Silent film opener / WED 8-16-17 / J Peterman employee on Seinfeld / Kind of soup mentioned in Genesis / Kind of tea from Asia / Name assumed by billiards great Rudolf Wanderone

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Constructor: Andrew Kingsley and John Lieb

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: SPIN CLASS (60A: Modern exercise option ... or what the answers to 17-, 26-, 36- or 49-Across could teach?) — answers are all dudes who spin ... things:

Theme answers:
  • SPIDER-MAN (17A: Peter Parker is his alter ego) – he spins webs (not really, see below)
  • SKRILLEX (26A: Grammy-winning music producer and D.J.) — he spins records (OK)
  • MINNESOTA FATS (36A: Name assumed by billiards great Rudolf Wanderone) — he spins ... what, the cue ball? Pfff, OK
  • PAT SAJAK (49A: Longtime co-worker of Vanna White) — he spins ... nothing. I mean, he sometimes spins the wheel late in the game when they're running out of time, right, but ...???! Don't the contestants spin? Vanna spins more than Pat (does she still "spin" the damn letters or is it all touch-screen digital malarkey now?)
Word of the Day: IRIS-IN (47D: Silent film opener)

noun, Movies, Television.
the gradual appearance of an image or scene through an expanding circle.(
• • •

Seems very, very musty and tired, both at the theme and fill levels, and I know at least one of these guys is not at all old, so what the hell? SKRILLEX is pretty 21st-century, but all the other dudes ... and the fill? Very old style. They brought ASSAM back, damn. And "L.A. LAW" (current!). And IRIS-IN, which I know will befuddle many, and which I know only because I saw it once (or twice) in crosswords. ANI DiFranco is back, EMO Philips is back. The LSTS are active again. "AJA" is on the turntable. It's not even that the fill is so terrible; it's just relentlessly "you again?" And the theme is too wobbly. SPIDER-MAN *slings* webs. To say he "spins" webs is to fundamentally misunderstand him. He's not Charlotte. He doesn't wait around for flies. He *slings* the damn webs. "Webslinger" is, in fact, one of his aliases (whereas "Webspinner" ... isn't). I wouldn't say a billiards player "spins" balls, although he might *put spin* on a ball (give it some English, I think is the term), so fine, I'll give you Fats, and SKRILLEX, but PAT SAJAK I will not give you. He. Doesn't. Spin. Contestants spin. As I say above, I think Pat might spin if it's late in the show and they're running out of time, but in general, no. No. Unless the game has changed so dramatically in the last 20 years (last time I looked at it, I think) that it's become unrecognizable. Which I doubt. So the theme just doesn't go the distance.

[Dammit, this song says "spins a web"! Bah! I stand by my objection!]

Amazingly easy, though, this thing. Had vowel trouble with SKRILLEX (had -IX) and MARADONA (wasn't sure about that second "A"); had trouble figuring out BOB (33D: Short cut); and didn't know HBO NOW was a thing (HBO GO, I know). The only issues that were even semi-serious, though, came in the SE, with IRIS-IN and KATANA and the clue on ANNIE (64A: Fictional orphan protected by Punjab). Also, as I've said before, I'm terrible and "comes after and before"-type clues, so IT IS needed crosses (57A: Words said before and after "what"). Still finished in the low 3s—a fast Wednesday time for me.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. [Kind of tea from Asia] is about the worst clue I've ever seen. Every kind of tea is "from Asia." Black, green, oolong ... Asia, Asia, Asia. Come on.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Tiered Eastern temple / TUE 8-15-17 / Rousing audience response informally / Pageant title since 1983 / Multiple jobs metahporically

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Collection agency — All theme clues follow pattern [___ collector?], where the clue phrase is a familiar one, but the answer reimagines the meaning of "___":

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Stamp collector? (PASSPORT)
  • 28A: Record collector? (GUINNESS BOOK)
  • 45A: Bill collector? (CASH REGISTER)
  • 57A: Shell collector? (PASTA BAR) 
Word of the Day: TOOTLE (43A: Play a fife) —
verb: tootle; 3rd person present: tootles; past tense: tootled; past participle: tootled; gerund or present participle: tootling
  1. 1.
    casually make a series of sounds on a horn, trumpet, or similar instrument.

    "he tootled on the horn"
  2. 2.
    go or travel in a leisurely way.

    "they were tootling along the coast" (google)
• • •

I think this works, at least at the most basic level. All the clues take familiar phrases and reorient the meaning of the thing being "collected"—so, not postage stamps but ink stamps in a PASSPORT; not vinyl records but record-setting accomplishments; etc. So it's passable. That said, GUINNESS BOOK really really really doesn't stand alone well at all. It's kind of meaningless without "of World Records" after it. Looks like the official title of the organization is just Guinness World Records (no book needed). So I'm highly dubious that GUINNESS BOOK, on its own, is a thing. The other themers are things, though there was a wide variety of negative responses to PASTA BAR on Crossword Twitter last night, ranging from "What is a PASTA BAR?" to "How many kinds of 'shells' are there, really?" (The clue was pretty forced)

Yesterday felt slowish but was pretty fast. Today felt fast but was just normal. Wrote in MISS AMERICA before MISS TEEN USA (date in the clue means MISS AMERICA was clearly wrong, but I saw "Pageant" and I had MISS and my brain just reacted). I read "happy" instead of "unhappy" at 34D: Final and unhappy outcome, so despite my having END, BITTER didn't fly right in there. Had an odd lot of trouble getting / understanding 19D: Word after mountain or before season (PEAK). I am notoriously bad at the before / after stuff. Just terrible. I had the PEA- and still no idea. That's how bad I am.

Theme is pretty light today, so there's room for some nice longer answers, and the overall quality of the fill isn't too bad. Not good, but not irksome. Happy to give this one a highly-qualified thumbs-up.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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