Steer closer to wind / SUN 8-30-15 / Figure in Jewish folklore / Emoji holder / Comedian Daniel musician Peter / Michael Sheen's character in Twilight / Checked online reviews of modern-style / Ambient music innovator Brian / Emulate Isocrates

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Constructor: Lee Taylor

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Conflicting Advice" — adages that are clued via adages that say the opposite, i.e. ["this adage, but ..."] and then the answer is THIS OTHER ADAGE THAT CONTRADICTS THE ADAGE IN THE CLUE. Yes, I swear this is the theme.

Theme answers:
  • OPPOSITES ATTRACT (3D: "Birds of a feather flock together, but ...")
  • FOOLS SELDOM DIFFER (6D: "Great minds think alike, but ...")
  • TIME WAITS FOR NO MAN (34D: "Slow and steady wins the race, but ...")
  • IGNORANCE IS BLISS (38D: "Knowledge is power, but ...")
  • LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP (24A: "He who hesitates is lost, but ...")
  • CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN (111A: "You can't judge a book by its cover, but ...")
Word of the Day: LOLO Soetoro, stepfather of Barack Obama (51A) —
Lolo Soetoro, also known as Lolo Soetoro Mangunharjo or Mangundikardjo (EYD: Lolo Sutoro) (Javanese: [ˈlɒlɒ suːˈtɒrɒː]; January 2, 1935 − March 2, 1987), was the Indonesian step-father of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States . // In his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father, Obama described Soetoro as well-mannered, even-tempered, and easy with people; he wrote of the struggles he felt Soetoro had to deal with after his return to Indonesia from Hawaii. He described his stepfather as following "a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths." In a 2007 article, Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Kim Barker reported that Soetoro "was much more of a free spirit than a devout Muslim, according to former friends and neighbors." (wikipedia)
• • •

This just doesn't work. Not at the theme level, and definitely not at the fill level. It is mildly interesting that there exist this many adages that conflict one another, and that you can arrange them symmetrically in the grid, but I'm not sure the existence of such is a strong enough base on which to build and Entire Sunday Crossword Puzzle. They layout of the themers is probably the most interesting thing about this puzzle—highly unusual majority-Down set-up reverses the standard way of doing things, which I'm all for. Mix it up. But there's just nothing in the grid to overcome the dullness of the theme. No interest. No fun. No humor.

And this is a grid that has clearly been hand-filled without the apparent aid of any software—I am very supportive of the idea of novices hand-filling grids to get a sense of how they work, how they don't work, what the challenges are in filling them, etc., but that's for the learning stage. Not the prime-time stage. Grids *need* to be much, much more polished than this, and the cold truth is that the only people who can completely hand-fill grids to modern standards, with no digital assistance, are super-experienced pros. People who have 15+ years experience doing this stuff. People who learned to make puzzles in the pre-software era and then *upped their game* when the digital age forced their hands. (Most constructors I know work without computer assistance initially, but then rely on software to help them see the variety of what's possible, fill-wise, much faster and more completely than the human brain can; if you're at all confused about this process, I highly recommend Matt Gaffney's book Gridlock). This grid has been segmented like crazy in a way that increases drastically the amount of short stuff, and then the grid is loaded with "I've seen it before so it must be acceptable"-type fill. ADREM and ABO and ARA and SST and two -AE ending words and on and on. Only TOSHES is truly ridiculous, but the cumulative weight of uninteresting fill really causes this thing to drag. Here's the point at which I sighed because I realized I still had a long way to go and just didn't care any more:

Oooh, look, you can see the error that would eventually come back to haunt me. Had CHEF 44D: One on staff? because Barack Obama's stepfather was a giant ???? to me (and because, honestly, LOHO seemed like something that this puzzle would have in it ... I mean, it's got TOSHES, for &$%'s sake!). Also, there is a famous LOLO, which I figured would've been used if the answer was actually going to be LOLO:

But to be clear, I checked out on this puzzle Well before the end (when I realized I had an error). The DIPSO ARCED APORT because the AMAH would FAIN something something ADREM. It's brutal. My favorite part was right here, at 41A: Half-and-half, maybe—because I couldn't fathom any answer except one answer, which was the wrong answer, but it made me laugh anyway:

I mean ... a BUTT is kind of "Half-and-half," especially if you tack "maybe" on the end there. Like, there's one half ... and then there's the other half ... leading to the complete BUTT. Made sense to me. One last thing: If I check Yelp, I'm Yelping? Do I have that right? Just *checking* means I'm Yelping? That seems off. Yelp me out here. (40D: Checked online reviews of, modern-style => YELPED)

I'll be on the radio today (WMNF, Tampa), on the show "Life Elsewhere," talking about the late and also great Merl Reagle. You can catch it live at noon here, or in an archived version, which I'll post whenever it becomes available. (UPDATE: Here's an archived version—Listen Now) (my segment starts near top of the show, around 1:20 mark...)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the theme has been done before, and in the Shortz era. It was Jan. 3, 1999, too long ago for most solvers to notice (or care). Still ...

