Sonnet-ending unit / FRI 4-29-16 / Slangy true no / Questel who voiced Olive Oyl / Onetime motel come-on / Old radio dummy / Result of holding hooking / Shot from behind arc informally

Friday, April 29, 2016

Constructor: Andrew Kingsley

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MAE Questel (6D: Questel who voiced Olive Oyl) —
Mae Questel (pronounced ques-TELL; September 13, 1908 – January 4, 1998) was an American actress and vocal artist best known for providing the voices for the animated characters Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. She began in vaudeville, and played occasional small roles in films and television later in her career, most notably the role of Aunt Bethany in 1989's National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. (wikipedia)
• • •

Super easy, a little rough around the edges, but mostly entertaining. Just when it seemed in danger of sinking into tiresome territory, it would zag back to something unexpected or modern, fresh or lively. A real yo-yo rollercoaster elevator, this one. One minute I'm down with EDIE and ACADIA, then up with VALUE MENU and ICY STARES, then down with oldey-timey MAE and SNERD, then up with GOOD TIME SLAM POETRY. Ugsome ARME and ETERNE get made up for with VIRUS SCAN and "THE RAVEN" (58A: 72 of its 108 lines end in "-ore" sounds). Less than great fill like SUP and TREY at least get nice modern clues. Ultimately, I'm FOR this one—but what is with the easiness. The EASE! I broke 5 minutes last week, and I nearly broke it again this week, despite what felt like a very slow start in the NW (FOUR A.M. really loused me up at 1A: Graveyard hour), and despite not really having my speed-solving hat on. Longer answers like JET BLACK, ICY STARES, and LATIN LOVER came together with just one or two letters in place. I got FINLAND off just the "F" (40D: First country in the world with universal suffrage (1906)). I know I'm asking for trouble when I say this, but More Teeth, please. I need late-week puzzles to put up something of a fight.

OMSK OREL and OREM are all located in the same room in my brain, and I couldn't figure out which one I needed for a while today at 30A: City on the Oka River. OREM is in Utah, so I mostly ruled that out (though I wouldn't have been stunned if it had turned out that Utah had an Oka River). OMSK was contradicted by crosses, so ... OREL. I thought COMER was COMET (13D: Star on the horizon?). I imagined a scenario like this—Person 1: "Is that a star on the horizon?" Person 2: "No, it's a COMET." End scene. Cool that POETRY intersects "THE RAVEN" (*and* contains the letter string "POE"). The toughest clue to parse was 48A: Answering to (UNDER). I'm still not sure I can find a good example of how those can substitute for one another, but I assume ... oh, no, wait, I just got it. Of course. You answer to your boss. You're UNDER your boss. Figuratively. Probably just figuratively. I was thinking it had something to do with going UNDER a different name, answering to a different name. But no, that's absurd. The boss thing is right. LMAO. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Just remembered that my friend Laura wrote me earlier in the week telling me that this Friday's puzzle was going to be a debut by one of her students at Dartmouth. She was like "be kind" and I was like "You're Not The Boss Of Me!" So happy that I totally forgot about that exchange until just this second, as it had no bearing on the write-up whatsoever. Also happy that this crossword debut is so promising.

P.P.S. One of my readers (Amy Gaidis) just reminded me of something that I really really should've remembered (since I'm married to a Kiwi—and one with a Ph.D. in women's history no less). Per wikipedia: "In 1893 New Zealand became the first nation in the world (bar the short-lived 18th century Corsican Republic) to grant universal, male and female adult suffrage." So ... I don't know how that FINLAND clue (40D: First country in the world with universal suffrage (1906)) isn't wrong.

P.P.P.S. Now another reader tells me that New Zealand was not yet a "country" in 1893. It did not become a "country" (actually, a "dominion"), as opposed to a colony, until 1907. This seems phenomenally nitpicky if it's the alleged factual basis for claiming that FINLAND was first. Hey, wait ... FINLAND doesn't even become independent until 1917 (!?!?). So ... I'm sticking by "This Clue Is Wrong." Point, NZ.

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Daughter of Loki / 4-28-16 / Contemporary of Wordsworth Coleridge / Extinct creature with armored spikes on its back / Nascar stat for short / Rappeller's need / Goldfinger's first name

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Constructor: Kurt Krauss

Relative difficulty: Challenging (mainly because of having to remember exactly how the gimmick works, not because of Inherent difficulty)

THEME: compass directions —Downs run North in the North, South in the South; Acrosses run West in the West, East in the East. Words extending from the center (which is supposed to house a compass rose, the note tells me) start with the relevant words:

Theme answers:
  • NORTHER (which has the direction meaning of "north" in it)
  • EASTMAN (which doesn't)
  • WEST END (which has the direction meaning of "west" in it)
  • SOUTHEY (which doesn't) 
Word of the Day: SOUTHEY (43D: Contemporary of Wordsworth and Coleridge) —
Robert Southey (/ˈsði/ or /ˈsʌði/; August 12, 1774 in Bristol – March 21, 1843 in London) was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the so-called "Lake Poets", and Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death in 1843. Although his fame has long been eclipsed by that of his contemporaries and friends William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Southey's verse still enjoys some popularity. (wikipedia)
• • •

I've seen this type of gimmick before, for sure. I'm quite sure that I've solved a puzzle that had a compass rose at its center before. And I know I've done puzzles were the answers appear to go backwards. The question is... why? What's the hook? Where's the fun? Here, there is none. I mean, yes, there's the NEWS thing (north east south west, I mean), but even that is slightly botched. You should bury your direction words in non-direction answers, or (less good but still acceptable) make them all direction answers. This grid, however, decides to split the difference. I say "decides" as if anyone was even thinking about this issue, which clearly they weren't. Filling this one grid was an unpleasant experience. Gimmick was obvious early, and then there was just this slog... because once you see that the answers run the "wrong" way half the time, all you're left with is a not-very-well-filled grid. There's no reason backwardsness alone should cause you to put PES and SCH and SATRAP and ADE into one little corner of the grid. Baffling. This lack of polish, or, rather, this reliance on Whatever Works without any care to make it Better, pervades the whole grid. It's choked with ARIL ELOI EFT AURIC SENAT HEL (?!) ELEM NOT I, and there's nothing to mitigate that onslaught. There's just this 1/2 backwards gimmick, which is not so much challenging as it is tedious. Even the clues don't look like they're really trying—mostly one-worders or straight trivia. Come on, man.

Do people know SOUTHEY? I have an English Ph.D. and I took a Romantic Poetry course in college and I've never read him and have barely heard of him. He's totally acceptable as a crossword answer, but he seemed very much like a familiarity outlier today. I wish I liked *something* about this grid, but I don't. SALIVATE and ERGONOMIC are fine answers, but they're not scintillating, and this puzzle really really needs some scintillating to pull itself out of the quicksand of crosswordese and tedium that makes up the rest of the grid.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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