Academica author / SAT 11-1-14 / 1979 comedy set at Camp North Star / Husband of Elisheba / European Parliament locale / Porter Ally McBeal role / 1989 AP Female Athlete of Year / 1977 law school memoir / Apostle of Cuban Independence / Subject of tribute album every man has woman

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Constructor: Trip Payne

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: COVERT OPERATIONS — That's the title this puzzle was *designed* to have. Also, blurb was to have read: "No one said there was going to be math!" But fate and other nonsense intervened to give us this untitled puzzle with a condescending blurb.

Anyway, the basic idea is that the numbers in the themers relate to the numbered boxes in the grid, so you need to substitute the answers from those numbers and *then* read the equation out loud in order to make sense of the clues, ID EST

Theme answers:
  • BATTLEFIELD (19A: 81 ÷ 27)—i.e. PLACE (81A) divided by WAR (27A), i.e. [Place divided by war]
  • NEUTROGENA (34A: 61 + 86)—i.e. PERT (61A) Plus RIVAL (86A), i.e. [Pert Plus rival] ("PERT Plus" being a brand name)
  • REPEATEDLY (63A: 56 x 42)—i.e. MANY (56A) times OVER (42A), i.e. [Many times over]
  • GROSS PROFIT (83A: 33 - 21)—NET SALES (33D) minus COSTS (21A), i.e. [Net sales minus costs]
Word of the Day: NELLE Porter (37D: ___ Porter, "Ally McBeal" role) —
Nelle Porter is a fictional character on the Fox television show Ally McBeal. She is portrayed by actress Portia de Rossi and appears in Seasons 2 through 5 of the show. A Boston-based lawyer, Nelle joins the fictional law firm of Cage & Fish with the ambition of someday becoming a partner. Romantically involved with partner John Cage during Seasons 2 and 3, she later appears mainly as a source of comic relief. She is also notable for her close friendship with Ling Woo, one of the show’s most remarked-upon characters. (wikipedia)
• • •

Title-less-ness and lame-blurb-ity are just two of many indignities this puzzle has suffered over the past year. This puzzle is semi-infamous in crossword circles—it's the puzzle that was supposed to be an American Crossword Tournament puzzle (hence it's non-standard size), but Mr. Shortz decided to leave it out for cameras to see during a TV profile, and since it was (if memory serves) clearly labeled as a tournament puzzle. Ah, here we go … it was a  "Business Insider" profile. Shows the completed puzzle and everything. Big gaffe. So puzzle couldn't be used, and then [drama redacted], and here we are. It's a wonderful puzzle, and I don't think the title is necessary for many top solvers and regular meta-solvers. Actually, it may not be necessary at all, from an ease-of-solving standpoint. Whether you know the title is "COVERT OPERATIONS" or not, you still have to figure out that you aren't actually doing "math," but using the answers associated with the numbers to create phrases that would make appropriate clues. Cosmetically, I prefer the puzzle with the title. But you get what you get. And this is good stuff (back story aside).

I had no idea what was going on until I was done. Until after I was done. Like most of you (probably), I actually did the math. But I was bugged by [81 ÷ 27]. Why write it that way? Why not simply [9 ÷ 3], if we're just doing math? Made no sense… and that was beginning of the thinking that got me to look at the boxes with the numbers in them (the same way you had to look at the boxes with the numbers in them to make sense of the Patrick Blindauer meta-challenge from last month). When I noticed that the "56" in the clue for REPEATEDLY (63A: 56 x 42) was the clue number for MANY (56A: ___ a time), I thought "'MANY times …' aha!" and then sure enough, the "42" part was OVER (42A: Supervising). So REPEATEDLY is [MANY times OVER]. It sure is.

I started out pretty fast on this one, but then it turned out that I had to get Every Single Themer from crosses + inference. That definitely slowed me down. Difficulty level otherwise felt more Thursday than Saturday. No tough or obscure fill (except NELLE, ugh—I remain philosophically opposed to any and all "Ally McBeal" clues, and this only gets truer with each passing, blessedly "Ally McBeal"-free day) (37D: ___ Porter, "Ally McBeal role). Toughest parts of the puzzle for me, by far, were those tiny, mostly walled-off corners in the NE and SW. Somehow managed a good guess in the SW with YEARS leading to SPRY and things coming together from there, but in the NE I was not nearly as fortunate. Why? Well, I can't spell NEUTROGENA. I had it as NEUTRAGENA. Still seems reasonable. Anyway, as I had no idea what "Academica" was, 11D: "Academica" author was blank. I had it ending -ERA. So that effectively meant No Access to that NE corner. And since the clues up there were at least slightly vague / hard. I flailed around quite a bit before I put together the correct answers. Managed to finish and still be wrong. Had HOSTS for 21A: Lists for (this seemed reasonable from an Internet standpoint), and so with the NEUTRAGENA misspelling, my author ended up as CIHERA (™, by the way—it's my new pen name, and it's pronounced "Sierra").
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Actor with line Rick Rick help me / FRI 10-31-14 / Topping for skewered meat / Anthrax cousin / Inuit's transport / Adam's apple coverer / Like words hoagie kitty-corner /

