Resin used in incense / TUE 9-16-14 / 1990s R B group with repetitive sounding name / early mets manager Hodges / Family in 2009 best seller This Family of Mine / City midway between Detroit Toronto

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Medium (with lots of variation likely)

THEME: ON and ON and ON (52A: How a motormouth talks … or what 20-, 29- and 43-Across literally have in common) — theme answers feature the letter pairing "ON" three times

Theme answers:
  • TONY TONI TONÉ (20A: 1990s R&B group with a repetitive-sounding name)
  • LONDONONTARIO (29A: City midway between Detroit and Toronto)
  • MONSOON SEASON (43A: June to September, in India)
Word of the Day: ELEMI (33D: Resin used in incense) —
Canarium luzonicum, commonly known as elemi, is a tree native to the Philippines, and anoleoresin harvested from it. // Elemi resin is a pale yellow substance, of honey-like consistency. Aromatic elemi oil is steam distilledfrom the resin. It is a fragrant resin with a sharp pine and lemon-like scent. One of the resin components is called amyrin.
Elemi resin is chiefly used commercially in varnishes and lacquers, and certain printing inks. It is used as a herbal medicine to treat bronchitiscatarrh, extreme coughing, mature skin, scars, stress, and wounds. The constituents include phellandrenelimoneneelemolelemicinterpineolcarvone, and terpinolene. (wikipedia) (not to be confused with the 1985 John Malkovich film "ELENI" or the 1983 book it's based on)
• • •

This theme is slightly kooky and fairly entertaining. Must be pretty difficult to come up with a symmetrical set of these 3xON phrases, because LONDON, ONTARIO is a pretty deep cut. I've been there … well, I drove past on my way to McMaster University in Hamilton. Anyway, I have first-hand experience of the place, is what I'm saying, and I don't know how commonly known LONDON, ONTARIO is in the States. TONY TONI TONÉ was very well known at one point, but I have a feeling that answer is going to be the primarily stumbling block for a good chunk of solvers today. They had a string of #1 R&B hits in the late '80s / early '90s. Raphael Saadiq (whose name is crying out to be in crosswords) has a pretty successful solo career now. Even if you had heard of them, it's quite possible you didn't know exactly how to spell their name. For that, you can certainly be forgiven.

ELEMI is pretty horrid, but most of the rest of the fill is pretty good. I thought the pedal was a "WAH WAH" pedal. Just one WAH? Wha? Puzzle played very easy for me, generally. One answer that gave me a little trouble was the one with perhaps the best (in the sense of craziest-sounding) clue—3D: Like sheer fabric or sautéed onions (TRANSLUCENT). Very nice (despite the duped ENT, which is also duped in TENTS and CENT, and which is anagrammed in TEN). Also, RAINS ON crossing MONSOON SEASON—hat tip to that. My only real mistake came at 52D: Choice on a gambling line (OVER). I had ODDS.

That is all.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Polynesian island whose internet suffix is tv / MON 9-15-14 / Old British rule in India / Diana Rigg's role on Avengers

Monday, September 15, 2014

Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: JELLY (67A: What quivering legs feel like … or a word that can precede the starts of 17-, 27-, 45- and 60-Across) —

Theme answers:
  • BELLY DANCER (17A: Performer who may have a navel decoration)
  • FISH AND CHIPS (27A: Some British pub food)
  • ROLL OF THE DIE (45A: Risk, figuratively)
  • BEAN SPROUTS (60A: Common stir-fry ingredients)
Word of the Day: TUVALU (47D: Polynesian land whose Internet suffix is .tv) —
Tuvalu (Listeni/tˈvɑːl/ too-vah-loo or /ˈtvəl/ too-və-loo), formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean, midway betweenHawaii and Australia. It comprises three reef islands and six true atolls spread out between the latitude of  to 10° south and longitude of 176° to 180°, west of the International Date Line. Tuvalu's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers an oceanic area of approximately 900,000 km2. Its nearest neighbours are KiribatiNauruSamoa and Fiji. Its population of 10,837 makes it the third-least populous sovereign state in the world, with only the Vatican City and Nauru having fewer inhabitants. In terms of physical land size, at just 26 square kilometres (10 sq mi) Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world, larger only than theVatican City at 0.44 km2 (0.17 sq mi), Monaco at 1.98 km2 (0.76 sq mi), and Nauru at 21 km2(8.1 sq mi). (wikipedia)
• • •

Quaint. A "word that can precede" puzzle. Feels like I haven't seen one in a while, though I do so many puzzles, maybe I have and I just forgot (they don't tend to be memorable). JELLY Bellies and JELLY beans are really too close to one another. In a puzzle like this, your themers (in this case, your JELLYs) really should all be quite distinct, one from the next, and as far as I know the only difference between your bellies and your beans is that the former is a brand, and … maybe it's smaller and less waxy? I don't know. I do know that they're too related to hold down different theme positions. This theme is stretched a little thin. Hard to do. DONUT isn't going to give you many good answer options, and you've already got the edible sweet "jelly roll" represented here. Jelly sandals are definitely a thing, but maybe not a Monday thing? Anyway, I call "foul" on the JELLY Belly / JELLY bean redundancy.

I would've called foul on "ROLL OF THE DIE," because I have always heard "dice," but there's plenty of attestation for the answer in the grid. Overall, the fill is pretty decent, for the most part. OENO-, S'IL, and (*especially*) -ISE have no place in most grids, but especially in an easy Monday grid. The -ISE is clearly a casualty of the rampant Scrabble-f*cking there in the SW (you can see the same thing happening in the NE, only the result there are slightly less dire). Just for fun, I redid those corners, maintaining all the gratuitously Scrabbly letters.

I like mine better, though some may balk at IMO and/or IGO—and of course my best advice is Never Do This. Make the grid as Good as it can be, not as chock full o' "Z"s as it can be. This is especially important for new constructors. Trust me on this. Go for smoothness and overall high quality over superficial 'zazz that means you have to stomach "-ISE" in your grid.

["Dr. JAZZ Dr. JAZZ, make my JELLY roll…"]

Mid-range non-theme answers in this puzzle are quite good. EMMA PEEL + "The PRISONER" = '60s TV fabulousness and the JOHN DOE / FATALLY symmetry is very nicely done. Perhaps not intentionally done, but who cares? KIDNAPS, also good. Wish "ARCHER" had gotten the TV clue it deserves. Speaking of "TV," what is up with that TUVALU clue? (47D: Polynesian land whose Internet suffix is .tv) It's true, that is the most obscure thing in this otherwise easy grid, but it seems a little much to give away two letters in the clue. Crossword clues very rarely just hand you letters like that. Ouch, just saw INAS. Gonna stop now before I notice more warts. Puzzle was OK!

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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