Restaurant guide name since 1979 / MON 4-21-14 / TIe-dye alternative / Strike zone arbiter / Longtime sponsor of Metropolitan Opera / Decennial official / Second-oldest General Mills cereal /

Monday, April 21, 2014

Constructor: John Lieb

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: COUNTER EXAMPLES (58A: They disprove claims … or 17-, 23-, 38- and 47-) — theme answers are examples of people who count:

Theme answers:
  • HOME PLATE UMPIRE counts balls and strikes (17A: Strike zone arbiter)
  • BANK MANAGER counts money (23A: George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life")
  • BLACKJACK PLAYER counts cards, sometimes, perhaps (38A: One getting hit in Vegas)
  • CENSUS TAKER counts people (47A: Decennial official)
Word of the Day: BATIK (7D: Tie-dye alternative) —
Batik (Javanese pronunciation: [ˈbateʔ]Indonesian: [ˈbatɪk]) is a cloth that is traditionally made using a manual wax-resist dyeing technique.
Originating from Java, batik is made by drawing designs on fabric using dots and lines of hot wax, which resists dyes and therefore allows the artisan to color selectively by soaking the cloth in one color, removing the wax with boiling water and repeating if multiple colors are desired. Indigenous patterns often have symbolic meanings which are used in specific ceremonies, while coastal patterns draw inspiration from a variety of cultures; from Arabic calligraphy, European bouquets and Chinese phoenixes to Japanese cherry blossoms and Indian or Persian peacocks.
Batik has been used as everyday clothing since ancient times, and it is still used by many Indonesians today in occasions ranging from formal to casual. On October 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. As part of the acknowledgment, UNESCO insisted that Indonesia preserve their heritage. (wikipedia)
• • •

This seems like a very good Monday puzzle. Do I have the theme right? I think so, but sometimes when it's seemingly simple, I worry I've missed something. Do blackjack players *always* count cards? I don't play. I thought that was … not illegal, but monitored / barred by casinos … somehow? … not that you could stop people … anyway, that's the only answer that seems at all potentially wobbly. Well, I don't know that counting is the primary activity I'd associate with a BANK MANAGER, but then again, to be fair, I don't really think about BANK MANAGERs much. The revealer is a nice play on words. The puzzle is easy but also pizzazzy, which is a word I invented that you are free to use.


Here's where I faltered, however briefly (almost always very briefly). USMA … is not an abbr. that comes to mind easily (3D: West Point inits.). It's better than USM (see my tirade about this non-thing earlier this year). And it is a place. An academy, to be precise. But my fingers typed in USMC anyway, because that is the only USM- answer my brain will accept without manual override. BATIK seemed hard to me (7D: Tie-dye alternative). I think it's kind of bygone, like tie-dye. I would never wear either, so I'm kind of out of my depth here. I love Buster Keaton but do not think of him specializing in PRATFALL (19D: Buster Keaton specialty). That's when you fall on your ass? Or just fall? He did that, yes, but he's a physical comedian of the highest order. PRATFALL seems somehow diminishing. I wrote in ZABAR for ZAGAT (32D: Restaurant guide name since 1979). I couldn't get SULTAN off just the "S," boo hoo. Oh, and I never actually "got" MARKS (24D: A, B, C, D and F). In America, we call those "grades."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Jermaine of NBA / SUN 4-20-14 / Financial writer Marshall / Chaim 1971 Best Actor nominee / ESPN broadcaster Bob / Artist's alias with accent / Fine hosiery material / Renault model with mythological name / Best-selling novelist whom Time called Bard of litigious age

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: "On Wheels" — theme answers contain words that are also car models. Underneath each model name are two "wheels," represented by circled "O"s

Theme answers:
  • CIVIC PRIDE
  • HORN SONATA
  • MUSTANG SALLY
  • BARBER OF SEVILLE
  • SAN DIEGO CHARGER
  • BEETLE BAILEY
  • OPTIMA CARD
  • C.S. FORESTER
Word of the Day: Chaim TOPOL (95D: Chaim ___, 1971 Best Actor nominee) —
Chaim Topol (Hebrewחיים טופול‎; born September 9, 1935), often billed simply as Topol, is an Israelitheatrical and film performer, singer, actor, writer and producer. He has been nominated for an Oscar and a Tony Award, and has won two Golden Globes. […] 
Some of Topol's other notable film appearances were the title role in Galileo (1975), Dr. Hans Zarkov in Flash Gordon (1980), and as Milos Columbo in theJames Bond movie For Your Eyes Only (1981). (wikipedia)
• • •

