Drama critic John of New Yorker / SUN 9-21-14 / Glam band with six #1 hits in Britain / Late disc jockey Casey / Posthumous John Donne poem / pioneering song by Sugarhill Gang / Old track holders / Dog for gentleman detective / Germinal novelist

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Constructor: Michael Ashley

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Nascar Rocks!" — "Rock" songs that have been subjected to racing-related puns:

Theme answers:
  • WON'T GET FUELED AGAIN (27A: "Hey, what did you think when you missed that last pit stop?" [The Who, 1971])
  • I KISSED A GRILLE (42A: "Did you do anything for luck before today's race?" [Katy Perry, 2008])
  • MOVES LIKE JAGUAR (65A: "How did that new car handle out there on the track?" [Maroon 5, 2011])
  • BRAKE ON THROUGH (93A: "What did you try to do after the caution flag came out?" [The Doors, 1967])
  • LIVIN' LA VEHICLE LOCA (109A: "Are you enjoying your time out on the Nascar circuit?" [Ricky Martin, 1999])

Word of the Day: John LAHR (19A: Drama critic John of The New Yorker) —
John Henry Lahr (born July 12, 1941) is an American theater critic, and the son of actor Bert Lahr. Since 1992, he has been the senior drama critic at The New Yorker magazine. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle had its work cut out for it with me, as few things interest me less than "Nascar." Hunting, Dr. Who, "The Bachelor" … these are also possible Sunday theme topics that would hold no interest for me. But today, Nascar. [Deep breath]. OK, let's do this. And … they're off? Is that right? Or is that horse racing? Start your engines!?

So here's the thing. Well, several things. First, puns. Always an uphill battle there. There *is* a pun sweet spot that I do believe exists, somewhere between "obvious/corny" and "ridiculous/nonsensical," but it's so hard to hit. Today's were a mixed bag, with the first three arguably successful, the fourth way too spot-on to be interesting, and the fourth a total train (or today, car) wreck. "Vida" and VEHICLE sound nothing alike, the resulting phrase makes no sense on any level, etc. Total fail. You're supposed to end with your strongest themer. Maybe there's a subtlety to the theme that I'm missing—like, you know how people (allegedly) watch Nascar because they *want* to see crashes!? Maybe this last answer is so terrible because it's trying to give the people what they want: flames; wreckage; car-nage. It's a theory.

And what's up with there being only five themers!? That's absurd. I've seen (many) daily puzzles with more theme answers. You'd think we'd at least get a fascinating, zippy grid as some kind of payoff for the super-low theme answer count, but no. The fill is probably a bit below par, overall, with some notable exceptions in the longer fill: "THE FLEA" (one of the most brilliant poems ever written, I teach it next month, etc etc, though the "posthumous" part is weird—all of Donne's poems appeared in print only after his death, but circulated relatively widely in manuscripts before that … so "posthumous" is correct only where *print* is concerned, and gives a false impression about the poem's public life and popularity during Donne's lifetime … is what I'm saying) … where was I? Oh right, good long stuff: "RAPPER'S Delight …

 DOGGEREL, and the symmetrical, improbable double feature of "ANIMAL HOUSE" and "CITIZEN KANE." Mostly, though, it's EHS and ERS and NEEDER (!?) and on and on with less-than-great stuff. Also, SCOUT MOTTO is a clue, not an answer. I don't even know what WAGNERIANS are? Fans of Wagner are called that?? I'd've gone with "Wag hags" or something at least slightly catchy. Anyway, the theme has some charm, but is less than expertly executed, and inexplicably slight. Fill is so-so at best. I will give the theme credit, however, for having a wide range of "rock" songs, including a couple from this century. Often, with pop culture, constructors tend to favor their own comfort zones. So hurray for breadth (even if that does mean that I'm kind of half-way hurraying for Katy Perry).

