Nanki-poo's pursuer in Mikado / WED 10-18-17 / Nine-time baseball All-Star nicknamed Cuban Comet / Painting on dry plaster / Lure with phony online persona / Pioneering botanist

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Constructor: John Lithgow and Brendan Emmett Quigley

Relative difficulty: Challenging (those names...)

THEME: theater terms, reimagined — terms familiar from the theater are clued as if they were not ... from the theater:

Theme answers:
  • CURTAIN CALL (17A: Decision to go with drapes instead of blinds?)
  • CAST PARTY (10D: Fly fisherman?)
  • STAGE LEFT (33D: Why one missed the coach?)
  • SUMMER STOCK (55A: Accountant's shares in a company?) 
Word of the Day: SECCO (48D: Painting on dry plaster) —
noun: secco; noun: fresco secco
  1. the technique of painting on dry plaster with pigments mixed in water. (Google)
• • •

Wow, ouch. Theme concept / quality, fine, but the cluing got tough, and the names in this grid, help me Rhonda! Brutal. I'm mad at myself for totally blanking on Minnie MIÑOSO (Manny Mota and Sal Mineo were running around in my brain creating interference), but I'm mad at the *puzzle* for thinking that KATISHA (!?!?!?!!) / KEYES was an acceptable crossing. Textbook Natick. That "Mikado" name is utterly uninferrable. I'm looking at it now and still don't quite believe it's real. And "Flowers for Algernon" is just some book I haven't thought about in 30 years—I'm quite sure I never knew the author's name. Presented with -EYES, well, there are several letters that can go there. "K" makes most sense, but KATISHA is in no way reassuring. LATISHA is an actual human name, but then LEYES really looks wrong. I honestly don't understand how this crossing doesn't send up red flags to constructor and editor alike. You put KATISHA (again, !?!?!!) in a grid, you gotta go through all the crosses and be meticulous about their fairness. You gotta pay special attention to proper nouns. I mean, these are just the basics. Ugh. You see how I cannot even focus on the theme because of this name mishandling stuff? Not the result you want. (Wife just walked up here and discussed her trouble spots—exactly the same as mine: baseball name, Natick crossing, and SECCO, whatever that is).

I like the theme, and I also like the little value-added bonus theater-related answers/clues, like APRON (26D: Area in front of the front row of a theater), FAT (61A: Like Falstaff), and PAL (44A: Broadway's "___ Joey"). I also really love the bizarre scenario conjured up by the clue on "I DON'T" (47D: Surprise declaration at the altar). There's this one weirdly inconsistent thing about the theme, which is bothering me for some reason—the clues on all the themers reimagine the meanings of *both* words in each theme answer (this is why those clues are so hard) ... except in the case of CURTAIN CALL, where the "curtain" remains a "curtain." True, it's a home decor curtain as opposed to a theater curtain, but tomato tomato. I'd call a fly fisherman a "casting party" (i.e. one who is casting). The STAGE LEFT clue (33D: Why one missed the coach?) is brutal, largely because the first thing I think when I see "coach" is not "stagecoach." Anyway, the theme is SOLID, not CORNY. The crosswordese is minimal. But the names, man. The names. Yeesh.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Raunchy 1981 comedy with two sequels / TUE 10-17-17 / South Asian shade tree / Brand of kidswear with superman batman options / Pro at building financial worth slangily / 1951 film featuring Nero / High level HS class with integrals

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (on the slow side for a Tuesday) (3:48)

THEME: CON MEN (43D: People who target the starts of 17-, 30-, 40- and 57-Across) — starts of those answers are words that describe victims of CONMEN:

Theme answers:
  • PIGEON COOP (17A: Base for long-distance carriers?)
  • CHUMP CHANGE (30A: A mere pittance)
  • SUCKER PUNCH (40A: Unexpected hit)
  • MARK ANTONY (57A: Cleopatra's lover) 
Word of the Day: "PORKY'S" (46D: Raunchy 1981 comedy with two sequels) —
Porky's is a 1981 Canadian-American sex comedy film written and directed by Bob Clark about the escapades of teenagers in 1954 at the fictional Angel Beach High School in Florida. Released in the United States in 1982 with an R rating, the film spawned two sequels: Porky's II: The Next Day (1983) and Porky's Revenge! (1985) and a remake of the original titled, Porky's Pimpin' Pee Wee (2009) and influenced many writers in the teen film genre. Porky's was the fifth highest-grossing film of 1982. (wikipedia)
• • •

The theme is typical First Words stuff with a weirdly offset revealer. Nothing to write home about. The only thing I want to talk about is IBANKER (23D: Pro at building financial worth, slangily). I have never heard of this. I needed every single cross and still wasn't sure it was right. After I was finished, it still took me a few moments of thinking to figure out what the "I" even stood for. First tweet I saw online about the puzzle was this:

And I practically shouted "OH THANK GOD." Now I feel I can say, with impunity, that the decision to put this term in this position is profoundly, startlingly misguided. This is what happens when you become overly enamored of your giant word list—which you've apparently amassed without careful thought as to whether the world (i.e. crosswords) would be improved by all the thousands of alleged "slangily" terms there are in the world. You could easily do So Much Better in this section, replacing IBANKER with actual, real words—good ones!—without any, or with only slight, changes to surrounding fill. Don't get high on your own supply, constructors. Make good choices. Wow. OK. Moving on.

This puzzle was harder than normal, both because IBANKER (smh) and because of clues on the themers that are weird and hard. 40A: Unexpected hit (SUCKER PUNCH) was unexpectedly deceptive (I thought "hit" in the Broadway / Hollywood sense). And I have never ever been a fan of "?" clues on themers when "?"s are not part of the theme, i.e. they all should have them or none of them should have them. When I get a "?" on a themer (*especially the first themer*), I naturally assume the "?" is part of the theme. So of course there I am like some sucker / chump / etc., with the PIGEON part of 17A: Base for long-distance carriers?, wondering how the wordplay is going to express the theme... and all I get is COOP. I felt some heady mix of ennui and bathos as I filled in COOP. Is that all there is? Yes, that is all. Oh, and it has nothing to do with the theme. Enjoy.

Then there's the astonishing amount of crosswordese. Veteran constructors should not be serving us this much crosswordese. Conservatively, this is how much crosswordese this grid has:

Note that I let ORE and IOTA and IRA and even BNEG slide. I did enjoy UNDEROOS and "PORKY'S". I did not enjoy ANTONY and ANTONYMS being in the same grid. A six-letter shared letter string!? My construction software flags that *&$% at four. Six!? Wow. Now I want to build a weird crossword theme around the answer MARK ANTONYM. Ooh, if you just move the "M" to the end of MARK ANTONY you get ARK ANTONYM ... maybe there's something there ... I mean, probably not, but only by pursuing your most ridiculous notions are you ever going to find truly interesting themes. Your notebook should be 90% failed ideas! Minimum! Where was I? Oh yeah, IBANKER. Ugh. IBANKER? I hardly I-know her! Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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