Superman-like stance / WED 5-23-18 / Island that's world's third-smallest country after Vatican City Monaco / Quarter barrel of beer /

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Challenging (laughably challenging—a full minute over my slowest recorded Wednesday time since I started keeping track in mid-April) (6:17)

THEME: "expanded" (??) — clues are followed by "... expanded?" and that apparently means that the answer can be found by joining elements on either end of the theme answer ... so the stuff in the middle, which appears to be gobbledygook, has "expanded" the real answer to make a newer, longer answer that is the answer to ... nothing? I think? [updated: fuller explanation below, in italics]

Theme answers:
  • 16A: Beginning, expanded? (STREET ART)
  • 22A: Forming a crust, expanded? (CALIFORNIA KING)
  • 47A: Choose in advance, expanded? (PRESIDENT-ELECT)
  • 57A: Inspiration for something, expanded? (SOUTH PARK)
Word of the Day: NAURU (49D: Island that's the world's third-smalles country, after Vatican City and Monaco) —
Nauru (NauruanNaoero/nɑːˈr/ nah-OO-roo or /ˈnɑːr/ NAH-roo), officially the Republic of Nauru (NauruanRepubrikin Naoero) and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country in Micronesia, a subregion of Oceania, in the Central Pacific. Its nearest neighbour is Banaba Island in Kiribati, 300 kilometres (186 mi) to the east. It further lies northwest of Tuvalu, north of the Solomon Islands, east-northeast of Papua New Guinea, southeast of the Federated States of Micronesia and south of the Marshall Islands. With 11,347 residents in a 21-square-kilometre (8.1 sq mi) area, Nauru is the smallest state in the South Pacific, smallest republic and third smallest state by area in the world, behind only Vatican City and Monaco. (wikipedia)
• • •

What is this? I don't understand the theme. I get the "expanded" part, but ... why? What are the middle letters? What does the "expansion" mean or represent or anything? Why? It's entirely baffling to me why this puzzle got made, published, etc. Don't a lot of longer phrases have letters on either end that could also make ... a word? Is there even a concept here, something that's being enacted or demonstrated? I mean, honestly, anything? It's such a bad theme I cannot explain its existence. The constructor is prolific, so it's not like some new constructor just had a weak idea. And anyway, that's hardly the issue, since the editor had to accept this thing. And it's got a dumb shape AND it's ridiculously hard for a Wednesday. I routinely do Friday puzzles much faster than I did this thing. Not having Any Idea what the answers to the themers were (since they're utterly unclued), and having literally never heard of a CALIFORNIA KING (born and raised in California, btw), AND staring down giant NE and SW corners that had Fri/Sat-level clues in them, I was floundering. God, what an awful combination—terrible, inexplicable theme AND difficulty pitched way above average. I had to go to Twitter to make sure I wasn't missing something. Thankfully (for my sanity), other late-night solving stalwarts had no clue either.

[update: someone from crossword twitter read the "constructor's notes" and explained: apparently if you abbr. the first words in the themers, you get the answer to the clue. Well, that's better than I thought, but since it missed me, and loads of other people, I'm gonna stand by the idea that this was a design failure ... I mean ST and CA, alright, but PRES? And S??? Those are some weakass abbrevs. and the "expanded" answers remain entirely unclued]

The raisin on this terrible sundae was the stupid "Man up!" bullshit at 6D: "Grow ___!" ("Man up!") ("A PAIR"). You know what the NYT could use? More people without A PAIR. Lots and lots and lots more constructors and editors etc. who possess precisely no pairs. That whole place is such a sausagefest—I'm sure this "tickles" them no end, but honestly, this is an institution that not only inadequately represents women, but that just shrugs ignorantly at the very problem. Here's the preposterously naive recent editorial statement on gender imbalance in the ranks of NYT crossword constructors (posted to a semi-popular constructing listserv by the most famous person in all of crosswords):

Why don't more women wanna be part of this dickfest? I'm sure the problem is not at all cultural. Nope. Chicks just aren't interested man. Stop whining. Grow A PAIR. Etc. 

