Seinfeld's stringed instrument / THU 5-24-18 / output of spinning jenny / Portable music player brand / City center of 1890s Klondike Gold Rush

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Constructor: Erik Agard and Andy Kravis

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (hard to say, though, since I have to adjust for a. morning solving and b. oversized grid) (6:59)

THEME: SPOON-ERISMS (61A: What 18-, 25-, 37- and 52-Across all are (whose circled letters name something used with the base phrases)) — spoonerisms of things that can be eaten (or served?) with a spoon...

Theme answers:
  • WHINNY MEETS (18A: Horse races?)
  • JERRY CELLO (25A: Seinfeld's stringed instrument?)
  • PASTY HOODING (37A: Particularly pale Ph.D. ceremony?)
  • PAY GROUPON (52A: Pony up for a certain online deal?)
Word of the Day: DAWSON City (1D: ___ City, center of the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush) —
The Town of the City of Dawson, commonly known as Dawson City or Dawson, is a town in Yukon, Canada. It is inseparably linked to the Klondike Gold Rush (1896–99). Its population was 1,375 as of the 2016 census. [...] Dawson City was the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush. It began in 1896 and changed the First Nations camp into a thriving city of 40,000 by 1898. By 1899, the gold rush had ended and the town's population plummeted as all but 8,000 people left. When Dawson was incorporated as a city in 1902, the population was under 5,000. St. Paul's Anglican Church built that same year is a National Historic Site. [...] In 1978, another kind of buried treasure was discovered when a construction excavation inadvertently uncovered a forgotten collection of more than 500 discarded films on flammable nitrate film stock from the early 20th century that were buried in (and preserved by) the permafrost. These silent-era film reels, dating from "between 1903 and 1929, were uncovered in the rubble beneath [an] old hockey rink". Owing to its dangerous chemical volatility, the historical find was moved by military transport to Library and Archives Canada and the U.S. Library of Congress for both transfer to safety film and storage. A documentary about the find, Dawson City: Frozen Time was released in 2016.
The City of Dawson and the nearby ghost town of Forty Mile are featured prominently in the novels and short stories of American author Jack London, including The Call of the Wild. London lived in the Dawson area from October 1897 to June 1898. Other writers who lived in and wrote of Dawson City include Pierre Berton and the poet Robert Service. The childhood home of the former is now used as a retreat for professional writers. [...]
The city was home to the Dawson City Nuggets hockey team, which in 1905 challenged the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup. Travelling to Ottawa by dog sled, ship, and train, the team lost the most lopsided series in Stanley Cup history, losing two games by the combined score of 32 to 4. (wikipedia)
• • •

This shouldn't have been so hard, but getting spoonerisms from wacky clues (what other kind could you use?) turns out to be hellishly difficulty. Even when I got WHINNY, I had no idea what kind of "races" I was dealing with, and since at that point I had no idea spoonerisms were even in play ... that whole area was a disaster. I forgot about Imelda MARCOS and could think only of Corazon Aquino, who refused to fit (5A: Onetime big name in Filipino politics). I had -AYS and still couldn't get 5D: Parts of springs (MAYS). Brutal. ARM (6D: Inlet)? Brutal (wanted RIA?). SRSLY? (10D: "Are you kidding me?," in texts)? Brutal (I wanted some version of ORLY?)

It felt like forever before I got the theme, I had the better part of three themers and still nothing. Then I wrote in JOEYS but typoed LOEYS, which mean I kept seeing the *wrong starting letter* for JERRY CELLO (awkward in the non-possessive, but I'll allow it, I guess). Wrote in PASTY HOODIES at first because, as you can see, I had no idea what the theme idea was. "Oh, they're calling Ph.D. hoods "hoodies?" What fresh joke is this!?" Considering the grid is oversized and I was trying to solve upon waking, I have nooooo idea how I squeaked in under 7 minutes. Even reviewing it now, the puzzle feels hard hard hard. I love spoonerisms, and this one has a nice little twist with the whole spoon angle. The spooniness of the themers kind of falls apart as the themers progress. I definitely eat cereal with a spoon, and jello, well, I don't eat that, but sure, I would use a spooon. Hasty pudding???? I don't know what it is, besides a Harvard humor org. of some kind. But assuming it is anything like other kinds of puddings of which I'm aware, spoon seems like the reasonable implement. Grey Poupon, though? I mean, if you're just straight eating Grey Poupon with a spoon, I'm sorry, man. Things must be pretty bad.

Cluing just seemed harder than normal all over. Check out the undercluing at 45D: Some "me" time (SPA DAY) and 30D: Best Buy buy (HDTV). It was like getting [Food item] as a clue for PIZZA or something. You could narrow it down A Little. And then the short vague stuff like 56D: Out for ALIBI, yipes. And then 50A: Doctor or engineer for RIG. Good clues, but hard. Felt like they were trying to compensate for a theme they didn't think was too tricky, but then the theme was plenty tricky, so the overall result played quite hard. But again, my time says it wasn't That hard. Some good fill and clues in here. I especially enjoyed 62D: Opposite of a poetry slam? (ODE), which I wrote in thinking, "yes, ODEs are much more formal and stately than slam poetry," and only later figured out that an ODE praises something instead of "slamming" it. Nice. F*** the NRA, though. Surprised these particular constructors are still using it in puzzles (42A: Grp. with a firearms museum).

