Octave's follower in some poetry / THU 12-8-16 / Subj group with noted gener imbalance / Groundbreaking 1990s ABC sitcom / Old-timey not / Hoppy quaff for short

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Abbreviation-as-word — two-letter abbreviations, where letters are normally pronounced individually, are clues as if they were two-letter words. Wackiness ensues.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Singers who go from "solo" straight to "ti"? (LA DODGERS)
  • 25A: Comedians who do material on the Freudian psyche? (ID CARDS)
  • 37A: "Young 'uns, yer cuzzins are heare" and others? (PA ANNOUNCEMENTS)
  • 46A: Shipping containers on Italy's longest river? (PO BOXES)
  • 58A: What Stephen King's editor provided for a 1986 novel? (IT SUPPORT) 
Word of the Day: RADIOHEAD (3D: Band that used a pay-what-you-want model to sell their 2007 album) —
Radiohead are an English rock band from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, formed in 1985. The band consists of Thom Yorke (lead vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards), Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, keyboards, other instruments), Ed O'Brien (guitar, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass), and Phil Selway (drums, percussion, backing vocals). They have worked with producer Nigel Godrich and cover artist Stanley Donwood since 1994. // After signing to EMI in 1991, Radiohead released their debut single "Creep" in 1992. It became a worldwide hit after the release of their debut album, Pablo Honey (1993). Their popularity and critical standing rose in the United Kingdom with the release of their second album, The Bends (1995). Radiohead's third album, OK Computer (1997), propelled them to international fame; with an expansive sound and themes of modern alienation, it is often acclaimed as a landmark record of the 1990s[1] and one of the best albums of all time. The group's next albums Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), recorded simultaneously, marked a dramatic change in style, incorporating influences from experimental electronic music, 20th-century classical music, krautrock, and jazz. Despite initially dividing listeners, Kid A was later named the best album of the decade by Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and the Times. [...] Radiohead have sold more than 30 million albums worldwide. Their work places highly in both listener polls and critics' lists of the best music of the 1990s and 2000s. In 2005, they were ranked 73rd in Rolling Stone's list of "The Greatest Artists of All Time"; Jonny Greenwood (48th) and O'Brien were both included in Rolling Stone's list of greatest guitarists, and Yorke (66th) in their list of greatest singers. In 2009, Rolling Stone readers voted the group the second-best artist of the 2000s. (wikipedia)
• • •

Concept feels ancient, and much of the cluing feels quaint (by which I mean highly NYT-crossword-conventional, culturally and chronologically), but the theme is consistent enough, and you do get two nice long Downs in the bargain, so all in all, it's fine, I guess. The two Downs actually feel like they're from a completely different puzzle. It's like a pretty cool themeless from 2016 tried to shove its way into a fusty tea room where people still say POOP when they mean "inside information" and reminisce about Admiral NELSON while leafing through their Poor Richard's Almanacks as "Downton Abbey" plays in the background and NARY a scone crumb is left on one's plate (ELSIE the spokescow is a major figure in this imaginary world). But seriously, RADIOHEAD and IN THE ZONE are nice answers.

I don't like EX-ARMY, but I once put EX-NAVY in a puzzle, so I am formally barred from legitimate expression of dislike here. The puzzle was pretty easy overall. My only slowness came from wrong guesses, or (in one case) completely failing to understand the phrasing of the clue. It took what felt like forever just to get WOLF (once OGRE went in, anything else was hard to imagine) (1D: Villain in some fairy tales). And I compounded difficulties up there by guessing ROAN (?) over ARAB (2D: Spirited horse). ROAN was a "horse" reflex, and I reflexed wrong. I forgot what Poor Richard's Almanack was. Completely. So ADAGES took some crossing. 5x5s are always dicey propositions—no short toeholds to get you started—and so the NE and SW corners were mildly daunting: only one narrow way in, no way out. They definitely took more thought/time than other parts of the grid, particularly the SW, where I had to back in. Looking at that corner now, though, I must've just not looked at the themer initially, because PO BOXES is obvious from the clue (if you've figured out the theme already). Anyway, there was minor flailing down there.

