Soap star Deborah / THU 2-26-15 / Eponymous Soviet minister of foreign affairs / Tabloid nickname of '80s / Hunter of wallabies kangaroos / Coin first minted in 1964 / Azalea with 2014 #1 hit Fancy / Liberian president Peace Nobelist Johnso Sirleaf /

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Constructor: Caleb Emmons

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Half words — theme answers end with "half ___," represented in the grid by only the first *half* of the missing word; thus:

Theme answers:
  • KENNEDY DOL (for "Kennedy half-dollar") (17A: Coin first minted in 1964)
  • SUPER BOWL TI (for "Super Bowl half-time") (24D: Occasion for a much-hyped performance)
  • GOING OFF COC (for "going off half-cocked") (10D: Acting rashly)
  • FLYING AT MA (for "flying at half-mast") (54A: Signaling remembrance, in a way)
Word of the Day: Deborah ADAIR (48A: Soap star Deborah) —
Deborah Adair (born Deborah Adair Miller on May 23, 1952 in Lynchburg, Virginia) is an American television actress, primarily known for her roles in soap operas. […] In total, Adair has appeared in seven different projects produced by Aaron Spelling; DynastyMatt HoustonThe Love BoatFinder of Lost LovesHotel (in which she played four different roles between 1984–87), Melrose Place and the television movie Rich Men Single Women (1990). She has also appeared in a variety of other primetime series such as Murder, She WroteBlacke's Magic and MacGyver. She also played a supporting role as Kate Chase in the Emmy Award-nominated miniseries Lincoln (1988).
• • •

I was deep into this one before I understood the theme. Got KENNEDY DOL and thought "well, DOL is a cruddy abbr. for "dollar," so this should be interesting," forgetting that there is no such thing as a "Kennedy dollar." Got the whole center of the grid and then finished the tail end of SUPER BOWL TI and that's when the dime dropped. Ah … Half. Half-time. Half-dollar. OK then. I like the concept, though it makes for an ugly grid, with those nonsensical themers. It also just looks like the answers got lopped off.  The visual impact is poor. But the concept is solid. I wish it had been possible for all the themers to come out looking like actual phrases, a la FLYING AT MA! Maybe they could each have had their own wacky clues. FLYING AT MA could be [Like one involved in a family squabble?] GOING OFF COC is one letter shy of being fantastic. [Becoming celibate, perhaps?]. At any rate, relative ugliness of themers aside, the fill is remarkably solid, and the longer non-theme answers interesting and vibrant.

This was a pretty easy puzzle, but I got slowed by a couple of things. First, I couldn't tell which longer answers were and weren't theme answers. Long Acrosses both are and aren't themers. Long Downs both are and aren't themers. Because both 31A: Crazy place? (FUNNY FARM) and 38A: Company with a lot of bean counters? (STARBUCKS) ended with question marks, I thought they were in on the theme wackiness (failing to note that KENNEDY DOL did not have a "?" clue…). Also, answers that could've been clued in very familiar ways were given rather obscure clues. No Red ADAIR today. No [Comedian Degeneres], either (ELLEN). Those were both super-tough for me. I also found the partials a bit rough. Who says "JUDO chop"? And what is an ANNO mundi? A year of the world? What is that? I should know, I guess, but I don't. I also didn't know bees WAGGLED, or that waggling was dancing. But I did know IGGY. I'll cling to that.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    PS here's a nice article re: the upcoming charity crossword tournament in Ithaca (where I'll be next Saturday, Mar. 7). Lots of crossword folks were interviewed for this. Check it out.


    Trevor of NBA / WED 2-25-15 / Part of rico roja / Paavo Flying Finn of 1920s Olympics / Final stanza in poem / Mythical bird with enormous wingspan

    Wednesday, February 25, 2015

    Constructor: Michael Shteyman

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: Some Midwest capitals

    Theme answers:
    • DES MOINES, IOWA (15D: Midwest capital #4)
    • LANSING, MICHIGAN (22A: Midwest capital #1)
    • LINCOLN, NEBRASKA (37A: Midwest capital #2)
    • ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA (46A: Midwest capital #3)
    [Arranged in the order in which I solved them—here's how I got into the grid:]

    Word of the Day: Trevor ARIZA (49D: Trevor of the N.B.A.) —
    Trevor Anthony Ariza (born June 30, 1985) is an American professional basketball player who currently plays for the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
    • • •

    I like this. I liked this from 1A: Part of "rico" or "roja" (ROLLED R), which I got immediately and thought was pretty original. I liked it even more after the weird trivia clue on ONE-EARED (14A: Like the praying mantis, anatomically [weird, but true]). I liked it even after figuring out that "oh, there's not really a theme, it really is just a bunch of Midwest capitals …"  Despite ITTO and -EAL and the whole blah NE. Despite ADD IN instead of ADD ON (23D: Computer extra). I just really liked the NW and SE corners, and I finished in the oddly delightful SW corner, where, perhaps because the grid was not already loaded with names, I was charmed to find Trevor ARIZA hanging out with the PAGAN and the NUTMEG. The NBA is rife with crossworthy names. Surprised we don't see AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE (15!) more—his first name, anyway. He's a six-time All-Star. Anyway, hey there, Trevor ARIZA. I like you at least as well as the Hyundai AZERA. You're welcome.

    I feel like my reaction today is slightly upside-down. I don't tend to like constructor-centric puzzles, where the trick is some structural discovery (here, that there are this many Midwest capitals that are also 15s (!) and that can be arranged in this pattern that is multiply symmetrical (rotational, axial … are there others?  arborEAL? orthogonal? petrochemical?). I like themes that focus on solver delight, not feats of construction for their own sake. But this one has the virtue of simplicity, i.e. the constructor's formal gimmick was not annoying or forced or opaque. And the fill surrounding it was frequently interesting or interestingly clued. Plus … I just love the midwest. It's adorable. I mean that sincerely, not patronizingly. I probably would've mean it patronizingly as a kid, but then I lived there for eight years. It always felt friendly and … substantial … to me. Warm. I mean, cold, but warm. I loved California, but what I remember most is sun and freeway. Maybe if I'd lived coastal, like my parents do now. Anyway, I remember some of my coastal peers in arborEAL Ann Arbor actively not enjoying the Midwestern lifestyle, but it was all right by me. From day one. "Hey, the shopkeeps are talking to me. And they're friendly … all right, Midwest, I'm not eating your weird jello-mold concoctions, but you got me. I like it here." Which is exactly how I felt about this puzzle.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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