Japanese chess / THU 6-22-17 / Balaam's talking beast / Katniss's partner in Hunger Games / Prison guarded by Dementors /

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Constructor: Ruth B. Margolin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: EYESEEEYE — phrases following pattern "___ [body part] to [body part]" are represented in the grid with the "___" part literally between the [body part]s:

Theme answers:
  • HANDPASSHAND (pass from hand to hand) (20A: Transfer, as in a bucket brigade)
  • EARSMILEEAR (smile from ear to ear) (33A: Grin broadly) (I think "grin from ear to ear" is the more common phrase, but this is acceptable)
  • TOESTANDTOE (stand toe to toe) (40A: Confront one another head-on)
  •  FACEMEETFACE (meet face to face) (50A: Rendezvous)
Word of the Day: TIDAL bore (41D: Like some colossal bores)
noun: tidal bore; plural noun: tidal bores
  1. a large wave caused by the funneling of a flood tide as it enters a long, narrow, shallow inlet. (google)
• • •

Jet. Lag. Jetlag. Why didn't I get someone to cover today? Dunno. But here I am after west-to-east travel that got me home around 1 a.m. this morning and now it's some other a.m.  this morning and I'm solving and writing. It's fun. So I'd like to thank Ms. Margolin for lobbing a softball this morning—one that took me something like the usual amount of time, but that I knew was easier than usual. The basic concept is simple but effective, and was very easy to pick up. And then once you pick it up, it had the same advantage palindromic themes have, in that if I got one end, I could fill in the other immediately. Again, my tired brain and body thank you, Ms. Margolin. The puzzle was probably more interesting in the fill than in the theme, where OUTDOORSY and AZKABAN were both genuine pleasures, the clue on SIGH gave my weary brain a slap in the face (1D: Heaved "ho"?), and AAAMAP (25D: TripTike, e.g.) provided sufficient visual weirdness.

This puzzle would've been "Easy" even for sluggish me if I'd ever (ever) head of a TIDAL bore (41D: Like some colossal bores). Add to my never-heard-of-it the fact that it had a ruthlessly tricky clue, and then add in the fact that I got NICEAN instantly (and spelled it thusly) (29D: Christians' ___ Creed) and that little inch-wide section in the SW explains almost all my "difficulty" today. Proud to have remembered EILAT even if I had to leave the last vowel blank because of non-remembering. Had ILLS for AILS but there's no shame there (53D: Troubles). [Book of the Bible after Amos] is a pretty hilarious clue for me, in that it supposes that I have any idea where Amos is (OBADIAH). There are three "IN"s in this grid, but that doesn't really bug me. Today, I'm just happy to be here, at my good old desk with my good old writing set-up, even if I do have a good old travel headache. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. CHEEKDANCECHEEK would've made a Very cool 15.

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Some native Nigerians / WED 6-21-17 / Insect made of paper / Pitchfork-wielding assemblage / Covered with sludge / Hip-hop pal / Component not found on digital watch

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (easy theme, but the fill / cluing ... MUCKY)

THEME: BUTTERFLY (35A: Word that must be added to 1-, 8-, 65- and 66-Across to make sense [with a visual hint in the grid] — put "BUTTERFLY" before the corner Acrosses. I guess those four black double-L formations are visual representations of the insect in question:

Theme answers:
  • ORIGAMI (1A: Insect made of paper)
  • MADAME (8A: Puccini opera)
  • SOCIAL (65A: One going from party to party)
  • MONARCH (66A: Orange, black and white flutterer) 
Word of the Day: IBOS (54A: Some native Nigerians)
The Igbo people (English: /ˈɪɡb/; erroneously Ibo, formerly also Iboe, Ebo, Eboe, Eboans, Heebo; natively Ṇ́dị́ Ìgbò [ìɡ͡bò][citation needed]) are an ethnic group native to the present-day south-central and southeastern Nigeria. Geographically, the Igbo homeland is divided into two unequal sections by the Niger River – an eastern (which is the larger of the two) and a western section. The Igbo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)
• • •

I knew as soon as I opened this that the black squares were gonna be some element in the theme, but lord knows what. I saw a bunch of "L"s. Then moths kissing. Shrug. Once I got that central element, then the puzzle got very easy (all of the themers, transparent), but there was enough rough / odd fill and iffy cluing to make the puzzle somewhat harder, overall, than an average Wednesday. The theme just doesn't come off very well. The visual is a little weak, and the four corner answers are ... I don't know, not much of a revelation. ORIGAMI feels like a stretch. Butterfly isn't a shape I readily associate with that art form (unlike, say, the crane). And it's just a paper version of the "insect" in the MONARCH clue, so there's not a lot of variety. I guess there aren't that many words that can precede "BUTTERFLY" comfortably. Maybe that's a sign. Sometimes you have to a let an intriguing idea go instead of forcing it.

Speaking of forcing it, ENDWAYS! AT ONE GO! These are awkward, uncurrent phrases. IBOS is old-school crosswordese (and now apparently very much the non-preferred term—IGBOS is gonna be harder to shoehorn into grids). If you're gonna use ITGUY, then your clue should indicate gender. [PC problem solver] has nothing "guy" about it. [Hip-hop pal] is jarring. The "pal" part really ... doesn't nail it. Something tonally off-sounding. Very MUCKY (btw, wtf?). The entire center area could be soooo much cleaner, without that much effort. ON DATES was awkward, UHS was awkward, RAINHAT is always awkward, RAYOVAC ... is a brand, but one I never see. ICE COLD is a great answer, but I wasn't a big fan of the clue (17A: Phase in beer ads). Clue on MACK was just fine (19A: Vehicle company with a bulldog logo), but I botched it bad: four letters, starting in "M" — I went with MINI. In my defense, well, this ad, for starters:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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