St Louis Blues composer / WED 9-3-14 / 2013 Tonto portrayer / 1960s TV show featuring cross-eyed lion Clarence / Worked on trireme / Get Smart adversary / Mobster's gun

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: HEAD STARTS (59A: Race advantages … or a hint to 17-, 23- 38- and 49-Across)— theme answers start with words that can also mean "bathroom" or "restroom" or "toilet" or what have you:

Theme answers:
  • CAN OF WORMS (17A: Metaphorical mess)
  • PRIVY COUNCIL (23A: Monarch's advisers)
  • W.C. HANDY (38A: "St. Louis Blues" composer)
  • JOHN F. KENNEDY (49A: Only president to win a Pulitzer)
Word of the Day: LANTANA (42D: Showy flower) —
Lantana is a genus of about 150 species of perennial flowering plants in the verbena family,Verbenaceae. They are native to tropical regions of the Americas and Africa but exist as anintroduced species in numerous areas, especially in the Australian-Pacific region. The genus includes both herbaceous plants and shrubs growing to 0.5–2 m (1.6–6.6 ft) tall. Their common names are shrub verbenas or lantanas. The generic name originated in Late Latin, where it refers to the unrelated Viburnum lantana.[2]
Lantana's aromatic flower clusters (called umbels) are a mix of red, orange, yellow, or blue and white florets. Other colors exist as new varieties are being selected. The flowers typically change color as they mature, resulting in inflorescences that are two- or three-colored. (wikipedia)
• • •

For a large handful of seconds there at the end, it was -C. WYETH all over again. I was just staring at -OOF and -C. HANDY, having no idea what letter could go there. I've heard of W. C. HANDY before, but only from puzzles, and I certainly couldn't remember his first initials. And [Scares a cat, in a way] made no sense to me initially. Required me to run the alphabet until I hit the dog noise, WOOF(S). One other proper noun ("DAKTARI"), and the Word-of-the-Day plant genius I'd never heard of, helped keep this one well on the tough side. I thought I knew what "DAKTARI" was, but it turns out I was thinking of "Hatari," a John Wayne movie set in Africa. When I saw [1960s TV show featuring the cross-eyed lion Clarence] all I could conjure up in my mind was Lamb Chop and Sheri Lewis and … wait, no, I was thinking of Kookla, Fran & Ollie. But somehow in my mind those three hang out with Lamb Chop and Sheri Lewis. Anyway, my point is I clearly never saw any of these puppet shows as I was not alive in the '60s much, and the time I was alive (about 35 days) is not terribly memorable. It occurs to me now that perhaps the show "DAKTARI" didn't involve puppets at all–that I just assumed that, based on the deep unlikelihood of an actual cross-eyed lion's existing, let alone auditioning for TV roles. Anyway, it turns out I know the "word" "DAKTARI" as a 10,000 Maniacs song that appeared on an album I used to (and maybe still) own called The Wishing Chair. It was the album just before In My Tribe, i.e. just before they became college rock royalty. Anyway, I never understood what she was saying on the song—how was I to know it was about a cross-eyed lion.

I like the theme—it's tight and has a nice revealer. The fill is a bit wobbly for my tastes. ASAN CANTI TROI EVAC OSHA SOYA DEE SDS NEAPS (plural!?) EDEMA YADA OCTA SRTA OARED YETI ATIT (!) ETAS OCULO PENH ENTS … there's just a *lot* of dull and/or subpar stuff. But KAZAKHSTAN does ease the pain a bit (28D: Former Soviet republic). That's a spectacular long Down. This puzzle is all about the theme, and the theme is good.

I'm quite tired from my first day of teaching. I am not in match shape, as they say. So I'm off to bed. Until tomorrow...
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Fishhook attachment / TUE 9-2-14 / Female students condescendingly / Hobo's accessory / Snoop Dogg for one since 2012

    Tuesday, September 2, 2014

    Constructor: Ethan Cooper

    Relative difficulty: Challenging (***for a Tuesday***)

    THEME: COLLEGE EXPENSES (54A: What tuition and the starts of 17-, 22-, 37-(?) and 47-Across are):

    Theme answers:
    • TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE (17A: Perfect illustration)
    • ROOM TO IMPROVE (22A: Unfulfilled potential)
    • BEER NUT (37A: Pub tidbit)
    • BOARD MEETINGS (47A: Gatherings in which C.E.O.'s are chosen)
    Word of the Day: PLASM (5A: Blood component) —
    'Plasma.' It just means 'plasma.' Apparently you don't gotta say that last 'a' at all. And here I've been saying it with the 'a' all these years, like some kind of time-wasting sucker...
    • • •

    Mixed but mostly positive feelings about this one. On the plus side, it's timely (university semester starts tomorrow for me, and likely many other tens of thousands of people), and the puzzle overall feels very fresh. Even something like "UM, NO"—it's like when I see a young person wearing something stupid, but wearing it with confidence and style, such that I have to admit I'd rather see said stupid piece of clothing than Yet Another Backward-Baseball-Capped generic-looking dead-eyed conveyer-belt rider wearing what everybody else is wearing. In this example, "UM, NO" is the stupid piece of clothing and, let's say, ULNA is the conformist clothing, and college is the conveyor belt. I just decided that "UM, NO" is a lime green boa. Anyway, this grid has a kind of style. It's up to date on what Snoop's been doing lately, but still finds time for OBOES, and it likes to keep tabs on both the recent Batman moves (NOLAN) and old-school film noir (HUSTON). Seriously, that NOLAN / HUSTON row is pretty cool.

    On the down side, this puzzle thinks card tricks are MAGIC (!?) (48D: Card tricks, e.g.). Also, there's a 3x3 patch there in the SE that is almost entirely Ss and Es. The ELSE'S EOE ISMS cluster*uck is kind of gross. I'm grateful that MAXIM is clued as a word and not the idiotic lad mag, i.e. porn for people who are afraid to buy porn. Themewise, there are a few issues. ROOM and BOARD really should be in sequence. They don't travel well alone. Presumably one will buy more than one textbook. Also, since all the other first words of the theme answers are used in non-college contexts, you could've pulled your BOOK answer even further away from the whole college context by going with something like BOOKKEEPER or "BOOK 'EM, DANNO" or something. But that's not a very big deal. The big deal is the BEER NUT answer. This is the answer that divides me in half—the half that thinks "ha, cute, good one," and the half that thinks "ugh, yes, great, let's wink at how awesome it is to binge-drink and date rape and exacerbate depression and all the other unfortunately very real things that often happen when college kids meet beer." That latter half of me is the half that has a daughter going to college in four years. It's also the half that has to overhear dozens of dumbass conversations every week about getting wasted, having gotten wasted, and the prospects for what will become next week's Having Gotten Wasted.

    Oh, also, one BEER NUT? Really? A single BEER NUT? When have you ever seen and or eaten just one BEER NUT? That's ridiculous. It's a brand. The brand is BEER NUTS. Also, baseball helmets have earholes, not EARFLAPs (41D: Batting helmet feature). The word "flap" implies a certain mobility, an ability to fold back or away. The word does not apply to baseball helmets. Or shouldn't. So thumbs up to youthful exuberance, thumbs down to the whole fratboy vibe with the BEER and the COEDS (64A: Female students, condescendingly) and the MAXIM (I've decided it's a lad mag after all, no matter the clue).

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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