[11D: R&B singer who had a 2015 #1 hit with "Can't Feel My Face"]

  • 31A: Literary character with a powerful face (HELEN) — because it launched a thousand ships, per Marlowe. I am obsessed with the Trojan War and I teach Marlowe's Dr. Faustus and I still had trouble getting this one from the clue!
  • 44D: Portable music player brand (DISCMAN) — ... of yore
  • 12D: Mulligan in a dice game (REROLL) — "Mulligan" = do-over. Term from golf (I mean, I think—I've never played golf in my life)
  • 36D: What queso de bola is another name for (EDAM) — learned this recently in another puzzle. Sadly, did not remember it today.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Superman-like stance / WED 5-23-18 / Island that's world's third-smallest country after Vatican City Monaco / Quarter barrel of beer /

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Challenging (laughably challenging—a full minute over my slowest recorded Wednesday time since I started keeping track in mid-April) (6:17)

THEME: "expanded" (??) — clues are followed by "... expanded?" and that apparently means that the answer can be found by joining elements on either end of the theme answer ... so the stuff in the middle, which appears to be gobbledygook, has "expanded" the real answer to make a newer, longer answer that is the answer to ... nothing? I think? [updated: fuller explanation below, in italics]

Theme answers:
  • 16A: Beginning, expanded? (STREET ART)
  • 22A: Forming a crust, expanded? (CALIFORNIA KING)
  • 47A: Choose in advance, expanded? (PRESIDENT-ELECT)
  • 57A: Inspiration for something, expanded? (SOUTH PARK)
Word of the Day: NAURU (49D: Island that's the world's third-smalles country, after Vatican City and Monaco) —
Nauru (NauruanNaoero/nɑːˈr/ nah-OO-roo or /ˈnɑːr/ NAH-roo), officially the Republic of Nauru (NauruanRepubrikin Naoero) and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country in Micronesia, a subregion of Oceania, in the Central Pacific. Its nearest neighbour is Banaba Island in Kiribati, 300 kilometres (186 mi) to the east. It further lies northwest of Tuvalu, north of the Solomon Islands, east-northeast of Papua New Guinea, southeast of the Federated States of Micronesia and south of the Marshall Islands. With 11,347 residents in a 21-square-kilometre (8.1 sq mi) area, Nauru is the smallest state in the South Pacific, smallest republic and third smallest state by area in the world, behind only Vatican City and Monaco. (wikipedia)
• • •

What is this? I don't understand the theme. I get the "expanded" part, but ... why? What are the middle letters? What does the "expansion" mean or represent or anything? Why? It's entirely baffling to me why this puzzle got made, published, etc. Don't a lot of longer phrases have letters on either end that could also make ... a word? Is there even a concept here, something that's being enacted or demonstrated? I mean, honestly, anything? It's such a bad theme I cannot explain its existence. The constructor is prolific, so it's not like some new constructor just had a weak idea. And anyway, that's hardly the issue, since the editor had to accept this thing. And it's got a dumb shape AND it's ridiculously hard for a Wednesday. I routinely do Friday puzzles much faster than I did this thing. Not having Any Idea what the answers to the themers were (since they're utterly unclued), and having literally never heard of a CALIFORNIA KING (born and raised in California, btw), AND staring down giant NE and SW corners that had Fri/Sat-level clues in them, I was floundering. God, what an awful combination—terrible, inexplicable theme AND difficulty pitched way above average. I had to go to Twitter to make sure I wasn't missing something. Thankfully (for my sanity), other late-night solving stalwarts had no clue either.

[update: someone from crossword twitter read the "constructor's notes" and explained: apparently if you abbr. the first words in the themers, you get the answer to the clue. Well, that's better than I thought, but since it missed me, and loads of other people, I'm gonna stand by the idea that this was a design failure ... I mean ST and CA, alright, but PRES? And S??? Those are some weakass abbrevs. and the "expanded" answers remain entirely unclued]

The raisin on this terrible sundae was the stupid "Man up!" bullshit at 6D: "Grow ___!" ("Man up!") ("A PAIR"). You know what the NYT could use? More people without A PAIR. Lots and lots and lots more constructors and editors etc. who possess precisely no pairs. That whole place is such a sausagefest—I'm sure this "tickles" them no end, but honestly, this is an institution that not only inadequately represents women, but that just shrugs ignorantly at the very problem. Here's the preposterously naive recent editorial statement on gender imbalance in the ranks of NYT crossword constructors (posted to a semi-popular constructing listserv by the most famous person in all of crosswords):

Why don't more women wanna be part of this dickfest? I'm sure the problem is not at all cultural. Nope. Chicks just aren't interested man. Stop whining. Grow A PAIR. Etc. 

Also, **** that GHETTO clue, man (27A: Poor area). The puzzle is so white and affluent at every level that I'm not really up for this terse, reductive characterization of GHETTO. Keep it out of your puzzle or (last resort) clue it via music, preferably hip-hop (though Elvis is probably the most widely known referent for the puzzle-solving crowd). "Poor area"? Come on. The only "poor area" I see right now is the editorial office that exercised exceedingly "poor" judgment in publishing this thing. I'm too tired to even go into why the NE and SW were hard. They just were. And I totally forgot NAURU, possibly because it's impossibly small. Possibly because my brain couldn't think past PALAU. 

THUD THUD THUD THUD (either the sound of the puzzle falling flat or the sound of my head hitting my desk in frustration at the multiple levels of badness on display here—take your pick)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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