Old-fashioned wine holder / MON 3-27-17 / What Google's Ngram program tracks for word usage / Labourite's opponent in British politics / Group of books that educated person is supposed to be familiar with

Monday, March 27, 2017

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (slowish for Monday, though maybe that's 'cause the grid is extra-wide today)

THEME: STAKE OUT (39A: Police operation ... or, when read another way, what a grammarian would like to do to 18-, 24-, 52- and 65-Across) — ungrammatical expressions involving extra esses...

Theme answers:
  • ALL'S I KNOW... (18A: "The one thing that's clear to me ...")
  • A LONG WAYS OFF (24A: Distant)
  • AND THEN I SAYS ... (52A: Narrative conncector) [that is One Hell of a vague clue]
  • HOW'S ABOUT ...? (65A: "What do you think of ...?")
Word of the Day: TROIKA (30D: Group of three) —
noun: troika; plural noun: troikas
  1. 1.
    a Russian vehicle pulled by a team of three horses abreast.
    • a team of three horses for a troika.
  2. 2.
    a group of three people working together, especially in an administrative or managerial capacity. (google)
• • •

Can't tell if this was slightly harder than the average Monday, or just took slightly longer because of the extra-wide (16) grid. All's I know is I was about 15-20 seconds slower than normal (significant on a Monday). At first, I wasn't sure why the 16-square width was necessary, but if you're gonna put an even-number-lettered revealer in the center, then yeah, your grid has to be an even number of squares wide. I didn't think the revealer worked very well as clued; that is, "a grammarian would like to 'S' take out" sounds totally ridiculous, but that's the formulation the clue specifically asks for. S TAKE-OUT is better as a noun—something a grammarian would like to perform on the relevant theme entries. Clued as a verb phrase, it's nonsense. Further, A LONG WAYS OFF seems like an outlier here in at least a couple way(s). It's the only truly stand-alone phrase, all the other being sentence lead-ins. It's the only one that is not definitively colloquial, i.e. a commonly if not exclusively *spoken* formulation. It's also the least grammar-violating, ALL'S and HOW'S being grammatically nonsensical, and I SAYS being a matter of overt subj/verb disagreement. Changing WAY to WAYS (or vice versa) just doesn't seem in the same universe as the other grammarian-offending phrases.

The non-theme stuff, on the other hand, is quite nice, with six Downs of 7+ letters in length giving the grid a lot more character than you typically see on a Monday. Plus, there's very little in the way of junk. This has all been nicely polished, with only AAHED and maybe GLO getting me even the slightest bit RILEd. I love the words FLAGON (27D: Old-fashioned wine holder) and TROIKA, for purely aesthetic reasons.

[sorry this song was in the background of the trailer for the movie "STAKEOUT" and so I looked it up and it is pretty evocative of a pretty terrible time in pop music videos so I thought 'sure, throw it in...']

Congrats to Dan Feyer, who won his 7th American Crossword Puzzle Tournament championship yesterday, beating out fellow killer-solvers Tyler Hinman and Joon Pahk. I HOPE to see you tomorrow. Au revoir.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS NOT SO'S YOU'D NOTICE woulda made a nice central 15 in a normal-sized grid ... maybe change the revealer to SLOP and shove it in a corner ... I'm just spitballin' here ...

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Bandleader Eubanks familiarly / SUN 3-26-17 / Monastery head's jurisdiction / Title creature in 1958 #1 Sheb Wooley hit / Onetime acquisition of G.E. / Lyre-plucking muse / zen master's query / Biggest employer in Moline Ill / Dystopian film of 1971

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Constructor: Tracy Gray and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Mixed Results" — colors replaced by crossing colors (in circled letters) that, when combined, create the original color:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: KOHLRABI (8D: Cabbage variety) —
Kohlrabi (German turnip or turnip cabbage; Brassica oleracea Gongylodes Group) is an Biennial vegetable, and is a low, stout cultivar of cabbage. Kohlrabi can be eaten raw as well as cooked. Edible preparations are made with both the stem and the leaves. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was oddly joyless. Not terrible, but without any moments of genuine pleasure, either in the fill or in the clues. Concept is blah, and oddly executed—YELLOW + BLUE = GREEN is a far far far far far (etc.) more iconic color equation than the utterly-new-to-me RED + GREEN = BROWN (???). And then there are really only four colors, and once you know the color gimmick, the themers are way too easy to pick up. Plus the fill has few highlights and the clues just sit there. Nothing clever or interesting. RAZOR WIT has a kind of charm, but otherwise, there's nothing much here of interest.

1A: Martin Van Buren was the first president who wasn't one (WASP) completely killed the puzzle for me, right off the bat. What a no-good, terrible, confusing, stupid clue for a perfectly good insect. Does WASP mean "white Anglo-Saxon Protestant" here? If so ... WTF? No one used that term in the 19th century, so ... I mean, "inapt" doesn't even begin to cut it. I can only guess that this is the information at play in the non-WASP designation here:
Martin Van Buren was born on December 5, 1782, in the village of Kinderhook, New York about 20 miles (32 km) south of Albany on the Hudson River. Van Buren was the first President not born a British subject, or even of British ancestry. He was a descendant of Cornelis Maessen of the village of Buurmalsen, near the town of Buren in the Netherlands, who had come to North America in 1631 and purchased a plot of land on Manhattan Island; his son Martin Cornelisen took the surname Van Buren. (wikipedia)
Who the hell knows or cares about this? No, wait, forget who knows or cares—even if you knew and cared, in what universe do you take your knowing and caring and turn it into a clue for, of all things, WASP, which is a pretty generic, and in my experience, at least mildly pejorative, term? Baffling. That was at 1-Across ... and the sourness never went away. A good puzzle might've made me forget that WASP nonsense, but this puzzle did not make me forget. Instead it gave me SATNAV crossing KEV and TANK UP instead of PACK UP (5A: Get ready for a long drive)—in short, a handful of nuisance moments strewn about a field of blandness. Is this the second ABBACY of the month? That can't be a good sign. Better luck next time; this thing clunked.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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