Nymph jilted by Paris / SUN 2-1-15 / Roman guardian spirit / Missal storage site / Skeletal enemy in Mario games / Destination of NASA's Dawn probe / Picayune quibble / Vampire Diaries protagonist /

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



THEME: "This n' That" — common "___ AND ___" phrases are reimagined as two-word phrases where the first word is a homophone of the "___ AND" part, with every first word ending in an "n" sound:

Theme answers:
  • SUMMON SUBSTANCE (instead of "sum and substance") (23A: Content of a demand to attend?)
  • COFFIN WHEEZE (32A: Freaky funeral noise?)
  • HERON MAKEUP (17D: Feathers, pointy bill, long legs, etc.?)
  • DRAGON DROP (49A: Dive from a fire-breathing creature?)
  • FOREIGN TWENTY (71A: Venti, vingt or zwanzig?)
  • KRAKEN PEEL (93A: Woe for a sunburned sea monster?)
  • FISSION CHIPS (110A: Intel products used at a nuclear facility?)
  • WARREN PEACE (70D: Period when rabbits stop fighting?)
  • FOREMAN FUNCTION (119A: Overseeing a work crew, e.g.?)
Word of the Day: ELIS (94D: Site of ancient Greek Olympics) —
Elis /ˈɛlɨs/, or Eleia /ɛˈl.ə/ (Greek, Modern: Ήλιδα Ilida, Ancient: Ἦλις ĒlisDoricἎλιςAlisEleanϜαλις Walisethnonym: Ϝαλειοι) is an ancient district that corresponds to the modern Elis regional unit. Elis is in southern Greece on the Peloponnesos peninsula, bounded on the north by Achaea, east by Arcadia, south by Messenia, and west by the Ionian Sea. Over the course of the archaic and classical periods, the polis of Elis controlled much of the region of Elis, most probably through unequal treaties with other cities, which acquired perioikic status. Thus the city-state of Elis was formed.
Homer mentions that Elis participated in the Trojan War.
The first Olympic festival was organized in Elean land, Olympia, Greece by the authorities of Elis in the 8th century BC, with tradition dating the first games at 776 BC. The Hellanodikai, the judges of the Games, were of Elean origin. (wikipedia)
• • •

Mixed bag. The theme didn't work well for me for two reasons. First, the "___ & ___" phrases were not all that tight. "Four and twenty"? As in blackbirds baked in a pie? Yeah, something like that can stand on its own precisely never. "Crack and peel"? When has that ever been a self-standing phrase? I know it's something dry skin or paint can do, but …???? I'm not that familiar with the phrase "sum and substance," as I've never heard anyone use it ever. "Form and function" feels only slightly more familiar. And yet stuff like "fish & chips" and "War & Peace" and "drag & drop" feel rock solid. Indisputable. Real. So first issue: base phrases are of widely varying quality / realness. Second, there's just no fun here. Neither the answers nor the clues are very funny. 23A is paradigmatic. SUMMON SUBSTANCE is dead weight, and [Content of a demand to attend?] barely makes sense grammatically, and contains no twist, turn, zing. . . nothing. Cluing is painfully straightforward all the way around, with the wonderful exception of the HERON MAKE-UP clue, [Feathers, pointy bill, long legs, etc.?]. That clue/answer pairing did … what's the word … let's say "tickle" me. The rest all had some level of malfunction.


Fill is predominantly good, as is true of most Steinberg grids. He's a careful constructor. HBS and LAR were the only things that really made me wince (I now "halfbacks" are real things, but I can't say I've ever seen that abbr., where as RBS and even FBS, I've seen). And LAR … well, at least it's not LER, I suppose. There's a beauty contest for you: which one would you rather have in your grid: LAR or LER? Sorry, "None of the above" is Not an option.


I had three main trouble spots. This grid (representing roughly me at the 1/3-done point), neatly illustrates at least two of said spots:


Since "crack and peel" is not a real phrase, nothing there. [Skeletal enemy in Mario games] meant nothing to me, though at this point I already wanted DRY BONES (correct). After I got DRY BONES and then KRAKEN PEEL, the biggest problem was having ELIS in the "E" cross, and not being at all sure that I was spelling KRAKEN right. KRAKEN / ELIS was a bit of a roll of the dice (other vowels just looked so much worse).  Bigger snafu, however, was up in the north/west/central part of the grid where, as you can see, I was flummoxed. No idea what "Castaway" was, so its director … ??? COON as a [Garbage collector, informally?]? I get it now—raccoons will get into your garbage—but COON always sounds like a racial slur to me, and having the clue refer to "garbage collector" … somehow, my brain would not let the answer Actually be COON. Too sensitive? Just google [COON]. See what comes up. My friend teaches in COON Rapids, MN, a source of never-ending amusement. I'm guessing it's pretty white up there. But back to the puzzle. ROEG / COON / PROLIFIC had me dead-stopped. But I was able to get down into the SE pretty easily, and picked up momentum again from there. Last problem I had was at the place in the grid where I finished—ON POST / BACOS / MARACAIBO. That "B" was the last thing in. MARACAIBO was today's ABADJAN (which is actually spelled ABIDJAN, so apparently I've learned very little since I blew that answer a few weeks back). Just didn't know it. Needed every cross. ABIDJAN is my new substitute for "Waterloo"—a geographic place name on which your solving campaign comes to a catastrophic end. Today, MARACAIBO was my ABIDJAN. Except I finished, so no *actual* catastrophe. Just a near one.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. if you missed David Steinberg's touching remembrance of the late Bernice Gordon, you really should read it. Here.

