Statistician Silver / THU 11-27-14 / Second-largest moon of Saturn / Highest paid TV star of 2014 / State south of Veracruz / Sister of grand duchess Anastasia / Upwards of 170 beats per minute / Eastern terminus of Erie Canal / Actual first name of Tom Seaver Orson Welles

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Constructor: Stanley Newman

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME:  [Thanksgiving phrase] — "Thanks a lot" (roughly) in three different languages

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: COO (53D: Corp. manager) —
chief operating officer (COO), also called the chief operations officerdirector of operations, or operations director, is a position that can be one of the highest-ranking executive positions in an organization, comprising part of the "C-Suite". The COO is responsible for the daily operation of the company, and routinely reports to the highest ranking executive, usually the chief executive officer (CEO). The COO may also carry the title of President which makes that person the second in command at the firm, especially if the highest ranking executive is the Chairman and CEO. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was a reasonably solid themeless—yes, I see the theme there, but … I don't know. Those countries don't celebrate Thanksgiving, so while it's literally true that those are all "thanksgiving phrases" , the whole conceit seems rather thin. Also, the theme is just thin generally—just 35 squares total. So its feel is mostly that of a themeless. The most interesting thing about the theme is the way the clues exploit the first-letter-capitalized cluing convention to get you to think that the clues relate to capital-T Thanksgiving, when really they're related only to lowercase-T thanksgiving. The foreign angle … I don't really get. I guess those three phrases just fit nicely/symmetrically into the grid.

Solved this one slow-fast-stopped … then done. Got AAH and SCAM but nothing else in the NW. Then PECS and PSI got me going in the NE, though it still took me a while to throw MUCHAS GRACIAS back across the grid and into that NW corner. I had -RACIA- at the end of that answer, and I was like "… how is a [Thanksgiving phrase] going to end in 'RACIAL'???" After that top themer went in, the puzzle went down fast, until I put in MERCI BEAUCOUP. I thought with LAGS, AUEL, and BEAUCOUP going for me down there in the SE, I'd be set, but Nuh-o. Got TSP and PAST … still nothing. I just sat. I put the blame entirely on COO. Nobody expects a perfectly good word to be clued as an abbr. I will add that nobody *wants* it, either. Why you decide to clue a word as an abbr., I will not know. I guess just to f*** with solvers. Mission accomplished. Without GEORGE, I had no hope down there. No way I was getting RETORT from [Counter with a sharp edge] (clever) or SERAPES from [Clothing items with fringes] without much help from crosses, but those just wouldn't come. I just couldn't pick up any of those short Acrosses from their final letters. Somehow, finally, my brain managed to see through T---U-H to THROUGH, and only then did I realize, "Oh … COO." And then I was done.

I had no idea JUDGE JUDY was still on the air. Seriously. [Highest-paid TV star of 2014, by far]?? Wow.

Happy capital-T Thanksgiving,
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    1983 sci-fi drama / WED 11-26-14 / Old galley / Willow shoot / Like Toves in Jabberwocky / Sci-fi author Stanislaw / Letterman's favorite activity? / Doo-wop group with 1963 hit Remember Then / Biblical debarkation point

    Wednesday, November 26, 2014

    Constructor: Michael S. Maurer

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: WAR GAMES (58A: 1983 sci-fi drama … or a possible title for this puzzle) — theme answers are terms related to the military and … I guess the clues are playing "games" by being wacky (?):

    Theme answers:
    • M*A*S*H UNIT (17A: Potato?)
    • SHORE LEAVE (24A: Ebb tide?)
    • PRESENT ARMS (34A: Inoculation order?)
    • FIRING LINE (49A: "Clean out your desk!"?)
    Word of the Day: LAVALIERES (9D: Some microphones) —
    lavaliere′ mi`crophone n.
    a small microphone that hangs around the neck of a performer or speaker.

    • • •

    Had my fingers crossed for a decent birthday puzzle, but this one didn't quite come through. I'm not even sure I fully understand the theme. I don't see the "GAMES." I see wacky clues—are those the "GAMES"? I can only guess. Also, "WAR" is inapt in the extreme. Only two of these themers are related to war (M*A*S*H UNIT and, possibly, FIRING LINE). The others are military, but have no necessary connection to war. The whole "possible title" makes very little sense. Seems awfully tenuous. In the revealer clue's defense, though, it just says "possible title," not "appropriate" or "good title." Puzzle played hard for a Wednesday, largely because the themers were not easy to pick up even after you grokked the theme. PRESENT ARMS took me forever. I ended up solving this in very unusual fashion—closing in on the middle from all sides. I think my last letter in the grid was the "R" in PRESENT ARMS / LAVALIERES. I'd never heard of the latter. Not that I could remember. Other crosses for PRESENT ARMS were hard to pick up as well. SALESMAN was not easy to get from 37D: Infomercial figure. I'd never heard of the EARLS (did they wear LAVALIERES? (which I keep wanting to call LEVOLOR, like the blinds, which I only just now found out was spelled that way). STEP INSIDE, also tough to get to from [Words of welcome]. Bit of a toughie, and a bit old-fashioned-feeling, overall. Outside LISTEN UP and STEP INSIDE, the fill is pretty musty/creaky. All DAR and BIREME (43D: Old galley) and ELIA and OSIER and RMN. This puzzle might've felt fresh during the RMN administration.

    From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I don't like the "?" clue on ANAGRAMS. In a puzzle where the themers have "?" clues, you don't give "?" clues to other long answers that run in the same direction. That's just confusing. Getting the "?" clue there, in an answer that's as long as the themer in the NW corner, made me think theme clue. Then when I got ANAGRAMS, I tried to see how it was thematic, only to discover it wasn't. OK, fair game, my fault for not noticing it wasn't precisely in a theme position. But I would've avoided the "?" clue there. The clue itself doesn't really make sense. Is the idea that a "Letterman" is someone who enjoys … letters? But … why would that mean you enjoyed *rearranging* them, specifically? There's just a ton of slack in the logic of this puzzle. IOR IOR IOR. SPLAT. Maybe next year I'll get the birthday puzzle I've always wanted. This year, I'll have to settle for cake.

    I'm also not convinced "WAR GAMES" is a "sci-fi" movie, even though wikipedia says it is. Everything was supposed to be plausible, right? It's not like aliens inhabited the computer. "Joshua" wasn't like Hal—it didn't develop a kind of human sentience. Did it? Maybe I'm misremembering the level of Joshua's anthropomorphosis. Anyway, "Star Wars" was sci-fi. "Blade Runner" was sci-fi. "E.T." was sci-fi. "WAR GAMES"—I'm less sure.

    Travel safe if you're traveling, especially in the NE.

    See you on Thanksgiving.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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