Jermaine of NBA / SUN 4-20-14 / Financial writer Marshall / Chaim 1971 Best Actor nominee / ESPN broadcaster Bob / Artist's alias with accent / Fine hosiery material / Renault model with mythological name / Best-selling novelist whom Time called Bard of litigious age

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: "On Wheels" — theme answers contain words that are also car models. Underneath each model name are two "wheels," represented by circled "O"s

Theme answers:
  • CIVIC PRIDE
  • HORN SONATA
  • MUSTANG SALLY
  • BARBER OF SEVILLE
  • SAN DIEGO CHARGER
  • BEETLE BAILEY
  • OPTIMA CARD
  • C.S. FORESTER
Word of the Day: Chaim TOPOL (95D: Chaim ___, 1971 Best Actor nominee) —
Chaim Topol (Hebrewחיים טופול‎; born September 9, 1935), often billed simply as Topol, is an Israelitheatrical and film performer, singer, actor, writer and producer. He has been nominated for an Oscar and a Tony Award, and has won two Golden Globes. […] 
Some of Topol's other notable film appearances were the title role in Galileo (1975), Dr. Hans Zarkov in Flash Gordon (1980), and as Milos Columbo in theJames Bond movie For Your Eyes Only (1981). (wikipedia)
• • •

Did not find this as scintillating as I normally find Liz Gorski puzzles. It's just models of cars, with the added, small detail of the "tires" underneath each model name. I like that a circled "O" makes a nice approximation of an actual tire shape. Beyond that, the puzzle was just average. Also, exceedingly easy. Was done in under 9, which crazy fast for me, for a Sunday. True, I did have to chase down two errors, but they were slight—I'd written in STA for STN (12D: Common newsstand locale: Abbr.), and never corrected it when the crossing answer eventually turned into the probably-nonsensical HORA SONATA. Also, I'd written in ROMA, which seemed very reasonable, at 78D: "La Dolce Vita" setting (ROME). This left me with BEATLE BAILEY, which looks Just Fine to my eye. Thanks, Beatles, for making that spelling seem reasonable. Speaking of BEETLE BAILEY, that clue (93A: Walker's strip) was wicked hard, especially compared to the softballs that dominate the rest of the clue list. I needed nearly every cross before the answer became evident. Actually, I don't think it ever became evident—not until I'd finished and went back and looked at the puzzle, anyway. Clever clue, good clue, but jarring clue in comparison to all the rest.


Ah, I just got 96D: City that sounds like a humdinger? (BUTTE). My sister likes to tell the story of the time she and her family went on a road trip and the GPS had pronunciation problems—it kept telling them that they were nearing "Crested Butt." She had (still has) young boys, so as you can imagine, hilarity ensued. This is just to explain why now, when I see BUTTE, I think "butt" and not "beaut!" One other answer that gave me an odd lot of trouble was BRING (54D: Give rise to). That clue was not helping at all. I see now, that April showers BRING May flowers, so it works, but I had -RING and still wasn't really sure what the answer was. Weird.


Puzzle of the Week this week was not close. There were some very good puzzles. A Peter Gordon themeless (Fireball Crosswords) with interlocking pairs of 15s that puts All 15-Stack Puzzles To Shame (read about it here). A beautiful Doug Peterson themeless (Washington Post Puzzler, 4/13) that's fresh and slangy while still being clean and accessible (get it here—make sure you choose 4/13) (read about it here). Another Doug Peterson puzzle—this one co-authored with Joon Pahk ("Party Lines" / Chronicle of Higher Ed., 4/18)—that features ridiculous but truly funny puns (get it here) (read about it here). And a Ben Tausig puzzle ("Odds and Evens") that made me laugh repeatedly with its alternate ways of reading the theme answers (get it here) (read about it here). But the clear winner was this week's American Values Club contest puzzle by Francis Heaney, entitled "Flight Path" (4/16) (get it here for a dollar, or just subscribe to American Values Club Crosswords already. Geez). "The grid below represents a prison, from which you must escape"—that's the opening line of the puzzle's explanatory note. While not terribly hard (it's listed as a 4.5/5 difficulty level, but I'd put it more around 3), it is truly elegantly constructed, and even after I figured out what the general trick was, it was still a great pleasure to watch the solution fall into place. Francis made my favorite puzzle of 2013—another American Values Club contest puzzle called "Seasonal Staff" (read about it here). He's setting the bar for contest puzzles, and puzzles in general, really, really high.


