Second-largest city in Vermont / SUN 6-25-17 / Petroleum byproduct used to make synthetic rubber / Island south of Cyclades / Brenda's twin on Beverly Hills 90210 / Where Sanyo Panasonic are headquartered / Tech company founder Michael

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: "Cropped" — various crops (!) are "shortened" (into two-letter-per-square chunks) inside the theme answers, with the revealer (VEGETABLE SHORTENING) explaining the gimmick (107A: Canful in a cupboard ... or a hint to parts of six answers in this puzzle):

Theme answers:
  • ASIAN LONG-HORNED (BEET)LE (27A: Tree-damaging pest accidentally introduced to the U.S. in 1996)
  • FOUR (CORN)ERS (44A: Southwest tourist destination)
  • (KALE)IDOSCOPIC (48A: Having a variegated, changing pattern)
  • NATIONAL AR(CHIVES) (68A: Constitution holder)
  • SYMP(TOMATO)LOGY (90A: MCAT subject)
  • COSM(O KRA)MER (93A: "Seinfeld" character)
Word of the Day: Tommy HAAS (56D: Tennis great Tommy) —
Thomas Mario "Tommy" Haas (born 3 April 1978) is a German professional tennis player. He has competed on the ATP Tour since 1996. After breaking into the world top 100 in 1997, and reaching a career-high singles ranking of World No. 2 in May 2002, Haas's career was interrupted by injuries: he has twice dropped out of the world rankings due to being unable to play for twelve months.[1] His first period of injury saw him miss the whole of the 2003 season, and he did not return to the world's top 10 until 2007. He also missed over a year's tennis between February 2010 and June 2011, but has since returned to play on the tour. He returned to World No. 11 in 2013 after reaching the quarterfinals at the French Open for the first time in his career. // Haas has reached the semifinals of the Australian Open three times, and Wimbledon once. He is among a few players to have reached the quarterfinal stage of each of the Grand Slams. He has won 15 career titles in singles, including one Masters tournament(Stuttgart) in 2001, and has a silver medal from the 2000 Summer Olympics. (wikipedia)
• • •

I vaguely remember when shortening came in a can (I'm remembering largish cans of Crisco in the pantry when I was a kid). When I've used it lately, it's come in sticks ... so getting that revealer was a bit tricky. But otherwise, no problems here. At least, not after the gimmick became clear, which didn't take too long. Often with puzzles like this, once you grok the theme, the hunting down of the remaining answers really isn't that much fun, but today I quite liked the vegetable hunt. I had no idea what vegetables were coming up, and at least half the time, they showed up in bonkers (i.e. really unusual) answers like ASIAN LONG-HORNED (BEET)LE (!) and SYMP(TOMATO)LOGY (!). I think a tomato is technically a fruit, but we'll leave that debate to ones pickier than I (you know who you are). Only two things really made me wince, and that was due entirely to their cluing. First, cutesy clues on OBESE now strike me as kind of awful (121A: Like those who really have guts?). Not *offensive* awful, just ... somewhat yucky. Would you tell an OBESE person, "Hey, you're a real *gutsy* person! ... huh? Huh? Get it!?" Probably not. And then there's the clue on NIGEL (22A: British politician Farage). F*** that guy. You wanna *kill* the entertainment, destroy the joy, put that guy in your puzzle. It's like finding mouse poop in your ... well, anywhere. It's mouse poop, basically. There is no other IDI, no other AMIN, but there are sure as f*** other NIGELs, so spare me that racist ********@#$%. Thanks for listening.


I have seen Tommy HAAS in the puzzle several times of late, and since clues keep calling him "great" I imagined he was from the distant past, but no. He's younger than I am by almost a decade. And has never won a major. So ... "great"? Remember, this is a world that contains Serena Williams, so ... "great"? He's clearly very good at tennis. But I feel slightly less bad about not recognizing his name now.

