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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Easy-ish

THEME: “Counterproductive" — Theme answers are defined by the number of letters they contain.

Theme answers:
  • MIDNIGHT HOUR (22A: This clue’s 110-Across, timewise) 
  • DIVER’S GOAL (28A: This clue’s 110-Across, at the Olympics)
  • VOTING AGE IN AMERICA (49A: This clue’s 110-Across, as is relevant each November) 
  • BAD LUCK SYMBOL (64A: This clue’s 110-Across, to the superstitious) 
  • ARGON’S ATOMIC NUMBER (81A: This clue’s 110-Across, in chemistry) 
  • REAL LOOKER (102A: This clue’s 110-Across, in terms of attractiveness) 
and then:
  • ANSWER LENGTH (110A: Something to count to understand 22-, 28-, 49-, 64-, 81-, and 102-Across)

Word of the Day: TOUCAN SAM (77D: One with a large bill at breakfast?)
Toucan Sam is the cartoon toucan mascot for Froot Loops breakfast cereal. The character has been featured in advertising since the 1960s. He exhibits the ability to smell Froot Loops from great distances and invariably locates a concealed bowl of the cereal while intoning, "Follow your nose! It always knows!", sometimes followed by "The flavor of fruit! Wherever it grows!" Another version of this phrase in a string of commercials in the late-2000s presents the character at the end of the commercials saying "Just follow your nose!", followed by a group of children retorting, "For the fruity taste that shows!"
• • •
Alex Eylar here -- I bumped into Rex on the subway; I said “Excuse me”; he said “Hey do you want to cover the puzzle today”; I said “Yeah why not”, and here I am.

This puzzle seems... expository, I guess is the word. Take ARGON’S ATOMIC NUMBER, for example: it contains 18 letters, and argon is atomic number 18, and, well, that’s it. It’s definitely accurate, but it’s not really an Aha! moment.

It doesn’t help as you’re solving it, either. I run across 22A first and I see it references a later clue, and I think to myself, “Welp, guess I’m not filling that in, tra la la la la” And then I think those same thoughts for the next five theme answers. So it’s not as if I’m working out the trick -- I’m just waiting until I get enough crosses that I can maybe figure out what the F these phrases are.

Except, they're not phrases (with the exception of MIDNIGHT HOUR and REAL LOOKER) -- they’re just descriptions of the connotations of a number. And the sentence “descriptions of the connotations of a number” doesn’t inspire a lot of excitement.


It reminds me of this puzzle from April: self-reflexive, but not really in an astounding way. It doesn’t elicit a “Wow!” or an “Oh, I get it!” -- it’s more of a “Huh, all-righty then.” That feeling, combined with the inescapably-fuzzy language of the clues (“Something to count to understand...”) makes the puzzle a bit flat, in my opinion. An interesting idea on paper, but there’s some oomph missing in practice.

I also don’t quite see the point in including the circled FOUR, which has four letters, and yeah. It’s a number describing itself (the only number to do so, fun fact!), but it feels like an afterthought. I appreciate the symmetry and the cascading arrangement of the letters, but what does it add to the puzzle?

That said, this puzzle was definitely on the easier side; finished just two minutes over my best time.

Words of note:
  • TO ARMS! (115A: Dramatic battle cry) — I had CHARGE! at first, which I yell every time I pull onto the 405.
  • HOP IN (6A: Words said through a car window) — For some reason, I pictured the window to be rolled-up, and was searching for a phrase you’d yell through a closed window, all of which are profane. (Perhaps you’re sensing a theme here)
  • EVITABLE (24A: Not definitely going to happen) — I mean... I guess it’s a word, but the opposite is far more friendly.
  • NEVERMORE (12D: Old-fashioned “That’s absolutely the last time”) — The lack of a Poe reference is a gross failure in my book; I love that poem.
  • HOME MOVIE (76D: Family Night entertainment) — I grew up in a boring family too.
Winners: TOUCAN SAM, TARTARE, MAN ALIVE, PHONE IT IN, NEVERMORE, COVER ME, ALI BABA, and I’M LOVIN’ IT (apostrophes for everyone!)

Losers: PEELE and PEELER, GOLAN (looks like five random letters to my uncultured eyes), ON MARS (helluva partial), NBAERS (‘ae’ is the ugliest thing ever, trust me, they’re my initials).

Signed, Alex Eylar, Serf of Crossworld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Cheap cigar slangily / SAT 11-18-17 / Noted corporate raider of 1980s / Ehud Barak abandoned it in 2011 / Cremona treasures familiarly / Boolean string in programming / Eponym of electrical law / ID anew as on Facebook

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: LLOYD Price (47D: Price of R&B) —
Lloyd Price (born March 9, 1933) is an American R&B vocalist, known as "Mr. Personality", after one of his million-selling hits. His first recording, "Lawdy Miss Clawdy", was a hit for Specialty Records in 1952. He continued to release records, but none were as popular until several years later, when he refined the New Orleans beat and achieved a series of national hits. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. (wikipedia)
• • •

This grid is original, though part of that originality involves rolling with words and phrases that are unfamiliar or odd or new or otherwise kind of head-cocking / "?"-inducing. Every long Across in the NW, for instance—I don't have complaints about those answers, but every one of them had me going "Is ... that a thing? Is that spelled right? I know those words, but do they really go together?" Otter pops are a real things, so OTTER PUP made me wonder ... and then the spelling of PUH-LEASE ... felt right, but obviously there's no real authority there ... and I have never heard of an UBER POOL, though I can infer what that is, I guess (like a carpool for people who don't own cars?). "YEAH, DUDE" also falls into this "O...K" category. I know what a beta test is, obviously, but haven't seen BETA TESTER. I'll just take your word for it that DATA TYPE is a thing. Also ARM BAR. But in the end, LLOYD Price was the only thing that was a total "?", and the crosses were all solid, so no sweat. The whole thing felt like work, but I never got seriously stalled. Finished just under 8. I think that's Medium. I'm not sure.


I can picture Simone BILES but I totally forgot her last name and BILES just looks weird in isolation somehow. When I say it, I know it's right, but when I look at it, again, I'm making that "is that right?" face. The opposite phenomenon happened to me with Sylvia SYMS, i.e. I can't picture her at all, but her name just came to me and felt right (51D: Sylvia of jazz). Parsing a number of these answers was very hard, starting with PUH-LEASE and then continuing with MS DEGREE and especially P.E. TEACHER, which looked like a "pet ... something" (36D: One with whom your relationship is working out, briefly?). People are complaining on Twitter that because CHASE UTLEY was not a Dodger when he "won four consecutive Silver Slugger Awards beginning in 2006," that clue is inaccurate or at least misleading (13D: Dodgers second baseman who won four consecutive Silver Slugger Awards beginning in 2006). I took one look at the clue, then one look at the "L-Y" already sitting at the end of that answer, and had zero problems. Also, if you don't know who CHASE UTLEY is ... you picked a bad week to skip the Friday puzzle (back-to-back Utleez!). Most embarrassing moment was having -AINES and going "HAINES? ... GAINES?" Then I remembered what the letters in LBJ stand for. Ugh (44D: Presidential middle name).


Wrong answers I had:
  • BLAT (2D: Big blow for a musician? => TUBA) 
  • ILL (60D: Trouble => ADO)
  • PGA (7D: Tour grp. => USO)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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