Queen pop music nickname / SUN 6-26-16 / OutKast chart-topper / Supercontinent of 200 million years ago / Subj for radio astronomer / Food feelings after big meals / River tributary of Thames / Tree with catkins / Seal of Solomon others

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Constructor: Priscilla Clark and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium (assuming you know all the MLB teams)


THEME: "Sports Page Headlines" — phrases that look like baseball headlines are clued as ... I don't know, something else:

Theme answers:
  • MARINERS BATTLE PIRATES (23A: Conflict at sea) (bad outlier—all the others are about losses)
  • TIGERS CAN'T HANDLE CUBS (47A: Parenting problem at a zoo) (how are these not "?"'d?)
  • YANKEES DEFEAT REDS (69A: Cold War synopsis)
  • PADRES BOW TO CARDINALS (94A: Show of respect at the Vatican)
  • NATIONALS TOPPLE ROYALS (120A: Overthrow of a monarchy)
Word of the Day: KOSS (8D: Big name in headphones) —
Koss Corporation is an American company that designs and manufactures headphones. Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin since 1958, the company invented the first high fidelity stereophones. Koss continues to design and manufacture headphones and audio accessories. (wikipedia)
• • •

I am huge baseball fan, so I should've loved this, but Oh Man I did not. I thought that at least I might get *different* "sports" (as implicitly promised by the puzzle's title), but no. It's just all .. baseball teams. And all ... imagined headlines of hypothetical outcomes, four of which involve losing, and one of which involves simply "battling." For some reason. God how I wish interleague play weren't a thing, both because I genuinely hate it and because then 80% of these imagined sports headlines would be inconceivable (except as World Series headlines) and then maybe this puzzle wouldn't exist. It's hard to explain how joyless I found this. Perhaps this is because I Love crosswords and I Love baseball, and when you put them together, I expect Love-squared greatness. But here, what I get is so dull and straightforward, I don't really understand how it qualifies as a theme. Certainly not a theme in the self-described "best puzzle in the world."

 [At a Yankees game last year: (top) Mike Nothnagel, Doug Peterson, (bottom) Brad Wilber, Sam Ezersky, me; not pictured: the rest!]

Are NATIONALS ... what are nationals? They're just citizens of a particular country. Does the puzzle mean "nationalists"? I can't imagine a political headline of "NATIONALS TOPPLE ROYALS." And "Yankees" is not a term associated with the Cold War. Google [Yankees Reds Cold War] and you get some baseball sites, some Cold War sites that explicitly exclude the word "Yankees" from the search, and also you get a one hit for the official blog of the NYT Crossword itself (telling you how great this puzzle is, no doubt). This is botched left right and center, at the thematic level. As for fill, it's fine. Acceptable. Neither great nor terrible. But the theme is D.O.A. and then some. The only one of these that works on any level is TIGERS CAN'T HANDLE CUBS (it's cute to imagine). None of the other team names *really* go together. They're forced. And in the service of what? Bland, boring, monotonous.


No real trouble except in the HAN / TOTO section. I don't remember TOTO harassing the Cowardly Lion. I wanted FEAR there. Or maybe GNAT, I don't know. HAN I know as a Chinese ethnicity, not as characters. GEM did not come easily at all for the Pink Panther clue. HOVER CAR seems made-up. I absolutely needed to know TIGERS were a baseball team to get that section, which made me pity all the non-sports fans who do the puzzle. Normally, I don't pity these folks at all, but today, it's just the *one* sport, and there are ten different team names to get here. You should be able to get them all, but I can see non-baseball fans getting slowed down badly. *I* got slowed down just by mentally scrolling through all the teams trying to find the right one. Ugh. Death this puzzle was. Next!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Pedestal support / SAT 6-25-16 / Detractors epithet for Putin regime / IHOP topping option / Municipal mainstays / Setting of so-called seven islands of Greence / 13th century bc king with namesakes / European race place / Good to Galba / butterlike product of beef fat / Winner of NBC's America's Toughest Bouncer 1980

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Constructor: Kameron Austin Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: THEME — DESCRIPTION

Word of the Day: SOCLE (37A: Pedestal support) —
noun
Architecture
noun: socle; plural noun: socles
  1. a plain low block or plinth serving as a support for a column, urn, statue, etc., or as the foundation of a wall. (google)
• • •
If you failed, allow me to tell you exactly where you failed: at SOCLE. You failed at SOCLE. On the rocky shores of SOCLE, your bark was shattered and sank. Other places certainly had their tough moments, but I don't see any other puzzle-destroying sections. SOCLE is a genuine obscurity, and SEKO ... you should probably know him, but even though I've seen his name in puzzles many times, even I wrote in that "S" tentatively. And POS!? I was totally happy, for a number of seconds > 1, with P.I.S as my [Municipal mainstays: Abbr.]. I read a lot of hardboiled crime fiction, so it made sense to me. I was going to go down with SICLE when some part of my brain (the working part) said "P.I.S ain't right." I tested the "O" and had a brief moment of how "how does P.O.S work?" but then got it: post offiices. Makes much more sense for the clue than private investigators. Still, I was not at all sure about SOCLE, and was very happy when I dropped UPDO (last thing in the grid) and the Happy Pencil came up. But hoo boy ... SOCLE. Yeah. Could've done without that scare.


I've been reading David Thomson's "How to Watch a Movie" (which weirdly makes me think of today's constructor, who writes about movies for The Ringer) and he mentions "Un Chien Andalou" at least once, so 1A: Co-writer of the Surrealist silent film "Un Chien Andalou," 1929 (DALI) was a gimme, and that whole NW corner ended up playing like a Tuesday or Wednesday for me. More mid-week level difficulty right down the west side of the grid, despite blanking on JUNO (whose actors and movie poster I could visualize clearly) (29A: Title teen in a 2007 hit indie film) and not entirely believing that SHOE ADDICTS was a thing. But then I got into the middle—the SOCLE—area, and things tightened up considerably. Just getting into the SE and NE proved tricky, and that half probably took me twice as long as the first half. DARIO? (30A: Literature Nobelist ___ Fo) DARI-no. N-ROTC!? Yikes. PILAR? Didn't know at all. Then I had CIA instead of NSA, and that tiny little error was really crucial. It was a gateway; once I fixed it, I shot right up into the NE corner and took it out. Game over.


Overall, the puzzle is this odd combo of old-fashioned and ultra-modern. Lots of good longer stuff, of which KREMLIN, INC. (12D: Detractors' epithet for the Putin regime) was easily my favorite (SCREENER DVD was a solid second). Great bite, great fun. If you failed to survive SOCLE, though, I can see how you might have very different opinions.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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