Green topper / SUN 8-2-15 / False god / Part of a dealership

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Constructor: Matt Ginsberg

Relative difficulty: 0:33 faster than average, says the iPad app, so...about average

THEME: Literally speaking —the circled squares follow the internal directions.

Word of the Day: SKOSH (6A: Tiny bit) —
From Japanese 少し ‎(sukoshi, a little bit). // Noun, plural skoshes. // A tiny amount; a little bit; tad; smidgen; jot. He added just a skosh of vinegar, to give the recipe some zip. (Wiktionary)
• • •
[NOTE FROM REX: Comments section is now moderated. It will take between minutes and hours for your comment to appear, depending on my (and a few others') access to a computer. This policy is not up for debate and not likely to change any time soon. Complaints about bad actors just piled up and so I had to do something. This is it. The last two days' worth of comments have been moderated and the Comments section is much, much nicer—thanks for all the kind notes, btw. OK, now on to today's featured Rex stand-in: the wonderful Melissa!]

Hello! I'm Melissa, and I'm pinch-hitting for Rex today. I, too, live in New York State, but that might be about all I have in common with our illustrious absent host. Rex, I hope you're enjoying your vacation!

I found this puzzle on the meh side: I feel like I've seen this sort of theme somewhere in the not-too-distant past, but I can't dredge up exactly where it was. I also felt like the puzzle was overloaded with proper names. But the puzzle does contain a whopping 11 theme answers, ranging in length from 8 to 13 characters and nicely positioned symmetrically in the grid.

Theme answers:
  • CALLBACK (20A: Result of a successful audition)
  • SPLIT SECOND (25A: Instant)
  • TORN TO SHREDS (37A: In bits)
  •  MINCEMEAT (46A: Kind of pie)
  •  DRIFT APART (54A: Lose that loving feeling)
  •  SCRAMBLED EGGS (62A: Diner offering)
  •  MIXED MEDIA (72A: Art type)
  •  HASH MARKS (83A: # # #)
  •  INTERMINGLED (90A: Like 0's and 1's in binary)
  •  FAST SHUFFLE (105A: Card sharp's deception)
  •  UNBROKEN (112A: Whole)
If you're keeping score, that's one reversal, five slices, and five anagrams. I'm a little bothered that of the sliced answers, one has the cut between two words (TO/SHREDS) whereas the others are all cut in the middle of a word (S/ECOND, M/E/AT, DRIF/T, U/N). I also would have liked to see more than one reversal, or no reversals at all, since it's the odd one out here.

I typically solve on my iPad, which means that I generally am working sequentially through the clues. On my first pass through, I also tend to enter only the things I'm absolutely certain of, because I always forget about the pencil tool. (Then again, even when I solve on paper, I prefer to use a pen, preferably a Pilot G-2 Extra Fine or Ultra Fine blue: I'm a southpaw, and for me, this pen's ink is relatively quick-drying and therefore relatively smear-proof.) One advantage of solving electronically is that when I'm done, there's no evidence of any mistakes I may have made along the way!
Here's what I had after my first pass through today's puzzle:

Not so much, eh? This was a bit sparser than usual, for my first pass through. And so much for certainty, especially with respect to 73D, 76D, 28A, and 60A. (Uncertainty? Paging Schrödinger's buddy Heisenberg, who was stopped for speeding. When the officer asked him if he knew how fast he was going, he said, "No, but I know exactly where I am!" Ba-dum-bump.)

Speaking of 60A (Puffed ___), puffed rice is fairly common, especially among those health food nuts who prefer their breakfast to resemble styrofoam packing peanuts. (There's also puffed wheat, of course, which becomes almost edible if it's coated with sugar, or these days more likely 7D, but that doesn't fit here.) I don't think I've ever seen puffed OATS. When I googled "puffed rice" (with the quotation marks) I got about 491,000 results, compared to about 6,400 results for "puffed oats." But those numbers don't tell the whole story. When I looked through the first couple of pages of puffed oats results, all but one of the hits were for UK links. The only United States-based link went to Amazon—but the box of cereal was fulfilled by a UK company, it's definitely not an American brand because the picture of the box shows that it's "high fibre," and one box would set you back $8.35. Thus, I question this particular cluing decision.

Once I started to make a few successive passes through the puzzle, my errors became obvious. By about the third pass through, I had both SPLIT SECOND and MINCEMEAT and the theme clicked, so I could make some educated guesses at the other theme answers. The NE was the last part of the grid I filled in, largely because (as you can see) I had a taxi instead of a large body of water. Once I erased that, I goofed again by putting Apex instead of ACME (16D: Zenith), which didn't help matters any.

