1927 automotive debut / THU 9-21-17 / Formula One racer Prost / Operative villains often / Vacuum tube innovation of 1946 / Ragtime legend Blake / Helmer of Doll's House

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Constructor: Matt Ginsberg

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: UEY (57D: Often-illegal maneuver that is key to answering the asterisked clues) —answers double back on the subsequent Across line (once they hit the black square):

Theme answers:
  • TWO-TIM / EL OSER (1A: *Adlai Stevenson as a presidential candidate, e.g.)
  • SALAR / Y CAPS (21A: *Limits on team payrolls)
  • STRIK / ES A BA / LANCE (31A: **Doesn't go to either extreme)
  • TATTL / ETALE (47A: *Snitch)
  • PRIVAT / E LINES (60A: *Individual telephone connections)
Word of the Day: GIVE EAR (25A: Listen (to)) —
Verb1.give ear - give heed (to); "The children in the audience attended the recital quietly"; "She hung on his every word"; "They attended to everything he said" (thefreedictionary.com)
• • •

So the basic concept is solid—answers do a U-turn, and the comeback portion of the answer is itself a viable word in the Across. The double-UEY in the middle of the grid is a nice twist. The fill is just OK, but the theme is pretty demanding, so no strong complains there. What I dislike, to the point of resenting, is the deliberate trap set in the west. Now traps are fine, but when you set them where your Stupidest answers are, then falling into them is deeply unpleasant. A good trap should make you go "Ah, right, good one." But GIVE EAR (?!) is a phenomenally stupid thing, and crossing VEEPSTAKES ... ? Is VEEPSTAKES the thing where candidates decide on VP candidates? We gave that a name? The clue makes it sound like an official thing. It's not. There is not necessarily a "stakes" involved. Just pick a running mate. Anyway, back to the trap. 25D: A whole bunch (_O_S) ... crossing 36A: Social gathering (_E_). The latter was what really got me. I wrote in TEA and then that gave me LOTS for [A whole bunch]. And that was pretty much that. Had LI_EEAR and _EAPSTAKES and couldn't see how any answers I had were wrong. Because they weren't wrong. They were just wrong for This Grid because stupid GIVE EAR and stupid VEEPSTAKES thought they'd have a stupid party for ugly answers. Luckily at some point my "tear it all out" instinct kicked in, and somehow I was able to get to GIVE / GOBS / BEE / VEEP. Again, theme was solid, but not solid enough to absorb the blow from the GIVE EAR train wreck.

MISCALL is superdumb (28D: Poker blunder). What the hell is that? Where you call but shouldn't have? How is there a name for that kind of stupidity? What is an ALAIN Prost? (48D: Formula One racer Prost) People know that? People know Formula One racers? Talk about niche sports. Worst mistake I made all day wasn't the LOTS / TEA thing (that was a very reasonable mistake). No, it was reading "Scoville scale" (40D: Topping the Scoville scale) but thinking "Beaufort scale." So I could see the answer wanted to be HOTTEST, but ... winds aren't measure by hotness.

My favorite clue in this thing is probably 43A: George I or V? (SOFT G). Clever. Take it from an erstwhile medievalist, a knight does not "need" a LANCE, no way, no how, no. NOSED IN is almost as dumb as GIVE EAR. But again, most of the fill (though oldish and awkward at times) holds up, and the theme is fine.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Fitness program done to Latin music / WED 9-20-17 / Scottish hillside / Citrus named for its appearance

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Constructor: Hal Moore

Relative difficulty: Easy (like, really really easy, if you make the smart choice and completely ignore the Note and the bracketed numbers)

THEME: ab bc cd etc — here's the note:

So the clues are numbered 1 to 25, and 1 has "AB" in it, 2 has "BC" in it, 3 has "CD" in it, etc. etc. Are you not entertained!?

Word of the Day: SUVA (44A: Capital of FIJI) —
Suva (Fijian pronunciation: [ˈsuβa]) is the capital, second largest municipality and largest municipality with city status in Fiji. It is located on the southeast coast of the island of Viti Levu, in the Rewa Province, Central Division. [...] At the 2007 census, the city of Suva had a population of 85,691. Including independent suburbs, the population of the Greater Suva urban area was 172,399 at the 2007 census] Suva, along with the bordering towns of Lami, Nasinu, and Nausori have a total urban population of around 330,000, over a third of the nation's population. This urban complex (not including Lami) is known also as the Suva–Nausori corridor. (wikipedia)
• • •

The puzzle is not in a good place right now. It just can't find its mojo, can't catch a break. I'm sure this theme sounded good ... in the constructor's head (??) ("I'll show 'em!"). But there is literally zero interest from the solver's point of view. Who. The. Hell. Cares. About two-letter strings? The entire puzzle seems to have been conceived to justify the entry BMWXSERIES (62A: Line of upscale German autos [23]). Like someone bet him that he couldn't pull this theme off because no way he could pull off "WX," man, that would be like jumping the Snake River Canyon! But then the constructor was like "Hold my laptop" and hopped onto his rocket-propelled motorcycle and zoom! "QR" required some ingenuity as well (BBQ RIBS). Beyond that, it's all very dreary. Yes, you get BWXSERIES, but you also get BCE and (ugh) OFGOD and PALME etc. Not worth it. I might've been at least mildly impressed if there had been only one instance of each sequential letter pair in the grid. But there are two "NO"s and like half a dozen "RS"s. So ... yeah, NO.

If any good comes of this puzzle, it's that I pass along to you how much I like WIM Winders movies (28A: Wenders who directed "Buena Vista Social Club"). His Road Movie trilogy (starting with "Alice in the Cities" 1974)) is quirkily beautiful. I've got "Hammett" (1982) set to record later this week, and "Until the End of the World" just sitting on my DVR waiting for a time when I have an unbroken 4 hr. chunk to dedicate to it. Gonna watch "Paris, Texas" next, since Harry Dean Stanton just died. A bunch of WIM Wenders movies are on FilmStruck (which, along with TCM and Netflix and all the EPIX channels, is practically all I watch). Anyway, WIM! That is my recommendation for the day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I had one "uh oh, careful" moment as I was zooming through the grid, right when I got to 58A: Fleur-de-___ (LYS). I wrote in LIS but my brain immediately registered the possibility of a different spelling, and wouldn't let me leave the corner until I had checked the cross (probably seconds later). And thus I never had to hunt down that error (as many will have had to)

P.P.S. I met a dog named "Hester" in the woods today (3D: Hawthorne who created Hester Prynne) (NATHANIEL). YEAH, I too thought it was weird. I mean, if your dog is an adulterer, no judgment, but do I really need to know that?

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