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Perianth component / SAT 8-29-15 / Microsoft release of 2013 / Big producer of novelty records informally / My Darling Clementine locale / Surveying device with letter-shaped rests / Longtime Washington Post theater critic Richard / Spice mixture in Indian restaurant

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Constructor: Evan Birnholz

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: David CAMERON (40D: Brown's follower) —
David William Donald Cameron (/ˈkæmrən/; born 9 October 1966) is a British politician who has served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2010, as Leader of the Conservative Party since 2005 and as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Witney since 2001. (wikipedia)
• • •

This played hard, then easy, then hard, then easy. So "Medium." Couldn't get started, then couldn't understand how I had failed to get started, as I knocked off well over half the puzzle without much effort. Then got badly stuck in the SE. Then figured out what the hell [Brown's follower] meant and went on to finish the puzzle somewhere in the SW, possibly at the "Y" in YLEVEL (59A: Surveying device with letter-shaped rests). Overall it seems pretty decent. It's not a showy grid—looks oddly like a weekday/themed grid in its segmentation. There are no stacks of longer answers—in fact, it doesn't contain any answer more than 11 letters long. But there's a bunch of good stuff in there: OXFORD COMMA (20A: Much-debated grammar subject) and "LAY IT ON ME" and SCARE QUOTES being my favorites. SEX APPEAL's not bad either. Next to no junk. Nice. I found it a little annoying at first (and this may explain the difficulty / frustration I had getting started) because there seems to be sooooo many &%^$ing "?" clues. When I finished the puzzle, I counted—there are only seven (7) "?" clues total. It's just that five (5) (!) of those originate in the NW quadrant, where my solving experience also originated. Anyway, once I figured out XBOXONE, I took off, and the whole "?" issue ceased to matter.

Not sure how I feel about crossing ICBM and IBAR at the "I." I think I'm against it. Something about having to say the "I" out loud (as a letter) in both seems ... like duplication, even though one "I" is an abbr. and the other is just the letter qua letter, the shape of the letter being the issue. I definitely object to the dupe at XBOX *ONE* and SIDE *ONE*. So, to be clear, the "I" thing would never bother me if those "I" s weren't in the same box. Like, if IBAR were way on the other side of the grid from ICBM, I wouldn't even have notice, let alone cared. But the crossing ... not sure why it bugs me, but it does. I don't consider that a dupe, though. A dupe is a duplicate word in the grid. Here's the thing I realized about dupes—if they are fewer than three letters long, I don't care (again, unless they're intersecting). Like, you could have four "ON"s in the grid, and I'm not sure I'd notice. I certainly wouldn't notice two. But once you get into longer words (3+), then I think you shouldn't dupe them. It's just an elegance issue. No one is harmed by the two ONEs. But ideally, you don't do that.

  • 30D: Color (TINCT) — Had TIN-. Guessed TINCT. Worried it could be TINGE. This doubt caused some of the ensuing problems in the SE.
  • 48A: "La Dolce Vita" setting (ROME) — this caused some more of the problems in the SE. I plunked down ROMA with no hesitation. The title of the movie is in Italian, ROMA is the Italian spelling, parallelism takes over ... ROMA. But no. I also convinced myself that ESTOERA was a word (39D: Things rarely seen), so I didn't get that, or TEXAN (44A: President #36, #41 or #43) for a little while there. That section fell because I finally realized the way "diet" was being used in 41D: Mideast diet (KNESSET)
  • 5D: Unpleasant things to pass around (COLDS) — I had GERMS. So ... I was close. 
  • 23A: Battle of Isengard participant (ENT) — never saw this clue, which is how it should be with short / over-common fill. That stuff should be inconspicuous to the point of invisibility. It should also be scarce, especially in a themeless, which, as I've said, it is today.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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