Blithe Spirit role / FRI 12-15-17 / Jason of Harry Potter films / Corporate trademark inspired by Ivy League mascot / Laundry whitener oddly enough / Old-time actress Irene / Last of Mohicans daughter

Friday, December 15, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: no 

Word of the Day: "Blithe Spirit" (13D: "Blithe Spirit" role => ELVIRA) (!?) —
Blithe Spirit is a comic play by Noël Coward. The play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles's marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not really into the 16-wide thing here. Themed puzzle can break the rules if the theme answers really necessitate it, but themelesses better have a Dang good reason, and there isn't one here. Actually, there's only one "good" reason to go super-wide like this on a Friday or Saturday—to give us a 16-letter answer (which we would never otherwise see, except possibly on a Sunday, I guess). No 16s here. The stagger stack in the middle is fine, but nothing earth-shattering. The rest of the grid is fine, but dry, and those open corners just feel .... taxed. Like, they're straining to keep it together. The most problematic thing, though, is an irritating over-reliance on proper nouns of dubious fame. Two different fictional character names!? (CORA, ELVIRA) Some guy named Jason ISAACS (?) (he played Lucius Malfoy ... [crickets]) (20A: Jason of the Harry Potter films).. And.a Mark Twain short story I've Never heard of. I think I know exactly one Twain short story: the jumping frog one. "A DOG'S TALE"?! Ha ha no. I guess the clue gave you some hints. I had TALE and no idea. That NE corner was brutal for that reason. REROOT, dear lord (14D: Take hold again, as a plant). I have no idea how I (correctly) guessed SAUL, but if I hadn't, I'd've been in major trouble (12D: Anointed one in the Book of Samuel). Clue on MGMLION was brutal (21A: Corporate trademark inspired by an Ivy League mascot). Anyway, this is adequate but uninspiring. Not enough emphasis on entertainment, too much obscure proper noun stuff (handle your names, constructors!). Oh, and ENTREPRENEURS is perhaps my least favorite word, so that didn't help.


LET IT GO > LET IT PASS (18A: Advice for touchy types). I didn't know "drift" was a kind of "rock," so GLACIAL DRIFT was rough for me (7D: Rock moved by ice). Even rougher was MIRROR SHADES. I had MIRROR- and still had no idea what could follow (21D: Reflective pair). I really have no occasion to think about mirrored sunglasses, so the term ... never occurred to me. If I never see KEBAB(S) again, it'll be too soon. I never have any clue how the puzzle is going to spell it. Incredibly irritating to have to go to the crosses for the vowels. I think the best thing in this grid is METABOLIC RATE and its clue (30A: Burning figure). I am looking side-eyed at NAPAS, which feels like a non-term (6D: Certain California wines). NAPA is a region, not a grape. I'd buy ZINS or MERLOTS or PINOTS but NAPAS?! NAPAS are cabbages. And that RISE clue, yikes. I had to look it up afterwards:
Rise is the distance from the middle of the crotch seam (right between your legs) to the top of the waistband. It usually ranges from 7 inches to 12 inches. (Primer)
I realize now that I have heard it, but only in the term "low-rise jeans." It's very clear that this puzzle and I just have very different ideas of what "fun" clues look like.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Grace's last name on Will Grace / THU 12-14-17 / 2800 mile river to Laptev Sea / Hero architect in Fountainhead / Potential dragon roll ingredient

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: BURY THE / HATCHET (40D: With 43-Down, make peace ... or what you must do to complete this puzzle?) — the letters "AX" are "buried" underneath the grid (i.e. they extend off the grid—you have to mentally supply them)

Theme answers:
  • NONE OF YOUR BEESW(AX) (3D: "Butt out!")
  • STELLAR / PARALL(AX) (5D: With 45-Down, effect used by astronomers to measure distance)
  • SIT BACK / AND REL(AX) (9D: With 46-Down, chill out)
  • PERSONAL INCOME T(AX) (11D: Everyone's duty?)
Word of the Day: Chuck COLSON (44D: Chuck who was part of the Watergate Seven) —
Charles Wendell "Chuck" Colson (October 16, 1931 – April 21, 2012) was an Evangelical Christian leader who founded Prison Fellowship, Prison Fellowship International, and BreakPoint. He served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. // Once known as President Nixon's "hatchet man," Colson gained notoriety at the height of the Watergate scandal, for being named as one of the Watergate Seven, and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for attempting to defame Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg. In 1974, he served seven months in the federal Maxwell Prison in Alabama as the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges. (wikipedia) (emph. mine!)
• • •

I think the concept here is decent, but I didn't enjoy solving this much at all. This is probably because it relied on several proper nouns I just didn't know: a fictional TV character's last name (?) (ADLER) and Chuck COLSON, who ... yeah, before my time. I have asked for COLSON Whitehead to be the COLSON clue in the past, to no avail. I am never going to remember Chuck COLSON. He's not historically significant enough now. Some "bygone" people can survive their "bygoneness" and some can't. Chuck can't. So the names weren't great and the short stuff was all fussily / vaguely clued. No luck at all at first with TANK, ATON, OAF, FLUB, LYES, SPOT, NEWT, OHSO, etc. I also wrote in LENAPE instead of LAKOTA (stupid "L") (47D: Great Plains tribe), and never heard of STELLAR / PARALL(AX), and wrote in PERSONAL INCOMES (?) before I ever knew what the theme was, and then later forgot it was a themer and was wondering why the hell my SE corner wouldn't come together. Got BURY THE / HATCHET before I got any themer, then figured it out with SIT BACK / AND REL(AX). I enjoyed NONE OF YOUR BEESW(AX), but not much else. Four buried AXes ... OK. It's fine, passable. Not for me, really, but not bad, by any means.


My favorite part of this puzzle was discovering that Chuck COLSON was Nixon's "hatchet man." That is an amazing secret bonus theme-related answer. I also like the unusual grid shape (with its L/R symmetry and that weird isolated bucket of answers hanging in the middle of the grid (LAB MICE on top, TIN on the bottom). But overall this one just left me cold. It's not the puzzle's fault. It certainly met minimal standards for a Thursday. It just didn't amuse or amaze me. Speaking of amusing and amazing, you should really give Paolo Pasco's independent puzzles a try. Get them here (at his puzzle blog, "Grids These Days"). His latest is a model of what a "wacky" theme should be. OK, by now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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