Puzzle of the Week this week is a meta puzzle contest puzzle by Neville Fogarty—the guest constructor this week at Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest. You should go do it. Still plenty of time to enter. The grid is nicely made, but it's the meta part of the puzzle that's truly impressive, at least to me. It's quite a toughie, though, I should warn you. Many people I know are still struggling to figure it out. This is not uncommon with MGWCC—sometimes the metas are a walk in the park, and other times, less walk more crawl, less park more tundra. Still, if you manage to get the meta, I promise you'll have a nice "aha" moment (as well as a pretty sizable feeling of accomplishment).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Professor who tries to kill Harry Potter / SAT 9-20-14 / Red juice hybrid / Word with deux nous / Nobelist Frederick pioneer in radiochemistry / Home of Unesco World Heritage Site Fatehpur Sikri

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none … whoops, sorry, I mean CTR (56D: Abbr. found a the 56-Down of this puzzle's four longest answers)

Word of the Day: Frederick SODDY (32A: Nobelist Frederick ___, pioneer in radiochemistry) —
Frederick Soddy FRS (2 September 1877 – 22 September 1956) was an English radiochemist who explained, with Ernest Rutherford, that radioactivity is due to the transmutation of elements, now known to involve nuclear reactions. He also proved the existence of isotopes of certain radioactive elements. (wikipedia)
• • •

[Note: I did this entire write-up without realizing that there was a theme… see bracketed note following the original write-up, below]

Solid, aggressively contemporary offering from Mr. Agard. It has all the hallmarks of an Agard puzzle—hard, modern, trickily clued. I found this one less awe-inspiring and slightly more laborious than I typically find his independent puzzles (which you can experience on a mostly weekly basis at his website, "Glutton for Pun"). But it's nonetheless an above-average themeless. I think my slightly diminished enthusiasm comes from the Harry Potter answer, QUIRRELL (14A: Professor who tries to kill Harry Potter) —a name I don't really remember, and I've read them all (looks like he's from the first book … OK then). Kind of a deep cut. It's original, but it'll be meaningless to lots of people. All the crosses are fair, though, and in fact the fact that the final letter seemed to have to be an "L" really helped me see LG ELECTRONICS more quickly than I would've otherwise—["Life's Good" sloganeer] is a terrible clue; or, rather, "Life's Good" is a terrible slogan. Banal and meaningless. I see that "Life's Good" is a phrase with the initials "L.G." but I doubt that helps anyone remember the connection between slogan and company.

"PROJECT RUNWAY" was a gimme, but with another dull clue (33A: Fashion series since 2004). I was grateful for the easy answer, though. Helped me change SANTA to CLAUS (37A: Asner's "Elf" role)—bit of a cheap trick, that. After that, the bottom part of the grid got a whole lot easier. Got HTTPS right away and closed in on the SW corner from both sides, then ran through the SE corner in a flash (having just come back from ASANA practice earlier in the evening). It was the NE corner that really held me up. Speaking of held up, 8D: Holds up (LASTS) really held me up, largely because I read it as having the sense in which I am using it in this sentence (i.e. "delays"), one of at least two possible (wrong) clue interpretations I can think of there. I had ASPECT RATIO and AGRA and ENTRE, but couldn't get much more to fly up there for a little while. And besides the "S" in SNL (32D: TV inits. since 10/11/75), I had nothing at the bottom part of that NE corner either. Eventually figured out DIET SODA, then SEP., and then got all the big stuff up there, including the lovely and (for a nice change of pace) old-fashioned / quaint-sounding UNWIELDY and PANOPLY.

All that was left was the obscure D&D clue (29D: Dungeons & Dragons attributes) (no idea how "attributes" was being used there; had -WERS, considered only TOWERS) and the even more obscure (to my mind) radiochemistry clue (32A: Nobelist Frederick ___, pioneer in radiochemistry) (had S-DDY). Oh, and 29A: Viewfinder? (I had -OLL). Only by running the alphabet and finally getting POLL did I finally settle on POWERS / SODDY. SODDY seems pretty shoddy to me—he's the QUIRRELL of Nobel laureates—but again, crosses ended up fair, so … I think I'm supposed to be "excited" to "learn new things," or something like that. Anyway, this is all very good, very suitably Saturday. Nothing to geek out over, unless you geek out over Harry Potter (as some do), but with a clean grid, fresh fill, and fiendishly riddlish clues (now Tom RIDDLE, I know), this shows great promise.


[So, there was a theme—CTR at "center" of each longer answer … that explains why the fill wasn't as banging as I expected from an Agard "themeless." This is what happens when you a. aren't looking for a theme because it's Saturday, and b. blow through a corner so easily you don't actually see all the clues. Anyway, the theme is impressive (dead center!)—it didn't add any fun to the solving experience (CTR not being the funnest of answers), but the puzzle architecture is an interesting thing to remark upon, post-solve]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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