Balloon-carried probe / FRI 2-5-16 / Clean freak of sitcomdom / Chicago exchange in brief / Sister brand of Alpha-Bits / Of wrath in hymn title / Avian symbol of Ontario / Threepio's first master

Friday, February 5, 2016

Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SONDE (35A: Balloon-carried probe) —
noun
noun: sonde; plural noun: sondes
  1. an instrument probe that automatically transmits information about its surroundings underground, under water, in the atmosphere, etc. (google)
• • •

This was an interesting mixture of Great and Iffy. Luckily, all of the Iffy is in the short stuff (3- to 5-letter range). The grid-spanners are all fresh and solid and lovely, which is as it should be. When you stack 15s, you tend to have to stand for some junk, or at least some wobbliness; when you lattice (now a verb), you should be able to get your 15s all into the realm of Nice. The only issue I have with the 15s is the going back to the same "contemporary actress" well in successive long answers, i.e. following up SHAILENE WOODLEY with JESSICA CHASTAIN—both fine answers, but I like puzzlees better when they're drawing their answers from diverse realms of the knowledge spectrum. Here, if you are pop culture illiterate (and I'm looking at a whole lot of you), you don't get double-whammied in such short order. But again, on their own, both answers, fantastic, fair, good. And honestly this puzzle had me at "A MODEST PROPOSAL," so however much the thing stumbled after that, it was highly unlikely that I was going to look upon it in any way other than favorably.


I don't believe in GAWP. I just don't. So right out of the gate I had trouble. To [Stare in astonishment] is to GAPE. Later I was forced to change it—to GASP. But that left me with an opening of SH-T... for 3D: Question upon completing an argument, and that seemed ... unlikely (it's actually the wonderful "WHAT MORE CAN I SAY?"). When you have This Much short fill, with all but a small handful of non-15s in the 3-to-5 range, there will be blood. I consider AMPAS blood. American Pictures Association Of Somewhere? If it's an acronym related to movies and it's not MPAA, then I don't know it. Ah, "Arts & Sciences," ha ha. That's a pretty high-falutin' name for an org. that gives awards to [movie title redacted so as not to offend anyone]! Plural CSIS is awful. PREV, not much better, and you can see other scattered semi-wincey stuff throughout the grid. But I think the 15s do their job, i.e. capture our attention and admiration and keep us from caring too much about the rust and cracked paint and other minor structural imperfections.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Cabaret Voltaire iconoclasts / THU 2-4-16 / Surprise volleyball shot / Atlas's disciples / River mentioned in Yosemite Sam's self-introduction / Special Forces unit court-maritaled for crime they didn't commit

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: Square ROOT — familiar phrases ending in successive square numbers (1, 4, 9, 16)  instead end in the square roots of those numbers. Your clue to change the final number to its square root is in the circled squares of the SW corner, which spell out RO/OT in a little square pattern [Note accompanying the puzzle reads: "The four long Across answers are affected by a literal interpretation of the circled boxes"]

Theme answers:
  • HOLE IN ONE (one is the square root of ONE) (17A: Ace)
  • FANTASTIC TWO (two is the square root of FOUR) (28A: Marvel Comics group)
  • ON CLOUD THREE (three is the square root of NINE) (45A: Elated)
  • SWEET FOUR (four is the square root of SIXTEEN) (60A: Milestone birthday)
Word of the Day: Cabaret Voltaire (38D: Cabaret Voltaire iconoclasts => DADAISTS) —
Cabaret Voltaire was the name of a nightclub in Zurich, Switzerland. It was founded by Hugo Ball, with his companion Emmy Hennings on February 5, 1916 as a cabaret for artistic and political purposes. Other founding members were Marcel Janco, Richard Huelsenbeck, Tristan Tzara, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Jean Arp. Events at the cabaret proved pivotal in the founding of the anarchic art movement known as Dada. (wikipedia)
• • •

This opened up quickly. For reasons I don't understand, in a move I can't even plausibly recreate, the first clues that I looked at in this puzzle were in the NE. This never happens. Why would I look there first? First clue I remember seeing was 10D: Provider of contacts, informally (EYE DOC), and I thought "OPTISH?" Oh, no, now I remember that the first clue I looked at was 16A: Patient of a 10-Down, and I decided to see what the cross-ref was. Still weird that I was looking in the NE first. When I couldn't get either eye clue, I got HMM (9D: "That's odd..."), and then, because I knew eyes were involved (because of "contacts"), I got MYOPE. All of these unusual, uncharacteristic opening moves led to the accidental *quick* uncovering of the theme, when I dropped MODEST FEE down and then got FEN WEAR ONME ... and thus had TWO in place when I looked at the first themer I saw: 28A: Marvel Comics group. No ... that's not right. I traveled all the way down to SWEET FOUR. *That's* when I got what was going on (inferred the gimmick w/o actually having to fill in the circled squares. After that, the themers were practically transparent, and since very little in the grid was unusual or clued in a particularly tough way, I burned through this in just over five. That puts this on the border between Easy and Easy-Medium, but I felt like knowing OBAN (42A: Scottish seaport known for its single-malt Scotch) and BARACUS (24A: B.A. of the A-TEAM) gave me a weird advantage, so I adjusted my difficulty rating accordingly. (PS you all—well, most of you—have seen BARACUS before; he was in this puzzle buy joon pahk back in August)



This was a clean and enjoyable puzzle for the most part. Had trouble with DINK (7D: Surprise volleyball shot) and ADS (which is the answer I wanted, but a "pitcher" ... I'm not sure who that is here. A person? If so, s/he has ad ideas, right? Not ads per se? Something about the phrasing made me distrust ADS even though I kinda knew it was right) (6A: What a pitcher is full of?). [Baby BUMP] is a nice, modern clue. Same with TOM Ford. I'm never sure how the TSE is going to be spelled in LAO TSE (46D: Father of Taoism). I feel like TZE and TZU and TSU are all accepted variants—can that be right? Looks like TSU never, TZU rarely, TZE once (22 years ago), and TSE almost always. I'll remember that next time I need to plow forward. TSE! TSE! TSE!



Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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