Something to meditate on / THU 7-30-15 / Whaling ship that inspired "Moby Dick" / Long vowel indicator / Ones in the closet?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Constructor: Brendan Emmett Quigley

Relative difficulty: Pretty quick solve for me

THEME: + the names of the sisters from Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women"

Word of the Day: MULLAHS (26D: Muslim V.I.P.s) — as the term is newsworthy today, which compelled me to find a historical definition.
Muslim title generally denoting “lord”; it is used in various parts of the Islāmic world as an honorific attached to the name of a king, sultan, or other noble (as in Morocco and other parts of North Africa) or of a scholar or religious leader (as in parts of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent). The term appears in the Qurʾān in reference to Allāh, the “Lord” or “Master,” and thus came to be applied to earthly lords to whom religious sanctity was attributed.
The most common application of the title mullah is to religious leaders, teachers in religious schools, those versed in the canon law, leaders of prayer in the mosques (imams), or reciters of the Qurʾān (qurrāʾ). There are no formal requirements for acquisition of the title, but normally persons called by it have had some training in a madrasah, or religious school. The word is often used to designate the entire class that upholds the traditional interpretation of Islām.

• • •
Hello, it's Ben Tausig! I'm editor of the American Values Club xword and am a professor of music so get ready for vids in this review. Nice to meet you.

So, anyway, caveat, it is very difficult for me to be objective reviewing a Brendan Emmett Quigley puzzle because BEQ is a legend and a friend. And I have little will to try in any case, so prepare for generosity and congratulations towards Brendan.

Great job, Brendan! Brendan has written and continues to construct a staggering number of puzzles, and self-effacing though he may sometimes be, an extraordinary number of them are inspired.

Real quick, here is a vid from a band, Parquet Courts, that Brendan turned me on to some years ago:

"Little Women" has been thematically mined at least once, but afaik never to such effect. It's straightforward; MEG, AMY, BETH, and JO sneak into common phrases to yield silly phrases. To wit:

Theme answers:
  • TOUGHNUTMEG (17A: Hardy brown spice?)
Decent entry, workmanlike clue
  • BIGAMYBUSINESS (28A: Company that will get you a second spouse?)
Great entry
  • MACBETHNCHEESE(44A: Extremely tacky production of a Shakespeare play?)
Moderate ding for the "n," which feels like an orphan in the silly phrase, but good surface sense
  • TRAVELBANJO (57A: Country instrument played by a migrant?)

Here's a vid from Kurt Vile, who I know Brendan likes:

I caught the theme quick, after landing TOUGHNUTMEG and seeing BIGAMY at the beginning of the next theme entry. Adding MEG can't signal too many closed sets, and the presence of AMY suggested BIGsomething as a base phrase.

That made ALCOTT (45D: Creator of the characters added in 17-, 28-, 44-, and 57-Across) a cinch. I hit some snags, though, including the tough vocab pockets of AGATES (11D) and MACRON (44D), and JAMUPS, which is a word but not one that rolled off my typing fingers. I also had a blind crossing, my fault I'm sure, at the junction of ANNA (62A: Actress Gunn of "Breaking Bad") and VAL (58D: Cartoonist Mayerik who co-created Howard the Duck), neither of whom I know. This was exacerbated by the fact that I'd entered HEED rather than HEEL (65A: "Follow"). Here's what it looked like before I realized that there probably wasn't a person named VAD or VID or VED:

Here's some stuff that reminded me of Brendan and made me happy:
  • PABST (48D: "The way beer was meant to be" sloganeer, once) — Brendan enjoys beer references.
  • PLUGUGLY (3D: Downright homely) — Classic BEQ; familiar, resonant, cool letter sequence. 
  • ENO (2D: Musician who coined the term "ambient music") — Brendan, as mentioned above, enjoys good music. I'm not strongly confident that Eno actually coined this term, although the attribution is common. I'm finishing Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century and am reminded how long sonic texture and atmosphere had been vital principles in western music before Eno put his spin on the idea.
  • AMP (25A: Booster for a band) 
Here's ENO's "Music for Airports"; his catalog, remarkably, justifies his ubiquity in crosswords:

Signed, Ben Tausig, person of puzzles. Say hi on Twitter @datageneral or @avcxwords


Knuckleballer Wilhelm / WED 7-29-15 / Russell of "Black Widow" / More than half of Israel / Breath mint in a tin / It lacks depth

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Constructor: David J. Lieb

Relative difficulty: Smooth sailing

THEME: "DOUBLE DOUBLE" — Each of the theme answers is a two-word phrase (or compound word) where both words (or parts of the word) can be preceded by the word "double" to make a new phrase

Word of the Day: SPOOKY (34D: Like a haunted house) —

Not to be confused with "spoopy" or "Shipoopi."
• • •
Andy Kravis here, filling in for Rex. Today, David J. Lieb messed* around and got a DOUBLE DOUBLE (65A: Statistical achievement in basketball ... or what the answer to each starred clue is). 

