Chief justice in Dred Scott verdict / FRI 5-26-17 / Donnie of 2001 cult film / Sport for rikishi

Friday, May 26, 2017

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easiest Friday I've Ever Done

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Roger TANEY (23D: Chief justice in the Dred Scott verdict) —
Roger Brooke Taney (/ˈtɔːni/; March 17, 1777 – October 12, 1864) was the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He delivered the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), that ruled, among other things, that African-Americans, having been considered inferior at the time the United States Constitution was drafted, were not part of the original community of citizens and, whether free or slave, could not be considered citizens of the United States, which created an uproar among abolitionists and the free states of the northern U.S. He was the first Roman Catholic (and first non-Protestant) appointed both to a presidential cabinet, as Attorney General under President Andrew Jackson, as well as to the Court. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this was quite smooth, but also maybe too smooth. So smooth it was barely there. I finished in 3:51, a personal Friday record. Faster than every other puzzle I've solved this week (M, T, W and F were all actually within five seconds of one another). The puzzle seems nicely made, but I didn't really have much time to notice. Dropped 1D: ___ mocha (CAFFE) in pretty much right away (no point even looking at those long Acrosses before I've given the short Downs a go), and I honestly didn't pause, hesitate, or have to skip a clue for about the next dozen answers. Read clue, write answer. ELSE ATOLL FLUTE TORUS SMITE and goodbye. Slight hesitation on BFA vs. MFA (12A: Writer's deg.), but powered right through that. If there were such a thing as a Tuesday themeless, this would be it. Looking it over now ... it's really quite nice. Not scintillating, maybe, but not at all boring, and really quite polished. No gunk, lively fill. Possibly this constructor's best work.

There were exactly four answers in the puzzle that I had to work around.

1. I didn't really get the clue at 33A: Cricket, to a grasshopper, or vice versa. I thought maybe there was some adage or some Aesopian something or other that this referred to. Actually, my first thought upon seeing "Cricket" was the sport, but "grasshopper" got me back to reality. I just solved all the crosses, but even at -OUSIN I had at least a second of "????" and thought maybe I had an error. Is "COUSIN" a technical entomological term? Seems dicey.

2. Then I had the "F" in 38D: Surgical tool but couldn't bring it down. I was So Bummed because I knew I was flying and I was relying on that answer to help me turn the corner quickly into the SE. But I just blanked. Luckily ROMAS got me REEDED (educated guess), and then DARKO got me the "K" I needed to see KEEP TALKING.

3. I know BALOO now that I see it, but as I was filling that section in, the "B" didn't help, then the "BA-" didn't help, then the "BA--O" didn't help. Also, I ended up looking at the ELGIN clue really late for some reason. That was a gimme and might've made my progress through the SE a little smoother. But ultimately BALOO got worked out from crosses.

4. This was the only flat-out Don't-Know-It in the puzzle. An old, uncommon proper noun. No big surprise that it was the least movable object. I ran into it early and just turned the other direction (toward the NW). And then I solved the rest of the puzzle and just ended up back there again. Got every letter from crosses, ending with the "Y" in BETRAY (37A: Unknowingly reveal).

The overall easiness owes a lot to CAFFE and DARKO—two gimmes in optimal positions (providing the first letters of a bank of long Acrosses). The "C" and "F," and the "K" and the "O" (respectively) were particularly high-value letters, allowing me to see those long Acrosses very, very quickly. Low proper noun load meant low chance of getting badly stuck. Then there's the fill, which lives very much in the realm of real words / terms, and not crosswordese / obscurities. All of this adds up to Lightning. Hope you had a similarly triumphant solving feeling. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Central Italian river / THU 5-25-17 / Pet with dewlap beret / Wait in strategic location in video game lingo

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: I'LL GO FIRST (54A: Trailblazer's declaration ... or a hint to 17-, 19-, 34- and 51-Across) — Familiar phrases where the last words have been changed simply by moving the letter "I" to the "First" position, resulting in a new words and wacky phrases and wacky "?" clues, huzzah!

