2003 Bennifer Bomb / WED 7-27-2016 / Itemize / Refusal from Putin

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Constructor: Natan Last, Finn Vigeland, and the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: A-OK for a Wednesday

THEME: RING CYCLE — Theme entries are things with between 1 and 5 rings

Word of the Day: PATCHOULI (13A: Scent in incense and insect repellents)
Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin (Blanco) Benth) is a species of plant from the genus Pogostemon. It is a bushy herb of the mint family, with erect stems, reaching two or three feet (about 0.75 metre) in height and bearing small, pale pink-white flowers...The word derives from the Tamil patchai (Tamil: பச்சை) (green), ellai (Tamil: இலை) (leaf). -- Wikipedia
• • •

This crossword gets the solver intrigued quickly: you hit 16A and the clue is (Place to find one O) and you say aha! Something is afoot here. Like a book passing the page one test; you want to see what happens next.

The answer there was THE HOBBIT, which does indeed have one O -- but it can't be that simple, of course. Soon you hit the clue for 22A (Place to find two Os) and the answer is VENN DIAGRAM. I got it there, and you probably did, too: these are not the letter O, but rings. The other three are:

CIRCUS TENT (28A: Place to find three Os), AUDI DEALER (40A: Place to find four Os) -- that's the automaker's logo -- and OLYMPIC FLAG (45A: Place to find five Os).

But wait, there's more! A reveal of RING CYCLE (59A: Wagner work ... or a possible title for this puzzle).

That's a nice Wednesday, don't you think? A little mystery, a theme idea you haven't seen before, a wide-ranging theme set, an apt reveal to tie it all together, and a little sense of self-satisfaction that you puzzled it all out.

Not to mention the clues, which are much more vigorous than the past two days. Let's try the best-three-clues test here:  BOOYAH (8D: "How do you like dem apples?!"), SAGELY (19A: In a Yoda-like manner), and ECHO (3D: "Hello ... hello ... hello ..."). Also notice the (Snatched) and (Snatches) pair at 52A and 53A for STOLEN and NABS

A nitpicker might pick the following two nits: 1) Wagner's RING CYCLE contains four works, so having five entries instead of four throws that off a tiny bit. And 2) the number of rings is set for 1, 3, 4, and 5, but a Venn Diagram can have three or four or more rings, so not quite as tight as it could be there. Maybe WEDDING HALL instead? Though perhaps the constructors didn't want to have two wearable rings as 1-2, so a reasonable decision. Very small dings there. And I'm not a nitpicker anyway, so I won't bring these two points up.

The fill is fine in retrospect, but you know what? I didn't even notice it while solving because I was so entertained by unraveling the theme. And incidentally the reveal was at the end, where it was supposed to be, so I got a chance to figure out what was going on before having it made plain.

Trying to decide between B+ and A-, and a final look over the puzzle pushes me to A- because I do dig that little trick with the letter O actually representing a ring. I bet the constructors realized that THE HOBBIT has one O in it, so we'd still go on thinking for a couple more minutes that it was going to have to do with how many O's the theme entries had. Also note the timeliness of the Olympics entry.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 4 more days

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Discombobulate / TUE 7-26-15 / Yodeling locale / Defensive tennis shots

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: About right for Tuesday

THEME: "ESTEE" PHRASES — Phrases with the initials S.T.

Word of the Day: SOUL TRAIN (58A: *Bygone R&B showcase) —
Soul Train is an American musical variety television program which aired in syndication from 1971 until 2006. In its 35-year history, the show primarily featured performances by R&B, soul and hip hop artists, although funk, jazz, disco and gospel artists also appeared. The series was created by Don Cornelius, who also served as its first host and executive producer.  --Wikipedia

• • •
Let me start by saying that when I filled in for Rex in summer of 2014 the puzzles received grades of A-, C+, A, B, A-, B+, and when I was here last summer they got a C-, B-, C, B, A-, A, and A.  Just want to give you some context for what comes next.

Let me also say that I know this constructor knows what he's doing, since I've seen him do good work before and he's been nominated previously for my Crossword of the Month.

But this is, to be blunt, the least impressive crossword I've seen in a major publication this year. Let's start with the big problem, an automatic DQ, which is that the revealer of ESTEE (68A: Girl's name that phonetically provides the initials to the answers to the asterisked clues) is no good. The only ESTEE that anyone's heard of is Estee Lauder, and that's pronounced "ess-tay," not "ess-tee." This is quite obviously a fatal flaw, and alone should've kept the puzzle from publication. I've never heard the name outside of Ms. Lauder, and there's certainly no one else legit famous with it.

So DQ right off the bat, but let's move on: revealer aside, the theme idea is unexciting but not bad on its own. But for some reason the constructor made the poor decision to pack 12 theme entries into the grid, instead of choosing 5 or 6 of the best ones. So the choices of S.T. were then constrained by what fit in the grid instead of what might be a lively entry. Some are good -- SOUL TRAIN, STAR TREK, SWEET TOOTH, SIT TIGHT -- but then we get awkward plurals SORE THUMBS and SURE THINGS, arbitrary SEASON TWO, dull SIDE TABLE and SONG TITLE, dated SNEAK THIEF, and not-a-thing SEA TRIP. Sea cruise, boat trip, yes -- sea trip, no. So this is like a restaurant whose food isn't the best but they give you so much of it!

And then the fill suffered due to the extreme packing of theme: Tuesday's too early for ENOW, COSI, EMLY, REWED, ESTES and APOLO. And it also relegated the revealer to a random spot in the bottom left of the grid.

And don't get me started on the clues! Musty vibe all over; there's literally nothing in the clues or grid keeping this puzzle from being written 10 years ago. I don't hate the past, but if you're going to clue FAB to the Beatles and BORIS to Rocky & Bullwinkle, you probably don't need to clue SPOT as (Dick and Jane's dog).

Again, let's find the three most interesting/clever/amusing clues: (Ones whose business is picking up?) is CABS, (Irritating subject for an ophthalmologist?) is STYE, and maybe ("Fancy meeting you here!") for OH, HI. There's really no effort put into the clues at all to be interesting. Even evocative phrases get straightforward, dull definitions: SWEET TOOTH is (Craving for desserts), SORE THUMBS are (Things that stick out conspicuously), etc.

Well, I'm looking for something nice to say about this puzzle. How about: there is a lot of theme. I'll give it that.

So we have a dullish theme that also happens to be fatally flawed; fill (and theme entries) compromised due to a grid that emphasized quantity of theme entries over quality; musty, uninspired clues; and a misplaced revealer to the flawed theme.

Before I go, compare this puzzle to the NYT from June 14th of this year. The constructor there used E.Z. words, which are far more restricted than S.T., and had the snappy revealer EASY DOES IT (instead of just the phonetic ESTEE, which even if correct wouldn't be a great reveal). The constructor in that puzzle also limited herself to four theme entries, which allowed the amusing reveal to be placed logically. This is a much better execution of this theme idea.

This puzzle was not ready for publication. Letter grade of F. I take no pleasure in it. Tomorrow is another day. 

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 5 more days

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