Professor who tries to kill Harry Potter / SAT 9-20-14 / Red juice hybrid / Word with deux nous / Nobelist Frederick pioneer in radiochemistry / Home of Unesco World Heritage Site Fatehpur Sikri

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none … whoops, sorry, I mean CTR (56D: Abbr. found a the 56-Down of this puzzle's four longest answers)

Word of the Day: Frederick SODDY (32A: Nobelist Frederick ___, pioneer in radiochemistry) —
Frederick Soddy FRS (2 September 1877 – 22 September 1956) was an English radiochemist who explained, with Ernest Rutherford, that radioactivity is due to the transmutation of elements, now known to involve nuclear reactions. He also proved the existence of isotopes of certain radioactive elements. (wikipedia)
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[Note: I did this entire write-up without realizing that there was a theme… see bracketed note following the original write-up, below]

Solid, aggressively contemporary offering from Mr. Agard. It has all the hallmarks of an Agard puzzle—hard, modern, trickily clued. I found this one less awe-inspiring and slightly more laborious than I typically find his independent puzzles (which you can experience on a mostly weekly basis at his website, "Glutton for Pun"). But it's nonetheless an above-average themeless. I think my slightly diminished enthusiasm comes from the Harry Potter answer, QUIRRELL (14A: Professor who tries to kill Harry Potter) —a name I don't really remember, and I've read them all (looks like he's from the first book … OK then). Kind of a deep cut. It's original, but it'll be meaningless to lots of people. All the crosses are fair, though, and in fact the fact that the final letter seemed to have to be an "L" really helped me see LG ELECTRONICS more quickly than I would've otherwise—["Life's Good" sloganeer] is a terrible clue; or, rather, "Life's Good" is a terrible slogan. Banal and meaningless. I see that "Life's Good" is a phrase with the initials "L.G." but I doubt that helps anyone remember the connection between slogan and company.

"PROJECT RUNWAY" was a gimme, but with another dull clue (33A: Fashion series since 2004). I was grateful for the easy answer, though. Helped me change SANTA to CLAUS (37A: Asner's "Elf" role)—bit of a cheap trick, that. After that, the bottom part of the grid got a whole lot easier. Got HTTPS right away and closed in on the SW corner from both sides, then ran through the SE corner in a flash (having just come back from ASANA practice earlier in the evening). It was the NE corner that really held me up. Speaking of held up, 8D: Holds up (LASTS) really held me up, largely because I read it as having the sense in which I am using it in this sentence (i.e. "delays"), one of at least two possible (wrong) clue interpretations I can think of there. I had ASPECT RATIO and AGRA and ENTRE, but couldn't get much more to fly up there for a little while. And besides the "S" in SNL (32D: TV inits. since 10/11/75), I had nothing at the bottom part of that NE corner either. Eventually figured out DIET SODA, then SEP., and then got all the big stuff up there, including the lovely and (for a nice change of pace) old-fashioned / quaint-sounding UNWIELDY and PANOPLY.

All that was left was the obscure D&D clue (29D: Dungeons & Dragons attributes) (no idea how "attributes" was being used there; had -WERS, considered only TOWERS) and the even more obscure (to my mind) radiochemistry clue (32A: Nobelist Frederick ___, pioneer in radiochemistry) (had S-DDY). Oh, and 29A: Viewfinder? (I had -OLL). Only by running the alphabet and finally getting POLL did I finally settle on POWERS / SODDY. SODDY seems pretty shoddy to me—he's the QUIRRELL of Nobel laureates—but again, crosses ended up fair, so … I think I'm supposed to be "excited" to "learn new things," or something like that. Anyway, this is all very good, very suitably Saturday. Nothing to geek out over, unless you geek out over Harry Potter (as some do), but with a clean grid, fresh fill, and fiendishly riddlish clues (now Tom RIDDLE, I know), this shows great promise.


[So, there was a theme—CTR at "center" of each longer answer … that explains why the fill wasn't as banging as I expected from an Agard "themeless." This is what happens when you a. aren't looking for a theme because it's Saturday, and b. blow through a corner so easily you don't actually see all the clues. Anyway, the theme is impressive (dead center!)—it didn't add any fun to the solving experience (CTR not being the funnest of answers), but the puzzle architecture is an interesting thing to remark upon, post-solve]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Colony in ancient Magna Graecia / FRI 9-19-14 / Alcopop relative / South American cowboy / One living in urban poverty pejoratively / Toon toned down for 1930s Hays code / Divine showbiz persona / Nickname for Oliver Cromwell

Friday, September 19, 2014

Constructor: Finn Vigeland

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: PEIGNOIR (36D: Negligee) —
A woman's loose-fitting dressing gown.

[French, from Old French peignouer, linen covering used while combing oneself, from peigner, to comb the hair, from Latin pectināre, from pecten, pectin-, comb.]

Read more:
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This has charm and bounce. It's contemporary, but also features PEIGNOIRs and Oliver Cromwell, so it's got range. ONE POTATO is making me laugh—out of its cluing context, it makes about as much sense as THREE ORANGES. But it recalls singsongy childhood incantations, so even its relative partiality, I like it. SLUMDOG I like less (48A: One living in urban poverty, pejoratively). When it's not part of a movie name, its pejorativity really leaps off the page. The NE corner stands out as dull and weak in a puzzle that is otherwise solid and entertaining. RELLENO and LLANERO are virtual anagrams of one another (just one letter difference), and when combined with all the common fill / common letters in much of the rest of the fill up there (ELEA, TELE, ATEIN, NEO), the result is an anemic corner—though it's anemicness is probably highlighted today by contrast with how good the rest of the grid is, particularly the NW.

Speaking of the NW—HUMBLEBRAG was an instant gimme at 1A: Self-praise couched in self-deprecation, in modern lingo, and launched me into the grid with such force that I finished the whole thing in roughly a Wednesday time. That might be bragging, but I assure you, it is not humble. I just crushed this thing. Maybe it's because Finn and I are friends … OK, so we just went out to dinner that one time, and it was with a bunch of other people, but that's the closest thing I have to "friends" so just let me have this one, OK? He's my friend! We act alike and think alike and even finish each other's … sentences! That's right? How did you know I was going to say that? Are you and I also friends? No? HOMIES? Hmm. At any rate, I felt a mind meld going on, and consequently I Owned this puzzle.

LENA DUNHAM was on the cover of the New York Times Magazine this week. The clue for her was far too easy, I think. I'd've gone with [something writer actress something blah blah who is writing a four-part story for Archie Comics in 2015]. It makes me almost giddy to know that Archie will be my daughter's gateway drug to LENA DUNHAM. My daughter, having just started high school, having just started having a meaningful SOCIAL LIFE, having (god bless her) no interest in "Twilight" or Taylor LAUTNER, could use, I think, some LENA DUNHAM in her life. But baby steps. Archie steps.

Gonna go watch the Scottish referendum returns. Looks like NAE, but the night's still young …

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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