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    Post-Passover period / SAT 1-31-15 / His servant is Kurwenal in opera / Cousins of harriers / Animistic figures / Thickburger seller / Alternative to babka / Part of goth dude's look / Warriors in L'illiade / Carlos Jackal raided its HQ / Song with lyric until we meet again

    Saturday, January 31, 2015

    Constructor: Tim Croce

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: OMER (55D: Post-Passover period) —
    Counting of the Omer (Hebrewספירת העומרSefirat HaOmer, sometimes abbreviated as Sefira or the Omer) is an important verbal counting of each of the forty-nine days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot as stated in the Hebrew BibleLeviticus 23:15-16.
    This mitzvah ("commandment") derives from the Torah commandment to count forty-nine days beginning from the day on which the Omer, a sacrifice containing an omer-measure of barley, was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, up until the day before an offering of wheat was brought to the Temple on Shavuot. The Counting of the Omer begins on the second day of Passover (the 16th of Nisan) for Rabbinic Jews (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform), and after the weekly Shabbat during Passover for Karaite Jews, and ends the day before the holiday of Shavuot, the 'fiftieth day.'
    The idea of counting each day represents spiritual preparation and anticipation for the giving of the Torah which was given by God on Mount Sinai at the beginning of the month of Sivan, around the same time as the holiday of Shavuot. The Sefer HaChinuch(published anonymously in 13th century Spain) states that the Hebrew people were only freed from Egypt at Passover in order to receive the Torah at Sinai, an event which is now celebrated on Shavuot, and to fulfill its laws. Thus the Counting of the Omerdemonstrates how much a Hebrew desires to accept the Torah in his own life. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I want to start with ME LIKEY, because it's creeping me out, but I fully realize that my reaction is not necessarily going to be the most common one. I always felt there was some element of ethnic/racial mockery in that phrase (part of that whole "ching-chong" racist caricature of Chinese English—though some other source I just read claimed the phrase derives from Afr.-Am. / creole speech). People definitely use that phrase, and I'm pretty sure the vast majority use it with absolutely no racial inflection. And yet, I found it icky. I'm not judging: just putting a big "Question Mark" on top of that answer. (Many thanks to Erik Agard for responding to my Twitter query about this phrase with a link to this WaPo article, which refers to what must surely be "ME LIKEY"'s newsworthiness apogee). (And here are more relevant links: one referring to an instance of "ME LIKEY"'s being used in a caricature of Chinese English in a 1930s Charlie Chan film, and the other going into considerable academic detail about the etymological origins of "ME LIKEY," touching on Asian pidgin, creole, Long Duk Dong, and "Family Guy").


    I mostly liked this puzzle; it's loaded with colloquialisms, most of them far more unambiguously enjoyable than the one I just mentioned. "I'M AWARE," "HOOK ME UP," "HUMOR ME," and "OH BOO HOO!"—all great. This thing seemed pitched pretty hard, though it may just seem that way by contrast with yesterday's puzzle, which was uncharacteristically easy. Getting started was a bit hard. ARUGULA was a gimme (2D: Plant called "rocket" outside the U.S.), and I clawed my way from there up into the NW corner, but then couldn't escape. Or, rather, I did this weird board game-type move where I landed on one square and used it to jump to a completely different place in the board. That is to say, AGE allowed me to infer YRS (34D: 19-Across units), and then, miraculously, that "Y" bought me GUYLINER. But then I was stuck again. Grid looked like this:



    [Minion's reply] = YES … MA'AM? That was all I had for a while. Just couldn't come down out of the NW cleanly. Eventually worked from NEE to get up into the NE (after changing SIGN ME UP to HOOK ME UP). Found the whole NE very hard, despite getting ON A DIME, because HEARTHS was just never gonna come with that clue (8A: Some gathering spots) and I just did an -UP answer and didn't expect to see another so soon (ORDER UP), and Kurwenal shmurwenal and tough (but good) clue on SPELLER (14D: Person breaking his word?). Had to squeeze that corner from both sides to bring it under control. Then went crashing into the SE, thought I was on a roll, but got stuck again, here:


    Wanted POOL ROOM and no other ROOM at 63A: You might take a cue from this (REC ROOM). Never heard of OMER (that I could recall—I thought he wrote "L'Illiade") and was never going to get WACO. Also, I appear to have believed that the [Common combo vaccine] was MDM, which, in this case, is 100% wrong, though I am going to assume that there is some similar vaccine initialism out there with at least one "M" in it. At this point in the solve, I was a bit worried, but ETES (50A: Conjugation part between "sommes" and "sont") and NORSK (45A: Like Grieg, to Grieg) ended up being gimmes, and they got me going again in the SW; not much trouble after that. I think I have never heard of EM SPACE. Just "em dash." But inferring was not hard. The end!
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. Early-morning reader mail. This made me laugh: "I’ve never gathered at a hearth even though I have a fireplace." 

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