U-shaped bone above larynx / SUN 4-26-15 / Racoonlike animal / Worrier's farewell / Mother of Levi Judah / Relative of Cerulean / Viola's love in Twelfth night / WWII Dambusters for short / Franz's partner in old SNL sketches

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Which is Wish" — Wacky "ch"-to-"sh" sound changes:

Theme answers:
  • LAST DISH EFFORT (23A: Valiant attempt to finish off a seven-course meal?)
  • LAWN SHARES (30A: What an investor in golf courses might buy?)
  • SHEEP THRILLS (36A: Grazing in a meadow and jumping fences, for two?)
  • YOU BETTER WASH OUT (48A: "Be sure to lose!"?)
  • MIX AND MASH (64A: Two blender settings?)
  • KARATE SHOP (68A: Dojo Mart, e.g.?)
  • MUSH TO MY SURPRISE (82A: What I unexpectedly  had for breakfast?)
  • MARSH MADNESS (92A: Swamp fever?)
  • POKER SHIPS (100A: Floating casinos?)
  • SHEAF INSPECTOR (112A: Reviewer of the paperwork?)
Word of the Day: HYOID (57A: ___ bone (U-shaped bone above the larynx)) —
The hyoid bone (lingual bone) (/ˈhɔɪd/; Latin os hyoideum) is a horseshoe-shaped bonesituated in the anterior midline of the neck between the chin and the thyroid cartilage. At rest, it lies at the level of the base of the mandible in the front and the third cervical vertebra (C3) behind.
Unlike other bones, the hyoid is only distantly articulated to other bones by muscles or ligaments. The hyoid is anchored by muscles from the anterior, posterior and inferior directions, and aids in tongue movement and swallowing. The hyoid bone provides attachment to the muscles of the floor of the mouth and the tongue above, the larynx below, and the epiglottis and pharynx behind.
Its name is derived from Greek hyoeides, meaning "shaped like the letter upsilon (υ)". (wikipedia)
• • •

After my last two less-than-stellar outings, I came into this one itching for a fight, but … this thing is a pussycat. It's cute and has no fight in it at all. While this was probably simpler and more easily solvable than I like my Sundays to be, sometimes I think you gotta lower the bar and give up-and-comers and neophytes a taste of Sunday success. This puzzle seems designed for just that purpose. Theme couldn't be much simpler, conceptually, and the fill is virtually without obscurity—smooth in a way that is completely characteristic of Patrick Berry grids. Would've been nice if the theme answers / and clues had been funnier, or at least zanier, on the whole. The whole set got just two mid-solve smiles out of me—a little one for SHEEP THRILLS (the incongruity here is great … if you've ever been around sheep, the idea that anything "thrills" them is pretty hilarious), and a big one for the big winner of the day: MUSH, TO MY SURPRISE. That's the kind of bizarre, nutso answer that can make an easy, straightforward puzzle tolerable and even enjoyable to solvers who generally like their puzzles tougher. In general, I kept wanting the theme clues to Go Bigger, Bolder, Weirder. You could've done more gruesome stuff with MARSH MADNESS than simply 92A: Swamp fever? (though as two-word clues go, that's a good one).

Only struggle for me today was in and around HYOID, which I either didn't know or forgot. Vague cluing on KEYCASES (45D: Ring alternatives), as well as my not really knowing what KEYCASES are (except, you know, by retrospective inference), made that center area rocky, at least for a bit. I misspelled SAGAL, as per usual, and I took some time to solve the KEA / LOA issue (side note: the KEA / LOA issue is my least favorite cluing conundrum of all time … write in "A" in third position and check crosses … zzzz). Oh, also had to work a bit for 49D: Worrier's farewell (BE SAFE), both because I couldn't understand the connection between the two words in the clue, and because I had UTEP for UTES (61A: Pac-12 team) (not a fun hole to fall into), and therefore had BEPA-- sitting there. Note: UTEP is in Conference USA … maybe I'll remember that next time. I put in ILSA for INGA (76D: "Young Frankenstein" character) and MASS (?) for MENU (67D: Preprandial reading), but otherwise, no trouble. I burned the whole SE half of the puzzle to the ground  so fast I thought I might've beat my Sunday record. No. Not close. But still easy.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. What is up with the title? Is that … what is that? Usually there's some play on words or joke or something. I see the CH-to-SH change, but that phrase is meaningless and without clear referent.

    P.P.S. SHE'S DANISH … missed opportunity right there.

