Pearl Fishers priestess / WED 5-4-16 / Variety of sherry whose name means little apple / Guitarist Borland / Vocalist known for 1944 song / Muhummad's successor to Shiites / Dante symphony composer / Author of 1841 poem / One-named athlete whose real first name is Edson

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Medium (took me longer than normal, but it's bigger than normal (16-wide))

THEME: "INTO / EACH / LIFE / SOME / RAIN / MUST / FALL" — these words sort of "fall" down the grid (in circled squares) and then two more answers in the corners provide examples of where these words have appeared:

Theme answers:
  • 15A: Author of an 1841 poem that contains the line spelled out by the circled squares (LONGFELLOW)
  • 64A: Vocalist known for the 1944 song whose title (and first line) appears in the circled squares (FITZGERALD) 
Word of the Day: KIT BAG (31A: Purchase at an Army-Navy store) —
noun: kitbag
  1. a rectangular canvas bag, used especially for carrying a soldier's clothes and personal possessions. (google)
• • •

Interesting, though I feel like what's driving it is less cleverness than strange quirks of symmetry—the fact that each word in this relative famous six-word phrase is exactly four letters long is itself tantalizing from a constructor's perspective. The fact that the phrase appears in two works associated with famous people whose names also happen to be the same length is just another quirky coincidence. I don't think that LONGFELLOW work is famous at all, though. The title doesn't appear in the clue because it's got "RAIN" in it. It's called "The Rainy Day" and it goes a little something like this (actually it goes precisely like this):

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary. [source]
Is this famous? Not as famous as the FITZGERALD song, which is not really a FITZGERALD song—it's an Ink Spots song *featuring* Ella. I was wondering why the voice I was hearing in my head was a man's and not Ella's. Then I found it and played it, and there it was, just as I remembered it. This may seem impossible, but I forgot she even sang on it. So ... a not-that-famous poem and a song on which the really famous singer is not the lead ... it's not the strongest theme foundation, but it's solid enough.

I want to point out some details that relate (for me) to consistency and elegance, though these details are simply details and you may not see them the same way. First, and not really all that important, is the fact that all the lyric words are buried inside other words where their lyric meaning is hidden (good!) .... except LIFER, where the meaning of "Life" still pertains. To be fair, I'm not sure there's a way to hide "LIFE" inside a word in a way that de-Lifes it. And to be double-fair, that clue was Wicked (and good) (29A: Big house party?). I had LIFE- and still had no idea what was going on (a LIFER is one who is serving a life sentence ... in the big house, i.e. the pen, so ... he (usually "he") is a party (i.e. member) of the big house). Ideally you bury all those words, but you do what you can do.

Bigger issue for me was having non-theme answers of equal length to the theme answers stacked right on top of (or below) said theme answers. MANZANILLA and INFILTRATE are both great words (and I love those open corners in general), but it's weirdly distracting to me that the theme answers have these non-theme twins right up against them. Not sure why grid was made that way. Easy enough to design a grid that isolates the 10-letter themers. Add black square and push FITZGERALD up / LONGFELLOW down. Also, what is ALTA MONTE Springs (!?!?!?!)? I'm not sure wide-open corners are worth enduring such a marginal place name ... part. Altamont is a thing. That, I would've accepted. This feels like a themed puzzle that the constructor tried to give the virtues of a themeless (open corners, mostly nice longer answers), but for that reason it feels a little ragged to me. Fine, just a little conceptually and architecturally messy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Proto-matter of the universe / TUE 5-3-16 / Coyolxauhuqui worshiper / Longtime oreo competitor

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Constructor: John Westwig

Relative difficulty: Normal Tuesday (medium)

THEME: Jeremy's iron — famous names, where last name is a make of car, have apostrophe-S added to end of first names to make it sound like the famous person drives said car ...

Theme answers:
  • ABRAHAM'S LINCOLN (20A: How the Great Emancipator got around?)
  • HARRISON'S FORD (25A: How the star of the Indiana Jones films got around?)
  • ICHIRO'S SUZUKI (42A: How a Seattle Mariner great got around?) (why are Ford and Suzuki in past tense; they're still alive) (also Suzuki is a former Mariner current Marlin, just FYI)
  • FREDDIE'S MERCURY (48A: How Queen's former frontman got around?) (Mercurys are bygone, but OK)
Word of the Day: PICOT (36A: Embroidery loop) —
noun: picot; plural noun: picots
  1. a small loop or series of small loops of twisted thread in lace or embroidery, typically decorating the border of a fabric. (google)
• • •

It's official. Crossword brain drain is real. I was thinking about it earlier today—how the best constructors I know are less and less often selling their stuff to the NYT, choosing instead to work with other organizations or to go the independent route. And then tonight I open this puzzle, which is ... I don't know where to start. I haven't seen such a weak, antiquated theme in a while. This is almost a non-concept, or ... a parody concept. You just add apostrophe-S ... for some reason. This puzzle is like a "joke" that goes "Isn't it funny how some people's last names are also the names of cars...?" and then that is the joke, right there, all of it. It just stops, and maybe you smile and nod but you almost certainly walk away. I feel like the NYT is running on fumes, propelled forward largely by the inertia provided by its former fame. It's become hyper-reliant, for its good puzzles, on former and current Shortz employees, or people who are otherwise part of the "NYT Family" (a phrase I did not make up). It does not in any way feel like it's moving forward, becoming more inclusive, more modern, interesting, daring. It tells you (in ads) it's the "best crossword in the world" ... because it is because of course it is because it is. Meanwhile, it's not. It's just not. Today's theme alone should've made this one DOA. *Would've* made this one DOA if submission quality had been what it was even five years ago.

The fill is stale but that hardly matters at this point. The fact that you couldn't fill that simple little corner in the SE without resorting to RAGA *and* ET AL *and* (the real kicker) YLEM ... it's astonishing. I don't even have RAGE at this point. Just disbelief. The "P" in PICOT (36A: Embroidery loop) and the "N" in NIMES (60A: City near Avignon) were my last letters because I don't know those things (or, I do, but not terribly well). Thank god I know who the hell Xerxes was (36D: Xerxes' people = PERSIANS). I could've summed all of my feelings about this puzzle up like so: "Hackneyed theme concept and oh yeah YLEM wtf?" The end. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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