  • RATSO (1D: ___ Rizzo of film) — I hesitated here because Betty also has five letters, and that's the first name of Rizzo in Grease. After my first pass, I was able to fill this one in and the rest of the corner fell fairly easily. But it took me a little while to properly parse 1A (Move, as a plant) and fill in REPOT, even with that initial R in place.
  • SOD (52A: Green topper) and ELF (59D: Figure often dressed in green) — I might know Matt Ginsberg's favorite color now. 
  • LOTION (93D: Bottle in a beach bag) and FRY (109D: Linger in the hot sun) — I had to bring this up because it gives me a chance to put in this, from the great Ella Fitzgerald singing the great Cole Porter.
  • I could have done without the crosswordese of STG ESAI OTOE AMAT OTTOII ASTA DIGHT (11A 14A 45A 97A 110A 47D 64D).
  • START A FIRE (71D: Rub some sticks together, as at camp) — I initially had light A FIRE. Do people still rub sticks together for this purpose? Even back in the dark ages of my Girl Scout days, we had matches.
  • ANODES (80A: Battery ends) — Those poor neglected cathodes never get any attention in CrossWorld! (What did the anode say to the cathode? "You're always so negative!")
  • SHE-CAT (6D: Tom's partner) — I've never heard anyone refer to a queen by this name! (My own neutered tom answers to Leo.)
  • SAYS (15D: "___ You!")Says You is one of my favorite public radio shows. I was sad to hear that the creator and original host, Richard Sher, passed away earlier this year, but I look forward to hearing the new shows with new host (and long-time panelist) Barry Nolan, once they're taped.
  • ORCA (31D: Boat in "Jaws") — Has anyone else who solves on a platform that includes the Mini Puzzle noticed that there's often duplication, or near-duplication, of answers between the little and big puzzles? Today's Mini includes ORCAS (1D: Animals in the acclaimed documentary "Blackfish"). This particular example doesn't bother me so much because it isn't an exact duplication, but there have been multiple instances where the same answer will be clued identically in both puzzles for a single day. Since I use the Mini as a warm-up exercise for the big puzzle, it's always really obvious to me when it happens. I wish I could access previous Minis so I could give you a specific example, but it seems that if you miss the window for a particular Mini, it's closed forever.
  • ME LIKE (92D: Informal approval) — The few times I've heard something along these lines, it's always been "Me likey." That said, I haven't heard even that for a few years.
  • SKID ROWS (9D: Lush locales) — I like this clue. My favorite Skid Row is the one that's home to Seymore and Audrey II.
  • MALI (72D: Country once known as French Sudan) —This is my chance to publicly thank Mrs. Smith, my sixth-grade social studies teacher. In her class, we studied the geography of Africa and Asia, and which enabled me to confidently fill in this answer when I first saw it. So, Mrs. Smith, for this and much more, domo arigato!
Thanks for reading. I'm not Rex, but I hope this has been up to his standard.

Signed, Melissa, off the bench in CrossWorld


Nixon adviser Nofziger / SAT 8-1-15 / Jazz’s Beiderbecke / Cornel who wrote “Race Matters” / Put in bundles for the bookbinder / Musician Mendes known for the bossa nova / Irish runner Coghlan / Highest authority in some Eastern Churches / Basketball’s Black Mamba / Food writer Drummond

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Constructor: Kameron Austin Collins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


Word of the Day: QUIRED (42A: Put in bundles for the bookbinder) —
noun \ˈkwī(-ə)r\
Definition of QUIRE

:  a collection of 24 or sometimes 25 sheets of paper of the same size and quality :  one twentieth of a ream (Merriam-Webster)

• • •

Hey there, I’m Evan Birnholz. I write the weekly crossword over at Devil Cross, with a new puzzle every Saturday (the latest one should be up sometime this morning). And next Saturday is Lollapuzzoola 8, a.k.a. Lollapuzzocho. It’s a crossword tournament held on a Saturday in August. It’s a really fun thing that you should go to because I said so, but if you can’t make it in person, you can always order the set of puzzles for solving at home. I’ll be there, so come say hi to me.

I liked this one – it had a good contemporary feel and had several lively phrases like KOBE BRYANTHOLY SYNODBLANK CDSLAD MAGMATCH POINTGEMSTONEPEACH PITTONGUE-TIED, P.A. SYSTEM, and SEXTED. I’m tickled by FRIEND ZONE (32A: Relationship with unrequited love, in modern slang) appearing right below BABYCAKES (27A: Sweetie); I can guarantee that any single person who tries to put the moves on a stranger at a bar while using the word BABYCAKES won’t get any further than the FRIEND ZONE (and more likely, they'll end up far away from the Friend Zone and instead land in the Sketchy Creep Zone). Anyway, the stairway pattern of 7-plus letter answers in the middle is nicely done -- it's not the easiest grid arrangement to pull off. Now, I'm not enamored with short stuff like GPOE'ENENSTEM, and REE, though at least REE has a more interesting clue (51D: Food writer Drummond) than an old standby like [Riddle-me-___]. I’m also not really a fan of the LIBELEE/INTERNEE combo (of the two I'd say INTERNEE is the better entry). But I can overlook these things for the sparkly phrases mentioned above.

