Nixon adviser Nofziger / SAT 8-1-15 / Jazz’s Beiderbecke / Cornel who wrote “Race Matters” / Put in bundles for the bookbinder / Musician Mendes known for the bossa nova / Irish runner Coghlan / Highest authority in some Eastern Churches / Basketball’s Black Mamba / Food writer Drummond

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Constructor: Kameron Austin Collins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


Word of the Day: QUIRED (42A: Put in bundles for the bookbinder) —
noun \ˈkwī(-ə)r\
Definition of QUIRE

:  a collection of 24 or sometimes 25 sheets of paper of the same size and quality :  one twentieth of a ream (Merriam-Webster)

• • •

Hey there, I’m Evan Birnholz. I write the weekly crossword over at Devil Cross, with a new puzzle every Saturday (the latest one should be up sometime this morning). And next Saturday is Lollapuzzoola 8, a.k.a. Lollapuzzocho. It’s a crossword tournament held on a Saturday in August. It’s a really fun thing that you should go to because I said so, but if you can’t make it in person, you can always order the set of puzzles for solving at home. I’ll be there, so come say hi to me.

I liked this one – it had a good contemporary feel and had several lively phrases like KOBE BRYANTHOLY SYNODBLANK CDSLAD MAGMATCH POINTGEMSTONEPEACH PITTONGUE-TIED, P.A. SYSTEM, and SEXTED. I’m tickled by FRIEND ZONE (32A: Relationship with unrequited love, in modern slang) appearing right below BABYCAKES (27A: Sweetie); I can guarantee that any single person who tries to put the moves on a stranger at a bar while using the word BABYCAKES won’t get any further than the FRIEND ZONE (and more likely, they'll end up far away from the Friend Zone and instead land in the Sketchy Creep Zone). Anyway, the stairway pattern of 7-plus letter answers in the middle is nicely done -- it's not the easiest grid arrangement to pull off. Now, I'm not enamored with short stuff like GPOE'ENENSTEM, and REE, though at least REE has a more interesting clue (51D: Food writer Drummond) than an old standby like [Riddle-me-___]. I’m also not really a fan of the LIBELEE/INTERNEE combo (of the two I'd say INTERNEE is the better entry). But I can overlook these things for the sparkly phrases mentioned above.

There were, however, a few answers that left me scratching my head. NAÏVE ART (50A: Works of childlike simplicity) was totally new to me. It’s a legit thing, with a Wiki page and all -- apparently the artist Henri Rousseau was a practitioner of the form -- though I was looking askance at that one for a bit, like it were as arbitrary a phrase as EAGER ART or CUDDLY ART. But alright, I'm uncultured and uncouth and don't know as much about different art forms as I should, so no real harm there. FREE UNION (32D: Cohabitation without marriage) was another question mark. I've never heard of any living arrangement described as a FREE UNION before. Cohabitation, yes; but the clue is the same, word-for-word, as Merriam-Webster's definition, which to me is usually a sign that it's not a very common phrase since the puzzle gives you the most straightforward clue on a Saturday. Even with a Wiki page of its own, FREE UNION doesn't Google all that well as a term for cohabitation -- it gets more hits on the front page as an uber-small town in Virginia. And then there's QUIRED. That word looks like a beheaded REQUIRED (and how long till we see a puzzle with that as a punny theme answer, clued as [Put in bundles for the bookbinder again]?). It's not uncommon that I'll encounter maybe one or two names in a crossword that I don't know, but these answers felt way, way more obscure as phrases relative to the rest of the puzzle. Your mileage may vary.

Despite those issues, I didn't get slowed up that much while solving. For the most part I think the cluing felt a little too over-the-plate for a Saturday. It could be because Kameron and I are in roughly the same age group, so maybe the modern slang and pop culture references were in my wheelhouse. KOBE BRYANT was an insta-get for me as a lifelong NBA fan. FRIEND ZONE fell pretty easily too, as did BLANK CDS once I had the terminal -CDS (though that had a pretty good clue, 10D: They may get burned). Even something like 30D: Sent pixxx? basically screamed SEXTED because of the triple x's. Whatever the reason, most of the clues didn’t put up much resistance when I had a few letters filled in, save for things like QUIRED and FREE UNION and NAÏVE ART.

My biggest trouble spot in this puzzle, by far, was the southwest corner. At first I had WASN’T I at 48A: Defensive comeback instead of the correct AREN'T I, and actually the clue there seems a little strange. How is AREN’T I a defensive comeback? It strikes me more like something you’d say out of coyness (i.e. “Well, aren’t you just the cutest!” .... “AREN’T I???” *bats eyelashes*). I’ve heard of the musician SERGIO (53A: Musician Mendes known for the bossa nova), but I don’t know his music well and needed help from the crossing NGO (49D: CARE, e.g., for short). EAMONN (55A: Irish runner Coghlan)? Yeah, that name was definitely not coming to me without all of the crosses. Each of those answers was crossed fairly, fortunately. The clue that really threw me for a loop was 43A: Specialty, informally (BAG). Could be just me, but I’ve never heard anyone use BAG in this context. Would KOBE BRYANT say “Basketball is my bag”? Or is it more specific to a certain skill, like Kobe saying “Jacking up contested 21-foot jump shots fifteen times a game is my bag”? I dunno; maybe it's a regional or outdated expression. Maybe people who make bags at the Bag Factory use this kind of slang, and if they don’t, then they should.

Anyhow, all these nits aside, this was still an enjoyable puzzle. I would have liked a little more bite in the cluing, but overall, NICE.

