Child actress Jones of Family Affair / SAT 12-3-16 / Noted Volstead Act enforcer / Giverny backdrop for Monet / Bill of 1960s-70s Weather Underground / Refined nutritional ingredient in many cereals meat products / Start of news story in journalism lingo

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Constructor: Jason Flinn

Relative difficulty: Easiest

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: RAE Sremmurd, hip-hop duo with the 2016 #1 hit "Black Beatles" (38A) —
Rae Sremmurd (pronunciation: /ˈr ʃrˈɪmɜːrd/) is an American hip hop duo consisting of brothers Khalif "Swae Lee" Brown (born June 7, 1995) and Aaquil "Slim Jxmmi" Brown (born December 29, 1993) from Tupelo, Mississippi. The duo are best known for their platinum singles "No Flex Zone" and "No Type", which peaked at numbers 36 and 16 on the US Billboard Hot 100, respectively. They are based in Atlanta, Georgia.[4] Their debut album SremmLife was released on January 6, 2015. The name "Rae Sremmurd" is derived from the duo's home label, EarDrummers, by spelling each word backwards. Their second album SremmLife 2 was released in 2016 to positive reviews, featuring the singles "Look Alive" and "Black Beatles", the latter of which topped the Billboard Hot 100, giving the duo (and Gucci Mane) their first number one. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well I'm guessing a lot of Saturday records were broken today. I got a heads-up from folks on Twitter that this one was gonna be easy, but that sort of advance notice usually makes me lock up and fall on my face. I am easily (self-) psyched out. But today, whoa. I mean, Whoa. I had the entire top quad filled in in 42 seconds. I actually lost about 5 seconds staring at grid / clock in astonishment. Then I went on and encountered only slightly more resistance. I didn't break 4, but I was close. What day of the week is it again? Saturday. I've had Tuesdays take me longer. Hell, I've had hard Mondays take me longer. Freaky. Today, I experienced a variation of my 1-Across Theory of Speed-Solving. With quad stacks like this, it's the 1-Down that matters, and today's (1D: John or Christine of Fleetwood Mac) was a hand-wrapped gimme served on a silver platter with a floral garnish. 8-year-old-me could've solved 1-Down without hesitation (not a joke).  That is a Monday clue. On a *Saturday* *1-Down*. That ... is cluing it wrong (variant of "doing it wrong"). ETO, AREN'T followed fast and now I had the front ends of all the quads. And they fell bam bam bam bam. It was wonderful / horrifying.

Here are the only things I remember even having to think about during this solve:
  • 18A: Something a server can give you (INTERNET ADDRESS) — so excited for how obvious this was that I just wrote in quickly: INTERNET ACCESSS, three "S"s and all.
  • 21A: Swiss chocolate brand (LINDT) — only now, looking at the clue calmly, do I realize that it *doesn't* say "Swiss HOT chocolate brand..." My brain froze on "Swiss Miss" and even the LIN- wasn't helping (if I'd read the clue right, there would've been no hesitation).
  • 32A: Old-fashioned (MOLDY) — M--DY and only "MOODY" was occurring to me. Sometimes your brain just locks up, what can I say?
  • 36D: Orthodox group (HASIDIM) — Here, I knew the answer quickly, but the spelling of the proper answer, yipes. I probably spent more time rewriting this answer than I spent on any other single answer. HASSIDS was my opener. Then HASIDIC.
  • 41D: Child actress Jones of "Family Affair" (ANISSA) — who? seriously, who? Got her (her?) entirely from crosses.
The only thing I really liked about this grid was EMANCIPATION DAY (just watched an episode of "Atlanta"—the best thing on TV—that featured a pretty hilarious "Juneteenth" party, so the concept was fresh in my mind) (48A: Juneteenth). I also liked the fleeting feeling of being a speed-solving superhero. Otherwise, it's pretty bland. Stacks are peppered with RLSTNE-loaded fare like VESTED INTERESTS and INTERNET ADDRESS and super-dull stuff like SYSTEMS ANALYSTS. Plus, any answer with ONE'S in it is basically self-parodic in a quadstack—ONE'S is done so often that it's a joke. Seriously, A LOT ON ONE'S PLATE has become shorthand for "tired and out of ideas but still determined to make a quadstack," and ONE'S in general is the quadstacker's most obvious crutch. Ditch it. And then there's that center, ouch. OR M x/w ORY is a Junk Cross for the Ages (30D: Agatha Christie's "N ___?" / 33A: Suffix with transit). Now, to be fair, that is one tight corner, and I don't think there are any easy fixes, given how locked-in the longer parts of the grid are, but dang. "OR M" is possibly the worst partial I've ever seen. And I've seen some doozies.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Heraldic wreath / FRI 12-2-16 / Ceremonial basin / best or nothing sloganeer informally / Emulate popinjay / athletic wear named for anagram of what it does

