Actor Turner of Hobbit / THU 2-23-17 / rose English heraldic emblem / Cohen who cofounded ice cream companyDomain of Horus / Home of all-vowel-named town Aiea / Toiletry brand whose TV ads once featured Supremes /

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Eeeeeeeasy

THEME: Number madness — asterisked clues have answers that don't seem right—they're actual phrases, but the first word (a number in every case) doesn't fit the clue, and stands where the "correct" word should be. Turns out that the number corresponds to the numbered square in the grid where you will find the "correct" word.

Theme answers:
  • THIRTY ROCK (3D: *1970s fad item) (30D = PET)
  • TEN PINS (28A: *Bulletin board fasteners) (10D = PUSH)
  • FORTY WINKS (9D: *Pulls a fast one on) (40A = HOOD)
  • TWENTY QUESTIONS (62A: *"Which weighs more — a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?" and others) (20A = TRICK)  
Word of the Day: porte cochère (43A: Establishments that often have porte cochères => INNS) —
noun: porte cochère; plural noun: portes cochères
  1. a covered entrance large enough for vehicles to pass through, typically opening into a courtyard.
    • North American
      a porch where vehicles stop to discharge passengers.
• • •

Hey, this is a nifty theme. I just wish it had been about 3x harder—maybe then I'd've been forced to figure out what the hell the theme even was. This thing was so easy that despite my having no idea what, exactly, was going on with the numbers-replacing-words gimmick, I finished in the low 4s, which is a sizzling Thursday time for me. There's just no resistance anywhere, and there needs to be for the theme to have any real in-game implications. Discovering the theme after all is said and done does not make for a great aha moment. But again, from a conceptual standpoint, as well as a purely architectural standpoint, this crossword is good. Clever and ambitious, with a grid that is very clean, especially considering the constraints of the theme (which are considerable). It must've been interesting to construct. Before the grid is constructed, the long themers all have lots of possibilities where the replaced word is concerned; that is, the THIRTY in THIRTY ROCK could in theory have pointed to any answer at 30D (or 30A, depending on how you made the grid) that fit the "___ rock" pattern. Here, it's PET, but in some alternate universe puzzle it could've been KID or ACID or whatever. Lots of options also for "___ pins." Fewer for "___winks" and "___ questions." Anyway, looks like it would've been challenging (and fun) to make.

OK, well, um, I don't remember anything about solving this, honestly. Hardest part for me to get into, and the place where I wrapped things up, was the west. Just couldn't back into ARRID from the clue (35A: Toiletry brand whose TV ads once featured the Supremes), and SKY was not at all what I had in mind for Horus (I kept thinking "TIME" ... but ... I guess not) (26A: Domain of Horus, in Egyptian myth). If I hadn't had the "Z" from ZELDA, ITZA might've been tough. If I hadn't had the "Q" from QUESTIONS, NIQAB might've been tough. But in both cases, I did and they weren't. PAEAN was hard. I kept wanting PSALM (52D: Song that might have hosannas). But virtually everything else was wicked easy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Episode 002 of "On the Grid," the crossword podcast I do with Lena Webb, is now available. And we're on iTunes now! Check it out.

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Actress form mixed martial arts champion Carano / WED 2-22-27 / Puccini title heroine / Portmanteau in 2016 world news

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Constructor: Kyle Dolan

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: familiar phrases clued as word ladders — clues are "rungs" on a word ladder leading from first word in themer TO final word in themer:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: GINA Carano (1A: Actress and former mixed martial arts champion Carano) —
Gina Joy Carano (born April 16, 1982) is an American actress, television personality, fitness model, and former mixed martial artist. [...] Outside the ring, Carano performed as Crush in the revamped 2008 television series American Gladiators. Carano has pursued a career in acting since she retired from competition. Her film debut was in Steven Soderbergh's 2011 action film Haywire, and she is currently best known for her roles in Fast & Furious 6 (2013) and Deadpool (2016). (wikipedia)
• • •

OK, so word ladders are the last refuge of a crossword scoundrel. Just a terrible idea, in general. But I will give this puzzle credit for taking the typical, tired crossword word ladder (where 1A changes to a new word, over the course of many subsequent Across answers, one letter at a time, until you get to the destination word at the final Across, ugh) and doing something new with it, i.e. putting it in the clues and not in the damn grid (where all it does is take up space and reek of awfulness). And though the theme is not scintillating, the grid is not bad, and the clues put up a reasonable fight in several places, so this one gets a marginal pass from me (though it may be benefiting by comparison to the recent string of subpar puzzles). There are probably a lot of other phrases that one might've used in a puzzle like this. "LIVE TO TELL." ROAD TO HELL. CALL TO ARMS. GONE TO SEED. Etc. But these are the ones that were used. Arbitrary, but such is life. Can't you go straight through TMEN to get from AMEN TO THAT? If you're gonna allow OPED (I assume that's OP-ED and not OPED as in some "poetic" form of "opened") then you should allow TMEN, and then it's just three steps: AMEN ... TMEN THEN THAN ... THAT.

I finished in a pretty normal Wednesday time (low 4s), but felt like I struggled a lot. Always hurts when 1A is a total mystery, and I blanked on GINA Carano. Turns out (after googling her) I know (vaguely) who she is. But between not knowing her and the vagueness of 4D: Hordes (ARMIES), I flailed a bit up there. Flailed again in the east with both LIMBO (tenuously clued as 33D: Gray area) and FLINT (I can see why it would be useful to *some* campers ... but not most) (34D: Camper's tool). Worst struggles came at the end, though, all along the mysterious REPORT CARD (30D: Progress indicator, of a sort). [___ department] and it's REC!? A cellphone replaces a CLOCK!?!?! Are you sure you don't mean "watch"? CLOCK? I don't carry a CLOCK around with me. And then I couldn't remember where Matt Damon was stranded in a 2015 film. Oh, and CEO as the answer to 44D: Board hiree, for short, was never coming. I had no idea what kind of "board" was at issue (condo board?) so CEO never occurred to me until it was filled in from crosses. Nothing stood out as great today (I feel like I've already seen BREXIT too much for it to be special anymore). But it was OK. Fine. Tolerable. That is, better than most every puzzle from the past week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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