Helmet part / THU-24-JUL / Outwit, in a way / Big bang maker

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Constructor: David Phillips

Relative difficulty: toughish for a Thursday, until you get the trick

THEME: "Paint It, Black" — put the word IT into four different pairs of black squares

Word of the Day: PETER TOSH (32D: One of the Wailers of Bob Marley and the Wailers)

Peter Tosh, OM (born Winston Hubert McIntosh; 19 October[1] 1944 – 11 September 1987) was a Jamaican reggae musician. Along with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer he was one of the core members of the band The Wailers (1963–1974). After which he established himself as a successful solo artist and a promoter of Rastafari. He was murdered in 1987 during a home invasion. --Wikipedia
• • •

Should I know the name David Phillips? I don't, but this is a very polished piece of work, especially impressive if he's a new constructor.

Theme answers:
  • (4D: Hit 2012 Disney film) WRECK IT RALPH 
  • (20A: "Looky here!") CHECK IT OUT
  • (59A: Not worry about something annoying) LET IT SLIDE
  • (22D: 1966 Rolling Stones hit ... or an instruction to be followed four times in this puzzle) PAINT IT BLACK
Crossing your IT's yields eight long entries the other way:  ENCIRCLED, COATTAIL, CUTS INTO, SELECTEES, DULCINEA, PETER TOSH, STAIRCASE and ANATOLIA. Essentially what we have is this (excellent) grid with eight black squares added:

Two elegant touches: 1) the letters IT are used as the word "it" uniformly in all four entries and 2) the ITs are symmetrically placed in the grid. A third elegant touch is that no stray ITs appear anywhere in the grid, which would've been slightly unsightly. Not sure if this was by luck or design but if the author is reading this I'd be interested to know in comments. 

Two dings on the theme clues:

1) The clue for LET IT SLIDE sounds off. "Not worry about something annoying" is more like "let it go," while "let it slide" means "decide not to punish a minor infraction." This is a minor infraction, though, so I'll let it go.

2) This one rankles a bit, though: I think the revealer clue at 22D should have read "1966 Rolling Stones hit ... or what the constructor did four times in this puzzle."  I can't find a way to interpret the clue where the solver is painting IT black. I put IT in white letters in the solution grid, for example, but I didn't paint anything black. If I'm missing a reading of this then let me know in comments, but it doesn't seem as on-target as a visual aspect-revealer should be.

But still, a good use of the letters-in-black-squares idea. And check out that grid: at 72 words, it's wide-open (and clean) enough to be an above-average themeless. Don't miss those internal 4x4 blocks in green in the solution grid above; it's one thing to do a 4x4 box in a corner or edge, but quite another to do it in the center like this with long words beaming out of it in all directions. Bravo.

Lovely week of puzzles thus far, isn't it? A-, C+, A, B, and I'm giving today's puzzle a grade of A-. Hoping for a B on Friday so we have all the letters of "Abacab."
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for one more day of CrossWorld


Talkative bird / WED-23-JUL /Tater tots maker / Mekong Valley native

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Constructor: Howard Barkin

Relative difficulty: pretty easy for a Wednesday

THEME: "___ check" — Each of the six words used in the theme entries precedes "check" in a phrase

Word of the Day: TOCCATA (38A: Bach work) —  (from Italian toccare, "to touch") is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked string instrument featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections, with or without imitative or fugal interludes, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer's fingers. Less frequently, the name is applied to works for multiple instruments (the opening of Claudio Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo being a notable example). -- Wikipedia

• • •
This is one of those "both words can precede (or follow) word X" themes, which we've seen a lot of in recent years. They're not terribly exciting since the reveal is always a slight letdown; you'd hoped there was something mysterious and intriguing going on with those starred clues, but then not really.

OK, so accepting the limitations of the theme type, let's see if super-solver (three-time finalist at the ACPT) and super-nice guy Howard Barkin can jazz things up a little for us. The three theme entries themselves are a good start, with nice phrases BODY DOUBLE, BACKGROUND SOUND ("background noise" Googles rather better, but this phrase is also legit and has the cool -ound/-ound echo) and the excellent PERSONAL BAGGAGE. How Howard must've delighted at seeing both PERSONAL and BAGGAGE on his list of check-preceding words, and then hitting a 15-letter phrase with them to boot. Euphoric boost for a constructor when you score a nice 15.

The revealer is a cut above as well: BLANK CHECK is the answer, and the clue is (Complete freedom ... and a hint to each half of the answer to each starred clue). So you fill in that blank with the six theme words.

The solve was just under five minutes for me and the grid was a mixed bag. Liked seeing those wide-open NW and SE corners, though my Scowl-o-Meter went off some with ARTE, REOS and the contrived RESEEKS right off the bat in that NW. But BARTAB/OREIDA/ATOMIC was a nice stack up there, with good crossers like TIME-OUT and ADIEU. OUGHT TO/TOCCATA/RUN COLD/SWAGGER are elegantly connected sevens in the middle, and ASKANCE, AGA KHAN and EQUATOR are good sevens elsewhere. It gets ragged/crosswordy in the tight parts (ANS - ATRA - MYNA - AKEY - DCIV - ASAN - AMB - STE), but maybe those sevens are worth it.

Americans are everywhere!

  • (19A: Got away from one's roots?) = DYED — That's a good one.  
  • (52A: Love letters letters) = SWAK — sealed with a kiss. And hopefully some other kind of adhesive. 
  • (35A: Palindromic girl's name) = AVA — lots of girls named Ava these days. How long before one of them becomes famous so we can give Ms. Gardner a well-earned break?
  • Speaking of OUGHT TO: I dig this entry in part because of its trippy (and solver-vexing) vowel/consonant pattern of VVCCCCV. Wordplay trivia: can you think of a common, 7-letter word that uses the same pattern? I can only think of one. Put it in comments if you've got it (or a different one).
A grade of "B" is the natural limit for this kind of theme in my book; something really crazy would have to happen to lift it any higher. And with its slightly above average revealer, above average phrases, and lots of nice longish fill, I think we can say that this one comes close to maximizing the concept, so: B it is. B for Barkin! Crossword-powered Howard.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for two more days of CrossWorld


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