Puppeteer lewis / MON 5-21-18 / 1960s-70s Ford named for Italian city / Popular Cartoon Network programming block

Monday, May 21, 2018

Constructor: Hannah Slovut

Relative difficulty: Easy (2:42)

THEME: baby steps — first words of themers progress from BABY to ... GHOST (!?!?!)

Theme answers:
  • BABY ALBUM (17A: Holder of some precious memories)
  • CHILD PRODIGY (22A: Wunderkind)
  • TEEN VOGUE (30A: Fashion magazine spinoff)
  • ADULT SWIM (41A: Popular Cartoon Network programming block)
  • SENIOR MOMENT (47A: Temporary mental lapse)
  • GHOST TOWN (59A: Place where no one lives anymore)
Word of the Day: Lorena OCHOA (16A: Women's golf star Lorena) —
Lorena Ochoa Reyes (Spanish About this sound [ˈlore'naˈocho'a] ; born 15 November 1981) is a Mexican professional golfer who played on the U.S.-based LPGA Tourfrom 2003 to 2010. She was the top-ranked female golfer in the world for 158 consecutive and total weeks (both are LPGA Tour records), from 23 April 2007 to her retirement in 2 May 2010, at the age of 28 years old. As the first Mexican golfer of either gender to be ranked number one in the world, she is considered the best Mexican golfer and the best Latin American female golfer of all time. Ochoa was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017. (wikipedia)
• • •

Flying high off my fastest time since I started recording them five weeks ago. That kind of success always makes one predisposed to like a puzzle, and ... yeah, I didn't hate this one, so maybe the drug of speed is having its way with me. Well, not the actual drug of speed—not sure what that would do to me. I didn't really notice the theme as I was solving, and I *certainly* didn't notice that I ended up not just in the grave but Risen From It. What the hell is up with that last themer? It was bad enough to have the "senior" answer be the horrible phrase SENIOR MOMENT, a godawful never-say-it-in-my-presence euphemism for just spacing, which honestly I've been doing since forever. I put the crackers in the fridge, like, 2 weeks ago. I'm only 48. Don't SENIOR MOMENT me. Anyway, it's the only life stage here represented by a lapse or weakness, boo. But GHOST, man, what the hell? Why you got me undead? Dang. Were there no good WRAITH or ZOMBIE phrases? VAMPIRE BAT was one letter too long (though you coulda gone BABY ALBUMS plural and made it work). Or, you know, CORPSE POSE, that works too. Not sure if the last themer is trying to be funny or what? It's bizarre. Eerie. But it's Monday and the theme is otherwise kinda dull so bring on the dancing mummies, I guess, sure, why not?

Hardest thing about this puzzle was parsing the longer Downs, specifically PILE IT ON and HOTFOOT IT. The former moreso than the latter. How do you feel about repeated small words like "IT"? Normally I don't mind much, but somehow the fact that "IT" shows up in both of the marquee non-theme long answers up top ... highlights the duplication more. If the second "IT" phrase had been GOT IT, and that answer had been buried somewhere near the bottom of the grid, I probably wouldn't even have noticed the duplication. Besides those longer Downs, the only answers that gave me pause were TORINO (29A: 1960s-'70s Ford named for an Italian city)—I had TURINO ... because the city is Turin, and also there's a video game series called Gran Turismo ... which I don't play, but I must know the name somehow. Anyhow, the "U" thing messed me up, which then made LOG weird (23D: Item in a grate). I also had trouble with NO MSG (12D: Request to a waiter), since the type of restaurant where one might actually say that phrase was inconveniently left out of the clue. I had the "G" first couldn't think of any words that would work. I got ROOD easily, but only because I'm a medievalist who teaches a poem called "The Dream of the ROOD" on a regular basis. Seems hardish for normals. Crosswordese all up and down this thing (NE and SW corners particularly stuffed). Haven't seen AIWA in forever, perhaps because it now requires the word "Onetime" in its clue. So let's just say kinda stale but mostly solid, with a final themer that, love it or hate it, at least takes the puzzle out of the realm of the mundane.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Unnamed character in Camus's Stranger / SUN 5-20-18 / Filth covering pecans such / Mozart's Don Alfonso Leporello / Scottish accents / Backyard shindig informally

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Medium (?) (I've been drinking a little) (12:25)

THEME: "Rhymes, Schmymes"— two-word phrases where second word just replaces opening sounds of first word with SCHM-

