Pomerrigio follower / SAT 1-20-18 / Hop hop icon born Lisa Williamson / Blondie's maiden name / Nocturnal predators of fiction / Tony official character voice of Donald Duck / Setup for Netflix film say

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Constructor: Alex Vratsanos

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: pomeriggio (21A: Pomeriggio follower => SERA)
SERA = evening (Italian)
• • •

Another hard puzzle today, though today was far more in line with expectations—a proper themeless puzzle that was properly tough. Finished in less time than yesterday's abomination took me, predictably. Thought the clues on this one were trying too hard to be hard/clever in many places, and some of the fill (especially proper nouns) got weird and obscure, but the big-ticket stuff looks very good, and overall I think it's a nice example of what a typical Saturday puzzle should be like: hard and occasionally humiliating but ultimately satisfying. Some of the clues were completely unintelligible to me, even after I'd solved them (see 21A: Pomeriggio follower, for example). Also, "Blondie" knowledge that goes *that* deep. That's insane. "Blondie" is super-old. Super. Old. I teach a course on Comics and this answer was a mystery to me. Got it by inference (from Betty Boop), as I'm sure most people did. With Howdy Doody also in the comic, well, you can feel this thing skewing pretty retro. Even the hip-hop reference was retro: I haven't heard of SISTER SOULJAH since the '90s (10D: Hip-hop icon born Lisa Williamson). Also, SIST*ER*!?!?! That bit stunned me. I got the answer quickly because I started with the last -AH in place, but I spelled it SISTAH SOULJAH because ... in hip-hop ... -ER to -A(H) sound / spelling change is pretty standard. See, uh, SOULJAH, for one.

Felt like there were a Ton of "?" clues, but there were just six. Three of them are quite close together in the NW, though, so I felt like I was being bombarded. I think the puzzle gets a *little* careless with proper nouns at PELLA / AMATO. The window name I've seen (25D: Big name in windows), but couldn't recall specifically (kept wanting PEALE or PEELE), and AMATO is gibberish to me (35A: Pasquale ___, baritone at the Metropolitan Opera). I thought maybe this was a new clue for ERATO. Totally feasible that neither name will be known to a solver, and only AMATO is (fairly) inferrable with that one letter missing (-MATO). Also, ANSELMO, LOL what? The only reason I got this was that my aunt lives in San ANSELMO, and Van Morrison sings a beautiful song called "Snow in San ANSELMO." "Official character voice of Donald Duck" is like a parody of an obscure clue. Like, today? Now? Is Donald Duck being voiced anywhere? Or is this in the past? You can see I'm not looking it up. It's so weird that this is a thing the puzzle thinks I might know. (Yes, he's currently Donald's voice, and apparently "Duck Tales" is on the air somewhere, I don't know). Anyway, hope you are familiar with PACHINKO (I botched the spelling there at first) (4D: Its player may have a yen for gambling) and CMA (27D: Nashville awards org.) and POLIS (23D: Sparta, e.g.) and SISTER SOULJAH or the California city San ANSELMO. Mind your names, constructors. Mind your names.

RELEASE WAIVER felt redundant (11D: Paper signed before filming begins). Heard of signing releases and signing waivers but not RELEASE WAIVERs.  SYNODAL is a word I'd be happy never to see again (see also yesterday's "appurtenance") (41A: Like certain ecclesiastical councils). I like BIG TICKET ITEM best, and I like it's clue best (12A: One taking a lot of credit, maybe?), and I like that the constructor knew enough to put the "Best" stuff right across the top of the dang grid. I was super-proud of myself that I remembered SARAI today straight away (38D: Name changed in Genesis 17:15). Less proud that I went with HAIRCUTS at 30D: Changers of locks (HAIR DYES) and thus fell in a hole that added probably a solid minute to my solving time. Pfffflert. Nothing will get you stucker longer than a wrong answer. "There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself"—Philip Marlowe, in The Long Goodbye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Thrill seeker's appurtenance / FRI 1-19-18 / Third largest city in Switzerland / Last new Beatles track before their split in 1970 / 1966 Pulitzer-winning Edward Albee play