Speaking of contest puzzles, still lots of time to get in on Patrick Blindauer's "Xword University" puzzle suite. He blurbs it better than I could:
Ever wanted to earn your Honorary Bachelor's Degree in Enigmatology? Well, now you can. Patrick Blindauer's 5th Puzzlefest, "Xword University," has a collegiate theme and is available now at patrickblindauer.com. It consists of a dozen crosswords, each of which leads to an answer. Combine all of your answers to solve the meta-puzzle, and email the correct answer to be eligible for the random drawing of puzzle books. (Contest ends at 11:30 ET on April 27 but XU will remain open indefinitely.) For only $15 you'll be guaranteed admission and will receive an invitation to Patrick's College Puzzlefest Google Group where you can access the PDF of puzzles. 
Patrick's puzzles are reliably great, so you should probably enroll now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Principal port of Syria / SAT 4-19-14 / Mezzo-soprano Regina / Big Chicago-based franchiser / Either of two holy emperors

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Constructor: Stu Ockman

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none

Word of the Day: HAME (51A: Part of a plowing harness) —
n.
One of the two curved wooden or metal pieces of a harness that fits around the neck of a draft animal and to which the traces are attached.

[Middle English, from Middle Dutch; see tkei- in Indo-European roots.] (thefreedictionary.com)
• • •

I guess the way you make these things more palatable is by making them easy. This is a perfectly ordinary, perfectly forgettable 15-stack puzzle. None of the 15s, except perhaps THE GOBLET OF FIRE, holds any real interest, and even that one is at least technically inaccurate, since ever installment of both the book and movie "series" begins "Harry Potter and …" But since it's the only thing I really enjoyed today, I'll let that slide. There is pretty heavy reliance on unusual / obscure words / names. RESNIK is new to me (last letter in the grid was that "S") (46D: Mezzo-soprano Regina). What the hell is a HAME?!?! (51A: Part of a plowing harness) Yeesh. Greta SCACCHI I managed to dredge up from somewhere, but lord knows where (35D: Greta of "The Red Violin") (What is "The Red Violin"? Nevermind; I'll google it) . Then there's the truly terrible crossing of LATAKIA and KENAI (26A: Alaska's ___ Fjords National Park). I just guessed. Must've seen KENAI somewhere before, 'cause I guessed right, but I know I've never seen or heard of LATAKIA. Once Again, cluing here involves all the creativity of reading the first line of a wikipedia entry (very first words of that entry: "Latakia […] is the principal port city of Syria […]"). And of course it's misleading, as "principal" makes you think "I should've heard of this," while in reality, LATAKIA is just Syria's 5th largest city, behind Aleppo, Damascus, Homs and Hama (only three of which you've heard of, and only two of which you'd heard of before the atrocities started there). As for KENAI (26A: Alaska's ___ Fjords National Park)  … I think my reasoning was "DENALI ends in 'I', so try that." because otherwise I honestly don't know.


Finished in under 8, and that's *with* taking a break to see if I guessed LATAKIA correctly. Also, I would've been faster if I'd been able to recall MIA SARA's name (40D: Actress in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off")—that should've been a gimme; I know damn well who she is. That movie is a Gen-X sweet spot, and I'm ashamed to have failed to ace this clue. I blame, in part, MIA HAMM. Also couldn't call up SNCC (35A: March on Washington grp.)—hmmm, I think I was confusing it with something else, something with "Christian" and "Southern" in the name, because I don't recall ever hearing of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (despite having written SNCC into grids before). Aha! Southern Christian Leadership Conference. That's what I was thinking of. Phew. I feel mildly better now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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