Peddler of religious literature / SAT 5-27-17 / Great Trek figure of 1830s / Notable 1973 defendant / Dickens character with dead lull about her / Spring's cyclic counterpart

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Challenging (Easy, except for SW corner, which is not)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: COLPORTEUR (28D: Peddler of religious literature) —
Colportage is the distribution of publications, books, and religious tracts by carriers called "colporteurs". The term does not necessarily refer to religious book peddling. (wikipedia)
• • •

Sometimes just an answer or two can ruin a whole puzzle for me. And I don't just mean ruin as in "ruin my time." I mean "bring the mood crashing down" or "make me wince in a way that never quite leaves my face." Today's puzzle was mostly excellent, I think. Lots of fresh and lively fill, incl. THROW SHADE and FLEXITARIAN. Fairly polished, wide-ranging. There were some dicey bits, like ETTAS (?) over IATE (??), but in the main, things were pretty ship shape. I am not sure I believe there is such a thing as a FLORIDA TECH (?), but I'll take the puzzle's word for it. Don't mind BOSOMY as a word, I guess, but coulda done without the ogley "centerfold" reference (43D: Like centerfolds, typically). But still, like I say, I was largely digging it. But then: two problems.

Just because a word *technically* exists doesn't mean you should try to pass it off as a legit crossword answer. 999 out of 1000 people are gonna say PRE-NATAL. 1 out of 1000 is going to say ANTENATAL (8D: During pregnancy), and that person is possessed by the ghost of a 19th-century country doctor. Just as you would never say PREBELLUM, you would never say ANTENATAL, no no no. I mean, I'm no doctor, but no. Looks like ANTENATAL might be Australian-speak. That's what google is indicating. But, yeah, I don't live there. So no. You don't take ANTENATAL vitamins, you take prenatal vitamins. You know it, I know it, the Carthaginians knew it. Prenatal. But that was just an eye-roll, frankly, *This* on the other hand, was a hard middle finger:

So much wrong here. First, yes, I *do* enjoy learning new things. But I do Not enjoy inelegantly made grids. This answer is the *only* way into a tight corner. So basically, you get COLP-, and you (if you're like me) go "Huh ... that's the start of no word ever. I must have an error." Then you think, "Wait ... is it MALE BLUE DOT?" Then you dive into the SW and you actually know the pitcher (though aren't sure about ABBOTT v. ABBETT) (39D: Jim ___, one-handed Yankee who pitched a no-hitter in 1993) and you know BOER (44A: Great Trek figure of the 1830s) and you know TERRY, but ... the rest stump you. Oh, you guess NEARER (41D: Like Mars vis-à-vis Jupiter), but ... still stuck. *Two* "?" clues down there? Come on. And that 28-Down, yeah, that still looks like gibberish. I still somehow managed to finish this thing in under 7 minutes, but the last two of those were spent just in that tiny stupid corner.

To end on a word that obscure, that uninferrable, that ... ugh. It sapped all the good vibes. All I was left with was this crappy jerk-word, which I would've been "happy" enough to learn, I guess, if a. it hadn't been such a sore thumb standout compared to the rest of the grid, and b. it hadn't been completely blocking the only entrance to that small corner. Solver experience, not considered. AGAIN: just because a word exists doesn't mean you should pull the trigger. Use some judgment. And for god's sake, don't ruin your otherwise lovely puzzle with obscure clunkers.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Chief justice in Dred Scott verdict / FRI 5-26-17 / Donnie of 2001 cult film / Sport for rikishi

Friday, May 26, 2017

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easiest Friday I've Ever Done

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Roger TANEY (23D: Chief justice in the Dred Scott verdict) —
Roger Brooke Taney (/ˈtɔːni/; March 17, 1777 – October 12, 1864) was the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He delivered the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), that ruled, among other things, that African-Americans, having been considered inferior at the time the United States Constitution was drafted, were not part of the original community of citizens and, whether free or slave, could not be considered citizens of the United States, which created an uproar among abolitionists and the free states of the northern U.S. He was the first Roman Catholic (and first non-Protestant) appointed both to a presidential cabinet, as Attorney General under President Andrew Jackson, as well as to the Court. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this was quite smooth, but also maybe too smooth. So smooth it was barely there. I finished in 3:51, a personal Friday record. Faster than every other puzzle I've solved this week (M, T, W and F were all actually within five seconds of one another). The puzzle seems nicely made, but I didn't really have much time to notice. Dropped 1D: ___ mocha (CAFFE) in pretty much right away (no point even looking at those long Acrosses before I've given the short Downs a go), and I honestly didn't pause, hesitate, or have to skip a clue for about the next dozen answers. Read clue, write answer. ELSE ATOLL FLUTE TORUS SMITE and goodbye. Slight hesitation on BFA vs. MFA (12A: Writer's deg.), but powered right through that. If there were such a thing as a Tuesday themeless, this would be it. Looking it over now ... it's really quite nice. Not scintillating, maybe, but not at all boring, and really quite polished. No gunk, lively fill. Possibly this constructor's best work.

There were exactly four answers in the puzzle that I had to work around.

1. I didn't really get the clue at 33A: Cricket, to a grasshopper, or vice versa. I thought maybe there was some adage or some Aesopian something or other that this referred to. Actually, my first thought upon seeing "Cricket" was the sport, but "grasshopper" got me back to reality. I just solved all the crosses, but even at -OUSIN I had at least a second of "????" and thought maybe I had an error. Is "COUSIN" a technical entomological term? Seems dicey.

2. Then I had the "F" in 38D: Surgical tool but couldn't bring it down. I was So Bummed because I knew I was flying and I was relying on that answer to help me turn the corner quickly into the SE. But I just blanked. Luckily ROMAS got me REEDED (educated guess), and then DARKO got me the "K" I needed to see KEEP TALKING.

3. I know BALOO now that I see it, but as I was filling that section in, the "B" didn't help, then the "BA-" didn't help, then the "BA--O" didn't help. Also, I ended up looking at the ELGIN clue really late for some reason. That was a gimme and might've made my progress through the SE a little smoother. But ultimately BALOO got worked out from crosses.

4. This was the only flat-out Don't-Know-It in the puzzle. An old, uncommon proper noun. No big surprise that it was the least movable object. I ran into it early and just turned the other direction (toward the NW). And then I solved the rest of the puzzle and just ended up back there again. Got every letter from crosses, ending with the "Y" in BETRAY (37A: Unknowingly reveal).

The overall easiness owes a lot to CAFFE and DARKO—two gimmes in optimal positions (providing the first letters of a bank of long Acrosses). The "C" and "F," and the "K" and the "O" (respectively) were particularly high-value letters, allowing me to see those long Acrosses very, very quickly. Low proper noun load meant low chance of getting badly stuck. Then there's the fill, which lives very much in the realm of real words / terms, and not crosswordese / obscurities. All of this adds up to Lightning. Hope you had a similarly triumphant solving feeling. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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