Theme answers:
  • PURPLE IRAN (17A: Possible result of spilling grape juice on a map of the Middle East?)
  • FRENCH IGUANA (19A: Pet with a dewlap and a beret?)
  • ROLL OF ICONS (34A: Pantheon list?)
  • COVER IVERSON (51A: Guard the 2001 N.B.A. M.V.P.?) 
Word of the Day: FAN ART (11D: Some derivative drawings) —
Fan art, or fanart, are artworks created by fans of a work of fiction (generally visual media such as comics, film, television shows, or video games) and derived from a series character or other aspect of that work. As fan labor, fan art refers to artworks that are neither created nor (normally) commissioned or endorsed by the creators of the work from which the fan art derives. // A different, older meaning of the term is used in science fiction fandom, where fan art traditionally describes original (rather than derivative) artwork related to science fiction or fantasy, created by fan artists, and appearing in low- or non-paying publications such as semiprozines or fanzines, and in the art shows of science fiction conventions. The Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist has been given each year since 1967 for artists who create such works. Like the term fan fiction (although to a lesser extent), this traditional meaning is now sometimes confused with the more recent usage described above. (wikipedia)
• • •

Very tough, mainly because of the themers, which refused to give themselves up without a ton of crosses. The wacky clues were often very little help at getting to anything specific, and without the revealer, it's very hard to see any link among the anagrammed words, or any consistency at all in the themers. After finally locking down the first two, I was certain the theme was geographical—what are the odds of having both Iran and French Guiana involved in anagrams in the first two themers, and then having that theme *not* be about geography? Well, those odds are probably incalculable, and anyway, if I'd been paying closer attention, I'd realize that those countries were "involved" in different ways—i.e. one was the anagram itself, the other was anagrammed into something else. Because I was looking for countries, later themers were especially rough. ROLL OF --- had me unable to think of *any word* that could go there, even in the base phrase. ROLL OF ... the dice. That was all my brain kept doing. Plus I wanted whatever that last word was to be an anagram of a country (!).  Plus I don't think of gods of the Pantheon as "ICONS" (had IDOLS for a bit). This is what I mean about the clues being almost no help at getting to the actual answers. The worst case of this was, unfortunately, the revealer clue. A "Trailblazer" just goes, unannounced, and does Big, Important things heretofore unaccomplished. "I'LL GO FIRST" is not something a trailblazer would say. It's what someone in couples therapy would say. It's a banal statement for a quotidian situation and has zip to do with "trailblazing." That said, cluing aside, this theme is kind of amazing (even if it did take me almost two minutes of confused staring before I understood it)—simply move the "I" to the front, get a new word. Nice twist on the anagram-type theme.

The fill is pretty polished. Hard to pull off when you stack *theme* answers right on top of each other like that (I think of this as "Merling," since Merl Reagle stacked themers All The Time in his Sunday puzzles). Look at all the Downs running through those stacks of themers. There's really nothing bad. Nothing even mildly wince-y. This is what I admire, and see so little of—craft and polish. Dedication to the details, and especially to making sure you are sacrificing the rest of the puzzle on the altar of The Theme. It's not that there's No crosswordese in this thing—you can see repeaters hither and YON: PSA, ALI, OLE, ELI, MDI, ELLA). But now that I type even those answers out, the only one I'd try to ditch if I could is MDI. Maybe ENDO-, if possible. In short, there's not much to fault in the the fill. Considering the theme density, that's really quite impressive.

Tough parts:
  • 4D: Many a Trump property (GOLF RESORT) — seems straightfoward enough, but having GOL- coming out of the gate, I wrote in GOLD-PLATED. Later, I had GOLF COURSE (w/ REBOUND in the cross—21A: Public relations pivot (REBRAND))
  • 13A: Goes high (SOARS) — having tried ALDER for 5D: Wood that doesn't burn easily (ASPEN), I went with LEAPS here, and ouch. ALDER and NARC and SLID all confirmed ("confirmed") LEAPS ... until later crosses unconfirmed it.
  • 55A: Wait in a strategic location, in video game lingo (CAMP) — ah, video game lingo, the one knowledge sphere there's actually no hope I'll ever master, or get any purchase on whatsoever. I had CAMO. It's a good guess, I think.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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