The clue that threw me the most was 35D: Subj. group with a noted gender imbalance (STEM) (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). I see what the clue is *trying* to do here, but ... a "subj. group" can't have a gender imbalance. Science is just Science. Engineering, engineering. The *field* (which is made up of people —teachers, majors, professionals, etc.) can / does have such an imbalance. But between the abbr. "Subj." (awk) to the context-free quality of the clue, I had no idea what I was looking at, what was being asked for, on a literal level. I was further hampered by having a daughter who takes a lot of STEM classes and wants to be an engineer, and who is being bombarded by promotional material from colleges touting the relative gender parity of their engineering programs (shout-out to tiny OLIN College, an engineering school that has the gender balance of their student population at almost 50/50; hey, there's a new way to clue OLIN—you're welcome, crossword constructors). Anyway, for personal reasons, my brain doesn't make the STEM-is-for-boys connection quite so readily as it's supposed to. Also, who says SCHMO when they mean "jerk"? Maybe someone in the Fusty Tearoom? I don't know. But the only appropriate clue for SCHMO that I know is [Joe ___].

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the "T" in STEM and the "T" in IT SUPPORT mean the same thing. Judges say ... yeah, that's a dupe. Red card!

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Eponymous Belgian tourist locale / WED 12-7-16 / High-end British sports car / Mexican tourist city known for its silver / Diminutive fashionwise / Obese Star Wars character / Bluff-busting words

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: PAST TENSE (58A: Like either word in the answers to the five starred clues) —the puzzle is as described:

Theme answers:
  • FIXED COST (16A: *Expense independent of production)
  • LEFT-HANDED (23A: *How Clayton Kershaw pitches)
  • CUT ROSE (36A: *One of a dozen for a sweetheart)
  • SHOT PUT (38A: *Decathlon event)
  • LOST GROUND (47A: *Something to make up)
Word of the Day: MCLAREN (44A: High-end British sports car) —
McLaren Automotive (often simply McLaren) is a British automaker founded in 1963 by New Zealander Bruce McLaren and is based at the McLaren Technology Campus in Woking, Surrey. It produces and manufactures sports and luxury cars, usually produced in-house at designated production facilities. (wikipedia)
• • •

This has to be in the running for one of the dullest themes of all time. I don't understand why this concept ever seemed remotely interesting. A theme like this should involve a kind of aha moment where you notice that the revealer asks us to radically imagine the meaning of the words in the themers. But ... the first word in all of these answers is already past tense in the base phrase—or, rather, it's an adjectival form of the past tense, i.e. the cost is fixed 'cause someone FIXED it, the rose is cut 'cause someone CUT it, etc. There's just *one* answer where that does not hold true: LEFT-HANDED. So there isn't really much in the way of reorienting our understanding of nearly *half* the words in the themers, and the one answer that *does* reorient that first word is an outlier. Thus, even though we're asked to look at "either word," it's really only the second word that's being reimagined in any kind of remotely interesting way. Further, "remotely" is the key word there. "Oh yeah, COST can be a PAST TENSE verb ..." is about as much of an excited thought as you are going to have while solving this. Actually, you were probably more excited by DEAD DROPS (10D: Spy communication spots) and DEETS (27D: Specifics, slangily) than you were by *anything* having to do with the theme.

"Like either word" puzzles are often unpleasant because constructors tend to force words to go together that don't really want to do so, and so you get barely passable or awkward phrases. That wasn't so much a problem today, though I definitely lost some time with RED ROSE instead of CUT ROSE. I mean, when I got to a florist to buy flowers and ask for roses, they never bring me entire bushes to look at, so ... the phrase CUT ROSE, while it makes sense to me, isn't really familiar to me. Completely unfamiliar to me was MCLAREN. Needed every cross. Never heard of it. I must not live a very "high-end" lifestyle. MCLAREN / COOPTS was the toughest area of the puzzle for me, partly because I kept insisting on seeing the latter as a one-syllable word. Lastly, to acknowledge the elephant in the room, yes, IS BAD is bad.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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