Friday, January 19, 2018

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: BEETHOVEN (35A + 36A) on EARPHONES (21D + 39D) — there is a note:

Word of the Day: PARADOR (8A: Spanish hotel) —
  1. a hotel in Spain owned and administered by the Spanish government. (google)
• • •

Why? Why would you do this? Fridays are the Best Days for puzzles. My favorite day. Themeless puzzles that are on the easier side. These are usually the most delightful puzzles of the week. So why would you run this Saturday+-difficulty Maleska-era-skewing wisp-of-a-joke puzzle today!? If you had to do it, do it Tomorrow. It was certainly hard enough (my time was 2x normal Friday and well above my normal Saturday). This was a whole lot of brutality just so I could notice the "H" at the end. I probably could've made the experience slightly easier if I had Bothered To Look At The Note At All, but I resent notes and never read them until after I'm done. I take it as a personal challenge. A dare. If I need your note, your puzzle's no good and I'm no good as a solver. If I'd read it, I *probably* would've pieced together that the central answers were involved, and that would've given me BEET (instead of ACAI, ugh), and that western section might've fallen a Lot sooner (it was a nightmare). But I'm not playing your stupid reindeer games on Friday. Just *seeing* the little yellow "Note" symbol in my software gave me ill will toward this puzzle. And then it was hard and full of weirdness and obscurity and "clever" cluing, and Then the payoff was ... what it was. If you absolutely had to make this "joke," why not do it inside a clean, modern, delightful grid, instead of this painfully BORESOME one (I hope I'm using that "word" right—I refuse to look it up).

No idea:
  • GRAB BAR (1A: Help during the fall?) — ?????????????? Brutal. Do you mean "hand rail?" What the hell is a GRABBAR!? This was the beginning of the end for me in the west, as I had 5D: Smoking GUN. And thus -R--GAR at 1-Across. Forever.
  • ACCORDS (1D: Grants) — Oh, it's a verb. How nice. Not how I was reading it.
  • BEAR (4D: Difficult thing to do, informally) — without GRABBAR, no hope
  • PARADOR (8A: Spanish hotel) — a what now?
  • ABILENE (16A: Hardin-Simmons University setting) — I teach at a university and have never heard of this university, and thus could not have known where it is located
  • ABASE (9D: Mortify) — Kept thinking about someone being "mortified" and just refused to accept that "abased" meant the same thing
  • COY (26A: Hardly fresh) — ugh these words. What decade are these gender politics from? I had CO- and had to run the alphabet. Twice
  • SLOPE (27A: It's not on the level) — SLANT
  • PIERO (28D: Renaissance artist ___ della Francesca) — cannot keep all those guys straight, and without SLOPE ... nope
  • BEET (35A: Healthful juice source) — ACAI, as I (a) say above
  • GOPRO (37A: Thrill-seeker's appurtenance — just brutal, this clue. I forgot these exist. They don't have anything to do with the "seeking" of the thrill, just the recording of it. The word "appurtenance" is a horrifically ugly thing to have to look at. 
  • MEI (47A: ___ Lan (giant panda born at the ATLANTA zoo)) — there are so many damn zoo pandas at this point, expecting people to know the particular three-letter Chinese name part at this point is ridiculous. The cross-reference adds nothing here.
  • ELENA (50D: "The Vampire Diairies" protagonist") — nope, but luckily ELENA is a name that appears on crosswords a lot
  • ISN'T (52A: That right introduction?) — this may be the most painful "?" clue I've ever read, whereas my wrong answer is probably the best wrong answer that ever was. I had: STET. "DELE? No, that right! STET!" Me: "I don't know why the editor is talking like that, but OK."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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