    Friday, October 31, 2014

    Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: none except a vaguely spooky Halloweenish vibe created by the two "Cask of Amontillado"-related answers near the grid center... —

    Word of the Day: AWEIGH (26A: Barely clear, in a way) —
    adj. (of an anchor) raised just clear of the sea or riverbed.

    Read more:
    • • •

    Grid itself is solid enough. I liked NO-BRAINER, and the clue on METALLICA (44A: Anthrax cousin). But the solving experience was less than enjoyable, for a host of reasons. First there's the clunk. Not the KLINK. The clunk. That's the sound of the off-brand word COGNOSCENTE. It's a word. But you never hear it used in the singular. Like, ever. I guarantee you a  majority of solvers had no (or little) idea what letter to put at the end there, or had an idea and it was wrong. I considered "O." Graffito, graffiti … it seemed logical. Anyway, COGNOSCENTI is the word everyone uses. Plural. And then there's the massively Variant SATE SAUCE. In case you haven't put it together yet, that's "satay sauce." The way I know it's "satay" is a. every crossword version of the word ever (incl. four times in the NYT since I started this blog, vs. zero times for SATE), and b. this product:

    (I should note, however, that Fireball Crosswords editor and future NYT crossword editor (I assume / dream) Peter Gordon appears to like the SATE spelling; he is the only editor, per the cruciverb database, to clue SATE via the "Asian" "appetizer")

    Then there's the wild unevenness of the puzzle, difficulty-wise. I had that NW corner done in about 30 seconds (ROCK BANDS was my first answer). And while the middle took me a while, the lower corners were easy enough that I could just jump in there, plant a few gimmes (TOONS and KERI in the SE, LES and NOBIS in the SW), and polish them off without too much trouble. But then there was the NE, where I had RAW TALENT and TSA and then nothing. It's possible that knowing that AWEIGH fit its clue would've helped, but I sure as hell didn't know that's what AWEIGH meant, so I just stared at AWE--- wondering WTF. [Book after Hosea]? Blank. Even with terminal "L," blank. That one-off Oscar nominee guy … I had the "T" and could think only of TEVYE (is that right?). I think that's the character name. No hope on Sea-TAC without any crosses. Long Downs and JACK just wouldn't come without sufficient help from crosses. So I sat awhile, until I just guessed that SEPIA was an "effect" of Photoshop and JOEL was maybe a bible book. And that was that. AWEIGH. Ugh. Admittedly, my problems with that corner might be idiosyncratic. It was the difficulty *imbalance* that was bothering me, more than the difficulty itself. Also, TOPOL, yuck. Also, problems up there were related to the whole last letter in COGNOSCENT- problem (above).

    But the worst thing about the puzzle is the factual error at 32A: Like Fortunato, in Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." I can see how the constructors or editor really really wanted (for some reason) to link the not symmetrical but somewhat centered answers BURIED ALIVE and HORROR STORY. But here's the thing. Two things. A. if you want to go horror, go one or three or none. This 2/3 bit is just awkward. But more importantly B. don't force a common clue term on disparate answers unless the answers can handle them. Now, there are HORROR STORYs out there that feature people being BURIED ALIVE. I'm sure of it. It's just that "The Cask of Amontillado" isn't one of them. Being immured, walled up, is not (not) (not not) the same as being BURIED ALIVE, however underground the walled-up chamber might be. Lots of sites on the Internet will use the phrase BURIED ALIVE to talk about what happens to Fortunato, but, like many if not most things on the Internet: wrong. Wikipedia? Wrong. I kept trying to make WALLED UP fit. Look, I'm sure the clue is defensible, but immurement and being BURIED ALIVE seem to me very, very different things. It's the difference between (quick) suffocation and (somewhat less quick) starvation/dehydration. Both gruesome, yes, but different. Fundamentally different. My friend Amy seems to think you *could* suffocate in a walled-up chamber if the mortar seal were tight enough. Admittedly, murdering folks is somewhat out of my purview. Still, I'm standing by my primary contention, which is that the dude gets walled up, not "buried." Needless to say, the middle was difficult for me not because I hadn't read "Cask," but because I had.

    Off to (re-)read Poe. Tis the season.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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