(p.s. Just kidding, Kobe. You know I respect your bag. But on this puzzle blog you’re just like the BLANK CDS: you may get burned.)

  • PEACH PIT (15A: Cobbler waste) — The ‘90s child in me felt about 0.5% sadness that this wasn’t clued as the hangout spot in “Beverly Hills, 90210,” then I realized that the other 99.5% of me didn’t care for and didn't watch much of that show when it was on. Somehow I remembered that little tidbit, though.
  • OHH (21A: "Now I get it!") — Here’s how this little game played out for me: “Ah, it’s AHA!” **sees that 12D: Office paper is MEMO** ….. “Oh, it’s OHO!” ….. **SIGH** (14D: [Not that again]) “Oh, I get it now, it’s OHH.” Weirdly fitting that I would get this one wrong.
  • RISKY (24A: Parlous) — "Parlous" is new to me too. It's basically the same as "perilous."
  • RAILING (24D: What's up for grabs?) — This clue confused me at first. I thought it was referring only to a rail that you'd see overhead like on a subway, but I think it should be interpreted as "what's put up (i.e. built) for grabs."
  • WEST (38A: Cornel who wrote “Race Matters”) — He was another insta-get for me. Two things about this answer: first, now that I realize it, if this had instead been clued in reference to NBA Hall-of-Famer Jerry WEST, then you’d have two Laker legends crossing one another, but maybe that would have been too many sports clues with MATCH POINT and ON THE ICE already in the grid. Second, this puzzle would be a pangram were it not missing the letter J, and 38A could have been JEST. But the crossing WAILERS (38D: Original band that sang “I Shot the Sheriff,” with “the”) references a fun song, so thumbs-up for that. Pangrams are overrated, anyhow.

  • P.A. SYSTEM (56A: Principal means of address?) — I'm calling foul here simply because the A of P.A. stands for "Address," so I'm not crazy about it being duplicated in the clue.
Last thing: my best wishes to The Crossword Fiend Amy Reynaldo as she recovers from kidney transplant surgery. I've heard she's doing well, and hopefully she'll be up and about and back to normal as soon as possible. You got this, Amy!

Signed, Evan Birnholz, Earl "The Pearl" of CrossWorld

[Follow me on Twitter @devilcrosswords]


Lower leg woe, slangily / FRI-7-31-15 / Turn awkward, as a relationship / "reading room"

Friday, July 31, 2015

Constructors: James Mulhern and Ashton Anderson

Relative difficulty: Easy, I bet, but I was getting up and making martinis and drinking them so it took me an hour

(I do my puzzles on a clipboard, issued forth from a printer with chronically low toner)

Word of the Day: KATY (45A: "___ Bell" (Stephen Foster song)) —
   Stephen Foster wrote many of the popular songs* in 19th-century America.  I didn't know it when we named our cat, but Stephen Foster wrote the music for an 1863 song called "Katy Bell."  You can listen to it, and if you're as interested as I was, even find the lyrics as well.

* - The most famous:  Oh! Susanna; Camptown Races; Old Folks at Home [Swanee River]; My Old Kentucky Home; Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair; Beautiful Dreamer.

• • •
It's like someone rubbed deodorant all over my printer paper because this puzzle is so fresh. AUTOTUNE, GET WEIRD, ONLINE AD and... CANKLES. Look, I know everyone says something like this in their lifetime but I coined the term "cankles." In college. 2005. It was me; I was the first. I am both proud and ashamed because it's really not a nice thing to say at all, but apparently the term has made its way into one of our most prestigious publications. See, there was this girl who was pretty mean and I didn't like her and she had calves that just wouldn't quit in the downward direction. It was before we started Googling everything we think to make sure it's an original thought so I was almost certainly the first person to portmanteau that shit.

Hi, by the way. I'm Lena: the girl who coined cankles. OH HEY LOOK OVER THERE

It's a Hawk! It's a Pelican! No, it's a CAGER. Womp womp. Sports terms, especially ones like that, are not readily within my KEN, as you can see here at the point where both my glass and mental wellspring went dry:
HULA SKIRT was my first entry, leading to DRAG SHOW and all those goodies in the NW. Then onto the NE, where everything made a pleasing KERPLOP when dropped in-- except STAY DRY. Why? Because my brain parsed it as a noun, like a "lean-to" and I thought WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS? SOME BRITISH THING? "Let us all have a huddle under the stay-dry and sip Pimm's until this thundershower passes." I was still rankled by the time I got to 28A (a tyre may rub against one) and can only think of one word when it comes to Brits and rubbing and it's not KERB, it's "frot." Look it up, as my mother used to say to me. Still does.

Moving right along, I'm pleased to say that I enjoyed this puzzle. Even the little things, like STAB for (5D: Whack). Not that we served KETEL ONE at the fancypants bar (it was that fancy) I worked at a few years ago, but I should have known that way sooner than I did. It would have prevented me from putting in SEASONAL instead of the correct IN SEASON... wow I am getting boring or what?

 Bad fill that peppers you like... bullets!
  • KEPI (35A: Gendarme's topper) — Nrrrgh
  • TKTS (30A: Times Sq. bargain booth)  — Nrrrrrrrrrgh
  • OONA ( 27A: Donald Duck cartoon princess) -- Nrgh
But that's it in terms of what I consider nrrghable fill! A very good puzzle to ring in the weekend.

BONUS: if there's a SNO BALL that has a strong chance in hell...
    Signed, Lena Webb, Court Jester of CrossWorld


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