There were, however, a few answers that left me scratching my head. NAÏVE ART (50A: Works of childlike simplicity) was totally new to me. It’s a legit thing, with a Wiki page and all -- apparently the artist Henri Rousseau was a practitioner of the form -- though I was looking askance at that one for a bit, like it were as arbitrary a phrase as EAGER ART or CUDDLY ART. But alright, I'm uncultured and uncouth and don't know as much about different art forms as I should, so no real harm there. FREE UNION (32D: Cohabitation without marriage) was another question mark. I've never heard of any living arrangement described as a FREE UNION before. Cohabitation, yes; but the clue is the same, word-for-word, as Merriam-Webster's definition, which to me is usually a sign that it's not a very common phrase since the puzzle gives you the most straightforward clue on a Saturday. Even with a Wiki page of its own, FREE UNION doesn't Google all that well as a term for cohabitation -- it gets more hits on the front page as an uber-small town in Virginia. And then there's QUIRED. That word looks like a beheaded REQUIRED (and how long till we see a puzzle with that as a punny theme answer, clued as [Put in bundles for the bookbinder again]?). It's not uncommon that I'll encounter maybe one or two names in a crossword that I don't know, but these answers felt way, way more obscure as phrases relative to the rest of the puzzle. Your mileage may vary.

Despite those issues, I didn't get slowed up that much while solving. For the most part I think the cluing felt a little too over-the-plate for a Saturday. It could be because Kameron and I are in roughly the same age group, so maybe the modern slang and pop culture references were in my wheelhouse. KOBE BRYANT was an insta-get for me as a lifelong NBA fan. FRIEND ZONE fell pretty easily too, as did BLANK CDS once I had the terminal -CDS (though that had a pretty good clue, 10D: They may get burned). Even something like 30D: Sent pixxx? basically screamed SEXTED because of the triple x's. Whatever the reason, most of the clues didn’t put up much resistance when I had a few letters filled in, save for things like QUIRED and FREE UNION and NAÏVE ART.

My biggest trouble spot in this puzzle, by far, was the southwest corner. At first I had WASN’T I at 48A: Defensive comeback instead of the correct AREN'T I, and actually the clue there seems a little strange. How is AREN’T I a defensive comeback? It strikes me more like something you’d say out of coyness (i.e. “Well, aren’t you just the cutest!” .... “AREN’T I???” *bats eyelashes*). I’ve heard of the musician SERGIO (53A: Musician Mendes known for the bossa nova), but I don’t know his music well and needed help from the crossing NGO (49D: CARE, e.g., for short). EAMONN (55A: Irish runner Coghlan)? Yeah, that name was definitely not coming to me without all of the crosses. Each of those answers was crossed fairly, fortunately. The clue that really threw me for a loop was 43A: Specialty, informally (BAG). Could be just me, but I’ve never heard anyone use BAG in this context. Would KOBE BRYANT say “Basketball is my bag”? Or is it more specific to a certain skill, like Kobe saying “Jacking up contested 21-foot jump shots fifteen times a game is my bag”? I dunno; maybe it's a regional or outdated expression. Maybe people who make bags at the Bag Factory use this kind of slang, and if they don’t, then they should.

Anyhow, all these nits aside, this was still an enjoyable puzzle. I would have liked a little more bite in the cluing, but overall, NICE.

(p.s. Just kidding, Kobe. You know I respect your bag. But on this puzzle blog you’re just like the BLANK CDS: you may get burned.)

  • PEACH PIT (15A: Cobbler waste) — The ‘90s child in me felt about 0.5% sadness that this wasn’t clued as the hangout spot in “Beverly Hills, 90210,” then I realized that the other 99.5% of me didn’t care for and didn't watch much of that show when it was on. Somehow I remembered that little tidbit, though.
  • OHH (21A: "Now I get it!") — Here’s how this little game played out for me: “Ah, it’s AHA!” **sees that 12D: Office paper is MEMO** ….. “Oh, it’s OHO!” ….. **SIGH** (14D: [Not that again]) “Oh, I get it now, it’s OHH.” Weirdly fitting that I would get this one wrong.
  • RISKY (24A: Parlous) — "Parlous" is new to me too. It's basically the same as "perilous."
  • RAILING (24D: What's up for grabs?) — This clue confused me at first. I thought it was referring only to a rail that you'd see overhead like on a subway, but I think it should be interpreted as "what's put up (i.e. built) for grabs."
  • WEST (38A: Cornel who wrote “Race Matters”) — He was another insta-get for me. Two things about this answer: first, now that I realize it, if this had instead been clued in reference to NBA Hall-of-Famer Jerry WEST, then you’d have two Laker legends crossing one another, but maybe that would have been too many sports clues with MATCH POINT and ON THE ICE already in the grid. Second, this puzzle would be a pangram were it not missing the letter J, and 38A could have been JEST. But the crossing WAILERS (38D: Original band that sang “I Shot the Sheriff,” with “the”) references a fun song, so thumbs-up for that. Pangrams are overrated, anyhow.

  • P.A. SYSTEM (56A: Principal means of address?) — I'm calling foul here simply because the A of P.A. stands for "Address," so I'm not crazy about it being duplicated in the clue.
Last thing: my best wishes to The Crossword Fiend Amy Reynaldo as she recovers from kidney transplant surgery. I've heard she's doing well, and hopefully she'll be up and about and back to normal as soon as possible. You got this, Amy!

Signed, Evan Birnholz, Earl "The Pearl" of CrossWorld

[Follow me on Twitter @devilcrosswords]


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