French network / THU 10-19-17 / One of billions in puffball / Sch backer

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Constructor: Ned White

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: HEAD OVER HEELS (39A: **One way to fall in love ... or a hint to the answers to the starred clues) — Two stacks of [Honcho] (i.e. a "head") over [Louse] (i.e. a "heel"), and then a [Honcho] over HEELS and a HEAD over [Louse] toward the middle of the grid (hence the "**" on the revealer ... I think)

Theme answers:
  • NUMERO UNO over SCOUNDREL
  • TOP BANANA over NO-GOODNIK
  • BIG WHEEL over "HEELS" 
  • "HEAD" over DIRTY RAT 
Word of the Day: LUSAKA (50D: Zambia's capital) —
Lusaka is the capital and largest city of Zambia. One of the fastest developing cities in southern Africa, Lusaka is in the southern part of the central plateau at an elevation of about 1,279 metres (4,196 ft). As of 2010, the city's population was about 1.7 million, while the urban population is 2.4 million. Lusaka is the centre of both commerce and government in Zambia and connects to the country's four main highways heading north, south, east and west. English is the official language of the city, but Nyanja and Bemba are also common. (wikipedia)
• • •

Getting a late start tonight, and have to get up early tomorrow, so I'll keep this brief. The theme is cute—the center is weird because the HEAD and HEELS are literal there, whereas up top and down below they are a [Honcho] or a [Louse], respectively. The two asterisks on the revealer clue are more bizarre than helpful. Also, aren't the stacks in the NW and SE really "HEAD OVER HEEL," singular? If this theme were done perfectly, then the various [Louse]s would be in plural form, giving you actual singular "head"s over plural "heels." The more I look at this thing, the wobblier it gets, so maybe I'll just stop looking.


The fill is really pretty bad. I've scrawled a list of the crosswordese on my printed-out copy of the finished grid, and I stopped at about twenty entries—the scrawl starts in the margin above SASHA and then continues unbroken, clockwise, all the way down to the margin outside OBLIGES. I started with RUDI and stopped at O-TYPE and you're just going to have to take my word for it that there are lots of answers in between. Speaking of O-TYPE, yuck. Here's a tweet about it, from a pediatrician.



RUES x/w VUE is NOTOK. I didn't have much trouble with this, except for a little bit in the SW, where I didn't know LUSAKA (my bad) and the whole STOPGO / SHOT thing was hard for me to figure out. I was lucky enough to pull NOGOODNIK out of thin air—no crosses; just tried it and it worked. I can see someone getting destroyed by the TOPOL / LUSAKA crossing. I certainly wouldn't have any idea about TOPOL if it weren't for crosswords, and we've already established that I didn't know LUSAKA, and if you don't know either, then that "L," well ... good luck! OK, I'm done. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Nanki-poo's pursuer in Mikado / WED 10-18-17 / Nine-time baseball All-Star nicknamed Cuban Comet / Painting on dry plaster / Lure with phony online persona / Pioneering botanist

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Constructor: John Lithgow and Brendan Emmett Quigley

Relative difficulty: Challenging (those names...)


THEME: theater terms, reimagined — terms familiar from the theater are clued as if they were not ... from the theater:

Theme answers:
  • CURTAIN CALL (17A: Decision to go with drapes instead of blinds?)
  • CAST PARTY (10D: Fly fisherman?)
  • STAGE LEFT (33D: Why one missed the coach?)
  • SUMMER STOCK (55A: Accountant's shares in a company?) 
Word of the Day: SECCO (48D: Painting on dry plaster) —
noun
noun: secco; noun: fresco secco
  1. the technique of painting on dry plaster with pigments mixed in water. (Google)
• • •

Wow, ouch. Theme concept / quality, fine, but the cluing got tough, and the names in this grid, help me Rhonda! Brutal. I'm mad at myself for totally blanking on Minnie MIÑOSO (Manny Mota and Sal Mineo were running around in my brain creating interference), but I'm mad at the *puzzle* for thinking that KATISHA (!?!?!?!!) / KEYES was an acceptable crossing. Textbook Natick. That "Mikado" name is utterly uninferrable. I'm looking at it now and still don't quite believe it's real. And "Flowers for Algernon" is just some book I haven't thought about in 30 years—I'm quite sure I never knew the author's name. Presented with -EYES, well, there are several letters that can go there. "K" makes most sense, but KATISHA is in no way reassuring. LATISHA is an actual human name, but then LEYES really looks wrong. I honestly don't understand how this crossing doesn't send up red flags to constructor and editor alike. You put KATISHA (again, !?!?!!) in a grid, you gotta go through all the crosses and be meticulous about their fairness. You gotta pay special attention to proper nouns. I mean, these are just the basics. Ugh. You see how I cannot even focus on the theme because of this name mishandling stuff? Not the result you want. (Wife just walked up here and discussed her trouble spots—exactly the same as mine: baseball name, Natick crossing, and SECCO, whatever that is).


I like the theme, and I also like the little value-added bonus theater-related answers/clues, like APRON (26D: Area in front of the front row of a theater), FAT (61A: Like Falstaff), and PAL (44A: Broadway's "___ Joey"). I also really love the bizarre scenario conjured up by the clue on "I DON'T" (47D: Surprise declaration at the altar). There's this one weirdly inconsistent thing about the theme, which is bothering me for some reason—the clues on all the themers reimagine the meanings of *both* words in each theme answer (this is why those clues are so hard) ... except in the case of CURTAIN CALL, where the "curtain" remains a "curtain." True, it's a home decor curtain as opposed to a theater curtain, but tomato tomato. I'd call a fly fisherman a "casting party" (i.e. one who is casting). The STAGE LEFT clue (33D: Why one missed the coach?) is brutal, largely because the first thing I think when I see "coach" is not "stagecoach." Anyway, the theme is SOLID, not CORNY. The crosswordese is minimal. But the names, man. The names. Yeesh.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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