Bullets:
  • 73A: Second-largest city in Vermont (ESSEX) — this is the first I've heard of it. Name recognition has a pretty precipitous drop-off there after Burlington. I was like "... STOWE?"
  • 9D: Often-doubled cry at a play (AUTHOR) — had the "AU-" and wrote in "AUTEUR!" because if the Italians get "Bravo!" then the French should have something ... though I guess they already have "Encore!" 
  • 12D: Former Haitian president Préval (RENÉ) — I somehow mostly remembered this guy's name today. Trivia has a way of Not sticking to my brain, so it's always nice when something takes, or begins to.
  • 29D: Where Sanyo and Panasonic are headquartered (OSA(KA)) — four squares, and I had the "S" ... so I tentatively wrote in ASIA even as I side-eyed the front end of 27-Across...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Von Rothbart's daughter in ballet / SAT 6-24-17 / Running gold medalist Steve / Combination undergarment / Old competitor of bikini bare / One-named singer with 2013 top 5 hit Gentleman / Jazz Fest setting informally / Company with striking footwear

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Constructor: Stu Ockman

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ALAN Bean (19A: Bean in a pod?)
Alan LaVern Bean (born March 15, 1932), (CAPT, USN, Ret.), is an American former naval officer and Naval Aviator, aeronautical engineer, test pilot, and NASA astronaut; he was the fourth person to walk on the Moon. He was selected to become an astronaut by NASA in 1963 as part of Astronaut Group 3. He made his first flight into space aboard Apollo 12, the second manned mission to land on the Moon, at the age of thirty-seven years in November 1969. He made his second and final flight into space on the Skylab 3 mission in 1973, the second manned mission to the Skylab space station. After retiring from the United States Navy in 1975 and NASA in 1981, he pursued his interest in painting, depicting various space-related scenes and documenting his own experiences in space as well as that of his fellow Apollo program astronauts. (wikipedia) (I guess Bean is in a "pod" because ... space pod? I searched "pod" on the wikipedia page and turned up nothing)
• • •

Fairly clean for a lowish-word-count puzzle, but fairly dull as well. HOPE TO GOD and MALIA OBAMA are sharp, and DEMOLITION DERBY is OK (but not original—this clue is basically recycled from 2001). But the rest just sits there. It was a fine workout, but more routine and lackluster than I expect from a Saturday. The over-reliance on proper nouns is a bit of a drag here. The NE gets particularly bad, with LAALAA next to ERNEST crossing ALAN, right in the same section with the worst cross in the whole puzzle: ODILE / OVETT. That's dire. That's a one-way ticket to Natick for some people, especially considering the relative popularity of the AVETT Brothers. Yikes. Anyway, that section is yuckily name-dense. Rest of the grid doesn't have this same issue, though ESALEN will be rough for youngSTERs (just as ODELAY will be rough for oldSTERs).  LAALAA and LALA in the same grid? With YAYAS? Nah, nah. Make better choices.


I had a rougher-than-usual time with this one, due almost entirely to the wheels coming off in the SE. Looking back, my stuckness doesn't make sense. It's stupid. I should've been much faster. I just Could Not see (or, later, spell) NOXZEMA (35D: Brand once advertised with "Take it off. Take it all off"). I had BELOW ZERO and PARALLELED and FOWL and (tentatively) BOLES, and (more tentatively) NOLA, but ... nope. Stuck. N--ZE-- was staring at me and all I could think of was NETZERO, which seemed unlikely to have had a slogan about "taking it all off." Kept plugging in *correct* answers (MEGA, FORTY, e.g.) but still not seeing things. Turns out I did that thing where I don't look at all the damned clues before behaving as if I'm stuck. Once I looked at 52A: "Love is not ___" ("Tears on My Pillow" lyric), I found I could sing the song (is it in "Grease" somewhere? Not sure how I know it), and so my brain started to sing it ("Love is not a gadget...") and bam, A TOY went in. Then DAY at the end of DAY-TO-DAY; then MEGA. Finally "got it," but "it" was ... NOCZEMA. Which left me with BOCSET for 41A: It might contain a discography). Oy. Another minute or so of befuddlement followed. Then completion.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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