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    Leader in electronic music with multiple grammys / SAT 4-25-15 / Bonus round freebies on Wheel of Fortune / Beacon of wise per Shakespeare / Notable features of David Foster Wallace books / Brand name with 2/3 capital letters in its logo / Group with motto self above service / 17-time all-star of 1960s-80s

    Saturday, April 25, 2015

    Constructor: James Mulhern

    Relative difficulty: Challenging

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: György LIGETI (62A: Composer György whose music was featured in Kubrick films) —
    György Sándor Ligeti (HungarianLigeti György Sándor [ˈliɡɛti ˈɟørɟ ˈʃaːndor]; 28 May 1923 – 12 June 2006) was a composer of contemporary classical music. He has been described as "one of the most important avant-garde composers in the latter half of the twentieth century" and "one of the most innovative and influential among progressive figures of his time".
    Born in TransylvaniaRomania, he lived in Hungary before emigrating and becoming an Austrian citizen. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Very hard, but a weird kind of hard. The kind of hard that was mostly easy but then dead-stop. Then medium and then Dead-Stop 2: The Revenge. The dead-stops came, not surprisingly, in the dead-end alleys in the NE and SW. Those were like completely separate, self-contained, wholly different experiences from the broad swath of puzzle from NW to SE. Just brutal. And things started out so well. Here's what my puzzle looked like just 5 seconds in:

    OK, yes, it's SKRILLEX, not SKRILLAX (1A: Leader in electronic music with multiple Grammys), but the fact that I was 87.5% right on that answer right out of the gate meant that I had traction galore. I figured this would just be one of those days where the constructor and I were on the same pop culture wavelength, and I would sea voyage to victory. This was before I enter chamber of horrors 1: the NE. I had the bottom part of that section from STRATEGO and SAME-SEX, but DFW clue (12D: Notable features of David Foster Wallace books) meant nothing to me and -AGE was zero help with 'ROID RAGE and … something BOX. I wanted SMALL. I then wanted SWEAT, but couldn't convince myself that was a thing, or a metaphor based on a thing. But the real super duper horrible problem for me up there was the horrible quicksand I fell into with a pair of wrong answers: LODGES for 9A: Elks and others (ORDERS) and LOP for 9D: Cockeyed (OFF). Yes, it's ALOP (if it's anything). I see that now. But it *really* felt right. So I sat a long time. Keep in mind that LODGES got me the "D" for DROOP, which only hardened my commitment to LODGES. Gah. Finally tore everything out and tried END NOTES for the DFW clue. From there, I brought back SWEAT BOX and everything worked out. Sigh.

    Back to the fun middle! Sailed almost too easily around the bend in the SE and over to the entrance to the SW corner, which, like the NE, didn't want to let me in. Here, I have to quibble with the clues on the gateway answers (i.e. those Acrosses across the top of the SW section). [Space racers] is screaming for a "?" The U.S. and the SOVIETS were indeed involved in a Space Race, but no one in the world, let alone outer space, would call either party a "racer." Come on. That's nuts. And bananas. Banana nut bread, that is, without the deliciousness. And then "CHOCOLAT" (42A: 2000 film set in France that was nominated for five Academy Awards) … oh, actually "CHOCOLAT" is fair. Arcane, to me, but fair. It's the clue on ATLAS that irked me—34D: Global superpower? How? I get that it contains maps, which makes it kin to a globe, but what is this "superpower" of which you speak? It's a big book. It can't fly and doesn't have heat vision. In fact, it has no powers, beyond the powers that any books have. "?" is not saving that one [Ed.: Whoops. My bad. It's ATLAS the guy mythologically holding the "globe" on his back … clue is fine, brain is not. Carry on].

    Even after I got the top part of the SW: trouble. If it hadn't been for the outright gimmes of AYN (45A: First name in Objectivism) and VONNEGUT (39D: Author who created the fatalistic optometrist Billy Pilgrim), I'd never have finished. Even with them: trouble. A bygone Secretary of Energy? A bygone movie music composer? A SCAPULAR?! And AD UNIT? Nixon memoir? I really wish the payoffs had been stronger in these tough spots. Instead of the exhilaration I felt early on, I ended up feeling exhausted. It was also unfortunate to finish up in the weakest part of the grid (which wasn't terribly weak, but still—no joy but VONNEGUT down there). I love the buzz and energy (and relative cleanness) of most of this puzzle, but ultimately found it slightly too proper-noun heavy overall. Still, it's only truly faulty in the SW. There are different kinds of hard. NE was Hard-Good. SW, Hard-Mean.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. Should "notable" be in the clue for an answer that contains the word "NOTES?"

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