Letter carrier at Hogwarts / WED 5-24-17 / Initialism whose third initial often isn't true / High airfare season for short / 20th century author famous for her journals

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "... as a plumber?" — ordinary phrases are clued as if they had something to do with a plumber's behavior:

Theme answers:
  • RUNS HOT AND COLD (20A: Vacillates, as a plumber?)
  • ALL TAPPED OUT (26A: Exhausted, as a plumber?)  (I've heard TAPPED OUT on its own, but add the "ALL" and then I've only heard ALL TIRED OUT or ALL TUCKERED OUT)
  • DOWN THE DRAIN (43A: Wasted, to a plumber?)
  • SINKING FEELING (52A: Anxiety, to a plumber?)
Word of the Day: Buddy EBSEN (62A: Actor Buddy of "The Beverly Hillbillies") —
Christian Ludolf "Buddy" Ebsen (Jr) (April 2, 1908 – July 6, 2003) was an American singer, dancer, author, film, television and character actor, whose career spanned seven decades. He had also appeared as a guest on several talk and variety shows. The SAG-AFTRA records also show him as Frank "Buddy" Ebsen. // Originally a dancer, Ebsen began his long career in films in 1935, beginning with Jack Benny in Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), Maureen O'Hara in They Met in Argentina (1941) and June Havoc in Sing Your Worries Away (1942). He also danced with child star Shirley Temple in Captain January (1936), released the same year. Cast as the Tin Man in 1939's The Wizard of Oz, Ebsen fell ill due to the aluminum dust in his makeup and was forced to drop out of the film. In Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), he portrayed Doc Golightly, the much older husband of Audrey Hepburn's character. He also had a successful television career, including playing Davy Crockett's sidekick, George Russell, in Walt Disney's Davy Crockett miniseries (1953–54). But he is best remembered for starring in the CBS television sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies (1962–1971) as Jed Clampett. He also played the title character in the television detective drama Barnaby Jones (1973–1980), also on CBS. Ebsen had a cameo role in the 1993 film version of The Beverly Hillbillies, not as Jed Clampett, but as Barnaby Jones.
• • •

This is a fine puzzle if the year is 1987 ... is it? ... [looks at calendar] ... nope. Corny, tame puns, with mostly dull, well-worn (if not terrible) fill. Not much to say about this one. Themers all involve plumbing-related wordplay. Kind of a narrow definition of what plumbers do. Two answers related to taps, two related to sinks, which means they're all related to sinks, I guess. Nothing about leaks or drips or snakes or ... look, I don't know. What am I, a plumber? I just know these are very safe, not at all outlandish or funny or even interesting answers. The most interesting part of the puzzle, which was also the hardest part of the puzzle, was the SW corner, specifically those two long Downs. They were very tough to pick up—well, tough for me, as I made the mistake of writing ESL in at 40A: Lang. course (ENG.) (it could never have been ESL, of course, since the "L" *stands* for "Lang."). Both GAG WRITER and I'M NOT SURE feel like party-crashers, like they were in a different ballroom, at a much cooler party, and accidentally stumbled into a seminar on tax preparation. Anyway, that anomalous pair of answers, I liked. The rest you can have back.

I've given myself so many lessons on the EPSOM / EPSON / EBSEN distinction, but apparently none of the them have taken. It's the vowel-in-the-fourth-position that's the (primary) problem. EBS-N!? Maybe if I just remember that the P versions take the O and the B takes the E. Maybe? Probably not. STOKERS? That one also took me a while to pick up (41D: Steamship workers). I wasn't AGASP (!), it's just that "steamship" conjures up a whole mess of old-timeyness, and STOKERS wasn't in my mental picture. I don't think I even knew "stoker" was a specific job title. Nothing else about this puzzle caused me too much trouble, and I finished in the same time as yesterday, which was the same time as the day before. Weird week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


TD Garden athlete informally / TUE 5-23-17 / Friendly Islands native / Bread that's often brushed with ghee

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty:Medium-Challenging (a bit on the slow side for a Tuesday)

THEME: PAIRS (68A: Figure skating event ... or what the circled items always come in) —the circled items all intersect in intriguing but ultimately meaningless ways

Word of the Day: LEN Wiseman (26A: "Live Free or Die Hard" director Wiseman) —
Len Ryan Wiseman (born March 4, 1973) is an American film director, screenwriter and producer. He is best known for his work on the Underworld series, Live Free or Die Hard, and Total Recall. (wikipedia)
• • •

This simply doesn't work. It lacks consistency on many levels. No such thins as one PANT or one TONG, but there is, of course, such a thing as one SOCK or one SKI. Once you let SOCK and SKI play, now *anything* that customarily comes in pairs is fair game: boot, shoe, earring, whatever. I thought maybe the crossing PAIRS crossed in certain ways for certain reasons—the TONGs kinda look like TONGs, and the PANTs are arguably pant-shaped. I guess you could try to contend that the SOCKs form one big sock, but that's pretty tenuous, and then there's the SKIs, which ... have no visual relationship an actual pair of skis. There's some winning fill here and there, but there's a good amount of junk too (RWY!? Wow, terrrrrrrible—only used three times in past decade, and the other two were Sundays).

Puzzle felt more Wednesday than Tuesday. All the colloquial stuff made it quite slow (though also more enjoyable than it would've been otherwise—weird trade-off). [Enthusiastic assent] ("I DO, I DO!") coulda been a million things. Ditto ["Wow, unbelievable!"] ("I'M IN AWE!"). Two-worders were also slippery in places. IN RETURN took me forEver to see (39D: Reciprocally). And [Future perfect tense in grammar class, e.g.] is an absurd clue—an absurdly specific clue—for LESSON. Why would I think "tense" = LESSON. I get that one can teach that as a LESSON, but one can teach *anything* as a LESSON. [Parallel-parking at driving school, e.g.]. But in the end, the fill probably averages out to average. Not bad (well, -EME is pretty bad, and NON-PC can go jump in a lake, along with his ugly cousin, UN-). It's just that this is the kind of theme that you should sit on and rework and rethink until it's Perfect. Why run with half-baked stuff like this. Editor's job is to get the best work out of people. But here we have yet another case of "meh, good enough, run it!"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. NAAN is a bread. NAN (30A) is a Bobbsey Twin or a Talese. 

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