Public-road race / THU 4-24-14 / Wassailer's tune / Scratch-card layer / Finnair rival / Spillsaver brand / Conan nickname

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Constructor: Stanley Newman

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: four-syllable clues — Only theme answer = 20A: The theme, part 1 (EVERY ONE OF THE / CLUES HAS EXACTLY / FOUR SYLLABLES)

Word of the Day: RALLYE (48D: Public-road race) —
Rallying, also known as rally racing, is a form of auto racing that takes place on public or private roads with modified production or specially built road-legal cars. This motorsport is distinguished by running not on a circuit, but instead in a point-to-point format in which participants and their co-drivers drive between set control points (special stages), leaving at regular intervals from one or more start points. Rallies may be won by pure speed within the stages or alternatively by driving to a predetermined ideal journey time within the stages. [I have no idea why the French spelling, with the terminal "e," is (sometimes) retained …] (wikipedia)
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Stan is a fine editor (Newsday) and a veteran constructor, but I don't understand this. Who cares if a clue has two or three or seven syllables? How hard is it to write four-syllable clues? I mean, people do entire puzzles where the first letters of clues are just one letter, or where the first letters of clues, in order, spell out elaborate crap. Four syllables? I would think any good constructor could do that for most any grid. Also, this grid is not demanding, and the fill is just OK. Nothing exciting or special. And given that the backbone of the whole puzzle is just … instructions, I fail to see where the interest lies. Why is this interesting? Is this fun? I certainly don't find it bad or offensive, but its reason for existing—why anyone might think this an entertaining idea—is totally beyond me.

This one played pretty easily for me, but then again I had just finished a much more intricate, much harder puzzle (this week's Fireball—a barnburner), so piecing this together felt like child's play. There were a few hang-ups. Wanted LIFE VESTS then LIFE BOATS for LIFE BELTS (which … I don't really know what those are, but I can imagine). NORA (47A: Mrs. James Joyce) and RALLYE (48D: Public-road race) and AMANA (41D: "Spillsaver" brand) were not easy for me to pick up, so coming down out of the middle into the SE was tough. Also, I had TEN- at 37D: Break time, perhaps, but couldn't conceive of writing out O'CLOCK, so remained baffled for a bit. Had ROUE for RAKE (68A: No gentleman). Would never have thought of a scratch-off layer as made of LATEX (though I'm not doubting the science) (3D: Scratch-card layer). Thought 32A: French department was going to be a generic word for the category rather than a *specific* department. Considered RYDER for FEDEX (22D: Golf cup sponsor). None of this is that remarkable or interesting. Just your ordinary snags. Really wish there were something juicy to talk about here, but I don't see it.

The NYT feels like it's in a pretty bad rut at the moment. Monday's puzzle aside, it seems like all the really good work is coming out elsewhere. Hope that turns around soon.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Very high trumpet note / WED 4-23-14 / Keyboardist Saunders / River of Hesse / Unstable subatomic particle / "Luck Be a Lady" composer/lyricist /

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: MERCURY / SEVEN (71A: With 1-Down, first American astronauts) — last names of all seven astronauts populate the grid, clued by their first names, which are in all caps FOR SOME REASON. There are a couple random extra theme answers: SPACE RACE (12D: Old U.S./Soviet rivalry) and ROCKET (9D: NASA vehicle).

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: KAON (38D: Unstable subatomic particle) —
In particle physics, a kaon /ˈk.ɑːn/, also called a K meson and denoted K, is any of a group of four mesonsdistinguished by a quantum number called strangeness. In the quark model they are understood to be bound states of a strange quark (or antiquark) and an up or down antiquark (or quark).
Kaons have proved to be a copious source of information on the nature of fundamental interactions since their discovery in cosmic rays in 1947. They were essential in establishing the foundations of the Standard Model of particle physics, such as the quark model of hadrons and the theory of quark mixing (the latter was acknowledged by a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2008). Kaons have played a distinguished role in our understanding of fundamental conservation lawsCP violation, a phenomenon generating the observed matter-antimatter asymmetry of the universe, was discovered in the kaon system in 1964 (which was acknowledged by a Nobel prize in 1980). Moreover, direct CP violation was also discovered in the kaon decays in the early 2000s. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't really understand why this puzzle exists. It does nothing. It lists a bunch of names, only a handful of which are legitimately famous. There is no anniversary here. The theme is dense, but so what? The fill is consequently Tortured. This is just baffling. What is the point? Why are the theme clues (the astronaut names, anyway) in all caps? That makes no sense and follows no crossword convention that I know of. When I got SCHIRRA for 1A: WALLY I was like "… ??? … is there some wordplay involved here? Do I have the answer wrong? What is a SCHIRRA?" Later I hit an astronaut name I recognized, so I had to just go on faith that SCHIRRA was a name (see also CARPENTER, COOPER, SLAYTON (?); I knew SHEPARD, GRISSOM and GLENN. Good thing GLENN is famous, because that SE corner was threatening to be undoable for a bit there. A ridiculous obscure Dickinson for WHEREON? Even with WHEREO-, I wasn't entirely sure of the last letter. Thank god I remembered MERL Saunders (*not* in everyone's crossword bag o' tricks, I assure you). That at least kept me in the game down there (62A: Keyboardist Saunders).

Never heard of SUPER C (48A: Very high trumpet note). Again, *thank god* -OOPER was inferable as COOPER, because that letter after SUPER could've been anything, as far as I was concerned. Figured C > H, since C, unlike H, is a note. So C. LOESSER … (69A: "Luck Be a Lady" composer/lyricist) … again, pure crossword muscle memory there. Ugh. I stared at NOTO- / -AON for many seconds before deciding on what letter could possibly go there. THE DIE is a terrible partial. I've never seen ACETALS, or maybe I have, but it looks like a ton of other acetyl / acetate / acetone answers I've filled in over the years (18A: Volatile solvents). DOODLER I like (26D: School desk drawer?); also ATROPHIED (21D: Weakened due to inactivity). The rest is just an absurd exercise in symmetry. Baffling.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS same theme published in NYT in 1998:


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