Rent character Marquez / SUN 11-23-14 / Headmaster honorific / Five-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner / Poem in our eyes per Emerson / Chinese company whose 2014 IPO was world's largest in history / What Gustave Dore's Confusion of Tongues depicts

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Surround Sound" — theme answers are wacky two-word phrases where first word is completely aurally subsumed by the tail-end of the second word. First word is disyllabic in every case:

Theme answers:
  • RANDOM MEMORANDUM (23A: Office missive sent out arbitrarily?)
  • GRANITE POMEGRANATE (30A: Stone fruit?)
  • LUNAR BALLOONER (48A: Aeronaut who's headed for the moon?)
  • ROTC PAPARAZZI (66A: Photographers who stalk future lieutenants?)
  • PEWTER COMPUTER (84A: Desktop machine made of malleable metal?)
  • MENTIONS DIMENSIONS (101A: Provides some idea of an object's size?)
  • COLLIE MELANCHOLY (113A: Lassie's affliction after failing to rescue Timmy?)
Word of the Day: ASUNCIÓN (37D: South American capital) —
Nuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción (Spanish pronunciation: [asunˈsjon]GuaraniParaguay) is the capital and largest city of Paraguay.
The Ciudad de Asunción is an autonomous capital district not part of any department. The metropolitan area, called Gran Asunción, includes the cities of San LorenzoFernando de la MoraLambaréLuqueMariano Roque AlonsoÑembySan AntonioLimpioCapiatá and Villa Elisa, which are part of the Central Department. The Asunción metropolitan area has more than 2 million inhabitants. […]
It is the home of the national government, principal port, and the chief industrial and cultural centre of the country. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a passable theme, but I expect more than "passable" from Patrick Berry. Way, way more. To be blunt, Patrick Berry needs to be, minimally, Very Good, every time out. The overall quality of the NYT is really riding on a handful of stalwarts who are capable of producing puzzles of a very high order. Wentz, McCoy, Gorski, Chen, Steinberg, Berry … these people just can't fall down or even trip on the job. They have too much of other people's mediocrity to make up for. Unfair? Of course. But that's the current reality of the NYT crossword. There are definitely some good moments in this puzzle—the acronymic use of ROTC (i.e. relying on how it sounds, not how it's spelled) is inspired , and the clue on COLLIE MELANCHOLY(113A: Lassie's affliction after failing to rescue Timmy?) is genuinely hilarious. But MENTIONS DIMENSIONS and RANDOM MEMORANDUM just lie there. Too much real estate to give over to boring answers, especially in a puzzle whose theme is so basic that it really Needs to be great at every turn.

There were times when this felt like the easiest Sunday I'd done in a while, and other times where I got oddly bogged down by a single word or small handful of them. Turns out I am capable of confidently spelling neither MEMORANDUM (considered -EM ????) nor POMEGRANATE (somehow thought maybe there was another "N" in there just before the "G"; again ????). OXFAM is familiar to me after-the-fact, but during-the-solve, it was nowhere. Needed nearly every cross. I somehow wrote in MOAN at 98D: No longer standing tall? (MOWN), which really stopped me at the end, as I considered TAITTER as an answer to 108A: Feed supplier (good clue for TWITTER, btw). Given a five-letter answer starting with "I" and given the clue [2006 World Cup winner] the only (and I mean *only*) country I could think of was INDIA, which, I was 99.7% sure, was wrong. When I got ITALY, I laughed. Sorry, ITALY. Forgot about you. Also forgot Jessica Simpson's sister's name, mostly because I forgot about Jessica Simpson, who (like her sister) hasn't been relevant for years. Anyway, ASHLEE is spelled thuslee, which caused some minor confusion in the south.

Had LEAD for LEAK (73D: Boon for an investigative journalist), and then RHYME for 45D: What some dreams and themes do (RECUR). I guess I just ignored the "some" in that clue. My bad. But the worst struggle I had was in the NE, where SALE TAG for NAME TAG (16D: Retail clerk's accessory) really gunked things up. Had LILI for MIMI, EASE for WANE, and thus EOLAN for 14D: George Eliot, but not Marilyn Manson (WOMAN). And then I just sat and wondered what the problem could be. Eventually pulled NAME from NAME TAG and all the right answers popped into view. Happy 195th birthday to George Eliot, by the way. Read Middlemarch for the first time this past summer and Loved it.

    Some quick announcements:

    First, though I haven't done all the puzzles this week, I am going to give a Puzzle of the Week nod anyway, this time to Andrew Ries and his latest Aries XWord puzzle, "Symbol Synonyms." Neat gimmick, where all-caps clues are single words which can be reimagined as a Periodic Table abbr. + clue word, which combine to clue a familiar phrase. Thus, [AUGUST] is the clue for GOLD RUSH (AU = gold, GUST = rush, as of wind). [CURING] => COPPERTONE, [CAPE] => CARBON COPY, and [ALBUM] => ALUMINUM CAN. Andrew Ries's Aries XWord puzzles are available only by subscription, but said subscriptions are ridiculously cheap. You can solve free samples at his site. Definitely check him out.

