Principal port of Syria / SAT 4-19-14 / Mezzo-soprano Regina / Big Chicago-based franchiser / Either of two holy emperors

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Constructor: Stu Ockman

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: HAME (51A: Part of a plowing harness) —
One of the two curved wooden or metal pieces of a harness that fits around the neck of a draft animal and to which the traces are attached.

[Middle English, from Middle Dutch; see tkei- in Indo-European roots.] (
• • •

I guess the way you make these things more palatable is by making them easy. This is a perfectly ordinary, perfectly forgettable 15-stack puzzle. None of the 15s, except perhaps THE GOBLET OF FIRE, holds any real interest, and even that one is at least technically inaccurate, since ever installment of both the book and movie "series" begins "Harry Potter and …" But since it's the only thing I really enjoyed today, I'll let that slide. There is pretty heavy reliance on unusual / obscure words / names. RESNIK is new to me (last letter in the grid was that "S") (46D: Mezzo-soprano Regina). What the hell is a HAME?!?! (51A: Part of a plowing harness) Yeesh. Greta SCACCHI I managed to dredge up from somewhere, but lord knows where (35D: Greta of "The Red Violin") (What is "The Red Violin"? Nevermind; I'll google it) . Then there's the truly terrible crossing of LATAKIA and KENAI (26A: Alaska's ___ Fjords National Park). I just guessed. Must've seen KENAI somewhere before, 'cause I guessed right, but I know I've never seen or heard of LATAKIA. Once Again, cluing here involves all the creativity of reading the first line of a wikipedia entry (very first words of that entry: "Latakia […] is the principal port city of Syria […]"). And of course it's misleading, as "principal" makes you think "I should've heard of this," while in reality, LATAKIA is just Syria's 5th largest city, behind Aleppo, Damascus, Homs and Hama (only three of which you've heard of, and only two of which you'd heard of before the atrocities started there). As for KENAI (26A: Alaska's ___ Fjords National Park)  … I think my reasoning was "DENALI ends in 'I', so try that." because otherwise I honestly don't know.

Finished in under 8, and that's *with* taking a break to see if I guessed LATAKIA correctly. Also, I would've been faster if I'd been able to recall MIA SARA's name (40D: Actress in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off")—that should've been a gimme; I know damn well who she is. That movie is a Gen-X sweet spot, and I'm ashamed to have failed to ace this clue. I blame, in part, MIA HAMM. Also couldn't call up SNCC (35A: March on Washington grp.)—hmmm, I think I was confusing it with something else, something with "Christian" and "Southern" in the name, because I don't recall ever hearing of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (despite having written SNCC into grids before). Aha! Southern Christian Leadership Conference. That's what I was thinking of. Phew. I feel mildly better now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Capital on Niger / FRI 4-18-14 / Art enabled / Blue symbol of Delaware / Add tiger's chaudron For ingredients of our cauldron

Friday, April 18, 2014

Constructor: James Mulhern

Relative difficulty: Medium (Easy-Medium for me)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BAMAKO (48D: Capital of the Niger) —
Bamako is the capital and largest city of Mali, with a population of 1.8 million (2009 Census, provisional). In 2006, it was estimated to be the fastest growing city in Africa and sixth fastest in the world. It is located on the Niger River, near the rapids that divide the upper and middle Niger valleys in the southwestern part of the country.
Bamako is the nation's administrative center. The city proper is a cercle in its own right. Bamako's river portis located in nearby Koulikoro, along with a major regional trade and conference center. Bamako is the seventh largest West African urban center after LagosAbidjanKanoIbadanDakar, and Accra. Locally manufactured goods include textiles, processed meat and metal goods. There is commercial fishing on the Niger River.
The name Bamako comes from the Bambara word meaning "crocodile river". (wikipedia)
• • •

This one just flowed for me. From beginning to end, I had only minor hitches. Looking back on it, I'm surprised how easily I got through some sections, esp. the NE. All my first guesses were correct. Wasn't sure if it was ET ALIA or ET ALII, but I decided to drop CELLI at 10D: Parts of many chamber groups, and that made all the difference. EPOCH and then APIA came easily, and I saw straight through the enigmatic cluing at 10A: Art enabled (CANST). I did not see straight through the enigmatic cluing at 18A: Moving supply (LITHE) (great clue), but all the crosses fell easily into place. The one real stick point—the answer I had to come at from both directions before I finally took it down—was BAMAKO. Had the BAM- and thought "oh … no. African capitals. Crap." Actually wanted BAMAKO (despite having no idea where it was), but the "K" looked weird wrong at that point (my first pass at the word), so I abandoned ship and went back to work where I had started, in the NW. Worked my way steadily and easily from there, clockwise, back to the SE, where it turned out BAMAKO was right all along. So I solved until I ran into BAMAKO, retreated, and then solved again until I came back to BAMAKO from the opposite side. The end.

I like this puzzle, despite some wobbly short fill, particularly in the upper center and ENE sections. FO SHIZZLE reads as hilariously dated to me, but I still enjoyed seeing it (1A: "Definitely, dawg!") ("Dawg" also reads as dated). I like that the 15s are Downs in this one. Longest answers in themelesses are usually Acrosses. But aside from that little grid oddity, it's a pretty standard grid, with solid, somewhat above-average fill. Great clues help add to the entertainment value. I already covered [Moving supply] and [Art enabled]; I also liked [Something awful] for LIKE CRAZY, which fooled me completely, despite the fact that I use "something awful" in that idiomatic way all the time. I had MAMMAL for MARMOT (54A: Woodchuck, e.g.), and disbelieved that WANS was a word (36D: Pales). Otherwise, as I say, this was an enjoyable, largely bump-free ride.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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