1958 space monkey / SUN 3-1-15 / Movie that opened 3/2/1965 / Figure in Sunni/Shia dispute / Culminating point that beauty has attained in sphere of music / Nicki with 2014 hit Anaconda / Crown since 1952 / 1961 Disney villainess

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Constructor: Finn Vigeland 

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Noted Anniversary" — Get it? "Noted"? 'Cause of the notes!? It's a "(THE) SOUND OF MUSIC" puzzle with a bunch of related theme answers and a DO RE MI FA SOL LA TI DO music scale running, rebus-wise, from SW to NE

Theme answers:
  • SALZBURG, AUSTRIA (24A: Setting of 118-Across)
  • JULIE ANDREWS (31A: Star of 118-Across)
  • "THE HILLS ARE ALIVE…" (49A: Opening lyric of 118-Across)
  • RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN (68A: Duo behind 118-Across)
  • BEST PICTURE OSCAR (91A: Honor for 118-Across)
  • THE VON TRAPPS (108A: Family upon whom 118-Across is based)
  • "THE SOUND OF MUSIC" (118A: Movie that opened 3/2/1965)
Word of the Day: HEGIRA (88D: Flight from danger) —
  1. Muhammad's departure from Mecca to Medina in AD 622, prompted by the opposition of the merchants of Mecca and marking the consolidation of the first Muslim community.
    • the Muslim era reckoned from the Hegira.
      noun: Hegira; noun: Hejira; noun: Hijra
      "the second century of the Hegira"
    • an exodus or migration.
      noun: hegira; plural noun: hegiras (google)
• • •

The best part about this was going from thinking "that is the lamest title ever" to "Oh … got it." Still not sure I like the title, but it's not nearly as bad as I first thought, and that simple sensation has helped dispose me mostly favorably toward this thing, despite the fact that it's too straightforward for my taste. The rebus adds a neat wrinkle, but even that is transparent. I've seen some version of the DO RE MI rebus thing in other puzzles, so the second I figured out the "DO" square in the SW, I knew where things were going (though I initially thought the notes might not keep getting higher in the grid, but might instead form a mountain, as in climb EV'RY. That scenario would've put SOL where that "D" is in HARD C, and so forth, back down into the SE corner. But this set-up is, of course, infinitely preferable. Well, preferable. I'm oddly fond of my briefly-imagined notes-make-a-mountain scenario.

The theme was not hard to figure out at all. I got it this fast:

Then, while working the crosses on the movie title there, I encountered the weirdness that turned out to be the rebus square "DO" at TO[DO] / [DO]ORS. And that was pretty much that. This puzzle had that thing that I don't really like about tribute puzzles, where the answers are really just assorted trivia that happen to fit into rotationally symmetrical places. Once you grasp the theme, it's just amateur trivia night. Ho-hum. As I say, the scale-rebus added value for sure, and the grid is pretty solidly filled, but overall it was a lowercase "l" "like" for me. Hard to stay mad at a beloved picture, JULIE ANDREWS, etc., especially when one is never actually mad in the first place. I'm sure most solvers will enjoy this well-made puzzle that causes them to enjoy a classic American movie on this first (not 2nd, but close) day of March, when thoughts turn to spring, and the possibility of warmth. Good vibes.

[124A: "Wailing" instrument]

I didn't like the answer BEST PICTURE OSCAR, which feels contrived. It won BEST PICTURE. Yes, technically, this answer is literally true, but BEST PICTURE is a better crossword answer, just as VON TRAPPS is better than THE VON TRAPPS. This is what I mean about answers being chosen for symmetricality rather than optimality. But it's all defensible. And the constructor gets in some great answers in the line of rebus fire. Never thought I'd be thrilled by OPERA BUF[FA], but I was, and the meta-crosswordical [SOL]VING TIME also gave me a smile (60A: Important factor in a crossword tournament). THE HILLS ARE ALIVE … is a fragment. Absurd. But who cares!? I'm picturing twirling JULIE ANDREWS, so all is right with the world.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S speaking of important factors in a crossword tournament, the 3rd Annual Finger Lakes Crossword Competition is next week—Saturday, Mar. 7, in Ithaca, NY. I'll be there. If you're an upstater, you should be too. All info here.

