2014 Broadway play based on Moss Hart's autobiography / THU 1-29-15 / Onetime Road Runner rivals / Archaeological discovery of 1920s whose fossils have been missing since 1941 / TV debut of 1975 / Piece in rockhound's collection / Longtime Crosby partner

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Constructor: John Farmer

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "CUT OUT THE / MIDDLE MAN" (17A: With 58-Across, buy or sell direct … or what to do in this puzzle three times?) — three times there are black squares where you will want to put "MAN" … those black squares are situated between (i.e. in the "middle" of) two MEN … or MANs, I guess: one on top of said black squares, one on the bottom.

Theme answers:
  • RAIN (20A: Best Picture between "The Last Emperor" and "Driving Miss Daisy")
  • THE ICE / COMETH (34A: With 37-Across, drama set in New York's Last Chance Saloon)
  • AGUA (53A: Central American capital)
Word of the Day: "ACT ONE" (3D2014 Broadway play based on Moss Hart's autobiography) —
Act One is a play written by James Lapine, based on Moss Hart's autobiography of the same title. The play premiered on Broadway in 2014. // Act One premiered on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center on March 20, 2014 (previews), officially on April 17, 2014. Directed by James Lapine, the cast features Santino FontanaTony Shalhoub (as George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart) and Andrea Martin. Martin plays three women in Moss Hart's life; Shalhoub also plays three roles: as the older Hart, Moss’s father, and George S. Kaufman. The play closed on June 15, 2014 after 67 performances and 31 previews. It was filmed to be shown on the PBS television program "Live from Lincoln Center." (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a puzzle that doesn't seem to know what either "middle" or "cut out" means. For the premise, CUT OUT THE / MIDDLE MAN, to make any sense at all, you have to imagine that there was a MAN where three black squares are, where the expected but absent MAN would have sat between one MAN (on top) and another MAN (below). So, you (solver) "cut out" a "man" that was in the "middle" of two other "men." Only I, the solver, do not do that. What *I* do is cut out MAN. I just don't enter it. Or, rather, I enter it twice, once above where it should've gone, and again below. The cut-out MAN isn't in the "middle" of anything except this ridiculously contrived, entirely theoretical "MAN" stack. "MAN is not in the "middle" of "RAIN [Man]"—it's at the end. The only place I "CUT OUT THE / MIDDLE MAN" is with "THE ICE [man] COMETH." There, MAN is in fact in the middle. Otherwise, *I* just cut out (or leave out, because I have nowhere to put it) MAN. The fact that that "MAN" (in an impossible, imaginary, non-existent grid) would have sat in the "middle" of a MAN sandwich has nothing to do with me. *I* didn't do anything to said sandwich. This puzzle is a conceptual mess with inaccurate, confusing instructions. And the fill is no good, but you knew that. Actually, it's probably NYT-average. At this point in the NYT's history, that is not a compliment.

Never heard of PEKING MAN (23A: Archaeological discovery of the 1920s whose fossils have been missing since 1941). Real familiarity outlier, given how common the other "MAN"-containing answers are. The other *huge* outlier is AGUA. You just snapped that word in two, whereas with the others, you removed the word "MAN" (also, those other two altered answers are titles of dramatic performances, making [Man]AGUA an even huger outlier: foreign, broken, not a drama. Difficulty for me came entirely from the man-sandwich angle; I could see how "MAN" was missing, but then it kept turning up. I thought we were cutting MAN, but we're not … except sometimes. Putting it all together, finally, did not make for an AHA moment. More "oh" [shrug]. Never heard of "ACT ONE" (3D: 2014 Broadway play based on Moss Hart's autobiography), though that seems like a fine clue for otherwise not great fill. Heard of GTOS, but to me Road Runner is Time Warner's high-speed internet service (33A: Onetime Road Runner rivals). I'm still not sure how 24D: Chapter seven? works for ETA. Is it that … ETA is the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet, and chapter is some kind of fraternity/sorority reference? I hope not, 'cause that is weak. And the expression is "Well I'LL BE a monkey's uncle" (not "I'M A") (59D). It's like … you wouldn't say "Well I'M damned." You'd say "Well I'LL BE damned." It's like that. That "I'M A" clue was the most painful thing in a largely unpleasant puzzle.

I feel like I would've felt more warmly about this puzzle if MANWICH had somehow been involved. Seems to express what's happening better than today's revealer does.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Silent screen vamp Naldi / WED 1-28-15 / Simple ragtime dance / Classic violinmaker / Gustav whose music was banned by Nazis

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: I bet you think this song is about YOU — Songs that have YOU in their titles, arranged in pieces, symmetrically, such that the YOU at the center of the puzzle is shared by every title:

Theme answers:
  • I'VE GOT / YOU / UNDER MY SKIN (1A: With 38- and 46-Across, 1966 4 Seasons hit) (I had no idea they did a version of this song; I don't associate with them At All)
  • I WANT TO TAKE / YOU / HIGHER (26A: With 38- and 67-Across, 1970 Sly & the Family Stone hit)
  • ALL / YOU / NEED IS LOVE (10A: With 38- and 50-Across, 1967 Beatles hit)
  • JUST THE WAY / YOU / ARE (21A: With 38- and 65-Across, 1977 Billy Joel hit)
Word of the Day: ODAS (39A: Harem rooms) —
Oda (Turkishoda, "a room, chamber") is a room within a harem found in the Ottoman Empire. // During Ottoman period the harem division of the Topkapı Palace was home to the Valide sultan (Sultan's mother); the odalisques and wives of the Sultan; and the rest of his family, including children; and their servants. There were nearly 300 odas in the harem and it housed as many as 500 residents, which sometimes amounted up to 300 women, their children, and the eunuchs. (wikipedia)
• • •

They all share that YOU, and they are symmetrical. But I don't see what's enjoyable about any of it, except if you happen to like some or all of the songs involved. Remembering songs can be nice. But as a crossword, it's just fussy. Multiply cross-referenced clues, chopped up answers … no pleasure there for me. It's architecturally interesting, in its way, but mainly it seemed messy. Titles smashed to bits. Interesting upon reflection, but not very pleasant to solve. The fill (once again) is remarkably poor in places. It's a 76-worder w/ cheaters, so why the RIV / IPSO, why the AWET / ODAS, why the ERES / ILO / AAU / KAI, why the EHLE / AROW / LOGY, and why the THE JETS? It all felt so terribly unpolished. Yes, everybody likes these songs. They are popular, they are old, they are going to play well with the NYT's core demographic. And there's definitely some decent longer, non-theme stuff in there (weirdly, unusually, that may be where this puzzle is strongest—RUN ALONG, GRAPE NUTS IMPOSTOR! You can have HAIR COMB (?) back, but the other longer stuff is pretty decent. But the short stuff is too often unbearable, and the theme has no appeal except nostalgia.

  • 14A: Scope (ROOM) — strangely, this little nook in the north caused me the most difficulty. Took me a while to get ROOM, in part because 7D: Makes a wrong turn seemed so … turn-specific. Took me a while to consider the general ERRS. Also ELK was well (and pretty nicely) hidden at 7A: Popular game? Is it popular? Really? Well, at any rate, I like the play on "game."
  • 48A: U.K. neighbor (IRE) — that is a nice attempted save, emphasis on "attempted": still no good to have IRE and IRATE in the same grid.
  • 47D: "6 Rms ___ Vu" (1972 play) ("RIV") — Honestly, I went with "WIV." Thought we were doing baby talk play on a Forster title. "Me want woom wiv vu!" I have never heard of this "play." It was probably a big deal when these songs were (more) popular. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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