Socialite who inspired 1950's "Call Me Madam" / MON 9-1-14 / Carpentry spacer / Old politico Stevenson / 1957 hit covered by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1968 / One of 1980s demographic /

Monday, September 1, 2014

Constructor: Allan E. Parrish

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

THEME: TAMES anagrams (30D: Breaks … or an anagram of the ends of five Across answers in this puzzle):

Theme answers:
  • PERLE MESTA (17A: Socialite who inspired 1950's "Call Me Madam")
Word of the Day: PERLE MESTA —
Perle Reid Mesta (née Skirvin) (October 12, 1889 – March 16, 1975) was an Americansocialite, political hostess, and U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg (1949–1953).
Mesta was known as the "hostess with the mostest" for her lavish parties featuring the brightest stars of Washington, D.C., society, including artists, entertainers and many top-level national political figures. (wikipedia)
• • •

I finished this in normal Monday time, but the times posted at the NYT website are running much more Tuesday than Monday, so I think this played slightly harder than usual. There might be many reasons for this. PERLE MESTA, for one. No one under 50 knows who that is. And when I say "50" I'm being generous. Clue is no help, as no one knows what "Call Me Madam" is either. Trust me. That's a rough Monday themer for the pre-retired set. I know her because of that one time I didn't know her and fell flat on my face. Since then I've seen either her first or her last name several times in puzzles. Never her full name, though, that I recall, so I almost want to give the puzzle credit for originality there. The theme in general is surprisingly rudimentary—the kind I'm surprised make the grade any more. Feels very MUSTY, to say the least (28A: Stale-smelling). The number of plurals necessitated by the theme makes the puzzle especially blah. And SSGT is bad enough in the singular. In the plural, it literally makes me laugh (49A: Army NCOs). I enjoyed the banks of 7s in all the corners, especially ZERO SUM ICECUBE (3D: Like a game with equal winners and losers + 2D: Drink cooler), which would make a nice band name or title for a dadaist sculpture of some kind. Fill is not terrible, but neither is it above average. It just is. This puzzle is. See you tomorrow.

Happy September.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


French filmmaker who led Cinéma Pur movement / SUN 8-31-14 / British author who wrote Old Devils / Careless hands crooner / Rush-hour subway rider facetiously / Former Oldsmobile model

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Heard At The Movies" — random words strung together, which, when said out loud, sound like the names of BEST PICTURE WINNERs (109A: What you get when you say 23-, 31-, 47-, 64-, 79- or 97-Across out loud):

Theme answers:
  • CHALLAH BOWED HEAVE (23A: Jewish bread / Played, as a violin / Throw (1950))
  • HONDA WATT AFFRONT (31A: Toyota rival / Measure of power / Insult (1954))
  • DWELL FIERCE SUSS LAVE (47A: Reside / Savage / Puzzle (out) / Wash (2013))
  • THUG ODD FODDER (64A: Hooligan / Strange / Silo contents (1972))
  • WARDEN HAIRY PEEPHOLE (79A: Wildlife protector / Difficult / Hotel door feature (1980))
  • HOW TOUGH HAVE RIGA (97A: "In what way?" / Like overcooked steak / Possess / European capital on a gulf (1985))
Word of the Day: RENÉ CLAIR (20A: French filmmaker who led the Cinéma Pur movement) —
René Clair (11 November 1898 – 15 March 1981) born René-Lucien Chomette, was a French filmmaker and writer. He first established his reputation in the 1920s as a director of silent films in which comedy was often mingled with fantasy. He went on to make some of the most innovative early sound films in France, before going abroad to work in the UK and USA for more than a decade. Returning to France after World War II, he continued to make films that were characterised by their elegance and wit, often presenting a nostalgic view of French life in earlier years. He was elected to theAcadémie française in 1960. Clair's best known films include The Italian Straw Hat(1928), Under the Roofs of Paris (1930), Le Million (1931), À nous la liberté (1931), I Married a Witch (1942), and And Then There Were None (1945). (wikipedia)
• • •

Joel Faglia-Yes! So the first and last of these theme-answer concoctions don't really work (not the way I speak, anyway), but the others are remarkably close to the actual movie titles they purport to sound like, and even though the theme was supremely easy to figure out, figuring out individual titles was kind of fun (I somehow never noticed that we'd been given the years of the films in question—for which I'm grateful; puzzle was easy enough without extra hints). This is a highly segmented grid—outside of the theme answers, you get mostly short stuff, so that prevents the fill from being especially noteworthy, but there's no question that this grid is solid, smooth, polished. Joel is Shortz's right hand man at the moment, and not for nothing. He has mad skills for someone who only just graduated from (the greatest) college (on earth).

I don't know how you get around the initial [HCHCHCCHHCHC-] sound on CHALLAH. It's such an obtrusive, noisy sound that it kind of obscures the "ALL A-" sounds it's supposed to be imitating. Bigger problem for me in that answer, though, was BOWED. I thought that violins were BOWED (rhymes with TOAD), not BOWED (rhymes with Maureen DOWD). So between the extra sounds and apparent non-rhyming, I had no idea that I was looking at an aural simulacrum of "All About Eve." Not at first, anyway. "Out of Africa" was a tough one too. Even a best-case pronunciation makes you sound like an early version of Stephen Hawking's voice simulator. There's just no good way to get stress on HAVE, the way you'd have it on the first syllable in "Africa." Also, I say REEE-ga for "Riga," so "HAVE RIGA" is a very bad sound likeness of "Africa," to my brain. But as I say, the others are damned good, as insane as they look.My brain is kind of terrorized right now by the phrase "WARDEN HAIRY PEEPHOLE"—I'm a B-movie fan, but I don't think I could stomach "WARDEN HAIRY PEEPHOLE."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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