    P.P.S. very important news for aspiring constructors and hardcore fans who want insight into the craft of crossword construction. The best constructor on the planet, Patrick Berry, is now offering his "Crossword Constructors Handbook" (formerly Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies) as a .pdf from his website for a mere $10. This deal includes 70 (*seventy*) puzzles in both .pdf and .puz format. Puzzles cover a wide range of difficulty and theme types. Patrick's "For Dummies" book has been infamously out of print (and thus prohibitively expensive) for a long time, so I'm thrilled that now, when someone asks me "Can you recommend a good book on constructing?" I can name a title that's now actually accessible. Seriously, in the world of "books about crosswords," this is the top of the heap. No lie. Get it. Give it. Love it.


    Bluebeard's Castle librettist Balázs / SAT 2-28-15 / Linking brainstem part / Bit of headwear in British lingo / Laugh-inducing pic / Stovepipe of WWII / Classic symbol of rebellion / Holder of many diorama / Greasy spoon appliance / Occasion for goat-tying

    Saturday, February 28, 2015

    Constructor: Barry C. Silk

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: BELA Balázs (53A: "Bluebeard's Castle" librettist Balázs) —
    Béla Balázs (Hungarian: [ˈbeːlɒ ˈbɒlaːʒ]; 4 August 1884, Szeged – 17 May 1949, Budapest), born Herbert Bauer, was a Hungarian-Jewish film criticaesthete, writer and poet. […] He is perhaps best remembered as the librettist of Bluebeard's Castle which he originally wrote for his roommate Zoltán Kodály, who in turn introduced him to the eventual composer of the opera, Béla Bartók. This collaboration continued with the scenario for the ballet The Wooden Prince. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    This puzzle was just OK. I was put off by a series of wonky words that were perhaps supposed to be quaint or trigger some sort of nostalgia, but that struck me as simply WEARISOME. The only thing I enjoy about TITFER (49D: Bit of headwear, in British lingo) is saying "TITFER TOT" (the two words conveniently sit next to one another). Otherwise, that strikes me not as cute but as desperate. PONS … I gotta believe PONS could've been avoided there. It's such a stupid-looking technical term. And anyway, you'd only want to use something like that to hold a great bank of longer answers together, and that's just not what PONS is doing here. It's sitting in a perfectly reworkable area. Then there's FRYOLATOR (67A: Greasy spoon appliance), which I think I'm supposed to find charming and retro. But it feels made-up. Is it a brand name. I eat in greasy spoons from time to time—never heard of it. I feel like it must be what normals call the "fryer" or "deep fryer." Is that right? [...checks…] Ha! Yes! It's listed as an alternate name under the "Deep fryer" entry at wikipedia. Even if I liked that answer, and I don't, too many of the crosses are dreary: SMELTER and SMEARER and ALERO and UTIL and SAN REMO are all zzzzzz. In fact, the only entries I truly enjoyed today were BAZOOKA (14D: "Stovepipe of W.W. II) and PHOTOBOMB (48A: Laugh-inducing pic). Everything else was adequate to dull.

    [In the '80s, we didn't have BLU-RAY. We had this.]
    [R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy]

    My greatest solving coup today came very early, via a (normally unloved) cross-referenced clue. I read 5D: Last name on a 40-Down and decided to check 40-Down. Once I saw that 40-Down was [Holder of many a diorama], I instantly thought SHOEBOX, which instantly suggested MCAN as a possibility.  So I'd only just begun, and this is what my grid looked like:

    I wasn't sure the guessing was going to pay off, but crosses (iron and otherwise) eventually confirmed I was right. This meant that I was going to be starting the grid in earnest from the SW corner—a scenario that almost never occurs. That "X" was the obvious starting point, and sure enough EXERT was easy to get, and that corner was done quickly. Soon, I was into the TITFER PONS morass:

    From here, the fire of my solving prowess spread very quickly through the SE and up the east coast. I zagged back across the grid into the NW and had no trouble sweeping right through it, counterclockwise, back around to DANK. That left just the NE to attend to, and while for a second or two things looked dicey (-MAN -ERS and -OKA weren't looking promising…), I rode to victory on the most '80s answer up there:

    REPO MAN! (12D: One who assumes control by default?). God bless you, Emilio Estevez, wherever you are.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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