Theme answers:
  • BOOZE SCHMOOZE (23A: Conversation over a few whiskeys?)
  • NUTS SCHMUTZ (38A: Filth covering pecans and such?)
  • DEER SCHMEAR (50A: Venison spread?)
  • NO SCHMO (67A: Hardly a dolt?)
  • DUCK SCHMUCK (83A: Avoid a jerk?)
  • QUIT SCHMIDT (90A: Break up with an "unbreakable" Ellie Kemper character?)
  • HALTS SCHMALTZ (111A: Puts a stop to sentimentality?)
Word of the Day: "The Island of Dr. MOREAU" (64D: H. G. Wells villain) —
The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells. The text of the novel is the narration of Edward Prendick, a shipwrecked man rescued by a passing boat who is left on the island home of Doctor Moreau, a mad scientist who creates human-like hybrid beings from animals via vivisection. The novel deals with a number of philosophical themes, including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature. Wells described it as "an exercise in youthful blasphemy".
The Island of Doctor Moreau is a classic of early science fiction and remains one of Wells's best-known books. The novel is the earliest depiction of the science fiction motif "uplift" in which a more advanced race intervenes in the evolution of an animal species in order to bring the latter to a higher level of intelligence. It has been adapted to film and other media on many occasions. (wikipedia)
• • •

Theme is pretty dang simple—you just have to take all the SCHM- words you can think of and work backwards. But that doesn't mean it wasn't at least mildly entertaining. It was. And it was also easy—very easy—to figure out theme answers. The puzzle-makers must have understood this and adjusted the rest of the puzzle accordingly, because OMG I was struggling to figure things out all over the place. Hardly any of this grid doesn't have ink on it (I print out and mark up the areas where I have difficulty or criticism). Let's start with 1A: Picnic annoyance (BUG BITE). That could've gone a thousand ways, and I needed most of the crosses to see it. I feel like some version of this (clue vague, crosses desperately needed) kept happening over and over and over. 70A: Virus fighters (TECHIES) (!?!?!)—I get that computers can have viruses and TECHIES (among infinite other things they do) might work to clear a computer of viruses, but yikes that connection was tenuous. 75A: Buds come in them (SIX PACKS)! Clever, but oy so much cross-needing. 33D: Dusted off, say (TIDY)! Oh, so it's not a verb, then? Thanks. BASE PAIR, hard (100A: DNA building block). SNIGLET, hard (and wtf pretending that it's an ordinary slang word as opposed to a slang word specifically created by Rich Hall specifically and solely for comedic gags invented by him and not seen or heard since the '80s) (114A: Term for a word that isn't [in] the dictionary, but maybe should be). I honestly felt like I was flying through this thing, but my time says "nope, average at best." Does alcohol make you overestimate your prowess. That might be what's going on here. The Manhattan I had with dinner is still working its magic...

One of the toughest areas for me was the intersection of 10D: Be a witness (LOOK ... ON?) and 31A: Moreover (TOO). When LOOK AT wouldn't work, other options all sounded wrong and seemed improbably. And "Moreover" means more (to me) than a simple too. Also, I would only use "Moreover" and the beginning of a sentence, where I would never use TOO. And then OOZE OUT ... I guess the OUT was the only thing that could work there, but that also too moreover was strange, somehow. Hey, NUTS SCHMUTZ doesn't rhyme, booooooo! SCROD is supposed to be a jokey past tense of SCREW? I don't get that at all. I mean, I am all for the insane joke clue, but ... what is the analogue here? All the -EW verbs I can think of are already past tense (e.g. DREW, FLEW, KNEW). SPEW SPOD? Nope. Seriously wtf are they thinking here? SCREWED ... is what sounds like the past tense of SCREW. What -OD past tense is there besides TROD? Whatever, this "joke" makes no sense. I like ambition, but the execution is a flop.

Best wrong answer today, by which I mean Worst wrong answer because it was both ridiculous and costly, is MR. HYDE for MOREAU (64D: H. G. Wells villain). DR. MOREAU woulda been nicer. Aren't BASSOS really BASSI? Yes, the answer is yes. Again, I ask, wtf? OK, though you probably can't tell, I thought this puzzle was better than your average NYT Sunday—it's a garbage day, so it's a low bar, but a thumbs up is a thumbs up so take it. Good day.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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