    Next, I am very happy to plug Patrick Merrell's Kickstarter campaign for his book project, "Zep: A Puzzling Adventure," a graphic novel he wrote and drew a quarter-century ago. Patrick is a professional cartoonist as well as a professional puzzlemaker, and the project looks genuinely fantastic. Read all about it, see samples, and watch a short (adorable) video at his Kickstarter page. Seriously, do it. It's worth a look. The project is a Kickstarter Staff Pick! His book's got a hidden puzzle! An Evil Dr. SUMAC! What's not to love?

    Lastly, a plug for the country's newest significant crossword tournament, The Indie 500, brought to you be a crew of some of today's best young constructors: Erik Agard, Evan Birnholz, Peter Broda, Neville Fogarty, and Andy Kravis (all of whom run independent puzzle sites of their own). The tournament will be held for the first time in Washington, D.C. on May 30, 2015. But more than plugging the tourney itself, I want to call attention to the fact that they are accepting puzzle submissions from novice constructors (with no more than 10 published puzzles) to fill the last slot on their tournament puzzle slate. Eligibility requirements are right here. So mark it on your calendar and, if you're relatively new to constructing and think you've got a great idea for a tournament puzzle, consider submitting. I know all the people running this show, and their collective skills and professionalism are legit. Go. Solve. Do. Fun.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Castle town in 1937 film / SAT 11-22-14 / Q preceder / Stowe antislavery novel / Moon named after Greek personification of terror / Fictional locale of John Wayne western / Classic sea adventure of 1846 / Grocery product with a multiply misspelled name

      Saturday, November 22, 2014

      Constructor: David Steinberg

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: "RIO LOBO" (48A: Fictional locale of a John Wayne western) —
      Rio Lobo is a 1970 American Western film starring John Wayne. The film was the last film directed by Howard Hawks, from a script by Leigh Brackett. The film was shot in Technicolor with a running time of 114 minutes. The musical score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith and the movie was filmed at Cuernavaca in the Mexican state of Morelosand at Tucson, Arizona.
      It was the third Howard Hawks film varying the idea of a sheriff defending his office against belligerent outlaw elements in the town, after Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado(1966), both also starring John Wayne. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Oh, well, this is more like it. Hold this up to yesterday's to see the difference between night and day. No, that's no good as a metaphor. First it's cliché and second it doesn't get at the quality gap here. How about "the difference between chocolate and carob." Not perfect, but closer, This grid has the same (high) word count as yesterday's, but the results are electric. This is partly because even though he's just a high school senior, Mr. Steinberg is an old pro, and partly because he didn't try to cram a "Q" into the grid just 'cause. (The second part of that sentence is related to the first part.) Here's what happens when your long answers, all the way around, are fresh and cracking—your less toothsome answers? Nobody cares. I don't like RRR or TARARA or EOSIN any more than you do, but they are *not* what I remember about this puzzle, not what I see when I look at this grid. I see an aggressively contemporary puzzle packed with "Z"s and "X"s and colloquialisms both fresh and "dated" (nice save on FOSHIZZLE there, David and/or Will). This is among my favorite D.S. themelesses, if not the best he's ever done.

      ["NO SOAP, Mr. Norton!"]

      The SE felt a little makeshifty, as MIAMI AREA sets an odd "any city + AREA" precedent, and DROID RAZR … oh, that's a thing now, I see. Motorola (the name I normally associate with RAZR) "resurrected the RAZR brand for a line of Android smartphones" (per wikipedia). I see that there is one called the DROID RAZR MAXX—consider that particular gauntlet thrown, constructors.

      I mostly breezed through this puzzle. You can tell that 1D: "The ___ the words, the better the prayer": Martin Luther was a comparative adjective, so I put in the -ER. Then when I couldn't remember the damn Fashion designer Saab's name, I saw 4D: "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding" philosopher. Total gimme (HUME). I once studied in Edinburgh, so that might've helped there, but I think I would've picked up HUME from that title anyway. So then I remembered the Saab was ELIE, then I guessed the "acid" in the 2D "bleach ingredient" ended in -IC, then I easily picked up CECE (26A: Woman's name that sounds like a repeated letter) and RIB. Then SCRIBE. And I was off. One major, nearly fatal hitch. I hit a brick wall at the end, with the following holes:

      • WIIMO-ES (13D: Handy things in the game world?)
      • -U-E (29A: Turn off, maybe)
      • -A-ET (29D: David who wrote the screenplay for "The Verdict")
      • DEI-OS (37A: Moon named after the Greek personification of terror)

      This caused me a very, very frustrating 45 seconds or so. WII MOVES? Is that a thing. That seemed the only possible answer, but a. it sounded stupid, and b. -UVE made no sense for [Turn off, maybe]. It makes no sense at all, actually. The moon answer, pfft. And I was never gonna get to MUTE from that clue. It's an oblique clue. I MUTE the TV while it's still on. You can MUTE the sound, I guess, but you'd say you MUTEd the TV. Anyway, no big deal—I just wasn't gonna get it from that clue with those letters in place. That left the screenplay guy. Somehow "David" and "screenplay" eventually triggered MAMET—a name I know well, but Not At All from "The Verdict," an early-'80s Paul Newman film I never saw. So I was in real danger of a triple-proper-noun beatdown there for a little bit. But then David MAMET saved the day.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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