Mujer of mixed race / TUE 7-29-14 / Rapper who hosted MTV's Pimp My Ride / Away from a chat program say / Noted filmmaker with dog named Indiana

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Challenging (*for a Tuesday*)

THEME: Plants with animal names — First theme clue begins "Nursery worker's suggestion …" and then each clue simply follows the pattern "… for a ___"; nothing in the clues about animals, so that's just an added thing you have to figure out (after you figure out which kind of "nursery" the clue is on about, and after you figure out where the "first" theme clue is so you know what the first part of the theme clue phrase is, because w/o it, you've just got these ellipsis clues staring at you, which can be maddening …)

Theme answers:
  • SNAKEPLANT (18A: Nursery worker's suggest for a backstabber?)
  • CRABGRASS (3D: … for a grouch?)
  • DOGWOOD (36A: … for a scoundrel?)
  • WOLFSBANE (32D: … for a lothario?)
  • GOATSBEARD (57A: … for a fall guy?)

Word of the Day: MESTIZA (49D: Illusions) —
noun: mestiza; plural noun: mestizas
  1. (in Latin America) a woman of mixed race, especially the offspring of a Spaniard and an American Indian. (google)
• • •
At a minimum, it was interesting. And it was certainly way harder than the typical Tuesday, what with the rather complicated / double-unstated theme (unstated first because there's no clue tip to the animal angle, and unstated second because unless you know which theme answer is the so-called "first" one, all your theme clues are just partial clues). Seems like 3D should've been "first," in that it is closest to the upper left, where most people start, but there certainly is convention on the side of making the "first" theme clue be the first theme clue that appears in an Across position. Anyway, my first theme answer was SNAKE PLANT, a thing I've never heard of, so I just … had no idea what was going on. Eventually, after figuring out a bunch of themers via crosses, I could see that we were dealing w/ animal plants, and things got a tad easier. But then there was the whole XZIBIT (!) MESTIZA area, which is right hard for any day. I actually know both the rapper and the "mixed race" term, but the latter never dawned on me (til late) and the former … is he still somebody people know? Seems like he is solidly and completely bound in amber from circa 2003.

I fell into a horribly stupid self-made pit when, faced with --KEN at 64A: Wheelbarrow or thimble, in Monopoly, my eye took in only the first word and I wrote in (with what, in retrospect, was a weird amount of confidence) OAKEN. This did two things. First, it gave me a perfectly acceptable word at 58D: Spanish "that" (ESO—I had ESA); second, it gave me -IO as the last two letters of the rapper, and wham bam thank you COOLIO! Then things got ugly. Because just as I'd never heard of SNAKE PLANT, I'd never heard of GOAT'S BEARD, and the leap from "fall guy" to GOAT (given all the imaginative thematic nursery leaps I was already having to make) was pretty far. When I see "fall guy" I just see Lee Majors doing stunts and … what, solving crimes? Did he do that? I never actually watched the show.

So theme was … let's be generous and say "layered" in an "interesting" way. Felt a bit wonky as set up, clue-wise, and as I said, at least two of the plants meant nothing to me, so I didn't Love the theme, but the core concept holds up, and I rather like most of the fill. Except ICE FOG. I'm not fully convinced that's real. ICE stuff is like E-stuff, in that the puzzle keeps trying to sell me new products, and I just get increasingly skeptical. ICE TEA ICE RUN ICE AXE. I think I draw the line at ICEAX(E). OK, that's all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Weasley family owl / MON 7-28-14 / Plump songbird / Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has football-shaped head / Those who put lot of effort into social-climbing in modern lingo

Monday, July 28, 2014

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a M*)

THEME: STRING QUARTET (37A: Classical music group … or what the four sets of circled letters make up?) — I don't know how to describe this theme. Circled/embedded letters spell out … what? Strings can be made of "nylon" … and they are analogous in shape to the other three … I honestly don't understand what makes this theme consistent. Mainly I do not understand "nylon." Seems like a huge Odd Man Out.

Theme answers:
  • ZEROPERCENT (17A: Chance of an impossibility)
  • "HEYARNOLD" (30A: Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has a football-shaped head)
  • ANYLONAGER (44A: For even a second more)
  • VOCABLESSON (59A: Component of a language class, informally)
Word of the Day: TRY-HARDS (38D: Those who put a lot of effort into social climbing, in modern lingo) —
[I have googled [define "try-hards"] and mainly what comes up are gaming sites and sites where people are asking the question "what (the hell) is a 'try-hard'?" I'm deeply suspicious of the reality of this answer. I love "modern lingo," but certain minimum qualities of familiarity must be met, I think.] [Here's a "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" message board, if that helps]
• • •

Well, insofar as the fill was kind of zippy, and the overall puzzle was much tougher than your normal Monday, I was pleased. Probably should've been a Tuesday, but whatevs. Close enough for horseshoes etc. But there is one major problem here—kind of a deal breaker. This theme makes no sense. Or, it makes sense in only the loosest, vaguest way, like "here's some stuff in the broad galaxy of string-ish things." And if you're going to go that route, why not pearls, cheese, theory, etc? But here, there's ROPE, YARN, and CABLE … all of which can be made of many, many things, and share with "string" a physical shape (spaghetti-ESQUE is, I believe, the technical term). But NYLON is the material out of which one might *make* string, or rope, I think. So there's a consistency issue here. You want your revealer to just *snap* the whole puzzle into place. "AH … yes. Bam. Got it." Is the reaction you want. Here, I just made a face at the puzzle and then tried to piece together my comprehension failure. I asked my group (I have a group) and it turns out I wasn't alone in my bafflement, so … yeah. If you don't give a rat's [beep] about tightness of themes, then you can just enjoy the atypically crunchy fill and let it go. But this looks like Theme Fail to me.

What made this one slower than most Mondays. Well, first off, the theme answers are not exactly common phrases. They're real things, but all of them took me crosses / thought to come up with (not always the case on Mondays). "HEY, ARNOLD" was by far the toughest, as I had completely forgotten that show existed. My kid never watched it, I never watched it … I know it only because it's Out There. In the Air. Man. [Chance of an impossibility] sounds like it's going to be some interesting colloquialism, but ends up being highly literal. YOU was clued toughly (32D: Word pronounced the same when its first two letters are removed). I mean, not so's you'd be up all night sussing it out, but still, these little difficulties add up on a Monday. I was over 3:30, I think, which is 30+ seconds slower than usual (those thirty seconds feel much longer than than they are). I'd say 90+% of my Monday times fall in a very tight group between 2:45 and 3:15, so when the times are outside that range, I know something's up. But again, no big deal. I like a little struggle, a little bite, on Monday, as long as the end result is a good puzzle. Today … things didn't quite come together, theme-wise, but it wasn't a total loss.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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