Bygone Chinese money / SUN 7-5-15 / Westernmost island of Aleutians / Indiana city where auto manufacturing was pioneered / Smack That singer / Art of flower arranging / Onetime Nair alternative

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Heads of State" — a Mount Rushmore puzzle. Nicknames of four presidents on Mount Rushmore appear as long Down answers, in the order (left to right) that the appear on the monument. Flanking the names are long, orienting answers: KEYSTONE, SOUTH DAKOTA / HOME OF MOUNT RUSHMORE

Theme answers:
  • AMERICAN CINCINNATUS (22D: *Nickname for George Washington)
  • THE MAN OF THE PEOPLE (4D: *Nickname for Thomas Jefferson)
  • HERO OF SAN JUAN HILL (33D: *Nickname for Theodore Roosevelt)
  • THE GREAT EMANCIPATOR (9D: *Nickname for Abraham Lincoln)
Word of the Day: TAEL (91D: Bygone Chinese money) —
noun: tael; plural noun: taels
  1. a weight used in China and East Asia, of varying amount but fixed in China at 50 grams (1 3/4 oz.).
    • a former Chinese monetary unit based on the value of a tael of standard silver. (google)
• • •

Sooo happy to see Liz Gorski's name when I opened my puzzle this evening. She told me she still had a few NYT puzzles coming out, and I guess the day after the Fourth of July is a reasonableish place to put this one. Only two of them are considered Founding Fathers, but one of them wrote the damned Declaration of Independence, so I'm gonna say this counts as a kind of bonus holiday weekend puzzle. I always think of Liz's puzzles as architectural and monumental—big ideas, artfully executed. She did the amazing Guggenheim Museum puzzle several years back. This one isn't as ambitious, and is in many ways straightforward, but I still found it mostly delightful. Also, I discovered that I am *terrible* at presidential nicknames. Just awful. I had filled in huge chunks of several nicknames and still couldn't land any of them. Look at this:

Actually, it's clear from this snapshot that Jefferson is THE MAN OF THE PEOPLE, but I must've just got that "PE-" because before that, no idea. I guessed the CINCINNATUS part of AMERICAN CINCINNATUS only because I remember looking up who CINCINNATUS was a few months ago and remembered that he was some kind of model Roman statesman. Did not know that was Washington's nickname. I couldn't even remember the name of Teddy Roosevelt's damn hill. Brain was blocked with BUNKER HILL. Also, SAM HILL, as in "What in SAM HILL is the answer to this clue?!?"

[This song reminds me of falling in love with my wife, so it is unimpeachable. Our first real date was actually on Labor Day, but that's neither here nor there.]

This grid structure results in a lot of short stuff, and that short stuff gets a little dicey at times. TAEL and ATTU reek of the crypt. A crypt that smells like pre-1993. And I nearly crashed the ship on the shoal of HOTE / AKON. And there's a lot of run-of-the-mill OREM OTOO NEET-type stuff, but it only made me EWW a little. Decent big idea, lively theme answers, some nice longer stuff like IKEBANA and KINSHASA and GROUND CREW, and I'm reasonably happy.

  • REDINK — to dink again. The clue can tell me this is RED INK all it wants (5D: Debt, symbolically), but my brain knows what it knows.
  • SPHERIC — AL had the day off (81A: Ball-like)
  • ARIL / URAL — originally ANIL / ARAL. They all sound like "kinds of sex" to me now.
  • AUDIE (61D: Cornish of NPR) — honestly, when I filled in her name, I said "Awww" out loud, like she was my daughter and she'd just won a ribbon or something.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Julie Delpy, for the win, for now, and for always. (28D: "The ___ Breathe" (2007 drama with Kevin Bacon and Julie Delpy))

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Villainess Vanderwaal of TV's Pretty Little Liars / SAT 7-4-15 / Actress Cadranel of TV's Lost Girl / Married supersleuths of 1970s-80s TV / musical set on island of Kalokairi / Musician who's great-great-grandnephew of Herman Melville / Treat with polar bear in logo

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TYSON GAY (19A: He became the fastest sprinter in the U.S. ) —
Tyson Gay (born August 9, 1982) is an American track and field sprinter, who competes in the 100 and 200 meters dash. His 100 m personal best of 9.69 seconds is the American record and makes him tied for second fastest athlete ever, after Usain Bolt. His 200 m time of 19.58 makes him the fifth fastest athlete in that event. He has since received a 1-year ban for doping. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle was what I would call "aggressively youthful." Right on the edge of Trying Too Hard. But Sam is in fact aggressively youthful, so the puzzle probably felt just right to him. The difference between an aggressively youthful and an aggressively olde-timey puzzle is that we all have access to the present, so even though the contemporary TV clues here are almost laughable in their obscurity, historical flimsiness, and almost certain ephemerality (I don't even know what "Lost Girl" is), I generally liked the poppy and sassy nature of this puzzle, and prefer a puzzle like this to one that prefers to live in a world where time stopped right about the time Reagan was first elected. I can't get that mad at the pop culture today, anyway, since it was the source of most of my outright gimmes. After flailing around in the NW for a bit, I finally ran into a no-brainer (for me) in the east: "MIAMI INK" (27A: Former TLC reality show set in a Florida tattoo parlor). Pretty sure I just had a conversation with some constructors about whether this show, or its companion "L.A. INK," was a viable answer, and for how long. Anyway, here's what my first bit of traction in the grid looked like:

That TOMS was a total guess (12D: ___ River, N.J.). Not generally fond of puzzles that force me to rely on total guesses, but the crosses *seemed* (and ultimately were) solid, so I moved on. "MIAMI INK" + NICKI Minaj + AT THE ZOO were all gimmes, so I went right through the middle of the grid, and then down JEDI MIND TRICK into the SE, where KLONDIKE BAR (another gimme) opened everything right up. Surprised by NIRO—that's a name partial that I was once asked (by the editor of a "lesser" puzzle) to edit out of one of my grids (many years ago). This led me to believe that nobody puts NIRO in a corner ... I mean grid. Nobody puts NIRO in a grid. DENIRO, sure, NIRO, no. But here we are. Good thing NIRO is one of the few ICKY things about the grid (I'd add MOR to that list, and that might be all that I'd add).

["Nobody puts BBS in a corner!" That was the joke. Just sitting there. Oh, well. Next time.]

So, out of the south I rode the GLOW-IN-THE-DARK express up into the NW.

Or, rather, I threw that answer up there, but then moved over and dealt with the SW first. I weirdly mildly enjoyed being forced to remember "HART to HART" (46D: Either of two married supersleuths of 1970s-'80s TV) ("When they met ... it was murder!"). No real trouble down there. That just left the NW, which ... well, thank god for that terminal "J" at 13A: Staple of Mediterranean cuisine, because I never heard of TYSON GAY until [looks at watch] 15 minutes ago. I thought USAIN BOLT was the fastest, and he is, but, crucially, he's not from the U.S. So BABA GHANOUJ to the rescue. But dear lord I just guessed on the spelling. And nailed it. Dumb luck.

Once that went in, none of the answers up there had a chance. Clues on MOBY and INGA were virtually impossible without all the crosses, but luckily those crosses weren't hard to come by. Oh ... MOBY. I just got that (8D: Musician who's a great-great-grandnephew of Herman Melville). I've known who MOBY is for 20 years but the connection to "MOBY-Dick" never occurred to me. Weird.

Finished at WHIMS / HANGS. And ... scene.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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