There are some naughty words in this video. You have been warned.

In basketball, a double-double is achieving a double-digit number in two positive statistical categories (two of, in order of frequency: points, rebounds, assists, steals, or blocked shots). You can't get a double-double in turnovers and number of terrible teammates, but if you could, James Harden would've been NBA MVP last year.

In this puzzle, though, a DOUBLE DOUBLE is a phrase where both words can be preceded by the word DOUBLE to make two entirely different phrases.

Theme answers:
  • STANDARD TIME (18A: *It's divided into four zones in the contiguous U.S. states). DOUBLE STANDARD and DOUBLE TIME. Is it just me, or is "U.S. states" a weird construction? Maybe this was just a typo in the online version, and the print edition says something different.
  • TAKEOVER (27A: *Coup d'état, e.g.). DOUBLE TAKE and DOUBLE OVER
  • CROSSTALK (33A: *Incidental chatter). DOUBLE CROSS and DOUBLE-TALK (which according to whatever dictionary Google uses, is "deliberately unintelligible speech combining nonsense syllables and actual words." You might know it better as doublespeak.) 
  • PLAYBILLS (47A: *Handouts to theatergoers). DOUBLE PLAY and DOUBLE BILLS (I had no idea what "double bills" were. It turns out to be a synonym for "double features." Maybe it's a regional/generational thing, but I've never heard the phrase "double bill" before.)
  • BACKDATE (53A: *Make retroactive). DOUBLE BACK and DOUBLE DATE.
Including the revealer at 65A, there's an impressive amount of theme (6 entries, 58 theme squares)! The base phrases are all very much in-the-language, even if a couple of the "double ___" phrases were beyond my ken. This kind of theme (i.e., this word can precede theme answers X, Y, and Z) has been played out quite a bit, but I really appreciate that (a) the revealer word can precede both parts of every theme entry, (b) that there were five two-part theme entries besides the revealer, and (c) that the revealer does double duty in not only telling you the preceding word but also telling you that both parts of every themer can take the preceding word. Really nice stuff IMHO.

Given how densely packed this grid was with theme content, the surrounding fill wasn't bad. As in most puzzles, there was some stuff I didn't love: 'UNS, AN OUT, ESTAB., ELLS crossing ESSES. But mostly the fill was reasonable for a Wednesday, and there were a few nice long answers (notably COATROOMS and GOLDEN BOY, but also NOOGIE, SPOOKY, CAJUN, STIGMA, CAR WASH, and "I'M SOLD"). Also, ALTOID singular!

  • 42A: HOYT (Knuckleballer Wilhelm) — Hoyt Wilhelm (not the order you thought those names were gonna go, huh?) was an MLB pitcher in the 1950s and 1960s, most notably with the World Series-winning 1954 New York Baseball Giants. In 1985, Wilhelm became the first relief pitcher to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • 57A: THERESA (Russell of "Black Widow") — "Black Widow" is one of these late '80s/early '90s films with a femme fatale (see also "Fatal Attraction," "Basic Instinct," "Damage," "The Last Seduction," etc.). In this one, Theresa Russell plays a woman who kills a bunch of wealthy middle-aged white dudes for who-knows-what-reason, and Debra Winger's character has to try to bring her to justice.
  • 12D: NEGEV (More than half of Israel) — The Negev is a desert that covers most of southern Israel. Now you know.
  • 56D: EUBIE (Ragtime pianist) — A true master.

In conclusion: nice puzzle, good job.

Now, I'd like to bring your attention to a couple of excellent crossword-related items:

1) If you're here, you love crosswords. And if you love crosswords, you will love Lollapuzzoola 8: Lollapuzzocho, an upcoming crossword tournament in NYC. It's on August 8th (that's a Saturday in August), and it is absolutely not too late to sign up! It is always the most fun, and the lineup of constructors is terrific (Do the names Anna Shechtman, Mike Nothnagel, Doug Peterson, joon pahk, Patrick Blindauer, and Kevin G. Der do anything for you? Of course they do). Feel free to bring a friend. If you can't make it to the live tournament, you can still sign up for the At-Home Division to get the puzzles by PDF shortly after the tournament ends. 

2) Friend and frequent collaborator Victor Barocas has just launched an awesome project on Kickstarter! 

Ada Cross, Crossword Detective will be a series of murder mysteries featuring a detective (Ada) and her colleagues. You'll solve a series of meta-crosswords along with Ada to solve murders. In addition to the text and the puzzles, the stories will have illustrations by Hayley Gold, who writes the Across and Down webcomic. 

You can read more about (and back) the project on this Kickstarter page. If you like crosswords (and especially if you like metas), you will like this. 

Signed, Andy Kravis, (H/T)ipster of CrossWorld

*If you're reading this, Ice Cube, I'm sorry I messed around with your artistic integrity. In spite of the fact that it's a modern classic, "Today Was A Good Day" falls a little below the breakfast Mendoza line.


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