Also, **** that GHETTO clue, man (27A: Poor area). The puzzle is so white and affluent at every level that I'm not really up for this terse, reductive characterization of GHETTO. Keep it out of your puzzle or (last resort) clue it via music, preferably hip-hop (though Elvis is probably the most widely known referent for the puzzle-solving crowd). "Poor area"? Come on. The only "poor area" I see right now is the editorial office that exercised exceedingly "poor" judgment in publishing this thing. I'm too tired to even go into why the NE and SW were hard. They just were. And I totally forgot NAURU, possibly because it's impossibly small. Possibly because my brain couldn't think past PALAU. 

THUD THUD THUD THUD (either the sound of the puzzle falling flat or the sound of my head hitting my desk in frustration at the multiple levels of badness on display here—take your pick)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Dame Myra of piano fame / TUE 5-22-18 / Compound in synthetic rubber / Constellation next to Draco / Sheik's land in poetry / drain decloggers

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Constructor: Jeff Stillman

Relative difficulty: Medium, sliding toward Medium-Challenging (*for a Tuesday*) (3:58)

THEME: BIG DIPPER (9D: Part of 17-Across ... and what the circles from A to G depict) — themers related to big dipper and connect-the-dots gives you a kind of replica of said dipper:

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Constellation next to Draco (URSA MAJOR)
  • 34D: Thing located in the night sky by extending a line from circle F past circle G (NORTH STAR)
  • 64A: Another term for 17-Across (GREAT BEAR)

Word of the Day: RONDEL (47D: 14-line verse with only two rhyme sounds) —
rondel is a verse form originating in French lyrical poetry of the 14th century. It was later used in the verse of other languages as well, such as English and Romanian. It is a variation of the rondeau consisting of two quatrains followed by a quintet (13 lines total) or a sestet (14 lines total). It is not to be confused with the roundel, a similar verse form with repeating refrain.
• • •

OOF. The theme would've been OK, I guess—it's got issues, which I'll get into, but it does what it does and some people like drawing on their puzzles, so, whatever, fine—but when you throw in the fill, this one just slides down enjoyment mountain into the valley of OOF. Let's start with the theme. It's all over the (star) map. It's main purpose seems to be to create a connect-the-dots puzzle that allows us / forces us to envision the BIG DIPPER. But the revealer is in this weird place, and it's clued as *part* of some bigger constellation, which is in the puzzle ... twice (once in Latin, once in an English form that no one ever uses). And then there's NORTH STAR ... which is also called Polaris, but you don't see that here. Also, Polaris is not in the BIG DIPPER or anywhere in URSA MAJOR (it's in the minor bear). So it's conceptually interesting, somewhat ambitious, but rough. And then the fill, come on, can we get this stuff cleaned up. Editors should be sending MTW puzzles with fill like this back to constructors with a "please improve this" message. You know at ARABY that things aren't gonna be great. And then bang there you are with all of ESO BESO which causes you to pause for a stunned second ORSO (!) like some kind of DODO. But OOF, EENY EMO NEG ANOD (!?), ASEA TERI LAO INURE ELON ENOLA (sans gay) SERE ILSA LYES *and* RYES (rhyming unlikely plurals!) ... and that's not even touching the longer unpleasantness BUTENE and RONDEL. This thing is Out of the Past, except "Out of the Past" is one of the greatest movies of all time, so scratch that. It's just stale.

I don't really stop to read and figure out long cross-referenced clues if I don't have to, and I'm certainly not consulting circles unless absolutely necessary, but the theme answers were pretty gettable without much time spent mucking around trying to figure out the exact relationship of the stars in space. Difficulty came from fill. In and around BUTENE, in and around RONDEL—that was all my puzzle drama. Didn't know if it was gonna be ENURE or INURE (16A: Habituate) and stupidly (and mostly inexplicably) wrote in PADUA for 9A: Noted tower setting (BABEL). I was probably thinking PISA, but there were five letters, so ... PADUA! Had trouble with ON DOPE because ... what year is it? Also DODO because DOLT DOPE etc. (36D: Numbskull). And there's ORBIS, dear lord, why? It's Tuesday. What does the "?" in the clue even mean? Is "Caesar's world?" some kind of expression? A pun? ORBIS ... honestly, that answer alone should've prompted a rewrite request. Really hope you know Latin or else are *certain* about the whole ILSA / ELSA thing (which I still botch like half the time ... including today). Do better, puzzle!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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