Did not find this as scintillating as I normally find Liz Gorski puzzles. It's just models of cars, with the added, small detail of the "tires" underneath each model name. I like that a circled "O" makes a nice approximation of an actual tire shape. Beyond that, the puzzle was just average. Also, exceedingly easy. Was done in under 9, which crazy fast for me, for a Sunday. True, I did have to chase down two errors, but they were slight—I'd written in STA for STN (12D: Common newsstand locale: Abbr.), and never corrected it when the crossing answer eventually turned into the probably-nonsensical HORA SONATA. Also, I'd written in ROMA, which seemed very reasonable, at 78D: "La Dolce Vita" setting (ROME). This left me with BEATLE BAILEY, which looks Just Fine to my eye. Thanks, Beatles, for making that spelling seem reasonable. Speaking of BEETLE BAILEY, that clue (93A: Walker's strip) was wicked hard, especially compared to the softballs that dominate the rest of the clue list. I needed nearly every cross before the answer became evident. Actually, I don't think it ever became evident—not until I'd finished and went back and looked at the puzzle, anyway. Clever clue, good clue, but jarring clue in comparison to all the rest.


Ah, I just got 96D: City that sounds like a humdinger? (BUTTE). My sister likes to tell the story of the time she and her family went on a road trip and the GPS had pronunciation problems—it kept telling them that they were nearing "Crested Butt." She had (still has) young boys, so as you can imagine, hilarity ensued. This is just to explain why now, when I see BUTTE, I think "butt" and not "beaut!" One other answer that gave me an odd lot of trouble was BRING (54D: Give rise to). That clue was not helping at all. I see now, that April showers BRING May flowers, so it works, but I had -RING and still wasn't really sure what the answer was. Weird.


Puzzle of the Week this week was not close. There were some very good puzzles. A Peter Gordon themeless (Fireball Crosswords) with interlocking pairs of 15s that puts All 15-Stack Puzzles To Shame (read about it here). A beautiful Doug Peterson themeless (Washington Post Puzzler, 4/13) that's fresh and slangy while still being clean and accessible (get it here—make sure you choose 4/13) (read about it here). Another Doug Peterson puzzle—this one co-authored with Joon Pahk ("Party Lines" / Chronicle of Higher Ed., 4/18)—that features ridiculous but truly funny puns (get it here) (read about it here). And a Ben Tausig puzzle ("Odds and Evens") that made me laugh repeatedly with its alternate ways of reading the theme answers (get it here) (read about it here). But the clear winner was this week's American Values Club contest puzzle by Francis Heaney, entitled "Flight Path" (4/16) (get it here for a dollar, or just subscribe to American Values Club Crosswords already. Geez). "The grid below represents a prison, from which you must escape"—that's the opening line of the puzzle's explanatory note. While not terribly hard (it's listed as a 4.5/5 difficulty level, but I'd put it more around 3), it is truly elegantly constructed, and even after I figured out what the general trick was, it was still a great pleasure to watch the solution fall into place. Francis made my favorite puzzle of 2013—another American Values Club contest puzzle called "Seasonal Staff" (read about it here). He's setting the bar for contest puzzles, and puzzles in general, really, really high.


Speaking of contest puzzles, still lots of time to get in on Patrick Blindauer's "Xword University" puzzle suite. He blurbs it better than I could:
Ever wanted to earn your Honorary Bachelor's Degree in Enigmatology? Well, now you can. Patrick Blindauer's 5th Puzzlefest, "Xword University," has a collegiate theme and is available now at patrickblindauer.com. It consists of a dozen crosswords, each of which leads to an answer. Combine all of your answers to solve the meta-puzzle, and email the correct answer to be eligible for the random drawing of puzzle books. (Contest ends at 11:30 ET on April 27 but XU will remain open indefinitely.) For only $15 you'll be guaranteed admission and will receive an invitation to Patrick's College Puzzlefest Google Group where you can access the PDF of puzzles. 
Patrick's puzzles are reliably great, so you should probably enroll now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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