians)
Word of the Day: Hedy LAMARR (6D: Hedy of "Ecstasy") —
Hedy Lamarr (/ˈhɛdi/; 9 November 1914 – 19 January 2000)[1] was an Austrian-born American actress and inventor.[2]
After an early film career in Germany, Lamarr moved to Hollywood at the initiation of MGM head, Louis B. Mayer, where she soon became a star during MGM's "Golden Age." Max Reinhardt, who directed her in Berlin, called her the "most beautiful woman in Europe," having "strikingly dark exotic looks", a sentiment widely shared by her audiences and critics. She garnered a degree of fame and notoriety after starring in the Czech director Gustav Machatý's Ecstasy, a 1933 film which featured closeups of her acting during orgasm in one scene, as well as full frontal nude shots of her in another scene.
Lamarr was also notable as co-inventor, with composer George Antheil, of an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping, which paved the way for today's wireless communications and which, upon its invention in 1941, was deemed so vital to national defense that government officials would not allow publication of its details.[9] At the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Sixth Pioneer Awards in 1997, she and George Antheil were honoured with special awards for their "trail-blazing development of a technology that has become a key component of wireless data systems." (wikipedia)
• • •

I've seen variations on the initial-letter thing before, but not this variation. It's interesting, though none of the resulting themers are particularly remarkable, and two of them are so common and crosswordy (SSTAR, NSYNC) that they either disappear into the grid or outright detract from the theme, depending on how generous you're feeling. You have six themers, but it feels like four because of those two short dull answers. The upside of those short, dull answers is that the grid is less crowded with theme, which allows for a pretty interesting overall grid. The shorter fill isn't great, but the abundance of solid longer stuff, esp. in the Downs, is impressive. RHAPSODY, TEA KETTLE, GREW WEARY, CLASS ACT—all wonderful. The clue on the revealer, though—it seems incomplete. I mean, there is one, specific context in which RSTLNE are free: at the end, during the showcase or whatever it's called. Right? I mean, they don't just give you those letters during ordinary turns, do they? So the clue there should be more specific. Much more. But it's not like the answer was hard to figure out, so no harm done.


I crushed this puzzle—half minute faster than yesterday's, and not a Wednesday record, but well below my average time. But my experience appears to be slightly anomalous today (based on posted times), so I've adjusted the difficulty rating accordingly. I was lucky enough to catch the letter thing right away—which brings me to another criticism of the theme execution. For elegance's sake, I wouldn't have any answers *besides* the themers that had single letters within them. Acronyms and initialisms are fine, but HARD G? … I'd've tried desperately to ditch that if I could've (1A: Start to grunt?). I got it immediately (not always the case with those SOFT / HARD letter answers), which may have been the key to my starting quickly. Then I was confronted with an initial RR- in the first themer, which made that easy to uncover as well. Once I got T. ROWE PRICE, the theme concept was obvious, and things got even easier from there. I had a few hiccups. STARES for GLARES, ESTOS for ESTAS, some flopping around in the TMS / NOMEN / ESSES section … but overall, piece of cake. Only thing that I didn't know, in the end, was what it means for a piece to be "forked" in CHESS. But I don't play, so that's not surprising. Here's a definition of Fork (Chess) for you, from wikipedia:

In chess, a fork is a tactic whereby a single piece makes two or more direct attacks simultaneously. Most commonly two pieces are threatened, which is also sometimes called a double attack. The attacker usually aims to gain material by capturing one of the opponent's pieces. The defender often finds it difficult to counter two or more threats in a single move. The attacking piece is called the forking piece; the pieces attacked are said to be forked.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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