Friday, December 2, 2016

Constructor: Andrew Kingsley

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Paul DANO (29A: Paul of "There Will Be Blood") —
Paul Franklin Dano (/ˈdn/) (born June 19, 1984) is an American actor, producer, singer, and musician. // Dano started his career on Broadway before making his film debut in The Newcomers (2000). He won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance for his role in L.I.E. (2002) and received accolades for his role as Dwayne Hoover in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). For his dual roles as Paul & Eli Sunday in There Will Be Blood (2007), he was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor. // Dano has also received accolades for roles such as John Tibeats in 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Alex Jones in Prisoners (2013). His acting portrayal of musician Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy (2014), earned him a Golden Globe nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor. (wikipedia)
• • •

Too much grinding fill here. There are definitely some nice moments, but it was so bad out of the gate that I stopped to take a picture (at first audible 'ugh'):

And as you can see, that was *before* I uncovered LAVABO (1A: Ceremonial basin) crossing ORLE (6D: Heraldic wreath).  I mean ORLE? ORLE? Please take that answer out back and bury it. Then, if you must, dig it up once a year but ONLY in otherwise brilliant puzzles that need it desperately, not in an ordinary, fairly high word-count Friday. The puzzle just couldn't recover from this early mess. CIAOS? Plural? Stop no stop no. No. Start over. Later fill (outside of the broad N / NW) wasn't quite so disturbing, but the few nice longer answers couldn't make up for the unpleasantness of too much of the rest of it.

Favorite clue/answer today, by far, was 28D: Front ends? (CEASE FIRES). That's exactly what a "?" clue should be. Nothing forced about it, very clever. "Front ends" is an ordinary phrase with its own distinct, everyday meaning, and then the "?" comes along and reorients in a way that makes perfect sense ... if you think of both "front" and "ends" having meanings different from those they have in the ordinary phrase. Often clue writers torture "?" clues, using clue phrases that aren't on the money, phrasing-wise, or forcing words to have meanings they barely have. This one: bullseye.

SW corner was the hardest for me by far. Could not get 27D: Presumptive (A PRIORI) from its front end (APR- ... APROPOS? No...) and then couldn't get 49A: Bound (DELIMIT) from its back end (too many possible meanings for "bound"). I know the story of Phaëthon well, but I kept thinking "his dad is ... PHOEBUS? APOLLO? What the hell are they calling him here!?!?!" But even though Apollo is, in fact, the sun god, it's HELIOS who drives the sun chariot across the sky (Phaëthon steals it and wrecks it—kids these days...—creating the Sahara Desert in the process, if I'm remembering my mythology correctly) (37A: Phaëthon's father, in myth). Anyway, with no way in there (Some sloganeer? Some Pixar dinosaur??), I had to dive into the short stuff. First results:

I love ice cream, but Jerry's partner will always be TOM to me. At this point I was pretty stuck, but I knew enough to know TOM was the weakest length there, so I let it go and HAS DIBS slid in and I was done not long after.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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